The only Christian university in Hong Kong has kept away from a joint statement of five leading universities that welcomed a controversial law approved by China's parliament that purportedly aims to choke the pro-democracy movement in the former British colony.
The joint statement of five of the eight state-funded universities in Hong Kong backed the Chinese Communist Party's move to impose a new national security law, which aims to punish subversion, secession, foreign interference and terrorism in Hong Kong.
However, the territory's only Christian-founded university, Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU), did not join them. It issued a separate statement on June 1 expressing people's concerns about the proposed law, albeit stressing the need for national security and Hong Kong's stability.
The legal move has raised concerns among many people including university students and faculty members, said a statement signed by Professor Roland Chin Tai-hong, the university's president and vice-chancellor.
His message expressed the hope that "the government will continue to actively communicate with the public to ensure that the law is appropriate to Hong Kong's situation, meets public expectations and enables the public to understand its contents fully."
China’s National People’s Congress (NPC), its parliament, on May 28 approved the draft legislation but disclosed no details. Rights groups and media suspect that the clauses to punish terrorist acts target those leading pro-democracy street protests in Hong Kong for the past year.
The law, media reports said, will be drafted and promulgated in the next three months and will be effective by September.
The move bypasses Hong Kong's legislature and its mini-constitution called the Basic Law. Observers see it as China's determination to end the "one country, two systems" policy with which China has administered Hong Kong, allowing it to enjoy democratic autonomy.
"We expect the national security law to protect the autonomy and academic freedom granted to universities by the Basic Law," said six-decade-old HKBU in its statement.
"Baptist University will continue to do its part to uphold its educational mission, create knowledge, nurture talents and contribute to society."
The university developed from Hong Kong Baptist College, founded in 1956 by the Baptist Convention of Hong Kong. In 1983, it became a fully funded public tertiary institution and gained university status in 1994.
Hong Kong is a pluralistic society and as such people hold different positions. It is also for this reason that the Basic Law guarantees academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and freedom of speech, press, publication, association, assembly, procession and demonstration, the HKBU statement added.
The statement was issued two days after the presidents of five state-funded universities jointly issued a statement welcoming the security law.
Such a law was necessary for "a safe and stable social environment, a sound legal system and the rule of law, good law and order, and pluralism and tolerance are essential to the long-term development of Hong Kong," their statement said.
However, their statement also said they "fully support 'one country, two systems,' understand the need for national security and cherish the rights to freedom of speech, press, publication and assembly guaranteed by the Basic Law."
Shue Yan University was the first to express its position a day before the NPC approved the law. It said it expects the government "to protect the spirit of the rule of law fully, freedom of speech, publication, assembly, association and academic freedom, and related legal rights" of Hong Kong people.
The statement also said that the rule of law is a core value of Hong Kong and an important cornerstone for the implementation of "one country, two systems" in the territory.
"National security is about the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong and the successful implementation of 'one country, two systems,'" it added.
City University of Hong Kong, which did not join the gang of five, also issued a statement supporting the "one country, two systems" principle.