A Hong Kong social science scholar has refuted accusations that she disseminated pro-independence messages after state-run newspapers criticised her speech at a webinar.

Professor Lee Ching-kwan – the director of Global China Center at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) – said that “Hong Kong belongs to the world” during an online forum in May. Her remarks were slammed by the pro-Beijing Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Pao as being “pro-independence” and potentially in violation of the national security law.

Lee Ching-kwan. Photo: Youtube screenshot.

Lee was one of the speakers together with activist in-exile Nathan Law, pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong and law scholar Benny Tai at a webinar titled “Is this the end of ‘One Country Two Systems’?” organised by the Hong Kong Democracy Council on May 26. The Beijing-imposed security law came into effect on June 30 and does not have retrospective effect.

“The footage was set as ‘private’ by the HKDC [Hong Kong Democracy Council] yesterday,” Wen Wei Po’s report said on Tuesday, “meaning it is inaccessible to the public as an attempt to destroy evidence and downplay the effect. But the news was already widely circulated and caused an uproar in the society.”

‘Misinformation’

In response to the paper, a HKUST spokesperson said they respected the freedom of speech that everyone enjoys and is entitled to under the Basic Law, adding that members of HKUST should abide by law.

Lee refuted the accusations in a Facebook statement on Wednesday and said the attacks were based on misinformation and inaccurate Chinese translations of her original remarks made in English.

Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Photo: HKUST.

“[W]hen I said ‘Hong Kong belongs to the world,’ the word ‘belongs’ refers to a ‘sense of belonging’ in terms of Hong Kong’s cultural outlook and economic connections with the global community. My critics take the word ‘belongs’ out of context, and misinterpret it in a narrow jurisdictional sense,” it read.

Lee added that she was no longer affiliated with the Hong Kong Democracy Council as of June 30, contrary to the pro-Beijing newspapers claims. She added that the webinar was held before the security law came into force.

In June 2020, Beijing inserted national security legislation directly into city’s mini-constitution – bypassing the local legislature – following a year of pro-democracy protests and unrest. It criminalised subversion, secession, foreign interference and terrorist acts, which were broadly defined to include disruption to public transport and other infrastructure. The move gave police sweeping new powers, alarming democrats, civil society groups and trade partners, as such laws have been used broadly to silence and punish dissidents in China.

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Rachel Wong

Rachel Wong previously worked as a documentary producer and academic researcher. She has a BA in Comparative Literature and European Studies from the University of Hong Kong. She has contributed to A City Made by People and The Funambulist, and has an interest in cultural journalism and gender issues.