Hong Kong’s opposition is in political hot water again, this time with the government severing all ties with the largest teachers’ union. It is yet another sign of Beijing tightening its grip amid intensifying efforts to right what it sees as wrongs over the years. It also raises key questions, such as how to maintain cooperation with the sector and ensure the rights of teachers will be taken care of. The drastic move to ostracise the Professional Teachers’ Union is more than just a political gesture. Not only will the Education Bureau no longer recognise the union and its training courses for teachers, it will not meet and consult the body on matters pertaining to the sector and stop handling its referrals of complaints or cases. The union’s representatives in government advisory bodies and education bodies may also be removed. What finally triggered Beijing’s wrath against Hong Kong’s biggest teachers’ union? The accusations levelled against the 95,000-member union are serious. The bureau branded it as no different from a political body, saying it had urged teachers to launch class boycotts and that it had fuelled the social unrest in 2019, during which some students and teachers were swayed to take part in violence and other unlawful activities. The union was also attacked for publishing teaching resources with content about civil disobedience and for openly promoting books that glorify violence. Commanding majority support among teachers for decades, the union has been closely affiliated with the pan-democratic camp, in particular the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China – a group founded by the union’s late chairman, Szeto Wah, in the wake of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. Even though the union sought to distance itself by withdrawing from the alliance recently, some pro-Beijing Chinese-language newspapers dubbed the union a “malignant tumour” that must be eradicated. Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor yesterday stopped short of saying whether the union would be banned, but stressed any action must have a legal basis. Education Bureau cuts ties with teachers’ union hours after state media attacks The repudiation must not deprive the tens of thousands of teachers in the city of their legitimate rights. The union said it handled more than 3,000 complaints and inquiries from members each year. Now that the government will not handle its referrals or recognise its courses as part of teachers’ continuing professional development, the impact cannot be ignored. It is important that complaints and cases be handled properly. It remains unclear whether groups in other fields that are known for being critical of the authorities will also be targeted. In any case, there is a need for the opposition to adapt to the legal boundaries and the changing environment set by the national security law. This will help avoid more professional bodies being cut adrift.