World Universities Debating Championship deletes debate on Hong Kong democracy

World's largest debate contest scrubs live stream of debate on Hong Kong democracy, redacts competitor names

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(Thailand WUDC 2020 photo)

(Thailand WUDC 2020 photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Censorship of a contest held by the World Universities Debating Championship (WUDC) on the subject of democracy in Hong Kong was so extensive that news of the coverup only trickled in nearly a week later.

During the grand finals of the WUDC's open category held on Friday (Jan. 3) at Assumption University in Bangkok, Thailand, four teams were set to debate the motion, "This House, as China, would grant universal suffrage to Hong Kong citizens." The grand finals match was the culmination of nine preliminary and semifinal rounds, with teams from 240 universities and 50 countries.

The proceedings were initially live streamed on the organization's Facebook page. However, some ethnically Chinese spectators began to stand up and leave in the middle of the debate, according to witnesses who spoke to Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP).

A debater from Hong Kong told the news agency: "The debate started out pretty well …[then] I saw a bunch of people who are ethnically Chinese getting up and leaving." The debater also described seeing an entire row of spectators get up.

Twitter user Leo Weese wrote that Chinese attendees and observers left the hall as soon as the debate began, according to witnesses at the scene:

Viewers reported the live broadcast was taken down from the WUDC Facebook page midway through the match. The post was later deleted and even the motion itself was excised from the WUDC's official webpage.

No explanation was provided by WUDC of the incident until four days later, when it posted a long-winded statement claiming the live stream had been taken down out of privacy considerations for the participants, some of whom allegedly did not consent to appear on camera. It denied there had been any national body, embassy or official to "make the finals go away."

To further protect the privacy of participants and judges at the tournament, the organization claimed they were given the "option" to have their names redacted. The names of all Chinese and Hong Kong debaters and adjudicators were removed from the results page for the event.

As a result of the redaction of names, even the name of the Best Speaker was not displayed on the website, only that the person came from the team fielded by the "Backpack" team. However, Today Online apparently failed to cooperate with the WUDC's censorship efforts and reported that Singaporean Oxford University graduate Lee Chin Wee captured the titles of overall champion, best speaker in the finals, and overall best speaker.

According to Today Online, Lee's teammate on the Oxford Trinity College team was Jason Xiao from Canada. Together, the two survived 14 rounds of debating before besting the University of Belgrade, Yale University, and the University of Macquarie in the finals.

A Hong Kong debater told HKFP that one of her Chinese teammates suddenly "disappeared" during the debate. She said that she later received a message from him saying that he had taken a bus back to the hotel and that all the other Chinese students had also left.

However, she said her teammate refused to tell her whether he had been coerced to leave the debate. She said that she was "surprised and upset" when they found out the organization had redacted the names of Chinese and Hong Kong competitors.

She also told the news agency that when one of the Hong Kong debaters questioned officials about the redactions, they were told that it had been done as a "precautionary measure." Although one senior Chinese figure denied there had been pressure placed on the Chinese attendees, another conceded that there was "fear of trouble" among Chinese debaters.