Carrie Lam Claims Hong Kong’s Universities Infiltrated By “Foreign Forces”

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam claimed that Hong Kong universities have been “penetrated by forces” after it was revealed an American academic study paid students to partake in a democracy rally in 2017. Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, where the study was based, might face backlash under the National Law, which has already dramatically curtailed academic freedoms in Hong Kong. The study split a group of 850 HKUST students into two groups, with one paid HK$350 to take pictures of the democracy march—the researchers found those paid to attend turned out at a rate 10 percentage points higher than those left unpaid. At The Hong Kong Free Press, Kelly Ho reported on the study, which was designed to investigate the connection between protest participation, social networks, and political engagement:

“Make sure that university students will not be easily indoctrinated by those prejudices and bias, let alone to take part in activities that would breach the laws of Hong Kong,” [Lam] said.

[…] The 2017 protest was chosen partly because the protest was “unambiguously legal” and “peaceful in all years prior to the study.” The research then measured whether participants also took part in the 2018 July 1 protest of their own accord.

[…] The pro-establishment Sing Tao Daily quoted critics who said that the study was proof that Western forces had interfered in Hong Kong’s affairs: “[The study showed] actions that incite violence, subversion and colour ,” the newspaper claimed. [Source]

At The South China Morning Post, Tony Cheung and Chan Ho-him reported on Chinese state media’s reaction to the study and the reactions of prominent members of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp:

After the essay was published in the June edition of the American Economic Review, WeChat account Buyidao, operated by the state-run Global Times, published an article on Tuesday, describing it as “ironclad proof” that the US and other Western countries incited people to engage in “a violent and subversive ‘colour revolution’” in Hong Kong.

[…] Lo Kin-hei, chairman of the opposition Democratic , said he found it laughable the pro-establishment camp would relate the study to foreign interference.

“For the Beijing loyalists, it seems there were protests in Hong Kong because students were paid by foreign forces. There is no social problem in the city, and it has nothing to do with them or anyone else,” he said. [Source]

The attacks on HKUST and other universities are part of a larger on Hong Kong’s college campuses. At The Atlantic, Timothy McLaughlin wrote about the National Security Law’s deleterious effects on academic freedom in Hong Kong’s universities:

Five university heads last year signed a letter endorsing the national-security law, throwing their support behind the legislation before it was even made public. This move highlighted one of the more troubling aspects of the threats on campus, and within academia more broadly: The marching orders to suppress freedoms are being dutifully carried out not by police or the authorities, but by fellow colleagues, and even students. One postgraduate student at HKU has reported at least two faculty members to the tip line, according to multiple people familiar with the matter.

[…] Lam said that signs of nervousness about certain sensitive political topics, such as Taiwan, were already apparent inside classrooms. In February, a student debate between two of the university’s colleges had to be reworked after one team objected to a question regarding protest tactics, fearing that it could violate the security law. (It was replaced with one about the struggle for in Catalonia.)

[…] Such fears of violating the law, which carries a maximum punishment of life in jail, extend beyond students: The dean of CUHK’s social-sciences department sent an email to faculty this year about a lecture series on the legislation, but the email carried a peculiar disclaimer, which stated that the department “does not condone unlawful behaviours.” The message being sent, according to the assistant professor I spoke with, was “‘Hey, you can talk about national security, but not in a critical way.’” Faculty members I interviewed also said that it was unclear how their respective universities would handle the requirement that they promote the law. Many believed that hoping to get away with anything less than a class for credit was wishful thinking. [Source]

Foreign universities are not immune from the pressure campaign. In 2020, Princeton, Amherst, and Harvard Business School instituted anonymity policies or excused students from participating in politically sensitive discussions for online courses in order to shield students from prosecution under the National Security Law. More schools are joining in. An article from the Hong Kong Free Press reported that SOAS University of London has asked academics to stop recording classes in order to avoid the risk of violating Hong Kong’s National Security Law:

In internal guidance obtained by the China Research Group, SOAS warned that lecturers and students could face arrest if they carried physical or electronic copies of lecture notes when visiting Hong Kong or mainland China.

[…] The university also highlighted the risk of collaboration with research partners in the region, saying local academics “may not have a choice if they are asked to collaborate in any investigation against their foreign partners.”

The new guidance said the recording of class discussion should be avoided and students should be trained not to reveal their identity when taking part in class debates. [Source]

Despite such restrictions, Hong Kong university students have continued to exercise their free speech rights. Despite a ban on public Tiananmen vigils in the city, students at the University of Hong Kong held a moment of silence at the “Pillar of Shame”:

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