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Image: Evianne Suen / The Boar

Warwick SU officers divided over supporting the Hong Kong protests

Students’ Union (SU) officers at the University of Warwick are divided over supporting the Hong Kong protests, the All Student Vote (ASV) meeting has revealed.

One of the ASV’s motions rallied for the SU to “support Hong Kong’s movement and protect freedom of expression on campus”, which sparked a heated debate between students from the city and mainland China.

The latter party was represented by non-EU International Students’ Officer (ISO) Zishi Zhang, who gave a speech urging the students to vote against the motion.

He said that the coronavirus outbreak and other incidents have led to “micro-aggressions and outright racism against Chinese students on campus”, whose “voices are not being heard”.

He described the motion, proposed by “a group of students who care about nothing but to further their own political agenda”, as “one-sided” and “biased”.

The ISO for non-EU students also expressed support for the police who “took appropriate actions only against extremists” and condemned the violence used by “thuggish protestors purposely targeting those from mainland China”.

Mr Zhang said that they “always talk the talk” but “don’t have to withstand accountability” and “face no scrutiny” despite being the ones who “started the violence”.

Referring to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee report published last November, which said that the Chinese Embassy had employed students to “monitor” others that are critical of the Chinese government, he asked the floor: “Do you actually believe anyone who is speaking against this motion is a spy?”

Suggesting that Chinese students who are not involved in SU democracy and are therefore a minority is not logical

– Bede

“We have suffered long enough,” Mr Zhang concluded. “We will not remain silent. I hereby command the house to reject this motion!”

However, Mr Zhang’s stance conflicts with that of Bede, one of the SU’s Women’s Officers. During the debate, she responded to a mainland Chinese student who said that Hong Kong students aren’t a “minority” as they claim, and accused them of “doing all the propaganda” and “cutting films and videos to make it biased”.

Meanwhile, mainland Chinese students claim that they have historically been “not very involved in the voting”, meaning there are “less people” on their side. Another said that though “there are so many of us, (they) are not really well represented”, to which a Hong Kong student retaliated by pointing out the ISO, “who is Chinese”, is sitting in front of them.

Bede described the mainland Chinese students’ statements as “basically completely false”. She elaborated: “Suggesting that Chinese students who are not involved in SU democracy and are therefore a minority is not logical.

“Hong Kong students have zero representation while the International Students’ Officer is supporting the Chinese students.”

Several mainland Chinese students also argued that the SU should not be “biased” towards the Hong Kong students, or take a political stance at all, since their duty is to “serve students all over the world”.

They added that the SU should “remain in a neutral position”, so that the students can enjoy their students “without criticism about (their) country”.

These statements were disputed by James Lythall, the SU’s former Trans Students’ Officer, who said that the motion “is not anti-anyone’s freedom of expression”.

He continued: “To say that the SU shouldn’t take a side on political issues is kind of meaningless because that’s what the union is. We’re having this discussion so that it would be democratically chosen as a policy for the SU to adopt.”

SU President Ben Newsham, non-EU ISO Zishi Zhang, Women’s Officer Bede Pharoah-Lunn and former Trans Students’ Officer James Lythall did not immediately respond to The Boar‘s enquiry for comment.

Warwick Chinese Society was also contacted regarding their online tutorial for Chinese students on how to vote against the motion.

(Warwick Chinese Society) wrote that the University “should not be allowed to bring politics onto campus”, because “university is a place to learn, not to discuss politics”

The tutorial wrote that the University “should not be allowed to bring politics onto campus”, because “university is a place to learn, not to discuss politics”.

It continued: “There are students calling for others to ‘Stand for Hong Kong’ putting up materials and graffiti which is insulting and offensive to Chinese students’ emotions and welfare.”

Warwick Chinese Society, representing its members, stated: “Warwick Students’ Union should remain neutral on this problem from the start. We strongly condemn and object to the motion.”

Accompanying these statements was a Chinese version of Mr Zhang’s speech, and a series of screenshots detailing how to vote through the SU website. In the last screenshot, “Against” was outlined in a red box, and instructions directed students to click accordingly.

Warwick Chinese Society told The Boar: “As a society, we firmly believe that ‘All Student Vote’ should include all students in University of Warwick. Recently, we realized that many Chinese students are not aware of the ‘All Student Vote’. To allow Chinese students in University of Warwick be more active in improving the University’s environment, we published an article to teach Chinese students how to participate in ‘All Student Vote’ and make them aware of the recent motions.

“In the article, we merely advised Chinese Student to vote ‘Against’ in one particular motion but we did not force any students to do so as it is in the student’s right to vote for their desired outcome. In the future, we hope that more Chinese students can participate in ‘All Student Vote’ and help make University of Warwick a better place.”

Mainland Chinese students have also been distributing flyers which read, “Stand With Hongkong (sic) Police”. Hong Kong students have been doing the same outside the Library and bus stop, asking for passersby to vote for the motion.

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