23 October 2016
Professor Cheng Kai-ming (right inset) blames students who stormed the HKU Council meeting for "further destroying the system". But what if the system itself is decaying? asks Alan Leong (left inset). Photo: HKEJ
Professor Cheng Kai-ming (right inset) blames students who stormed the HKU Council meeting for "further destroying the system". But what if the system itself is decaying? asks Alan Leong (left inset). Photo: HKEJ

Who is actually destroying our system?

Professor Cheng Kai-ming, a former pro-vice chancellor of the University of Hong Kong (HKU), published two articles in the Economic Journal on Oct. 2 and Oct. 6 on the recent rejection of Professor Johannes Chan Man-mun’s appointment as pro-vice chancellor by the HKU Council.

There are some points in Professor Cheng’s articles with which I cannot agree.

First, Professor Cheng wrote that Hong Kong has a long-established and hard-earned system of procedures and mechanisms, and in the face of political turmoil, we have to make a tough decision: whether to protect this system or to overthrow this system?

He said in the case of the HKU Council, if we destroy its mechanism, it would be like declaring an open season on HKU and various political forces would be able to interfere with the decision-making process of the university.

It appears that when it comes to people who are seeking to destroy the existing mechanism, Professor Cheng is referring to those who challenged the decision of the HKU Council.

This begs the question: What should we do when the current mechanism is falling apart, or when those who are entrusted with public power under this mechanism are no longer impartial?

In my opinion, there are two choices. We can either continue to preserve this decaying system and keep telling ourselves that having a bad system is still better than having no system at all, or we can try our best to put things right in our system, and restore equality, justice and accountability to it.

Obviously, those who Professor Cheng refers to as the “opposers”, including myself, have chosen the second option. In fact, what we are trying to do is to save the system rather than sabotage it.

It is indeed the chairman and most members of the HKU Council who are actually harming our well-established system, because they have failed to provide any reasonable justification for their decision to delay and reject the appointment, using the confidentiality principle as an excuse.

Professor Cheng also blamed the students who stormed the HKU Council meeting for “further destroying this system”.

I think that is quite an overstatement because it was only after the Council had ignored the co-signed declaration announced by the so-called “opposers”, refused to meet student representatives, and continued to turn a deaf ear to their demands for procedural justice and due process that our students finally had no choice but to go to such great lengths to make themselves heard.

Why didn’t Professor Cheng understand that?

On the other hand, Professor Cheng also disapproved the act of Billy Fung Jing-en, chairman of the HKU Students’ Union, to disclose details of the discussion during the Council meeting that vetoed Professor Johannes Chan’s appointment, saying Fung’s act amounted to “trampling the procedure underfoot”.

Given that Professor Cheng repeatedly emphasized the importance of protecting our hard-earned system and procedures in his articles, I think it is logical to infer that he also believes in the century-old common law system which has governed Hong Kong for so long.

In fact, there were legal precedents which ruled that the public’s right to know could override the principle of confidentiality under some circumstances.

Professor Cheng should have noted that two years ago, Dr. Lo Chung-mau, a member of the HKU Council, was also “driven by conscience” and leaked the Council’s decision to recommend Peter Mathieson, a man whom Dr. Lo described as “ignorant, incompetent and heartless”, for the position of HKU vice-chancellor.

Professor Cheng could be under the impression that Dr. Lo has a monopoly on “leaking strictly confidential information in the name of justice”.

In his articles, Professor Cheng said, on one hand, it is sad that a highly respected academic got entangled in a political crisis and became a victim of political struggles among different factions.

But he also said, on the other hand, the academic had done something “totally avoidable”, probably out of recalcitrance and indignation, and that by commenting on the matter on his own he had discredited himself.

Although Professor Cheng didn’t mention exactly who, everybody knows who he was referring to.

Let’s not forget it was only after eight months into the relentless smear campaign perpetrated by pro-Beijing newspapers against Professor Chan that he eventually broke his silence and acknowledged that he was the candidate for the pro-vice chancellor slot and responded to all those malicious criticisms and personal attacks against him.

How long should a person remain silent on false accusations against him and put up with the humiliation in order not to discredit himself?

Finally, Professor Cheng concluded that Hong Kong is and will be facing continued challenges posed by the “mainland mindset”, which is inevitable due to our cultural differences, and can’t be resolved by the simple adoption of a “resistance mentality”.

With all due respect, I can never agree with the notion that we should ever let ourselves be resigned to “two systems” being overwhelmed by “one country” and our autonomy being given away by people in our city who are just too eager to curry favor with Beijing simply due to our own sense of powerlessness.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct. 12.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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member of the Hong Kong Legislative Council; leader of the Civic Party

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