The University of Auckland is launching a formal investigation into a confrontation on Monday between students from Hong Kong and the mainland over the now suspended extradition bill.
A video posted on social media shows three male students from mainland China arguing with a female student from Hong Kong in front of a so-called Lennon Wall on campus, where people can paste protest notes.
At one point, the confrontation turned into a scuffle and one of the male students shoved the female student, 27-year-old Serena Lee, causing her to fall over.
“Physically, I am not injured, but inside me I am shocked and shaken,” she was quoted as saying afterwards in an interview with The New Zealand Herald.
“The proposed law in Hong Kong could see the end of the city as we know it and our individual freedom, but I was stunned when people in New Zealand are also trying to shut down our freedom of expression.”
The Chinese consulate on Wednesday praised the pro-Beijing students for their “spontaneous acts and deeds out of their love of China and love of Hong Kong”.
“The Consulate General strongly condemns the use of the recent situation in Hong Kong, under the pretext of so-called academic freedom and freedom of expression, on the university campus to engage in smearing attacks on the Chinese government and the Hong Kong SAR government, inciting anti-China sentiment, and creating opposition between Chinese and Hong Kong students,” the consulate said in a statement on its website.
The video of the altercation at the university, which is more than eight minutes long and was posted on YouTube, begins with one of the male students and Lee speaking to each other in Mandarin and English, with a second student then arguing with her over whether the protests are “international” or “national news”.
“Hong Kong is part of China,” the second student says, before using an expletive and calling her a pig who “cannot understand human language” when she asks for a translation of what another student is saying in Mandarin.
The first student later says: “If you don’t want to be Chinese, just join another country [as a] citizen. Don’t be a Hongkonger. There is a not a country named Hong Kong in the world, it is part of China.”
Other students then chime in and about a minute later, a scuffle breaks out and the second student, who is filming the confrontation, shoves Lee, causing her to fall.
Separately, online news site Newsroom on Tuesday reported that the Auckland University of Technology had cancelled an event to mark the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown that was to be held last month following a request from Chinese government officials.
The country’s education minister Chris Hipkins said New Zealand’s universities had a responsibility to provide an environment where free speech is encouraged, not suppressed, with his comments coming after opposition MP David Seymour called for Foreign Minister Winston Peters to seek an explanation from the Chinese consul-general in Auckland, New Zealand’s most populous city.
The university said the event was cancelled due to booking issues although emails, released under the Official Information Act, showed Chinese officials raising concerns over the event.
Hipkins, the education minister, told media on Tuesday afternoon that there was some dispute as to why the Tiananmen Square commemoration had been cancelled.
“But from what I have seen, the university has made it very clear to the Chinese government that as a university they uphold the principles of free speech and protest and debate around contentious issues,” he said.
New Zealand’s relationship with China and the Chinese government was very important, Hipkins said, “but that always has to be on the basis of mutual respect, and mutual respect for the values of the other country”.
Seymour, the opposition MP, said it was completely unacceptable that Chinese officials continue to intervene at New Zealand’s universities to prevent views unfavourable to their government from being aired.
“It is not the place of foreign governments to do so, and it shows a lack of respect for fundamental New Zealand values, including freedom of speech,” he said.