On Tuesday the 1st of October, 18-year old student Tsang Chi-King from Hong Kong was shot in the chest from close range by a riot-police officer. The bullet ended up mere centimeters from his heart. Tsang Chi-Kin is one of the many victims of excessive police violence that has been running rampant throughout the city for months. On Tuesday the 1st of October, we here in Leiden went about our business, mostly unaware of the pain of Hong Kong.
Millions of protesters have been taking to the streets for months in Hong Kong to voice their discontent with the growing influence of the mainland Chinese government in the autonomous city-state. The spark that lighted the protests was a highly controversial extradition law that would allow for dissidents to be extradited and put on trial in mainland China, where court systems are controlled by the Communist Party. This law was ultimately withdrawn, but protests are far from over. The protesters have now set a 5-point ultimatum to the government of Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, and have confirmed they will not stop protesting until their demands are met. Among the demands are complete amnesty for arrested protesters, an independent investigation into police violence, and democratic elections.
Hong Kong has the reputation of being a relatively free and autonomous part of China, after its independence from the United Kingdom in 1997. The Communist regime on the mainland however, has strengthened its grip over the city-state the last couple of years. Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s current “executive” has been appointed by the Chinese government. The large-scale protests of this year are the result of years of extreme discontent and frustration of Hong Kong citizens about these developments.
While the Communist government of China celebrated the country’s 70-year existence on the 1st of October in its usual megalomaniac style, hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong citizens once again took to the streets to protest. For the first time since the protests of this year started, police used live ammunition against its own citizens. Dozens of people were taken to the hospital in critical condition. Images of the behavior of the Hong Kong police are showing the ongoing escalation of the conflict. Children as young as 12 years old have been arrested for being near the protests, and heart-breaking footage of a mentally ill young man who is violently being thrown on the ground by multiple heavily armed policemen shows the shocking brutality of the force that the Hong Kong police are ready to use against their compatriots.
Student committees of 10 Hong Kong universities and over 200 high schools announced in August that they will not follow classes on the first day of the new school year, in protest of the police violence and the government’s refusal to provide clarity about the extradition law. The following week, students called for everyone to wear masks on the streets, protesting the recently instated emergency law against covering one’s face.
Back to Leiden: the Leiden University website states that China is a “priority country” when it comes to long term cooperation in the academic field. Last year Carel Stolker, the rector magnificus, met with Chinese prime minister Li Keqiang in Leiden, and posed in pictures with the Chinese delegation while smiling. The same Li Keqiang is, together with Xi Jinping, the mightiest man of the Chinese regime that is currently masterminding a cultural genocide against the Uyghur people in China’s Xinjiang region. Amnesty International estimates that at least 1 million Uyghurs are locked up in “re-education camps”, without any trial or legal protection. Conditions are horrific and reminiscent of those in North Korean gulag-style camps. In these camps, Uyghurs are being forced to learn Chinese, renounce their Islamic faith, and swear loyalty to Xi Jinping and the Communist government. The geopolitical influence of China is so large however, that barely anything is being done to stop China from treating its own citizens like objects. And now it seems that Hong Kong is next: the Chinese government has so far shown no intention of making compromises and Carrie Lam has stated that she will ask the People’s Army to step in if the situation in Hong Kong escalates any further.
Mare already made the case for great caution on the side of the University in dealing with Chinese institutions. I would like to take this even further. I call upon rector Carel Stolker, vice rector Hester Bijl, and the College van Bestuur, to refrain from further support to the “academic” apparatus of China, and to use their international connections to highlight the shameful and brutal ways in which China treats its own citizens (including millions of students). We owe it to Tsang Chi-Kin and all of those hundreds of thousands of young people in Hong Kong who are today still fighting for those rights that seem so normal to us here and that we take for granted every day.
Ultimately, Chinese universities and other institutions have one thing in common: they are but tools of the Communist regime, that decides over ideological matters, curriculum, and what people can and cannot say. Let us be clear about this: China does not have academic freedom, and every further concession that is made is a slap in the face of our university’s motto, Praesidium Libertatis; Bastion of Freedom. In China, people only know one Bastion: not that of Freedom, but of the terror and oppression of the Communist Party.
BA Religious Studies