ProgressUST, a student group at Hong Kong’s University of Science and Technology, triggered the ire of college administrators on Monday who condemned a Facebook post by the group urging the construction of a wall between Hong Kong and China to ensure independence from communism.
ProgressUST has for years called for the establishment of an independent, sovereign Hong Kong state, encouraging support for Hong Kong’s identity as separate from China’s. The group’s demands as listed on the social media site are far from the more moderate requests the main pro-democracy movement is presenting to its government, most prominently direct election of its lawmakers.
On Sunday, ProgressUST published an image on Facebook demanding full secession from China by October 1, China’s national day.
“China has imposed high pressure on Hong Kong for many years, affecting Hong Kong’s economy, eroding Hong Kong’s culture, and endangering Hong Kong’s sovereignty,” the post read. “On October 1, 2019, Hong Kong people will have to make their voices and their claims heard and let everyone around the world know that Hong Kong needs to cut ties with China.”
The group makes “three big demands”: “mandatory repatriation of Chinese people in Hong Kong,” the shutdown of all Chinese company operations in Hong Kong, and the creation of a “border” between Hong Kong and China.
Professor Wei Shyy, the head of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), sent a letter to students and faculty on Monday denouncing the “hatred” in the ProgressUST Facebook post.
“HKUST condemns such messages and we can’t stay idle while these individuals staged such an act without revealing their identities,” Shyy wrote, according to the South China Morning Post. The student group had challenged “the very basic principles of the city’s existence” and injected the campus with “hatred and an absurd message.”
As the group posted the message anonymously, Shyy did not state the school would take immediate action against any particular student directly, though he noted that the university student union had been urged to respond to the posting, potentially with an investigation into who came up with ProgressUST’s demands.
According to the Morning Post, ProgressUST was founded in 2012, two years before the major pro-democracy protests of the Umbrella Revolution. Much of its work has been to promote patriotism for Hong Kong, not just for China, by organizing events to cheer on Hong Kong athletes and other prominent competitors.
Hong Kong is currently in its 12th week of protests against China that have attracted millions to the city’s streets. The protest movement, which is intentionally leaderless and insists on peaceful participation, has issued a list of five demands to city administrators: the complete withdrawal of a bill that would allow China to extradite alleged violators of Communist Party law; the direct election of lawmakers; an inquiry into police brutality; freedom for political prisoners; and an apology from the government for calling the June 12 protest a “riot.”
The protests began in June in response to the proposed extradition law, which would require the extradition into China’s notoriously unjust prison system of anyone present in Hong Kong, including foreigners. Communist law severely restricts freedom of speech, religion, and other fundamental rights, alarming Hongkongers who fear a situation in which they are disappeared into Chinese prison for speaking well of capitalism or ill of China’s human rights abuses.
Protesters have been adamant that they are not attempting to secede, instead accusing China of violating the “One Country, Two Systems” policy that allows Hong Kong to self-govern.
This weekend marked the twelfth of protests and the first in which police fired live ammunition at protesters. After a largely peaceful protest in the Tseun Wan neighborhood on Sunday, police stormed at the protesters with tear gas and a water cannon, another weapon first used against peaceful protesters this week. After the protest concluded, a small group began attacking local mahjong parlors, accusing them of having ties to triad gangs. Police have confirmed that individuals involved with triads have violently attacked protesters at the behest, the protesters suspect, of the Chinese Communist Party.
Hong Kong police told reporters that one officer fired a “warning” shot at the protesters attacking the mahjong parlors because he felt his life was in imminent danger.
“It is not a question of not responding, it is a question of not accepting those demands,” she insisted.
“As of today, the Hong Kong government is still confident that we can deal with this two-month-long social dispute ourselves, and I believe that it is also the hope of the general public — that we deal with it ourselves. The best basis for this is the rule of law,” Lam said.
Lam added that Hong Kong officials will “examine” the current law and its failure to properly shut down the protests so far.