Response to the Response of Li Po Chun UWC


by Brian Kern, Former United World College teacher
18th of October, 2018


Li Po Chun United World College Development Director Willie Heung’s response to my article about the college’s plan to open a Belt & Road Centre is LPC’s most extensive public statement yet about the college’s thinking behind the plan. As such, it deserves consideration.
a
Many of the ideas regarding peace and education in Mr Heung’s response are commendable, but they all could be realized without naming its centre after the Chinese Communist Party’s biggest foreign policy initiative. The question, then, is why did LPC choose to do so?
a
Mr Heung seeks to clarify the centre’s relationship to Belt & Road: The term ‘Belt and Road’ was also used by the President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping in September and October 2013 and since then to promote the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) which has a vision to help the region develop economically, financially and socially through a range of cooperative measures. By using the same term, LPCUWC is neither explicitly nor implicitly supporting the Chinese government initiative. We are committed to UWC’s long-standing policy of political impartiality.”
a
This is disingenuous. Names matter, and when attached to institutions, they signify intention and purpose. If LPC wished to avoid the impression that it was supporting the Belt & Road initiative, then why call its centre Belt & Road? Why not choose another name for it?  In Hong Kong and China, if you say Belt & Road, people will immediately think of the Communist Party’s Belt & Road project, and if you have a Belt & Road centre, they will assume there is some connection between the two. Furthermore, the only people in Hong Kong who promote Belt & Road are affiliated with the Communist Party, so LPC’s Belt & Road centre will certainly be viewed locally as one of those promotional efforts. After all, there is no other Belt & Road; there is no room for confusion here. We can debate whether or not naming the centre Belt & Road amounts to “support” for the Party initiative, but that is a matter of semantics: support, alliance, alignment, affiliation, take your pick; whatever the case, LPC has clearly chosen sides.  It appears that LPC is trying to semantically weasel out of this, to have its cake and eat it too, to obtain the benefits of naming its centre Belt & Road (namely HK$50 million) and yet disavow the connection whenever it’s inconvenient. 

a
In fact, in a previous statement, which I quoted in my initial article, LPC explicitly acknowledged the link. It said, “The Belt and Road Resources Centre espouses the cultural/education aspect of the Belt and Road Initiative.” So LPC has first acknowledged its link to a specific aspect of the Belt & Road project and now is suggesting it is not linked with it, indeed that it is almost coincidental that its centre and the Communist Party’s foreign policy initiative have the same name.  (See phrases such as “The term Belt & Road was also used by… Xi Jinping…” and “By using the same term…”). This is very contorted logic, to put it mildly, and a sign either of the project’s incoherence or of LPC talking out of both sides of its mouth. Whether LPC intended “support” or not, naming the centre Belt & Road is support for the Communist Party’s initiative and will be perceived as such; there’s no avoiding it.
a
To test the power of a name and the extent to which people will make associations based on a name, substitute another for Belt & Road. If LPC had, for example, named its centre the Liu Xiaobo Memorial Peace Centre after the Nobel Peace laureate whom the Communist Party vilified and who died in Party custody last year, that would certainly signify some intention to operate in the spirit of Liu Xiaobo, who after all won the world’s best known peace prize. Or how about the Dalai Lama Peace Centre, he being another Nobel Peace laureate from this part of the world whom the Party vilifies. Both names would obviously signify clear (and noble) intentions in regard to peace. In the same way, Belt & Road sends a signal, but Belt & Road is not a peace initiative, the term does not signify peace, and it will never win the Nobel Peace Prize. Instead, it is associated with neo-colonialism, economic domination, indebtedness, corruption, mass detentions in Xinjiang and systematic human rights abuses.  Why in the world would you name a centre supposedly promoting peace after that?
a
LPC’s alignment with the Communist Party’s Belt & Road project is not and cannot be “politically impartial”, as Mr Heung puts it. As I mention above, in this part of the world, that name is an unambiguous signifier of affiliation, and to argue otherwise is either cynical or politically naïve.
a
LPC’s link to Belt & Road undermines not only its own institutional independence but threatens the integrity of United World Colleges in general. Is there another instance of a UWC naming a permanent project, like this centre, after the foreign policy objective of any particular government anywhere? I can’t think of one. So this appears to be precedent-setting, in a very negative way, an instance that UWC should consider very carefully. UWCs should avoid such explicit affiliation with any government’s foreign policy.
a
Lastly, to name a centre Belt & Road and to call it a peace initiative at a time when the Communist Party has detained upwards of one million Turkic Muslims and placed them in political re-education camps in Xinjiang, a central territory through which the “Belt” in Belt & Road passes, is a move that smells equal parts cynical and foolish. Does LPC really have so little understanding of the political context in which it operates that it would align itself with mass, systematic human rights abuses that have been compared to those of the Nazis, apartheid South Africa, North Korea and the Soviet gulag? In what sense could that be regarded as “promoting peace”?  True peace comes through justice. If UWC is to side with anyone, it should side with those fighting for justice, not with tyrants, as LPC is doing in naming its centre Belt & Road.

Facebook Comments
254 views

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *