Hong Kong university leaders have assumed the peacemaker’s role amid failed efforts to orchestrate talks between the troubled territory’s opposing parties.
In an open letter, Chinese University of Hong Kong president Rocky Tuan warned of dire consequences unless a new forum was created to facilitate “constructive and effective dialogues between the government and citizens from different age groups, social backgrounds and political persuasions”.
Professor Tuan said that left unchecked, the “social rift” underlying Hong Kong’s recent turmoil “would only widen further until it is beyond repair”. He advocated the “expeditious establishment of a platform acceptable to a large cross-section of the society”.
“I earnestly believe that such rational exchange of viewpoints and ideas will shed light on a way forward to put the society on the path of reconciliation.”
Professor Tuan’s intervention comes as the conflict shows no signs of waning. On 7 July the focus of demonstrations moved from Hong Kong Island to the mainland shopping district of Kowloon, with organisers saying they wanted to highlight their concerns to tourists from China.
Student leaders have rebuffed offers of talks with Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam, with the two groups unable to agree on terms for discussions.
Hong Kong University of Science and Technology president Wei Shyy said digging in would achieve nothing. “Repeating identical statements or persistent confrontation will only bring more divide and can’t serve the interest of our home,” he warned. “Hong Kong will be the ultimate loser.”
While condemning the “violence” of the 1 July storming of Hong Kong’s legislature, Professor Shyy said it had revealed an undercurrent of discontent that could not be solely attributed to Ms Lam’s controversial extradition bill.
“We need to acknowledge that the protestors, many of them youngsters and students, would want to commit such acts even though they are fully aware of the consequences,” he said. “We should discuss the root cause to address the challenges we face.”
New Hong Kong Polytechnic University president Jin-Guang Teng, whose tenure began on the day the legislative council was ransacked, said rule of law was Hong Kong’s greatest strength. “While we are fully aware of the sentiments in our society, we are very concerned about the wellness and well-being of our students,” he said.
“We hope people with different views – yet on the ground of mutual respect – would build constructive conversations in a calm, rational and peaceful manner.”
University of Hong Kong president Xiang Zhang also urged constructive discussion while condemning the destruction at the legislature. “People with different viewpoints can coexist in a state of civility,” he insisted.
“The rift in the society could be healed if all parties are able to reach out and engage in constructive dialogues, with a readiness to seek common ground and compromise for the greater good of Hong Kong.”
Meanwhile former Hong Kong chief executive Tung Chee-hwa has blamed a secondary school liberal studies curriculum, implemented under his administration and later made compulsory, for fomenting youth discontent in the city. Education officials have denied this, saying there is no proof that liberal studies encourage radical activism.
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