Education Secretary Kevin Yeung has reiterated his disapproval of pro-independence talk as student leaders made reference to the controversial topic in their speeches marking the start of the school year.

On Monday, Yeung hit back at a pro-independence speech made by the Education University’s student union president at the school’s welcome ceremony last week.

“It is not necessary to discuss or reaffirm an individual’s views on Hong Kong independence at the opening ceremony of a university. This is an inappropriate occasion because the opening ceremony is for all students and represents the start of term.”

Au Cheuk-hei, Student Union president at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), speaking at the university’s opening ceremony. Photo: CUHK.

“On the topic of Hong Kong independence, there is only one clear result of that discussion. It is that independence is not feasible in Hong Kong,” he added.

Even so, the topic arose at the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s inauguration ceremony on Monday.

In his address to undergrads, CUHK student union president Au Cheuk-hei mentioned an incident last September in which pro-independence banners appeared at CUHK, as well as other university campuses around Hong Kong. This led to a high-profile battle between student unions and school authorities over whether discussion of the topic should be permitted on campus.

The banners prompted condemnation from Chief Executive Carrie Lam. Ten university heads also published a joint statement condemning “abuses” of free expression on campus and calling Hong Kong independence unconstitutional.

Hong Kong independence CUHK
Hong Kong independence banner at CUHK last year. Photo: CUHK secrets.

Au told reporters before the assembly on Monday that he hoped the school would permit open discussion and respect students’ freedom of speech if similar incidents were to arise again.

In his speech, Au renewed calls for civil disobedience: “Today, we live in a Hong Kong that is experiencing a collapse of its political system. Our sovereignty is being threatened by [a] neighbouring country – our economy, culture, and other aspects are being colonised by the Northern empire.”

“[W]hen young people head to the streets for justice, use their flesh and blood to combat systemic violence, to fight for democracy and independence for our ethnic group, but face the threat of years-long sentences as a result… I hope everyone can always remember their own identities and refuse to get used to injustices happening around them.”

‘Rebellious courage’

Davin Wong, student union president at HKU, did not explicitly mention independence, but he praised several pro-democracy and localist activists in his speech on Wednesday. “You may have known some names of young leaders from HKU: Mr Alex Chow, Miss Yvonne Leung, Mr Edward Leung, Mr Billy Fung, and even more. They have accomplished astonishing achievements in their young age, and of course, I am looking forward to more heroes rising in your generation, our generations.”

HKUSU President Davin Wong
HKUSU President Davin Wong. Photo:

He added: “We, HKU students, should never settle with rules and norms, but to question them, rewrite them. It takes such rebellious courage today to challenge all the gauges, for many in this society have buckled themselves under the ruling absurdity. And I guess every university student in history has a rebel in his soul, including you and me.”

Last month, a representative from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong attempted to block pro-independence activist Andy Chan from speaking at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club. The news prompted a response from ex-Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying, who said that there were limits to free speech and independence was a “red line.”

Pro-independence student activist group Studentlocalism said on Saturday that two of its members’ relatives were “warned” by mainland authorities to stop the activists from participating in political activities in Hong Kong.

jennifer creery

Jennifer Creery

Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.