Mainland China students begin leaving HK over fears of flare-up

Updated November 14, 2019

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An anti-government protester sits at a road block outside the occupied campus of the Baptist University of Hong Kong in Hong Kong, China on November 13. — Reuters
An anti-government protester sits at a road block outside the occupied campus of the Baptist University of Hong Kong in Hong Kong, China on November 13. — Reuters

HONG KONG: Mainland Chinese students have begun fleeing Hong Kong campuses over security fears, police and university officials said on Wednesday, as the city’s seething political crisis saw some of its worst violence this week.

The most intense clashes on Tuesday occurred at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, where pitched battles were fought with the police firing tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets and protesters throwing petrol bombs and bricks, paralysing the campus and the area around it.

A group of mainland students at CUHK attempted to depart the campus over safety concerns but had to be shuttled away by a police boat because they were unable to leave via obstructed roads.

“The police decided to deploy a police launch to assist the group of students to go to a safe location,” the force said. Images on local outlet Stand News showed dozens of people — some carrying luggage — standing next to a vessel with police markings, purportedly fleeing the campus.

The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology meanwhile arranged a special bus service to ferry students from its campus to a station that offers services to the mainland.

“While we are not aware of any imminent threat to campus safety, we understand some staff and students have the desire to leave campus,” the university said in an email to students.

The Hong Kong Baptist University suspended on-campus teaching two weeks before the scheduled end of the semester, switching to either online sessions or postponing classes altogether. It also announced online teaching arrangements for students who choose to return to mainland China.

CUHK later announced it too was ending the current term early because of the unrest.

It was not immediately clear how many mainland Chinese students have left Hong Kong during the latest escalation of violence.

A youth wing of the Communist Party in Shenzhen on Wednesday said it was offering free accommodation at its facilities for mainlanders studying in Hong Kong. Other groups posted similar offers on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media platform.

Separately, the Taiwanese government said it was making arrangements to help Taiwanese students in Hong Kong return home. The island’s Mainland Affairs Council said 280 students were expected to return home on Wednesday and Thursday.

The protest movement is the biggest challenge to Beijing’s rule since Hong Kong was returned by Britain in 1997, fuelled by fears that China is choking the liberties and freedoms the city is meant to have under the handover deal.

Published in Dawn, November 14th, 2019