CUHK-bashers may get fingers burned

The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), whose campus saw scenes of a fierce confrontation between protesters and riot police at the heyday of the 2019 social unrest, has seen a looming political storm since then.

Pundits say a political campaign against its Vice Chancellor Rocky Tuan, who has been singled out for attack for his role in the ugly clash at the campus and students’ involvement in the social movement, is just a matter of time.

Then came a sudden announcement of the re-appointment of Tuan by the university’s council for another three years in April. Maddened by the decision, opponents of Tuan and CUHK-bashers have vowed to kick him out – and to revamp the decision-making body.

Defending the fortress is the present leading echelon of the university, which is mostly composed of its senior management and representatives of alumni. On the attacking side is a loose coalition of pro-Beijing figures, including some alumni who are vocal in the political and media circles.

That could not be more ironic.

One of whom is Chris Wat, a Chinese language graduate of CUHK and a former writer in Jimmy Lai’s now-disbanded Next magazine, now one of the most popular KOLs in the patriots’ circle.

She has aligned with political heavyweights including former chief executive Leung Chun-ying and Executive Council member Tommy Cheung seeking to boot out Professor Tuan.

In a column published in Headline Daily in July, Wat has accused Tuan as a “sinner” who has turned the university into a “mob university” and nurtured “thugs” since he took the helm. Tuan should not be given a three-year contract, she wrote.

“This guy must not be condoned. When the Legislative Council resumes work in October (after summer break), that is the time for counting old scores,” she warned.

Wat could not wait until October. She fired salvos against Tuan after the university held the opening ceremony of the new academic year in September, which featured the presence of a list of senior government officials and representatives of the central government’s organs in Hong Kong. They include Secretary for Security Chris Tang, who is a CUHK alumni.

She questioned whether the Police had officially investigated the role of Tuan in the 2019 clash. Her views were echoed by Leung Chun-ying.

The fresh round of salvos by Tuan-bashers has caused a stir, but failed to make waves in the society.

Speaking in a TV interview on September 17, Chris Tang said he has no ill feelings towards Tuan. He said Tuan’s condemnation of Police over their handling of the clash was probably because of “incorrect information.”

Tang’s response is a clear message of “let bygones be bygones” not just from him, but the John Lee administration and the central government. If he is not politically acceptable to the authorities, he would not have been put on the list of advisers to Lee’s election campaign.

If not for the controversy over a redesign of the university’s emblem last month, the campaign against Tuan might have already lost its steam.

Thanks to a serious misjudgment and poor handling of the university’s senior executives on the redesign initiative, a debate over the redesign has given fresh ammunition to legislators and Tuan-bashers. They cited the row as a case of the university’s poor governance, thus inflating their case for the imperatives of a revamp of the council by bringing in more outsiders, aka, patriots.

To mark the university’s 60th anniversary next year, the redesign features a simplified version of a split-colour Chinese phoenix.

In a swift act of damage-control, the university has halted the use of the redesign.

Not surprisingly, that has not put an end to the controversy.

An oral question raised by legislator Priscilla Leung Mei-fan, who is also a CUHK alumni, on governance of universities on Wednesday last week (Nov 9) has given an opportunity to the Tuan-bashers to make a fresh attack on CUHK’s top management.

In line with Chris Tang’s moderate stance, Secretary for Education Choi Yuk-lin said they respect university autonomy and will not interfere with their recruitment and appointment matters.

If members want to change the formation of university councils, she said they can table a bill to the Legco for scrutiny. Choi added universities and stake-holders should forge dialogue over different views on the development of universities.

Choi was blasted by Priscilla Leung for ducking the issue. The Tuan-bashers were unhappy with Choi’s cool response. They should feel more sad and mad by the media’s cool treatment and public indifference to the Legco debate.

Putting a brave face to the failure to refresh the row, pundits said last week’s oral question session was just a prelude to a fiercer attack on Tuan and his senior management at Legco’s education panel next month. Panel chairman Priscilla Leung looks set to invite Tuan to attend the meeting to answer criticism and give explanation.

Barring more unexpected gaffes by Tuan and his senior team, the education panel meeting looks more likely to mark the end of the bashing of Tuan and further cooling of the idea of a council via a private members’ bill.

This is simply because the major stake-holders, namely CUHK students, alumni and teachers, the government and the public, see no strong reasons to get rid of Tuan and overhaul the university.

Common sense, now a rare commodity in the corridors of power, seems to have prevailed, at least when it comes to a university with 59 years of history.

Noting it took years for Hong Kong to build up the status of an international financial hub in Asia in his blog last week, former financial secretary John Tsang warned it could be destroyed overnight because of a meaningless move.

It is a timely reminder to the bashers of Tuan and CUHK, in particular those alumni, that they risk getting their own fingers burned by playing with fire.

▌[At Large] About the Author

Chris Yeung is a veteran journalist, a founder and chief writer of the now-disbanded CitizenNews; he now runs a daily news commentary channel on Youtube. He had formerly worked with the South China Morning Post and the Hong Kong Economic Journal.