As a result of the ongoing pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, the University has decided to cancel the Hong Kong portion of its January term study abroad program in order to ensure student safety.
COMM 4589, Asian Financial Capitals: Hong Kong and Singapore was originally scheduled to take place in Hong Kong from Dec. 29 to Jan. 10. The course usually has students visit various financial firms and lectures in the two rival financial centers of Asia, beginning in Hong Kong and concluding in Singapore. Instead, students will travel to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia — the capital of a rapidly growing area of finance and the capital of a prosperous economy. Students were notified of their acceptance in mid-October and were aware that itinerary changes were possible due to the ongoing civil unrest in Hong Kong.
The course is led by Robert Webb, the Paul Todor Jones II Research professor at the McIntire School of Commerce. Although he was reluctant to cancel the course, he believes that it was ultimately the correct decision and hopes that his students — many of whom have never been to Asia — will still be able to visit the vibrant and dynamic city of Hong Kong in the future.
“I personally feel comfortable visiting Hong Kong by myself or with my family and I had put together a great schedule of meetings for students with major financial firms and government organizations,” Webb said. “However, I am hesitant to shepherd 22 students in Hong Kong at this time given the potential downside should something go wrong.”
The protests sparked this summer after the government proposed a controversial extradition bill which would allow criminal fugitives in Hong Kong to be extradited to mainland China.
On June 9, a crowd of over a million protestors gathered for a peaceful demonstration, but when they began occupying restricted areas, riot police fired pepper spray and used their batons to disperse the crowds. Despite the display of mass resistance, the government decided to proceed with a second reading of the bill, fueling one of the most intense confrontations between police and protestors in front of Government Headquarters on June 12.
Over the next several months, the initially peaceful protests rapidly escalated into violent clashes, with the government consistently refusing to address the five key demands of the protestors — formally withdrawing the extradition bill, retracting the label of the June 12 protests as a riot, withdrawing criminal charges against protestors, launching an investigation into police brutality, and introducing universal suffrage for the elections of Legislative Council and Chief Executive.
While the first demand has since been met, the other four have yet to be addressed. Clashes between protestors and police have escalated, leading to arrests, injuries and deaths that have rocked the country.
College students, the core of the movement, have occupied their campuses, leading to police sieges. As a result of the ongoing violence, many universities decided to end their semesters early.
Five U.Va. students were studying abroad in Hong Kong this fall — four through exchange relationships and one through a provider program. However, after local universities ended their terms two weeks earlier than scheduled, students were expected to complete their classes and exams remotely.
Several other colleges around the country have cancelled their study abroad programs as well, including Georgetown University, Syracuse University and all 10 colleges in the University of California system. Students already studying in Hong Kong were safely relocated and given the option to return home, while spring study abroad programs to Hong Kong have been suspended.
There were no U.Va. administered or faculty-led education abroad programs in Hong Kong this fall. Currently, no U.Va. students are registered for study abroad in Hong Kong for the spring semester.