Beijing's Hand Seen in Hong Kong Rejection of University Vice- Chancellor

By Marquand, Robert | The Christian Science Monitor, September 30, 2015 | Go to article overview

Beijing's Hand Seen in Hong Kong Rejection of University Vice- Chancellor


Marquand, Robert, The Christian Science Monitor


A seemingly small case of a professor denied promotion has suddenly become a big story in Hong Kong, pitting the forces of greater self-government against those of China's authoritarian central government.

Local democrats and international scholars have accused Beijing of meddling with autonomous institutions in order to block Johannes Chan from the post of vice-chancellor of Hong Kong University. Prof. Chan has been sympathetic to last year's Occupy Central protests in China's most cosmopolitan city. The university rejected his candidacy on Tuesday.

Chan is the former dean of HKU's law school and a distinguished constitutional scholar. He wrote the forward to a recent book by law professor Benny Tai on civil disobedience whose strategy partly informed that protest, of which Prof. Tai was a cofounder.

Months ago Chan was selected to be vice-chancellor by a university search committee. Normally selections are quickly approved by a 21-person council made up of 13 outside members and eight university staff and students. A number of the 13 are appointed by Hong Kong chief executive CY Leung, considered close to Beijing.

Yet this spring, the council instead twice voted (12-8) to delay discussion of the vote. At the same time two pro-China media outlets in Hong Kong began what democrats call a smear campaign against Chan.

Antipathy and divides deepened over the summer. Many Hong Kong academics favor increased freedoms under the "one-country-two systems" formula that guarantees Hong Kong's autonomy and characterized the delay as heavy-handed interference in city affairs. This month, ahead of Tuesday's vote, a majority of a 9,000 member Hong Kong University alumni body voted to support him.

The New York Times today quoted both New York University legal scholar Jerome Cohen, an authority on China, and noted Harvard professor of Asia studies Roderick MacFarquhar, who is in Hong Kong, criticizing the vote against Chan. …

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