The head of the University of Hong Kong met with his critics again on Friday night, promising to appear at a public forum within a week.
HKU’s president and vice-chancellor Zhang Xiang has been under fire for his response to the storming of the legislature on July 1. In his July 3 statement, Zhang said he was “disheartened by the violence that occurred in the Legislative Council building and would like to condemn such destructive acts.”
Some 2,000 HKU students, alumni and staff signed a petition asking Zhang to retract his statement, which prompted Zhang to state on July 11 that it was not his intention to single out the students for blame.
“Let me make it very clear that I am against violence, of any kind, by any party, and at any juncture,” he wrote. “As a scientist, I speak my mind. It was never my intention to please or to place blame.”
On Friday, students led a march to Zhang’s residence at around 11pm following an on-campus protest rally that drew around 300 people.
Posted by Campus TV, HKUSU 香港大學學生會校園電視 on Friday, 12 July 2019
Zhang came out to meet with the protesters – mostly students – at the gate of his University Drive residence, and repeated his stance that violence on all sides should be condemned.
However, Zhang also said he would not allow police to enter the campus and arrest students unless they have “lawful warrants,” which was met with applause. He vowed to give support to students affected by the protests, adding he was “impressed” by the students’ conduct on Friday.
Zhang agreed to participate in a forum open to students, staff, alumni and the media, as requested by HKU Student Union Acting President Davin Wong. The event is scheduled to take place within the coming week.
Asked if he supported an independent commission of inquiry to investigate alleged police abuses, Zhang referred to the upcoming study conducted by the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC).
“I understand there is disagreement on whether the commission is good enough, or has enough independence,” he said. “But if the investigation outcome is that someone, at some juncture, [used violence], that should be condemned as well – including the police.”
The conversation on Friday lasted around 40 minutes, but Wong said afterwards that the outcome was “zero,” because Zhang made no concessions.
HKU social sciences professor Joseph Chan, who helped mediate between the students and Zhang, said that he felt the vice-chancellor was “sincere” in his desire to talk. Zhang previously said he was new to the job and was unfamiliar with Hong Kong’s situation, but Chan noted that the defence could not be used for much longer.
Outside the vice-chancellor’s residence, students painted slogans on the ground and set up an ad-hoc “Lennon Wall” message board.
The earlier rally was also attended by a handful of counter-protesters, who held placards such as “Support the freedom of speech (which also applies to the vice-chancellor)” and “Against violence and destruction.”
Large-scale protests since June have since morphed into wider displays of dissent over dwindling freedoms, democracy, alleged police brutality and other community grievances.