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Hong Kong's Pro-Democracy Movement

OPINION: Taiwanese Universities Should Treat Campus Assaults as Potential Hate Crimes

2019/10/03 , Opinion
Milo Hsieh
Photo Credit: CNA
Milo Hsieh
Milo Hsieh studies international relations at American University. He is an intern at Project 2049 Institute, a Washington D.C. think tank focused on East Asia security and affairs in China and Taiwan.

Campus assault on Hong Kong students is becoming a pattern in Taiwan.

A Hong Kong student was physically assaulted by a Chinese student studying at I-shou University (義守大學) in Kaohsiung, Taiwan on September 13. Yet another fight broke out a week later between Hong Kong and Chinese students at a Taipei university due to clashes over a “Lennon Wall” in support of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.

At I-shou University, a Chinese student attempted to choke a Hong Kong student for setting up a small Lennon Wall on the door of his dorm room. In the more recent assault in Taipei, a Hong Kong student was injured and sought out medical attention on his own, according to Liberty Times.

These attacks on Hong Kong students, who were peacefully voicing their opinions through harmless acts like putting up post-it notes, are meant to silence pro-democracy support for Hong Kong. The violent and coercive responses from the Chinese students and visitors are clearly motivated by political reasons rather than simply having differing opinions.

在台港生遭攻擊  台聯促拘捕滋事陸生
Photo Credit: CNA
Taiwan Solidarity Union urges the government to arrest the Chinese students who have vandalized Lennon Walls and assaulted Hong Kong students on college campuses, September 27, 2019.

Despite the underpinning ethnic and political disputes behind the attacks, the universities seemed to have minimized coverage of the episodes and sent the students to the police station immediately.

A Facebook post made by I-shou University, responding to the incident, suggests that the victim and the perpetrator “came to an amicable agreement.” The school also called for the “respect of different cultures and enhancement of communication between different groups.”

Acts of vandalism have been common in response to Lennon Walls overseas. But attacking international students over their peaceful expression is the first of its kind in Taiwan.

Implications of potential hate crimes and attacks on freedom of speech on college campuses should be taken seriously. U.S. colleges, for example, frequently face controversies over campus hate crimes and take extra measures to protect students from violence over expressions.

But little has been done in Taiwan to resolve, publicize, and address politicized violence on school campuses.

The universities’ avoidant attitude does not resolve the deep-seated tension between Chinese, Taiwanese, and Hong Kong students in Taiwan. Following the silence perpetuated by I-shou University, more acts of vandalism happened likely because no one expected any serious consequences.

在台港生著黑衣上街 號召響應929遊行
Photo Credit: CNA
Several Hong Kong students studying in Taiwan gather in Ximending, Taipei to call for the public to join the 929 Global Anti-Authoritarianism Rally on the evening of September 26, 2019.

Though the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has frequently suppressed its critics and opposition through violence and censorship, acts resembling these suppressions should not be tolerated on Taiwan’s college campuses.

Chinese students should not feel emboldened to threaten violence, let alone commit acts of them, to silence opinions they personally disagree with. No international students in Taiwan should be afraid of expressing their political opinion on their campuses. And college administrations should take actions to protect, not undermine democratic values. Unfortunately, there are no signs the perpetrator has received any form of punishment.

In protest, a student at I-shou has attempted to burn China’s national flag but was stopped by the administration. More discontent and frustration toward the I-shou administration’s handling of the situation are emerging following the incident. The assaulted Hong Kong student at I-Shou, dissatisfied with the administration’s nominal punishment of the Chinese student, is taking further legal actions against the perpetrator. If the university does not address the issue, more hate and tension between student groups will likely recur on campus.

In a press conference, China's Taiwan Affairs Office spokesperson Ma Xiaoguang (馬曉光) criticized the students who have supported the Hong Kong protests on Taiwanese campuses, labeling the movement as “violent and illegal.” These acts should be “stopped” by “related universities in Taiwan” in order to “avoid affecting the studies and lives of Chinese students,” Ma said.

Taiwanese universities are taking precautions to avoid alienating Chinese students due to the sizeable tuition payments from exchange students. The authorities are likely acting with some degree of self-censorship for fear of losing Chinese students if they openly condemn any of their violent tendencies.

AP_19275281296720
Photo Credit: AP / TPG Images
People display opened palm with five fingers, signifying the five demands of anti-government protesters during a march at Central district in Hong Kong, Wednesday, October 2, 2019.

But universities should not be willing to concede protection for its students or freedom of speech over the policies of a foreign government. Students should be able to peacefully protest against violence and injustice without fearing for their personal safety. Coercion against Hong Kong dissidents, though rampant within Hong Kong, should not be allowed to spread to Taiwan.

While universities in Taiwan have already failed to condemn the cases of assault, they would have to spend even more effort to address the fallouts and comfort student resentment.

These recent cases of campus assaults should be taken more seriously as potential hate crimes. A clear message should be sent: No form of ethnic, racial, or political violence is tolerated on college campuses in Taiwan. Taiwanese universities should be loud and clear to Chinese students that, unlike in Communist China, democratic Taiwan’s university campuses do not accept any threats to one’s freedom of speech and expression.

READ NEXT: Hongkongers Living in Taiwan: It's Not All Sunshine and Rainbows

TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)

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