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.
Legco motion calling for education minister to quit is vetoed
Call for Eddie Ng to resign over national education controversy thrown out despite majority vote by directly-elected members
The Legislative Council yesterday voted down a motion calling on the education minister to step down in a lengthy meeting that also reignited debate over national education.
The non-binding motion put forward by education-sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen was vetoed by functional constituency legislators despite winning majority support from directly elected members.
Criticised for bad political judgment in introducing the national education curriculum and his handling of the row that followed, Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim said he would embark on "deep reflections" and learn from experience so that he could handle sensitive issues better in future.
As well as calling on Ng to quit, the motion asked the government to withdraw the controversial subject guidelines which have been shelved but not abandoned. Along with two amendments, it was voted down under the two-tier system in which such motions have to be approved separately by directly elected and functional constituency lawmakers.
In the debate, Ip said Ng ignored public opinion during implementation of the policy and had used bad political judgment when it triggered social unrest.
"Under the political accountability system, do we need a minister like Mr Ng?" he asked. "He should bear the political responsibility and step down."
Ip's views were overwhelmingly rejected by the pro-establishment camp, with members branding him irresponsible.
Chiang Lai-wan, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said that if Ng stepped down, "Why don't we let you do it? Will it solve the problem?"
James Tien, of the Liberal Party, said it would not be right to force Ng to resign despite his low approval level - in the latest poll he was second from bottom.
"Must we keep politicising the issue and make a head roll?" he asked. "There has to be a least popular minister; if he or she must step down, they will all be gone soon."
Chief Secretary for Administration Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who also attended the meeting, said Ip's allegations were untrue and unfair. But Labour Party chairman Lee Cheuk-yan said the recent turmoil, which led to massive protests by parents, students and teachers, had shown that Ng lacked the political expertise to stay on as a principal official.
"Without political skills and knowledge in education, what else do you have left stay on," he asked of Ng, who was previously a human resources executive.
The debate followed months of controversy and mass protests over national education - branded "brainwashing" by critics.
DAB's lawmaker Ip kwok-him likened the student protesters to Cultural Revolution activists who banned all dissenting views.
Executive councillor Starry Lee Wai-king said that Hong Kong students would be less competitive if schools did not equip them with knowledge about the mainland.
But pan-democrat Cyd Ho Sau-lan countered: "People should not only love business opportunities of the country ... and love renminbi. People should take it seriously to contribute to the people of China," she said.
Ng said after the debate that he was "sincerely" grateful for all the comments and would enhance communication in future.