The Hong Kong government has sought since 2007 to introduce "national education" courses into primary and secondary school curriculum, aimed at strengthening students' "national identity awareness" and nurturing patriotism towards China. The programme has met with increasing public opposition in recent years, with many in Hong Kong seeing it as a brainwashing attempt by the Chinese Communist Party to suppress dissent.
Withdrawing national education classes not an option, C.Y. Leung says
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying stepped into the national education controversy on Tuesday morning, saying that while withdrawing the programme is not an option, there is wide latitude for adjusting details to address public concerns.
Speaking to the media on Tuesday morning, Leung said he and his ministers were “very willing” to discuss the issue with activists and opponents. But he said the precondition for talks “cannot be withdrawing or not withdrawing” the programme.
“I do not think we need to take a stance on that now. Between withdrawing and not withdrawing the subject, the room for negotiations is very big,” he said.
“Instead, [the dialogue] should be about aspects of the programme that are creating anxieties,” Leung said.
Asked why he ignored activists’ calls to meet them at a protest venue on Monday evening, Leung said any talk would have been futile: activists would only have shouted slogans about withdrawing the programme at top officials who attended.
“I believe that under these circumstances, if I and other officials spoke to them there, they would have shouted the ‘withdrawal’ slogans,” he said.
He invited Hongkongers to voice their concerns with the government-appointed committee on the issue, chaired by Executive Council member Anna Wu Hung-yuk.
“If they have anxiety about the subject, I hope they can voice their views to the committee – giving the reasons why they think the subject should be withdrawn,” Leung said.
He repeated Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s announcement yesterday that the government has no plans to clear out the protesters camped outside the central government headquarters. The “Occupy Tamar” protest began on Thursday afternoon at 4pm.
Leung also addressed rumours that the government would release national education teaching materials for schools to use. “The government will not publish teaching materials. What the committee will assess is the materials for teachers to use for reference,” he said.
Meanwhile, at 9am on Tuesday, another hunger striker protesting against national education – Chim Man-man – had to quit due to her deteriorating health. That left ten people, two women and eight men, continuing with the hunger strike.
The vice-president of the Professional Teachers’ Union, Wong Hak-lim, one of the hunger strikers, said discussions with the government’s committee would be futile because most of its members support the curriculum.
Chim, a member of the Tertiary Student Action group, had not eaten for 58 hours. Saying she felt dizzy, with low blood sugar, she went home to rest.
“I’m disappointed in the government, because they did not respond to public concerns. I hope the government can make up for it by listening and discussing with the public,” said Chim.
There were around 100 people at the protest area on Tuesday morning, and the atmosphere was quiet. The hunger strikers are now fasting “indefinitely”, said Lam Man-wa, a strikers’ spokeswomen. “They will last for as long as they can with the doctor’s approval.”
Some new hunger strikers have appeared to replace those who quit. All are members of the Civil Alliance Against National Education.
The fasting began on Thursday with three 18-year-old members of the secondary pupil group Scholarism. The three lasted 56 hours, until Saturday at midnight, before stopping due to health concerns. They passed on the baton to ten others who continued the fast, including university students, a parent, teachers and a professor.
Two female strikers quit because of health concerns yesterday. They are Dr Ho Chi-kwan, a retired Polytechnic University associate professor and Linda Wong Sui-hung, a parent and barrister.
Three new strikers – two unrelated parents and one social worker – joined on Monday night at 10pm to replace the two who quit. They are parents Debora Poon Suk-ying, Anthony Yiu Koon-tung and social worker Sean Wong Pong-ho.
One striker ended her fast on Tuesday.
A striker entering his 58th hour on Tuesday morning was 63-year-old James Hon Lin-shan, deputy director of the Professional Teachers’ Union. He said his health was fine and he “still has hope” that the government will withdraw the curriculum. “We are reaching a consensus that the general public opposes national education. We have to protect our children,” he said.
Meanwhile, the local Asia Television (ATV) broadcaster came under fire by internet users on Monday for its short editorial programme, ATV Focus, that accused London and Washington of backing the protests against the national education scheme.
The ATV narrator said the Western powers want to “cripple Hong Kong and show the world that China cannot control Hong Kong”. “Anti-national education is a topic created for the election by the destruction camp [pan-democrats].”