Why Arthur Li Might Not Be Appointed as HKU Council Chairman

November 4, 2015 Updated: November 4, 2015

News Analysis

HONG KONG—Born and raised in a family of high regard, Arthur Li Kwok-cheung holds a doctorate degree in medicine from the University of Cambridge. He used to hold important posts, including chairman of the former Education and Manpower Bureau and vice chancellor of the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

People with such remarkable backgrounds and achievements usually command great respect from society. It is therefore unthinkable that Li would choose to act as a bully on behalf of the corrupt Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in order to get rid of those who are considered “undesirable elements” by the CCP.

A secret recording of the Aug 29 meeting of the Hong Kong University (HKU) council, when the appointment of Johannes Chan as pro-vice chancellor was rejected, has been leaked. The recording revealed that Arthur Li’s reason for rejecting Chan was that the latter did not have a doctorate degree in law.

This reason has been attacked by many in the legal profession as completely absurd. It is well known that a doctorate degree is by no means an important qualification in the legal sector. Many renowned law professors in prestigious overseas universities also do not have such degrees.

To provide greater support for his decision, Li added that Chan was elected dean of the HKU Law Faculty simply because he was a “nice guy.” Despite the hundreds of articles published in two mainland-China-funded newspapers, Tai Kung Po and Wen Wei Po, arguing that Chan was unfit for the pro-vice chancellor post, Li rejected claims that the appointment had been politicised.

Li went on to say that he did not read those two newspapers. He also said he did not believe they were at all popular among Hong Kong people, so their negative reports on Chan would only produce an opposite effect.

Moreover, Li also claimed that Chan enjoyed strong support from some political parties in Hong Kong. He asked whether HKU wanted to have a “Party secretary” in its administration just like the universities in the mainland.

Li must have thought that what he said in the meeting would be kept confidential. It is therefore highly likely that he was speaking from his heart when he made these comments.

So while he might have sold his soul to the CCP, he really despised the Party, its newspapers, and the system of having Party secretaries in academic institutions. Unfortunately for him, these comments have now been made open. The CCP must have been badly offended.

There has been wide speculation that Li would succeed Leong Che-hung as HKU’s council chairman upon Leong’s imminent retirement.

Undoubtedly, such an appointment would be disastrous for HKU and academic freedom in Hong Kong. Many Hong Kong people have thus expressed their great disapproval.

Of course, the CCP and Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying do not usually care for, let alone yield to, public opinion. But will they forgive Li for his closed-door criticisms—now made public—levelled against the Party and its apparatus? Most probably not!