The new head of the Chinese University of Hong Kong Rocky Tuan has said that discussions should be rational, peaceful and respectful of the law, after he was asked whether students could discuss the issue of Hong Kong independence.

He said Hong Kong has rule of law, and the city’s Basic Law states that it is an inalienable part of China.

“Advocating or promoting Hong Kong independence is a violation of the Basic Law,” he said at a new year gathering with the media. “But freedom of speech is a core value of the school.”

Rocky Tuan. Photo: Kris Cheng/HKFP.

“But discussion should be rational, peaceful, respectful of the law, and mutually respectful. On this, we will continue to communicate with students.”

He added that the school is not a place for political fights. He also said the school had been communicating with the student union over a student society aiming to study Hong Kong independence.

Joint statement controversy 

Tuan said the university’s position was made clear in a joint statement signed by ten university heads before he took the job.

Former University of Hong Kong president Peter Mathieson had said that the “abuse” of freedom of expression mentioned in the joint statement were not about pro-independence speeches.

Asked if he agreed with Mathieson, Tuan said: “I have never communicated with Mathieson, so I don’t know what was his explanation was. But if you look at the statement, what it said was obvious.”

Photo: Kris Cheng/HKFP.

Tuan said he had met with officials of the China Liaison Office in Hong Kong twice but there was no pressure as they were only courtesy meetings: “So far, nothing.”

He said it was the responsibility of the university – a public body – to engage with other public entities that are public in nature.

Asked if he would join the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference if invited, Tuan said he did not intend to.

Tuan had returned to Hong Kong after spending decades in the US. Asked if he felt pressure related to Hong Kong’s political atmosphere, he said: “There is pressure everywhere in the world… Hong Kong today is very different compared to the time when I was young, but I cannot say it is a kind of pressure. I just have to adjust myself to adapt to Hong Kong now.”

“I am not a person in politics,” he added.

Photo: CUHK.

CUHK ranking

Tuan also said that university rankings were unavoidable. He said CUHK had no need to worry as it had achieve a lot through its research and teaching. He also said different rankings adopt different methods and the results may vary a lot.

“Rankings are like buying things on Amazon. Amazon has a five star system. If you are a customer, of course you wouldn’t buy items without any stars,” he said. “But will you buy the item just because it has five stars? It’s not like that, although you will take reference.”

“Rankings should be used as a reference. We do not need to be too excited if we get high rankings, and we do not need to lose sleep if we drop a few places.”

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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.