CY Leung opens with warning to localists before pledging HK$125m for teaching of national history
Grant to support teaching efforts for Chinese history and traditional culture quickly portrayed by critics as attempt at “brainwashing
After months of legal wrangling against pro-independence and localist lawmakers, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying on Wednesday spared the camp more vitriol even as he said there was “absolutely no room for independence”.
He also announced a HK$125 million grant to support teaching efforts for Chinese history and traditional culture, a move quickly portrayed by critics as an attempt at “brainwashing”.
Two years ago, Leung faced a barrage of criticism after he hit out at student leaders at the start of his policy address, attacking them over their “fallacies” about self-determination for Hong Kong.
Last year, Leung steered clear of thorny political issues in his address and focused on economic development instead. But after the political storm last autumn that saw pro-independence lawmakers Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching disqualified by the court over their anti-mainland antics in the Legislative Council, warnings against local independence were the introduction of Leung’s speech.
Watch: CY Leung’s final policy address
“Hong Kong is an inalienable part of our country. There is absolutely no room for independence or any form of separation,” it said.
“Under ‘one country, two systems’, every one of us has the obligation to fully comply with the Basic Law and safeguard national sovereignty, security and territorial integrity.”
During his speech, Leung also announced that the government would provide a one-off grant of about HK$125 million to all local schools, to promote Chinese history and culture.
According to the Education Bureau, the funding is to help teachers enhance the teaching of general studies in primary schools as well as the Chinese language, Chinese history and Chinese literature in primary and secondary schools.
The bureau also said in a paper to the Legislative Council that schools may flexibly deploy the grant, such as in developing teaching resources, and organising joint school activities between schools in Hong Kong and the mainland. A government source said the use of the funding needs to be approved by authorities.
Leung added that the Education Bureau would strengthen Basic Law education and further promote the Basic Law. The bureau had said it was developing a 15-hour learning module on “Constitution and the Basic Law” and updating relevant learning and teaching materials, which would be ready for school use by mid-2017.
In recent months, Chinese history became a hotly debated political issue after a growing independence movement in Hong Kong led to the call for more focus on the teaching of subject, such as making it compulsory at senior secondary levels. But many pan-democrats have spoken out against such a curriculum change, claiming it is an attempt at “brainwashing” and tantamount to a “new national education”.
The Education Bureau is also in the process of revising the junior secondary Chinese history curriculum.
Dr Leung Yan-wing from the Education University, who specialises in civic education, said that while not much is known on how exactly the money could be used to enhance teaching, there could be a political agenda behind the move and the government’s previous push for the addition of national education courses made him worried that the provision of the funding was an act of brainwashing. In 2012, a government plan to add national education courses, aimed at nurturing patriotism for China, to the school curriculum was scrapped after protests lasting 10 days were held that year.
Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies vice-chairman Lau Siu-kai, who used to head the Hong Kong government’s think tank, believes that “the government is adopting a multi-pronged approach to help young people to understand Chinese history”.
He also said it was “politically correct” for Leung to mention Hong Kong independence in his farewell address, given Beijing’s warnings against any act of independence in recent months.