Students sign petition against college's Belt and Road center

Top News | Cindy Wan 4 Dec 2018

Students at Li Po Chun United World College have launched a petition asking the school to consider renaming a Belt and Road center, saying it would compromise the college's political impartiality.

In May, the college, known as LPC, received a HK$50 million donation from the Lee Shau Kee Foundation for the establishment of a Belt and Road Learning and Resources Centre at its campus in Wu Kai Sha.

The center, however, stirred up controversy among students and teachers as some found naming it after China's premier foreign policy problematic.

"Li Po Chun would be the first United World College to have a permanent project or institution named after a particular national policy," the petition said. "The naming of the center undeniably represents the institution's implicit endorsement of the Chinese government's Belt and Road national policy, regardless of intent."

The petition also urged LPC to disclose what external parties were involved in naming the center and what their level of involvement was. The donation was approved by the United Colleges International Board, which governs LPC in Hong Kong and 16 United World Colleges worldwide with a vision to unite people, nations and cultures for peace.

Following the approval of the donation, the center is scheduled to open in autumn 2019 and will provide short courses and cultural exchange programs to enhance students' understanding of countries in Belt and Road initiatives.

Part of the hefty donation will be used to sponsor students from countries along the Belt and Road.

In a statement released along with the donation approval, the board said it does not want to interfere in LPC's decision on naming the center but reminded the Hong Kong College to maintain political impartiality.

Brian Kern, a former LPC teacher, criticized the board for being self-contradictory for adopting the policy's name while asking the school to stay neutral.

United World College International and LPC refer to Belt and Road as if it were a value-neutral concept, but the initiative spearheads the Chinese Communist Party's effort to reshape its sphere of influence in its own image, he said. Petition initiator Justin Yim Cheukhang, also an alumni of the United College in the United States, urged LPC to disclose the terms and conditions behind the donation as well as the think tank of the center.

Yim said Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor took part in the education symposium organized by LPC in February, during which she underlined her support for the college's mission to bolster the culture and knowledge exchange dimension of Belt and Road.

This drew speculation over the school's political stance and thus the petition hopes LPC will disclose the naming process to show it is free of any political influence, Yim said.

The Standard contacted LPC's director of development, Willie Heung Wai-lam, for his response to the petition and the criticism, but Heung said the school did not have any response at this stage.

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