September 30, 2015

HKU’s Mathieson suspects political hand in Johannes Chan saga

Peter Mathieson (R) says universities must be places where different views can be celebrated. Photo: HKEJ

Hong Kong University president Peter Mathieson believes the pressure on him and others who had backed the appointment of Johannes Chan as pro-vice-chancellor was “orchestrated” by some political elements.

Mathieson told Reuters that his personal emails had been hacked and that some had been published in pro-Beijing media. 

He said he cannot rule out the possibility that Beijing was behind the episode.

The remarks came before the HKU governing council met for a final vote on Chan.

In a 12-8 majority vote Tuesday, the council rejected the appointment of Chan as pro-vice-chancellor, drawing criticism from the academic community.

Pro-Beijing members in the council are believed to have voted down Chan’s appointment in the secret ballot. 

A government think-tank had earlier been lobbying council members to vote against Chan, sparking outrage among thousands of Chan’s HKU alumni supporters and academics.

“Universities regard themselves as paragons of free speech and freedom of expression and a place where different views can be celebrated and used to the advantage of society,” Mathieson told Reuters.

“I think my job and the job of our colleagues is to do our damnedest to see those principles are protected.”

Meanwhile, Chan, speaking on radio after the Tuesday vote, blamed political interference for his failed appointment, and sought an explanation from the council on the reason for its decision.

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University of Hong Kong council never stooped so low, says leading international scholar on criticism of Johannes Chan



PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 September, 2015, 7:09pm

UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 September, 2015, 7:12pm

Yash Ghai (left) and Cheryl Saunders back Johannes Chan. Photos: Jonathan Wong, SCMP Pictures

Two prominent international legal scholars have come out to back the academic standing of Professor Johannes Chan Man-mun, as they hit out at the “spurious” reasons the governing council of the University of Hong Kong allegedly adopted to reject the appointment of the former law dean as the institution’s new pro-vice-chancellor.

HKU emeritus professor of law Yash Ghai and Cheryl Saunders, a laureate professor at the University of Melbourne, both told the South China Morning Posttoday that Chan was a distinguished lawyer as well as an outstanding academic of high international standing.

“I was shocked to learn that the council of HKU had rejected [Chan’s] nomination as the university’s pro-vice-chancellor,” Ghai wrote in an email reply as he accused the council of using “nasty tricks to deny” Chan the appointment in order to please Beijing. “The reasons given by the council are spurious and totally unbecoming of the council.”

Their remarks came after HKU student union president Billy Fung Jing-en, a council member, abandoned confidentiality rules to spill the beans on what pro-establishment council members had said behind closed doors before they voted down the sole recommendation of the university’s search committee.

Johannes Chan - the man at the centre of the controversy. Photo: Sam Tsang

Quoting executive councillor Arthur Li Kwok-cheung and seven others, Fung cited reasons they gave ranging from Chan having no PhD degree and not publishing enough academic research of international standing to his unpopularity in the Google Scholar search engine.

Ghai, a leading constitutional law expert, said it was absurd to say Chan was not qualified to “process” job applications because he did not have a PhD as some of the world’s leading law professors also did not have such a degree.It was also a “deliberate attempt to vilify” Chan by accusing him of rarely having articles published in academic journals, added Ghai, who collaborated with him in writing and editing two books.

“Both these books were well-received and provoked considerable debate – as a good book should,” he said.

Ghai said Chan had fulfilled the responsibility of a good law teacher by writing about the city’s law in popular journals and newspapers, to educate ordinary people and stimulate public debate.

“His involvement with cases in Hong Kong is also consistent with a scholar’s contribution to the development of the law. Developing good working relations with the judiciary and the legal profession, which Chan has done with great success, is also often regarded as the responsibility of a law teacher,” Ghai wrote. “His contribution to the reform of law is well known, through litigation and research, contrary to the claim of the council that his work has been of ‘low impact’.”

Referring to remarks by Dr Lo Chung-mau, a staff representative on the council who allegedly said Chan’s achievements were not even comparable to an assistant professor’s, Ghai said it showed “the spite and vindictiveness” of the council and “its determination to get rid of Chan at any cost or trickery.

HKU council chairman Dr Leong Che-hung had little to say about the controversy after the controversial vote. Photo: Nora Tam

“In all my years at the HKU, I cannot remember the council stooping so low,” he lamented, adding it was sad to see it using “these nasty tricks” to deny Chan to “appease the Chinese government”.

“I wonder whether the governing council  realises the harm that it is inflicting on the university whose independence they were appointed to safeguard,” he said.

In all my years at the HKU, I cannot remember the council stooping so low


Ghai said the blow to academic freedom at HKU would have an equally devastating impact on other institutions of higher education in Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, Saunders, the president emeritus of the International Association of Constitutional Law who has known Chan for years, said the academic’s books and articles were published by high-quality publishers and he was regarded as a leading authority on the public law of Hong Kong.

She also dismissed the criticism of Chan having no PhD, saying many senior public law scholars had published major books instead of undertaking PhD studies, and the practice had left them very well placed to supervise PhD graduates.

While council member Martin Liao Cheung-kong was quoted as saying that Chan’s works had been sought only four times through the Google Scholar search engine in the past five years, Saunders said: “I would never search for someone’s work on Google Scholar myself, and I find that reason very hard to fathom.”

Minimum wage for foreign domestic helpers raised

  • Groups representing foreign domestic helpers had been calling for the minimum allowable wage to be raised to HK$4,500 a month. File photo: RTHK
    Groups representing foreign domestic helpers had been calling for the minimum allowable wage to be raised to HK$4,500 a month. File photo: RTHK
Eman Villanueva speaks to RTHK's Maggie Ho
The minimum wage for foreign domestic helpers will go up by 2.4 percent, from HK$4,110 to HK$4,210 per month. The food allowance, paid by employers who don’t provide their helpers with free food, will also increase by HK$31, from HK$964 to HK$995 per month.

The new levels will apply to all contracts signed on or after October 1. Employers can choose to provide foreign domestic helpers with better terms than the mandatory minimum allowable wage and food allowance.

The government said it regularly reviews the wage and allowance levels, and had taken into account Hong Kong's economic outlook and the need to strike a balance between affordability for employers and the livelihood of foreign domestic helpers.

The adjusted wage and allowance however fall short of demands made recently by groups representing foreign domestic helpers.

Earlier this month, the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body urged the government to raise the minimum wage to HK$4,500 a month, and the food allowance to HK$1,600 a month.

A spokesman for the body, Eman Villanueva, said he was disappointed with the increase, and said they had been hoping for something more significant and substantial.

Next Technologist programme run by JP Morgan and HKSTP to help 200 companies, create 500 jobs in bid to diversify Hong Kong economy


PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 September, 2015, 5:36pm

UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 September, 2015, 5:37pm

The Next Technologist Entrepreneurial (NxTEC) programme will offer business coaching and help identify investors. Photo: SCMP Pictures

A joint programme by JP Morgan, Hong Kong Science and Technology Park and a network of angel investors will help 200 young companies in the city develop business management skills and make connections to potential investors.

The Next Technologist Entrepreneurial (NxTEC) programme, launched on Wednesday, will provide coaching on business skills and how to identify investors in a plan to help diversify Hong Kong’s economy and create 500 jobs.

READ MORE: Drones, humanoids and the Hand of Hope - top 5 robotics companies operating in Hong Kong and their weird and wonderful creations

“There’s no lack of innovation or creativity [in Hong Kong], but sometimes even if you have a very good product, if you don’t know how to create a sustainable business model, the company’s not going to go anywhere,” said Diana Tsui, JP Morgan’s head of global philanthropy for Asia Pacific.

The financial firm’s JP Morgan Chase Foundation assists small-and medium-sized enterprises to help support economic growth.

Hong Kong Science and Technology Park is teaming up with JP Morgan and angel investors to give local start-ups a boost in a bid to further diversify the city's economy. Photo: SCMP Pictures

The two-year programme will select 20 of the most promising companies for further training including more than 300 hours of consultancy services and mentorship over a six-month period.

Investment in Hong Kong start-ups has been robust in recent years. Some HK$156 million (US$20.13 million) was raised by entrepreneurs in the first five months of 2015 with the aid of HKSTP, compared to HK$200 million for the whole of 2014.

“We believe that continuous talent development and long-term success for technology start-ups will be the powerhouse for the city’s re-industrialisation, which in turn leads to a more vibrant economy with more job opportunities,” said Allen Ma, the CEO of HKSTP.

Hong Kong Business Angel Network, a non-profit organisation, will help connect the selected start-ups with its network of 100 angel investors.

READ MORE: Microsoft, HKSTP invest US$1 million to turn Hong Kong into internet of things hub

Hong Kong’s cautious investor community, who usually feel more comfortable with real estate and financial markets than risk-heavy start-ups, should open themselves more to a broader range of opportunities, said Aumeo Audio founder Paul Lee.

“The whole environment is quite different and quite foreign to them,” Lee said. 

He said he had spoken to 200 investors over the last four years and found most of them wary of wading into unfamiliar waters because they are used to the long-term reliability of the housing market, rather than placing their trust in new ventures with little or no guarantees. 

“They have to trust you and understand your domain and competitors,” Lee said.

HK remains world's 7th most competitive economy

  • It's the third year in a row that Hong Kong has been ranked the world's seventh most competitive economy in the annual report. Photo: RTHK
    It's the third year in a row that Hong Kong has been ranked the world's seventh most competitive economy in the annual report. Photo: RTHK
The World Economic Forum has ranked Hong Kong the world’s seventh most competitive economy for a third year in a row.

Switzerland remains the most competitive economy for a seventh straight year in the WEF’s annual global competitiveness report, followed by Singapore and the United States.

The report shows Hong Kong's performance this year has been remarkably consistent with last year. It says the territory continues to lead when it comes to infrastructure, with an outstanding quality of facilities across all modes of transport. 

But in terms of financial market development, the city’s slipped from the top spot to third. The report says Hong Kong's financial sector remains very well developed, with a high level of sophistication, trustworthiness, and stability, as well as a relatively good availability of credit.

The challenge for Hong Kong, it says, is to evolve from one of the world's foremost financial hubs into an innovative powerhouse. It says innovation is Hong Kong's weakest aspect, with the city only ranked 27th in the world. The report says the Hong Kong business community consistently cites the territory's capacity to innovate as its biggest concern.

China was ranked the world’s 28th most competitive economy – the same rank as last year. The World Economic Forum says China's failure to move up in the rankings shows the country is facing some difficult economic challenges. It says the mainland must now evolve to a growth model driven by innovation and domestic consumption.

HKU alumni, staff groups slam council's decision

  • Ip Kin-yuen (right) says a large-scale forum will be held to discuss the council's decision. Photo: RTHK
    Ip Kin-yuen (right) says a large-scale forum will be held to discuss the council's decision. Photo: RTHK
Ip Kin-yuen
The HKU Alumni Concern Group and the institution's Academic Staff Association, which represents half of HKU's teachers, said they find it “extremely regrettable” that the council has rejected the appointment of Johannes Chan without providing reasonable grounds. 

They say members should have been open and transparent, but were instead hiding behind confidentiality rules. 

The convenor of the alumni concern group, Ip Kin-yuen, also slammed the council for turning a deaf ear to the voices of more than 7,000 alumni, who earlier this month voted in favour of a non-binding motion calling on the school's governing body to make decisions in accordance with the university’s established procedures. The council had, in the past, always approved candidates recommended by the university’s search committee. 

The two groups said they will organise a major forum to discuss the issue. A date has not been set, but Ip said Leong Che-hung, the council’s chairman, has initially agreed to attend the forum. 

The two groups also plan to conduct surveys to gauge staff members and students' views on the council's decision, and on possible future candidates for the pro-vice-chancellorship. 

However, NPC Standing Committee member Rita Fan says anyone who accuses the HKU council of rejecting Chan's appointment because of politics should come forward with evidence. 

She referred to leaked information that some members had questioned Chan's integrity and whether he's academically qualified to be pro-vice-chancellor. Fan said these are good-enough reasons to reject his appointment.

HKU council sacrifices academic freedom to achieve Beijing goal

by SC Yeung

EJ Insight » Hong KongToday, 14:48

The HKU governing council has voted against a recommendation to appoint former law dean Johannes Chan as pro vice chancellor. Photos: Reuters, HKEJ

Finally, after months of delay and excuses, the governing council of the University of Hong Kong gave the thumbs down to the proposed appointment of former law dean Johannes Chan as pro vice chancellor, a man whose only blemish in Beijing’s sight is his identification with the pro-democracy camp.

What former governor Chris Patten had said before the handover, that the city’s autonomy “could be given away bit by bit by some people in Hong Kong”, can also be applied to the appointment saga as some people are willing to trample on academic independence in order to please the powers that be in Beijing.

On Tuesday night, the HKU council members cast their ballots on the search committee’s report recommending Chan’s appointment. The vote was eight in favor and 12 against.

After the voting, the council chairman, Dr. Leong Che-hung, said the result conformed with what is best for the university.

Council members discussed the appointment before casting their votes. And the discussion, as reported by HKU student union chairman Billy Fung, who is also a member of the council, showed that, indeed, Hong Kong’s elite chose to ignore the concepts of academic autonomy and professionalism and embrace the Chinese style of power struggle.

Council members who voted against Chan’s appointment threw everything at the respected scholar, citing his alleged lack of outstanding academic achievements and his supposedly poor performance during his term as law faculty dean.

The discussion was reminiscent of the criticize-and-struggle sessions during China’s Cultural Revolution in the 1960s to 1970s.

And so at the end of the discussion, it was clear that Chan would not have a chance to take the university’s top post, even though he had been endorsed by the school’s independent search committee a year ago.

According to Fung, at least eight council members voiced out their opposition to Chan during the meeting.

They were former Chinese University of Hong Kong vice chancellor Arthur Li, New World Development director Leonie Ki, Standard Chartered Bank’s Benjamin Hung, Chong Hing Bank executive Margaret Leung, former Lingnan University vice chancellor Chan Kwan-yiu, HKU professor Dr. Lo Chung-mo, lawyer Martin Liao and social worker Rossana Wong.

It’s a pity that these eight outstanding individuals, who have contributed much to the success of Hong Kong in the past decades, had chosen to speak against Chan.

And what were the reasons they raised against Chan? That he doesn’t have a doctoral degree, that there were few citations of his academic publications, that he himself disclosed that he was the only candidate for the post shows his lack of professional conduct.

What’s remarkable about the discussion is that no one seemed to have cited Chan’s political stance, which is in fact the real reason why Beijing is opposed to his appointment as the university’s pro vice chancellor.

One of the most ridiculous comments made during the meeting came from Dr. Lo, who, according to Fung, slammed Chan for not showing his sympathy to Lo after he was injured when protesters stormed a council meeting.

What has that got to do with the matter of Chan’s appointment as member of the university’s governing council?

It will be recalled that just three years ago, several HKU professors, including Dr. Lo, voiced out their opposition to the appointment of Peter Mathieson as vice chancellor.

They disparaged his academic credentials and said his foreign background could present a hindrance to the university’s efforts toward improving its relationship with China. 

Despite their objections, the university confirmed Mathieson’s appointment.

It seems that some members of the HKU Council are willing to sacrifice Hong Kong’s autonomy and fully embrace the rule of Beijing. 

While Patten’s quote was for the whole Hong Kong, it also applies to the current situation at HKU.

Why cannot the HKU Council state frankly that Chan is not the proper person for the post because of his political stance and his appointment will not please Beijing? 

In fact, all these pro-Beijing people in positions of influence should say categorically that allegiance to the central government is the foremost condition for an appointment to senior positions in any Hong Kong institution.

That way, we don’t need to go through all these passionate and useless debates about qualifications and academic achievements.

One of Hong Kong’s winning attributes was its ability to attract and maintain all kinds of talents.

But after the Chan’s appointment saga, Beijing’s blind loyalists have shown that they are now running the show in Hong Kong, including all its educational institutions.

Remember the exact date of the demise of Hong Kong’s academic independence. It’s Sept. 29, 2015.

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