Hong Kong protest cancelled for the second time

Two cancelled protests reveal a pattern of fear and uncertainty for campus' Hong Kong student community

quad and tumbleweed

The University of Sydney was told this morning that Hong Kong students would assemble outside the Great Hall at dusk. Now, that rally — originally aimed at echoing the demands of protesters in Hong Kong — has been cancelled. Simultaneous protests have gone ahead nationwide, with a peaceful demonstration by Hong Kong supporters also attracting Pro-Beijing counter-protesters in Martin Place this evening.

The Great Hall instead played host to a very different function with the University arranging a formal dinner for commencing international students as the carillon rung out with Hedwig’s theme, and University-funded contractors walked around in kangaroo and lifeguard costumes, posing with students for photos.

The cancelled campus rally comes on the heels of the removal of the main Lennon Wall on Eastern Avenue by a group of Mandarin-speaking Chinese students. Some of those students were aligned to Panda, a dominant Chinese international student political grouping which controls the majority bloc on the SRC.  

Another Lennon Wall installed in the Graffiti Tunnel was found in a bin just last week. The only physical presence of pro-Hong Kong sentiment on campus now lies with a poster which reads “Free Hong Kong. Hong Kong is not China” on Eastern Avenue’s noticeboards.

The remains of the Graffiti Tunnel Lennon Wall
The remains of the Graffiti Tunnel Lennon Wall

This is the second time in two weeks that a Hong Kong solidarity protest has been cancelled. The first, advertised on USyd rants, never eventuated because it failed to specify a time and no organisers from any of the campus’ Hong Kong communities, including the Hong Kong Students’ Association (HKSA), were reportedly involved.

A University spokesperson has told Honi that it did not condone the removal of the main Lennon Wall, a position also endorsed by Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence. 

We will not tolerate violence or harassment on our campus,” Spence said in an email seen by Honi. 

But the University’s response to campus activism has not been consistent. Earlier in the week, campus security directed a group of Hong Kong students to move on when they were re-installing the Lennon Wall on Eastern Avenue’s noticeboards at midnight.

“A group of people wearing face masks attempted to put up materials on campus,” a spokesperson said. “As they did not identify themselves, security staff asked them to move on to ensure the safety of our broader community.”

“We continue to strongly support the right of all our students to express opinions and political views in a respectful way.”

Security are briefed on the rights of our students to express their views through posters,” the spokesperson said.  

A similar Lennon Wall has also been installed at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) with additional precautions including a 24/7 campus security presence and closed-circuit surveillance funded by UTS and regulated by rules of use which prohibit the removal of posters and messages.

These steps have been welcomed by some students. One student, whose family emigrated to Australia from Hong Kong after the 1997 handover and who asked to remain anonymous, said the University’s intervention was helpful for all sides of the debate.

“I think self regulation by Mainland and Hong Kong students is futile as mainland students have time and time again demonstrated that they are unable to even co-exist with people with differing views.”

“It’s not a wall dedicated just for Pro Democracy HK students, it’s a wall for everyone to post their own opinion subject to the rules of the wall which include no hate speech or threatening speech.”

The physical clashes between rival pro-Beijing and Hong Kong students which occurred at the University of Queensland last month have been noticeably absent from UTS and USyd. 

A UTS spokesperson told Honi “the University has been impressed so far with the respectful behaviour shown by its community, despite the varied political views.”