‘Students can discuss anything under guidance of teachers’: Hong Kong education minister breaks silence on independence talk on campus
Secretary for Education Eddie Ng’s remarks come after meeting in Beijing with mainland education officials
Hong Kong’s education minister spelled out on Thursday that students could discuss the highly sensitive issue of independence for the city, but under the supervision of teachers and within the limits of the Basic Law.
After a meeting with top Ministry of Education officials in Beijing, Eddie Ng Hak-kim broke his silence on the raging debate for the first time since the Education Bureau caused a storm by warning over the weekend that teachers could lose their jobs if they encouraged pupils to engage in independence advocacy talk.
But Ng left questions unanswered as to how teachers should guide students and whether they would be disqualified if they cited the pro-independence camp’s views in liberal studies classes.
Without specifying which side brought up the topic, Ng said he exchanged views with ministry officials on independence “invading schools”, and they supported the Hong Kong government’s stance on not allowing advocacy on campuses.
But he clarified that the city’s government would handle the issue and decide related policies on its own, without directions from Beijing.
“Students can discuss anything if they are under the guidance of teachers,” Ng said.
“[This topic] should be discussed from the position of the Basic Law.”
Separately, Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung said it was “not a good thing to listen to only one side of the story”.
“In any discussion, especially when it is about discussing Hong Kong independence with students, we should take a rational and objective attitude to tell students about Hong Kong’s constitutional and legal status under the Basic Law,” he said.
Basic Law expert Alan Hoo said he, as a local deputy to China’s top political advisory body, would submit a proposal to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference asking Beijing to clarify whether people advocating independence for the city would be committing the crime of endangering national security, which is an offence under mainland jurisdiction.
“Will such Hongkongers be arrested once they cross the border into Shenzhen? We need to let young people know,” Hoo said.
If student groups were found to share the agenda of groups such as the Hong Kong National Party, they should be declared as illegal organisations and be investigated, he added.
On Sunday, The Education Bureau made it clear there should not be any pro-independence talk or activity in schools, and that teachers should ensure students understood that the idea of separating Hong Kong from China violated the city’s mini-constitution. The bureau warned that it would disqualify teachers breaking the rules.
Choi Yuk-lin, vice-chairwoman of the pro-Beijing Federation of Education Workers, said she did not understand what Ng meant by “from the position of the Basic Law”.
Legislator Ip Kin-yuen, of the pro-democracy Professional Teachers’ Union, shared the same confusion and questioned why Ng had made his first public statement on the issue in Beijing instead of at home.
Executive Councillor Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun weighed in the debate on Thursday, saying students could discuss independence only after understanding that the city “can never be independent because of the constitutional arrangement”.
In a related development on Thursday, the Committee on Home-School Co-operation and parent-teachers associations in 16 districts issued a joint statement noting that some people were promoting the establishment of political organisations at schools.
“The committee is of the view that schools are not the places for political wrangling,” the statement said.
Additional reporting by Joyce Ng and Fred Lai