Final showdown feared as violence forces end of Hong Kong term

Six leading universities cancel last two weeks of semester after campuses left looking like war zones

November 15, 2019
Source: Getty
CUHK’s president appealed for everyone to vacate campus ‘so that peace and order can be restored’

Academics have expressed fears for the future of students and universities in Hong Kong after violence forced leading institutions to halt term with immediate effect.

After clashes between demonstrators and police left campuses resembling war zones, universities have been left nearly empty except for resident staff and protesters, who are fighting against the authorities to defend what they say is their turf.

Six leading institutions cancelled face-to-face classes for the current term’s remaining two weeks, with web-based replacements offered for many. On-site instruction was curtailed at the University of Hong Kong, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong Polytechnic University and Hong Kong Baptist University.

The shutdowns have prompted many non-local students to leave the city until after Christmas or beyond.

The most intense clashes have been at CUHK. Rocky Tuan, its president, appealed on 15 November for all university members remaining on campus to leave as soon as possible “in view of the emergency situation so that peace and order can be restored”.

In the previous few days, student and other protesters at CUHK had waged increasingly pitched battles against the police.

Lokman Tsui, an associate professor in CUHK’s School of Journalism and Communication, shared in a Facebook post his personal experiences of returning to campus and seeing students unloading food, water, helmets and other materials as they prepared to hunker down for a siege. He witnessed a blast from a police water cannon, possibly laced with a chemical irritant, hitting a protester, as well as university administrators trying to negotiate a peaceful resolution with the police.

“Hong Kong and especially its campuses are the forefront of this battle against rising authoritarianism,” he told Times Higher Education after he left campus the following day. “Hong Kong is the canary in the coal mine. It’s a preview of a potential future for everyone else with regard to how Beijing might act to academics or institutions overseas.”

Professor Tsui worried that the remaining students were in a “precarious situation”. “I am afraid that Beijing and the Hong Kong government might want to use it to set an example to everyone else,” he said.

CUHK’s location, on a grassy hill overlooking a harbour in the New Territories, initially made it difficult for some students to leave. Some mainland Chinese students were removed from campus by a Hong Kong police boat, while Taiwanese students were seen carrying luggage and backpacks on a 20-minute walk to safety, local journalists reported.

Businesses in mainland China have opened their doors to students leaving Hong Kong, while some Taiwanese universities said that they would welcome displaced learners.

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