Hundreds of protesters gathered in Cambridge on November 17th 2019 over the growing tensions in Hong KongJoe Cook

Tucked away in my room in North Court, Emmanuel College, I closed my eyes and remembered the streets choking with tear gas. Up until October, I was one of the millions of protesters fighting for the rights of my home, Hong Kong. In a long and bitter summer, I had marched, shouted slogans, and been tear-gassed. However, as I swapped my mask and my banners for a formal gown and history books, I knew the struggle would have to continue in the tranquillity of the Cambridge campus.

Cambridge University is held up to be a bastion of democracy and academic freedom. And yet, it has refused to take away the honours of Carrie Lam, someone who is most decidedly anti-democratic and anti-freedom. Indeed, Lam, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, is an alumnus of Cambridge University. She is also an honorary fellow at Wolfson College, which means she is one of the ‘persons of distinction whom the College holds in high standing’.

Carrie Lam, in short, is an aloof and unaccountable leader

Yet, even now, after six months of protests and political repression in Hong Kong, Wolfson College has refused to take away Lam’s honorary fellowship. Not only is this outrageous, it is also baffling. There are very clear reasons why Lam does not deserve such a mark of approbation.

Firstly, Lam’s arrogance and high-handedness makes her entirely unsuited for this honour. When one million people hit the streets on 9 June 2019 to protest against the extradition bill, Lam fobbed them off with a government statement. Later in August, she dismissed protesters as a violent minority who had ‘no stake in society’. Although she did not visit any victims of the 21 July mob attack, she somehow found the time for touring MTR train stations and examining damaged turnstiles. Perhaps Wolfson should have noticed the warning signs back in 2015 when Lam, as Chief Secretary, said she ’has a place reserved in heaven’.

More importantly, Lam, as Chief Executive, has systematically torn apart the liberties of the Hong Kong people. She has reduced Hong Kong, a proud city of commerce and the common law, to a desperate war-zone.

The University and Wolfson must do the honourable thing, reverse course, and stand with Hong Kong

This is largely due to her refusal to condemn the violent actions of the Hong Kong Police Force. If anything, her persistent support for the force and her emphasis on ‘止暴制亂’ (translated as ‘stopping the violence and controlling the chaos’) is fanning the flames of violence. She was silent when the police tear-gassed shopkeepers and children; she remained silent when the police beat arrested protesters and blinded a journalist in one eye; and, even after the first death caused by police operations, she has continued to sing the praises of the force.

Things are dire. At the time of writing, the police have surrounded a university campus and threatened to use live ammunition on the students within. Lam, predictably, is nowhere to be seen.

Yet the issue goes deeper than Lam’s approval of institutional police brutality; her instincts and policies are also remarkably authoritarian. For example, she ordered the arrest of prominent pro-democracy figures like Joshua Wong at the end of August, in order to prevent a mass protest on 31 August.

She has also disqualified pro-democracy candidates from by-elections, banned a political party, and expelled a foreign journalist for hosting the founder of said political party. She has refused to heed any calls for political reform or change—despite the disaster of the extradition bill, she has replaced not one Cabinet minister. Her net approval rating currently sits at -65%. It is no surprise, therefore, that Lam is widely reviled as a Communist puppet.

Without consent from the governed – Lam was voted in by 777 members of a 1200-strong Election Committee – she is reliant upon the approval of her masters in Beijing. This explains her craven submission to the Party line and her eagerness to reinforce the diktats of the CCP. Carrie Lam, in short, is an aloof and unaccountable leader.


Mountain View

In pictures: Hong Kong protesters face off over Carrie Lam Wolfson fellowship

This brings us back to the issue of the honorary fellowship. Cambridge, whether it likes it or not, is extremely influential internationally, especially in Hong Kong. Parents read how-to manuals on sending their children to Cambridge. Textbook publishers hanker after the imprimatur of the University. High-achieving students attend special classes for their Cambridge applications. This means that the seal of the University of Cambridge has a unique status as a symbol of authority and legitimacy.

With this power comes responsibility. Cambridge has a duty to use their influence responsibly and to protect the people of Hong Kong. By refusing to strip Carrie Lam of her honorary fellowship, Wolfson College lends her a veneer of respectability. It legitimises the violence perpetrated by her government, and in doing so undermines the integrity of the University as a whole.

And yet, Wolfson College has not rescinded Lam’s fellowship. The college has proven unresponsive to petitions made by both students and members of the House of Lords, and has retreated into a sullen silence, refusing to respond to calls for further comment.

But even as Cambridge dithers and delays, Hong Kong is crying out for help. ‘Where is the free world? Where are they?’. In this case, Wolfson College is nowhere to be seen. The University and Wolfson College must do the honourable thing: reverse course, and stand with Hong Kong. If they do not, history will condemn them for their silence.

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