Hong Kong localism and independence

Bernard Chan: schools should not avoid discussing Hong Kong independence

Executive councillor says misinformation could spread if the issue is not discussed, contrary to stances of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and education minister Eddie Ng

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 September, 2016, 10:59am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 September, 2016, 11:32pm

A leading member of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s circle of advisers spoke up yesterday in support of schools discussing Hong Kong independence to avoid “misinformation”.

Executive councillor Bernard Chan adopted a seemingly more tolerant approach to the contentious issue than Leung and Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim, who have repeatedly warned that promoting separatism violates the Basic Law and should not be allowed on school campuses.

Chan, who has ruled himself out of next year’s race for the city’s top job, also said he did not plan to continue as an executive councillor, and that he “absolutely supports” the incumbent running for a second term.

His comments were reported by RTHK as some localist secondary school students had to abandon their campaigns to distribute flyers on independence around campus yesterday.

Chan told the public broadcaster that although advocating the separation of Hong Kong from China went against the city’s mini-constitution, merely discussing the issue should not be a problem and schools should not make it taboo.

“We need to handle this issue positively and discuss it,” he said. “If you don’t allow people to discuss this, they may still discuss it privately, and there may be more misinformation.”

Chan added that insteading of “guiding” thought, schools needed autonomy to handle such discussions based on students’ age and ability to comprehend.

At the same time, he warned that it would be “absolutely problematic” if students were allowed to distribute flyers on campus to advocate independence, agreeing with the government that this was a violation of the Basic Law.

The Education Bureau has already warned that teachers could be fired for advocating independence in schools. Amid confusion as to what exactly constitutes advocacy, critics have also been urging the government to clarify whether promoting independence also violates common law and is a prosecutable offence.

Allow debate on independence in Hong Kong schools – as long as the goal is to foster understanding

At least three groups of localist students cancelled their plans to distribute independence-themed promotional materials around their schools yesterday.

A student of TWGHs Kap Yan Directors’ College was about to distribute around 200 flyers outside the school in Sheung Shui but then abandoned the plan after a discussion with the school’s vice-principal, Wan Kin-kwok.

The student said Wan told her to mind her speech and actions as long as she was in school uniform. Wan also tried to cut short the student’s media interviews .

“You have seen it yourself. I don’t want to say anything any more,” she replied, bursting into tears when asked whether she felt pressure from the school.

The Tung Wah Group of Hospitals, which runs the school, said the girl was stopped due to “safety concerns”, and that any political promotion on campus was not appropriate.

Localists at Salesian English School in Shau Kei Wan and Munsang College in Kowloon City also cancelled their campaigns, citing rainy weather.

If some students choose to participate in political activities, they should communicate with parents and gain their approval
A notice allegedly issued by Canossa College

A spokesman for the Munsang localist group said the school authorities asked to be informed of their plans first before such activities were organised.

He said the school would also prepare its own material on the independence issue for distribution together with the group’s.

A spokesman for the Salesian localist group said the cancellation of the campaign was also due to “suppression by many forces”.

A notice allegedly issued by Canossa College in Quarry Bay was widely circulated online as well. Bearing the school’s stamp and principal Anny Wong Shui-kuk’s signature, it stated that the school did not encourage students to join political activities.

“If some students choose to participate in political activities, they should communicate with parents and gain their approval,” the statement read.

Students were also warned against breaching school rules.