Tensions over China’s controversial Hong Kong extradition law boiled over at one of Australia’s top universities this week, with pro-Hong Kong and pro-Chinese students clashing on the university’s market day.
Nilsson Jones, editor of the university’s student magazine Semper Floreat, said an estimated 150 pro Hong Kong protesters were opposed by roughly 200 pro-Beijing students, with the latter ripping up signs showing support for Hong Kong and criticising China's treatment of its Uyghur population.
“There were signs saying, ‘One million Muslims detained', ‘Free Hong Kong’ and things like that. Tensions escalated when Chinese students arrived – there were students holding speakers and blasting the Chinese national anthem,” Jones told Guardian Australia.
Jones took footage of the clashes, which reportedly started when a mainland supporter took a megaphone off one of the protesters and threw it. The footage has since been shared widely on social media and triggered intense debate between pro-Hong Kong and pro-China supporters.
— Nilsson Jones (@nilssonjones_) July 24, 2019
I wondering whether you've came to China mainland before, to see how people live, how people think here. Your opinion is truely embarrassing
— ramonsun (@sunfei1988) July 24, 2019
The University of Queensland released a statement shortly after the incident stating that the safety of students was its paramount concern. It did not, however, explicitly condemn the violence.
“One of the roles of universities is to enable open, respectful and lawful free speech, including debate about ideas we may not all support or agree with,” it said.
“The university expects staff and students to express their views in a lawful and respectful manner, and in accordance with the policies and values of the university.
“Earlier today, in response to safety concerns resulting from a student-initiated protest on campus, the university requested police support.
“On the advice of police, protestors were requested to move on.
“The safety of all students is paramount to the university. Any student requiring support should contact Student Services on 1300 851 998 or visit https://www.uq.edu.au/student-services/.”
Many students have called for an investigation into the incident, concerned by what they see as a violation of “the Australian spirit … to respect freedom of speech”.
However, mainland supporters have also struck out, arguing protesters had "distorted" the truth about Hong Kong and should not have brought politics to the campus.
The clashes at UQ follow weeks of unrest in Hong Kong. Hundred of thousands of citizens have taken to the streets to protest a law that would allow Beijing to extradite Hong Kong residents to the mainland to stand trial. Pro-Hong Kong supporters see the law as a further incursion into their freedom of speech and political opinion.
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