Lau Ming-wai, chair of the Commission on Youth, has said that pro-independence messages at universities were “successful low budget productions” which caught media attention, but the public should leave them for the schools to handle.

“I believe the whole incident is quite naive, quite stupid,” he said on a RTHK radio programme on Friday. He also said slogans “congratulating” Education Undersecretary Choi Yuk-lin on the death of her son were “an act of a primary school student.”

But he said the incident was a very minor one: “Most Hong Kong young people are not interested in Hong Kong independence. Most Hong Kong young people would not use such ‘congratulating’ words.”

Lau Ming-wai. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

Lau was asked by the host if pro-independence voices were truly a minority, as many supported the idea online. But Lau said “everybody can be a hero online,” questioning whether people leaving online comments will lead to them advocating independence in real life.

See also: In Translation: Students test the limits of poster power after university removes pro-independence banners

“It is our society, as a whole, which exaggerated this incident,” he said. “This incident should be handled at the level of universities – it should not be related to the government, it should not be related to anyone outside the campus.”

Pro-independence slogans at the City University. Photo: Facebook/City University of Hong Kong Students’ Union

Asked about Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s response to the incident – in which she said independence slogans are not a question of free speech – Lau insisted it should be handled by the institutions.

Lau said he did not agree with pro-independence speeches but was unsure if they violated any law.

“If they do not violate [laws], I wouldn’t encourage it, but I understand we do have to tolerate people who say and do this kind of thing on campus, even if we don’t want to,” he said.

Pro-independence notices at CUHK. Photo: InMedia.

“If you support [independence], you express it rationally, without being cold-blooded, without being provocative, I believe I have the responsibility to tolerate and allow your speeches.”

But Lau also said some young people were being misled into committing foolish acts because of low quality information online. He said freedom of speech has to be respected, but people also have responsibilities when exercising the freedom.

Asked if he believes the recent acts of young people were the decision after an independent thinking process, Lau said: “If they believe they have independent thinking, I congratulate them.”

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Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.