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Tuesday, November 19, 2019, 20:29
LegCo needs to examine universities’ role in the riots
By Tony Kwok
Tuesday, November 19, 2019, 20:29 By Tony Kwok

In the colonial era, the British military personnel based in Hong Kong often made headlines with their drunken behavior in the Wan Chai bar district. This occurred most often when US Navy ships came to port and American GIs happened to arrive for their periodical R&R from fighting in the Vietnam War. Having said that, the British military also did a lot of commendable community work for the then-British colony, such as building bridges and generators in the remote New Territories.

Hence the news that about 50 unarmed soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army, dressed in street clothes, trooped out from the Kowloon East barracks with brooms and buckets to assist local volunteers clearing the debris left by radical rioters in Renfrew Road just outside the barracks should be greeted positively as a gesture of goodwill, similar to some of the community work carried out by the British military during colonial days. And this was not the first time the local garrison was seen rendering volunteer community improvement service. They assisted in the removal of fallen trees after Typhoon Mangkhut struck last year.

The legislator representing the legal sector, Dennis Kwok Wing-hang, said he had put in an urgent question to the Legislative Council to seek a government “explanation“ — but read “justification”. The inherent cynicism is breathtaking! Not surprisingly, this generated an instant angry public pushback, with some questioning why he kept mum while the blackshirt anarchists were vandalizing our city before our eyes, but took issue with those who were trying to clean up the wreckage left by the blackshirts. Some pointed out that Kwok kept silent while the blackshirts were committing some of the worst atrocities — including burning a man for expressing a contrarian political view — nor did he denounce the blackshirts while they were trashing our once-standard-setting MTR and other transportation infrastructure, creating havoc on countless employees and students. He didn’t condemn the rioters either for causing the death of a Leisure and Cultural Services Department contract worker who was hit by a thrown brick. He also stayed silent as the Shatin Law Courts Building suffered an arson attack. The list goes on. Yet he found it justified to question the goodwill gesture of the local garrison in helping to clean up the debris created by the blackshirts and their supporters!Yet almost immediately, the 24 opposition lawmakers pounced on the event as though they have just stumbled upon an earth-shattering government boo-boo.

The result of all this pandering and appeasement was that many of these universities have been turned by students into their fortresses and weapon-manufacturing centers. Lawlessness in university campuses was further encouraged by the universities’ refusal to allow the police to set foot on their campuses, even when crimes had been committed

But there is indeed an urgent matter that the legislators should consider at LegCo. That is delving into the nine universities’ contributions, directly or by default, to the current destructive social upheaval over the last five months. The nine university presidents released a joint statement on Friday basically shirking all responsibility for the current sorry state of affairs created by the blackshirts, many of them university students, who also assaulted numerous innocent citizens for nothing more than expressing a view different from theirs. The top university administrators merely shoved all responsibility to the government. It is a sad day, when since time immemorial, educators are universally expected to mold the moral character of the younger generation. But apparently, our university presidents have unanimously decided to abdicate this sacred moral duty! Is it any wonder that some of our university students have turned out to be social destroyers and not builders!

The public will recall that as early as 2013, then-chief executive Leung Chun-ying warned the universities against the attempted deliberation of Hong Kong independence in school magazines. But the universities refused to act under the pretext that the universities must respect the academic freedom of expression.

University staff and student discipline took a huge dive during “Occupy Central”, when they took part in related illegal activities yet faced no disciplinary action. The students, who continued to get away with increasingly rude and anti-social behavior, soon lost all respect for their teachers and other faculty members. They think nothing of staging disrespectful protest actions during graduation ceremonies. The more extreme ones even resorted to bullying teaching staff, detaining them and even breaking into their offices. None of us should be surprised by this turn of events when university presidents would bend over backward to accommodate the whims of rebellious students, thinking this would buy their cooperation. How wrong the current events in our universities have proved this policy of appeasement was. Most remarkable was the action of the president of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, who wrote a letter to the government to condemn “police brutality”, but made no comment on the truly destructive behavior of his students.

The result of all this pandering and appeasement was that many of these universities have been turned by students into their fortresses and weapon-manufacturing centers. Lawlessness in university campuses was further encouraged by the universities’ refusal to allow the police to set foot on their campuses, even when crimes had been committed. The CUHK rioters had blocked the Tolo Highway and Taipo Road for several days and stopped the trains passing through University station; the University of Hong Kong rioters blocked the Pok Fu Lam main road and obstructed its MTR station entrance with concrete. The Polytechnic University’s rioters are still blocking the Cross Harbour Tunnel and burned down all its toll booths, while the City University and Baptist University rioters have blocked most of the main roads in the Kowloon Tong area. These have brought Hong Kong traffic to almost a complete standstill for several days. In addition, they used the campus to manufacture gasoline bombs, which are now being thrown in huge numbers, causing fire and damage all over, and what is most concerning is that they broke into the universities’ laboratories and stole biochemicals, which could cause an unimaginable disaster to society. Clearly, the universities’ respective managements have grossly failed in their responsibility to manage the campus and the students, and yet they had the temerity to blame the government for their failure.

It is painful to note our university presidents are paid an annual salary of about HK$6 million (US$770,000), even more than the HK$5 million Hong Kong dollars the chief executive earns. And yet they now said they cannot even manage their campus!

LegCo should set up a special select committee to examine what went wrong in our universities and their role in the current riot. All the presidents of the nine universities as well as the Secretary for Education should be summoned to help with the inquiry with a view to substantially tightening the management of the campus and students.

The author is an adviser of Our Hong Kong Foundation and a council member of the Chinese Society of Hong Kong and Macao Studies.


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