No plan to extend national education, Hong Kong leader says amid controversy over undersecretary pick
Chief Executive Carrie Lam denies central government’s influence in appointment of pro-Beijing school principal Christine Choi
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor quashed speculation on Wednesday that her new administration was planning to introduce the teaching of national education as an independent subject, a move that was aborted in 2012 after widespread protests over concerns about “brainwashing”.
The chief executive also defended her controversial pick for education undersecretary, viewed as a political appointee likely to revive the plan, blaming opposition lawmakers for fanning the flames.
Speaking a day after naming of 18 new politically appointed officials for her administration, Lam said the widely opposed choice of pro-Beijing school principal Christine Choi Yuk-lin as undersecretary for education was not related to reintroducing the patriotic curriculum.
“National education has always been ongoing in our schools in one form or another,” Lam said. “I realise that five years ago, using a particular approach to implement national education in schools stirred up some controversy.”
She clarified that “at the moment”, the government had “no particular plan” to extend the teaching of national education in schools. “This has nothing to do with this particular appointment of Dr Choi,” Lam said.
“In a city like Hong Kong, which has diverse opinions on almost every issue, it is very difficult to avoid controversy, and I’m not a person to shy away from controversy.”
Choi, former vice-chairwoman of the Beijing-friendly Federation of Education Workers, ran in the education functional constituency in the Legislative Council elections last September and lost heavily to Professional Teachers’ Union vice-president and pan-democrat Ip Kin-yuen.
More than 17,000 people have signed petitions against Choi’s appointment.
The concern is that Choi could spearhead a revived drive to introduce national education in schools to instil patriotism and strengthen Chinese identity, a bid the government was forced to shelve in 2012, after 10 days of protests by students, parents, teachers and pro-democracy groups suspicious of the motives behind it.
Lam said she did not understand why some people would escalate the issue of Choi’s appointment into “picking a battle against the education sector” or “destroying the mutual trust” between the government and the sector.
She said she had received much support for Choi’s appointment and that she believed the veteran educator would be “fully qualified” with her academic credentials and rich experience in the field.
But Ip, citing various education group representatives quoted in the media, said no association of school principals had given Choi’s appointment a positive comment, except for her own group. Some principals, he said, even criticised the appointment when responding to media enquiries.
The chief executive also denied speculation that she had followed Beijing’s orders to appoint Choi, saying all candidates for undersecretary posts were recommended by the ministers above them.
Lam added that she had invited the different political parties to recommend candidates but did not receive any suggestions from the pan-democrats.
Meeting the press on her first day of work, Choi admitted that her appointment had drawn a mixed reaction. But she said her defeat in the Legco elections was not a reflection of her capability.
“I think my participation in the Legco [elections] is not the only standard to measure my future professional work … it is worth questioning the logic if people mix these two things together in a democratic society,” Choi said.
She also dismissed suggestions that she was a Communist Party member, stressing that she had no political affiliation and was simply a Christian loyal to her faith in religion and education.
She said she hoped society would give her “space and time” to work.
Education minister Kevin Yeung Yun-hung said he did not have any discussions with Beijing’s liaison office in the city about recommending Choi.
He said her 20 years of frontline experience in education were in line with Lam’s hopes that policy bureaus should be led by professionals.