Freedom of speech and the autonomy of universities in Hong Kong are under threat from Beijing, Hong Kong’s last British governor Chris Patten has said.
“The rationale seems to be that, because students strongly supported the pro-democracy protests in 2014, the universities where they study should be brought to heel,” Patten wrote in an op-ed for Project Syndicate.
Speaking about free speech on campuses in the west, he wrote: “Universities should be bastions of freedom in any society. They should be free from government interference in their primary purposes of research and teaching; and they should control their own academic governance.”
Patten also criticised the Chinese government’s attitude towards the the Sino-British treaty, which led to the city’s handover from the UK to China in 1997. He accused the Chinese authorities of “abducting a British citizen (and four other Hong Kong residents) on the city’s streets”, while British ministers advertised the “golden age” of the two countries’ relations.
Meanwhile, “[o]n the mainland, the Chinese Communist Party has launched the biggest crackdown on universities since the aftermath of the killings in Tiananmen Square in 1989,” he said.
Patten, who is now the Chancellor of the University of Oxford, urged Western students to follow developments in Hong Kong and China more closely in order to appreciate the freedoms they may take for granted.