The heads of five publicly-funded Hong Kong universities have collectively backed Beijing’s decision to impose national security laws on the city, despite fears over curbs on academic freedom and free expression.

The joint statement – shared by the Education University on Monday – expressed support for the “stability and prosperity of our country and our city,” after months of large-scale protests spurred by calls for democratic reform.

Photo: GovHK.

“A safe and stable social environment, a robust legal system, the rule of law, maintenance of law and order, as well as inclusiveness and diversity are key to Hong Kong’s long-term development,” it read.

“Our universities will continue to stand fast in upholding the principles of academic freedom and institutional autonomy, as well as promoting academic excellence and embracing diversity, and contributing to society.”

The signatories included Professor Leonard Cheng of Lingnan University; Professor Rocky Tuan of the Chinese University of Hong Kong; Professor Stephen Cheung of the Education University of Hong Kong; Professor Teng Jin-guang of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University and Professor Zhang Xiang of the University of Hong Kong.

China’s parliament last Thursday rubber-stamped controversial plans to introduce laws that would punish subversion, secession, foreign interference and terrorism in Hong Kong. The legislation would likely be inserted into the city’s mini-constitution. A higher decision-making body has now been tasked with fleshing out the details of the new laws.

Protest at Chinese University of Hong Kong. Photo: Stand News.

The unprecedented move to bypass the local legislature prompted a chorus of criticism, with four foreign governments jointly accusing Beijing of violating its international obligations under an UN-registered treaty.

Washington has said it will axe the city’s trading privileges, despite Chief Executive Carrie Lam warning on Tuesday that such a move by the US would only “hurt themselves.”

‘Protect academic freedom’

In a separate statement issued by the Hong Kong Baptist University, its President Roland Chin urged the Hong Kong government to engage with the public to allay concerns over the controversial legislation.

HKBU Vice Chancellor Roland Chin. Photo: HKBU.

“We highly appreciate the importance of national security and Hong Kong’s stability,” it read. “Universities are where new knowledge is created and talents nurtured. It is not unusual for students and teachers alike to be progressive and ahead of their times to make the world a better place. Given Hong Kong’s diversity and openness, it is natural that people could take [a] diverse stance.”

“It is our earnest hope that the national security legislation will continue to protect academic freedom and institutional autonomy as promised in the Basic Law.”

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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.