As 2015 came to a close, the Hong Kong government dropped two bitterly disappointing announcements furthering fears of the end of the promised One Country, Two Systems concept. The “Tsar of Education”, “King” Arthur Li has become Chairman of the HKU Council, whilst Barry Chin Chi-Yung is now a member of the already inadequate Independent Police Complaints Council.
To state that opposition to Arthur Li is abundant would be putting it mildly. In October, 90% of voting students at HKU agreed “Arthur Li Kwok-cheung is not suitable to hold any position under the governance structure of the University of Hong Kong” whilst nearly 4500 members of the Alumni (98% of their vote) identified that they would not support his appointment. Even among staff members, concerns are rampant. In a poll conducted by the HKU Academic Staff Association, 87% said he was not suitable to be chairman, whilst 85% said they had no confidence in his council role. CY Leung, however, has flown in the face of these immense numbers, completely destroying any vague hope that Hong Kong’s Chief Executive would listen to the opinions and wishes of his humble subjects.
The appointment of Li is seen by many as a political attempt to influence internal council decisions, whilst silencing the dissenters at HKU in order to align them with the ideals of the vastly unpopular Leung (whose approval rating sits below 40% whilst his government’s satisfaction rate is a minute 24%).
Furthermore Li has a reputation as a hot-headed, power hungry dictator. During his time as the leader of the Education and Manpower Bureau, he threatened to “rape” the Hong Kong Institute of Education if it failed to agree to a merger with the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Additionally more threats followed towards Fanny Law (then Permanent Secretary for Education and Manpower) and opposing lecturers to follow his plan or pay the price. Such a clear lack of respect for his colleagues, as well as the academics of Hong Kong illustrates exactly why so many feel threatened by him whilst also demonstrating how apathetic Li is towards democratic ideals.
Li is in fact well-known in his dislike for HKU, which makes it bizarre he would agree to undertake a powerful position at somewhere he supposedly hates. Unless, that is, he wishes to see its principles and traditions deformed and bent to fit his viewpoint even though such liberal and progressive principles enabled it to become one of the most prestigious and honoured universities in the world. Freedom of Education and Speech is clearly quite antagonising to some.
Education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-Yuen released a statement with HKU Alumni Concern Group regarding Arthur Li. It read this appointment is clearly not in line with HKU’s best interests; it would only make the situation in HKU more unstable and intensified,” whilst also stating that HKU could never be at peace with someone known for their hostile attitude to the university. Ip, alongside numerous others, fear that CY Leung will demand Li to suppress HKU’s “troublesome” public opinion programme (which gathers honest sentiments of the population), the law faculty and the political supervision of students, staff & alumni. Valued School of Humanities Head Timothy O’Leary has led calls that the appointment of Li threatens the institutional autonomy and academic freedom of HKU. Both of which can lead to skewed research, self-censorship and ultimately a decreasing ability to hold the government to account. The solution is clear, but ultimately seems wildly unlikely; requiring Mr Leung to find another chairman. Is too much pride involved now to revoke the appointment? Or has the political smog under which HKU operates finally seized ultimate control through the King and the Wolf?
Barry Chin Chi-yung’s appointment to the already toothless Independent Police Complaints Commission similarly underlines the rising aggression of pro-Beijing politicians to achieve their objectives. Ma Ngok, head of Department of Government and Public Administration at CUHK, believes that the addition of such “police sympathises” (a term generally used for those willing to turn a blind eye to police failings) to the IPCC will lower public confidence in a now nearly powerless institution. Ma also has stated that this appointment clearly shows how the Government no longer cares about its image, merely the consolidation of power and removal of potential pitfalls in their quest for complete control. It is easy to see how such conclusions can be arrived at, after all, the IPCC has gone against the internal police complaints office in such high profile cases as that of Franklin Chu-wai, and therefore must be curbed before it causes any further embarrassment.
Both of these announcements came on December 31st, conveniently timed with the New Year’s Eve Celebrations encapsulating Hong Kong. They underline quite how bold the government has become, having been buoyed by the lack of effective accountability (who can truly stop the government from doing anything?). It seems Beijing and the Liaison Office now wield an unlimited power, similar to that in the Mainland, after all just this week a fifth Beijing-critical publisher has disappeared, this time taken from within the borders of Hong Kong, a previously considered safe harbour. The concerted efforts to silence those brave enough to dissent with the party-view, whilst enforcing tight restrictions on weakening tertiary institutions are a terrifying prophecy for 2016, the year of One Country, One System.