The fine line between Hong Kong and China is often a blurry one for many to comprehend, so allow me to take a moment to clarify a few things:
1) Hong Kong is its own little sovereign area, to a certain extent. It’s officially known as the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR).
2) Hong Kong is a region in the People’s Republic of China.
3) Most Chinese nationals cannot come into Hong Kong without a special visa or permit.
4) Everyone else in the world CAN come into Hong Kong without any special visa or entry permit; however, these people most likely cannot, then, enter the People’s Republic of China without additional authorization and paperwork. This includes me.
5) If you are an American, you can get into Hong Kong for 90 days on a standard tourist entry. It’ll cost HK$780 to get a single or double entry visa to go North from Hong Kong into China.
6) For the time being, Hong Kong is under its own set of laws, currency, and government. I say for the time being, because who knows what the future holds for this odd region of the world. My predictions, Hong Kong will remain unchanged by China for quite some time in order to continue to encourage the financial sector and investment in Hong Kong, which then filters into China. If China acts to tighten its hold on Hong Kong, investors will take flight and China will be worse off because of it.
This sixth point is my main point of emphasis here, as it has huge implications for citizens of Hong Kong. Most importantly, as China takes a continued laissez-faire approach to the region, citizens are still able to exercise many of the same basic rights that we hold dear in the Western world. Today we experienced some of this here at school, as hundreds of students took to the Hong Kong Jockey Club Atrium to protest the severe lack of on-campus housing available to first year Hong Kong residents.
On campus housing here at HKUST works much the same as it does at most other universities around the world: freshmen are expected to live on campus for their first year, and they are typically guaranteed a place to live. Second and third year students have the option to live on campus, but priority is given to those students who have lived here their previous year or two.
This year, there is an extreme housing shortage on campus. It was first brought to my attention during our Master’s of Economics program orientation meeting: many early admissions students did not have guaranteed housing because the Economics department was not allocated any on-campus housing spots originally. Only after the MBA program’s office realized that they were holding too many rooms were spaces allocated for Economics students. Second and third round students, and students who deferred enrollment a year as is my case, were then able to be offered housing along with their admissions.
For Undergraduates, the issue is not simply one of spaces being held by graduate programs. New local students have had to deal with the burden of the school admitting more exchange-in students than they have sent to other universities overseas. For those readers not familiar with the way a typical exchange program works, it is supposed to be a straight up exchange of students: one student traded for another to take his or her place. Usually, spaces available for Americans to transfer over hinges on how many Asian students want to study at that American students’ institution. HKUST, however, has been actively promoting itself as an global university, and this fall semester has accepted more exchange in students than it has sent overseas.
Mainland students are also contributing to the problem. When I was first here in the Spring of 2003, HKUST conducted their first exchange with students from mainland China. Now, this “international” segment accounts for over 20% of students at UST. As international students, the university must guarantee their housing for purpose of obtaining a student visa – in addition to the fact that non-local students would have extreme difficulty in finding lodging in Hong Kong.
To put it simply, Hong Kong is running a trade deficit in education! To many imports, not enough exports.
While the university is in the process of constructing new halls to accommodate an additional 1600 students and faculty here in Clear Water Bay, many have been hit by the temporary lack of housing. These students, along with their friends and class mates, took to the atrium today to peacefully protest the housing bias against local Hong Kong students. Hundreds of students came for a 5 hour sit in in the atrium. It remained relatively peaceful, though the ‘ever vigilant’ Hong Kong police force and UST Dragon Security (seriously, our rent-a-cops are Dragon’s!) stood at the ready in case things escalated.
Things did not escalate, though. Everything remained quite peaceful, even though local news crews were on hand to capture any ruckus that might have ensued. There were no arrests, no tasering, not much happening in any way, shape or form – honestly, which is probably all for the better. Nothing like some student protesters getting out of hand to coax Beijing into looking a little more closely at what’s going on down here in the Hong Kong S.A.R.
Note: What follows is an email from the University’s President and Vice President in response to the protests today.
Dear Students, I am heartened that the sit-in by our students today to voice their grievances about hostel shortage had been conducted in a most responsible and rational manner. Vice-President Roland Chin and I have been exploring various avenues to ease the shortage of hostel space and improve the hostel allocation mechanism ever since we met with student representatives earlier this month. I regret that both of us could not be with you today because we are out of town on duty. When word reached me about your excellent conduct and orderly manner at the sit-in today - a manner that did a great honour to the university and to all HKUST students - we told ourselves that these fine young men and women truly are the future of Hong Kong. Prof Chin joins me in pledging our utmost effort to resolve the hostel shortage problem and address the inadequacies in the allocation mechanism. Some of the improvement measures are already being implemented, such as enhanced transparency in the hostel allocation and the search for suitable private sector housing for use as hostel space. Some of the longer-term measures will take time and you will be fully consulted as we progress towards a satisfactory solution. We are truly proud of you and are confident that working hand in hand with you, we shall overcome this problem. Paul Chu Roland Chin