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June 29, 2017

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Hong Kong fears 'mainlandization'

Hong Kongers have jealously guarded their freedom to speak and to protest since the city was returned to Chinese sovereignty on July 1, 1997.

They were promised a high level of autonomy under a "one country, two systems" arrangement but many see this being curtailed over the years.

"Mainlandization" can be best illustrated by Li's visit to the University of Hong Kong (HKU) for its centenary ceremony. The visit itself was shrouded in secrecy, typical of the Chinese way of doing things. As the event was not on the university's calendar or its centenary celebration program, it was reasonable to conclude that it was held at Beijing's request.

At the ceremony on Aug. 18, Li was accorded center stage and seated in the Chancellor's chair, a symbol of the highest authority in the university, which made many alumni uncomfortable.

He was one of the two keynote speakers, the other being Sir David Wilson, the penultimate governor of Hong Kong, who was given a seat in the second row.

The university, as host, drew flak for the inequitable seating arrangement for the two men, both of whom were guests of honor after all.

In the introduction, Sir David was referred to only as an alumnus of HKU. The fact that he was both a former governor of Hong Kong and a former chancellor of HKU was not mentioned, perhaps in order not to displease the Chinese guest. Such protocol arrangements were unprecedented.

As an official function of HKU, the centenary ceremony should have been open to all HKU alumni. Yet only those who are clearly pro-Beijing were invited. A glaring omission was Anson Chan, who served as Chief Secretary both before and after the 1997 handover. Another was Dr. Martin Lee, a pro-democracy advocate.

HKU Vice Chancellor Tsui Lap Chee came under fire for not safeguarding freedom of speech and for allowing some 1,000 police officers — or 5 percent of the police force — to be deployed in the university grounds and surroundings areas.

A petition signed by more than 1,000 students and alumni called Aug. 18 "the darkest day in the university's history."

The events during Li's short visit have led many people to fear that this "mainlandization" process, unless reversed, would erode the values that the SAR holds dear.

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