Chief Executive Carrie Lam has condemned pro-independence remarks made by student leaders during universities’ welcome ceremonies, saying that it was unfair to other students.

Lam did not name the schools, but Hong Kong independence was mentioned at the opening ceremonies of the Education University of Hong Kong and the Chinese University of Hong Kong. The University of Hong Kong’s student leader did not mention independence, but said students should have “rebellious courage.”

“In recent years, there has been an unhealthy wind in Hong Kong – saying that Hong Kong can be independent, Hong Kong can conduct self-determination, or Hong Kong can leave the People’s Republic of China. I am very saddened by these remarks and very disappointed,” Lam said at a regular press briefing on Tuesday.

Carrie Lam. Photo: GovHK.

“Unfortunately, this unhealthy wind has entered university campuses. It caused the opening of the academic year – supposedly a happy occasion – to be plagued by such issues in the past two, three years.”

Lam said those who support independence were a minority, but they used their roles as student union executives to make pro-independence speeches at opening ceremonies.

“This is very unfair to other students. When I receive overseas guests and when I visit the mainland, I often hear that they believe many young people in Hong Kong possess such thoughts. After some time, they develop negative views of Hong Kong young people, especially students,” she said. “This is very unfair to our students who are very outstanding, who are supportive of ‘One Country, Two Systems’ and who hope to develop their careers and lives in Hong Kong.”

Lam said pro-independence remarks violated the “One Country, Two Systems” principle and the Basic Law. She cited Articles one and 12 of the Basic Law in saying that Hong Kong is an inalienable part of China and is directly under the central government. She said the two articles were the central government’s basic policies in Hong Kong and ensured the city’s prosperity and stability.

【現場直播|Live】【二零一八年度香港大學開學典禮 HKU Inauguration Ceremony 2018】

【現場直播︳Live】 香港大學新生入學禮2018 ︳Inauguration Ceremony for New Students 2018

Posted by Campus TV, HKUSU 香港大學學生會校園電視 on Tuesday, 28 August 2018

“Anything that challenges these basic policies, or the bottom line mentioned by President Xi Jinping on July 1 last year, we will not tolerate,” she said. “I must condemn them here, since these remarks will bring very poor consequences.”

Universities’ autonomy

Lam said although she is the chancellor of Hong Kong’s universities, she respected their autonomy.

“But whenever such incidents occur, vice-chancellors and students are seemingly pitted against each other, creating great pressure for vice-chancellors, as they are not sure what to do. Because they care for their students and do not want to criticise them strongly,” she said.

Lam said she was aware that her remarks may cause other student unions to make stronger statements at their opening ceremonies.

“But I have to say the things that I need to say,” she said. “I hope universities and students will speak out when they see similar kinds of unreasonable and unlawful acts. Do not think that the issue will go away – the SAR government will continue to deal with such acts that violate the Basic Law in accordance with the law.”

Lam did not take questions after her comments.

HKU student union president Davin Wong and CUHK student union president Au Cheuk-hei. Photo: GovHK.

Au Cheuk-hei, student union president at CUHK, said the government was trying to limit Hong Kong people’s freedom of speech.

“In the past, we rarely heard the Hong Kong government condemning certain kinds of speech, saying that they cannot be uttered and leaving no room for discussion,” Au said. “But now, the government is making some issues taboo.”

Davin Wong, student union president at HKU, expressed disappointment and said Lam did not understand the importance of freedom of speech on university campuses.

“Such remarks show that it is not appropriate for her to be the chancellor of universities,” Wong said.

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.