My Take

Bureaucrats’ absurd plan to send our youngsters to study in war zones – just to please Beijing

Whatever the merits of the ‘One Belt, One Road’ policy, scholarship fund to sponsor studies in some countries along the route is fraught with danger

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 April, 2016, 3:01pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 May, 2016, 8:36pm

Officials have finally released details about the HK$1 billion scholarship and cultural exchange scheme for Hong Kong youngsters to visit countries linked by Beijing’s “One Belt, One Road” policy. Supporters say it will help young people advance their careers and achieve better understanding of China’s economy and diplomacy.

Detractors say it’s nothing more than brainwashing. Why force successful applicants to plead to promote Beijing’s belt-and-road policy when it makes more sense to encourage them to study globalisation and emerging markets, many of which are on Beijing’s list?

Under the scheme, groups of young people aged 15 to 29 may be sponsored by non-profit or education groups with subsidies of up to HK$300,000. Each person will also receive a daily cash grant, the amount of which depends on the country.

Hong Kong’s Home Affairs Bureau concedes that safety is vital in youth tours to belt and road countries

My own reaction is much simpler. Have those officials at the Home Affairs Bureau and the Committee on the Promotion of Civic Education responsible for the scheme gone mad? Did they even read the list of countries covered by the belt-and-road policy?

For Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and Yemen, you get HK$680 a day. In Afghanistan and Iran, they pay a daily HK$1,360, as in a number of Central Asian countries that end with “stan”. I don’t know why, but students who go to Pakistan get HK$670 a day.

Looking at those countries, terrorism, military coups and civil wars come to mind. Saudi Arabia, which is also covered under the scholarship scheme, has just conducted a savage bombing campaign in Yemen. I know it’s important to educate our children about world affairs. But this is a bit too close for comfort and safety. Even the most adventurous journalism schools for war correspondent wannabes would not send them to those countries for course credits.

Not all countries covered by the scheme are dangerous. It’s perfectly fine to study in the Czech Republic, Poland, Singapore, Israel and the mainland.

But even the Security Bureau’s Outbound Travel Alert system warns travellers of “severe threat” in Syria and “significant threat” in Egypt, Lebanon, Nepal and Pakistan.

In their eagerness to follow Beijing’s policy, our bureaucrats seem to have blindly replicated the entire belt-and-road list of countries, regardless of safety.

Whatever our political stance, we can all agree that our youngsters should come back in one piece.