Hong Kong localism and independence

Anglican leader says Hong Kong schools should not discuss independence unless pupils are told of likely ‘civil war’

Church’s provincial secretary general in city also thinks politically charged issue might be too sensitive now for university academics to research

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 September, 2017, 3:45pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 September, 2017, 11:28pm

The controversial topic of advocating Hong Kong’s independence from China should not be discussed in schools without telling pupils about the bloodshed it would likely unleash, according to a top leader of the local Anglican Church.

In an exclusive interview, Reverend Peter Koon Ho-ming, the church’s provincial secretary general, also said the issue might be too sensitive now for university academics to research the possibility.

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Koon is a senior priest for a religious institution that claims up to 40,00 followers in a city where the Protestant congregation is estimated to number 500,000. The Anglican Church, known locally as the Sheng Kung Hui, is especially influential in education, operating more than 130 schools and kindergartens.

Koon serves as supervisor for a number of them, including prestigious St Stephen’s Girls’ College, whose alumni include pro-Beijing political heavyweight Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai and New People’s Party chairwoman and former chief executive candidate Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee.

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Earlier this month, as the new academic year began, messages in support of Hong Kong breaking away from Beijing surfaced on noticeboards and prominent campus sites at several universities, triggering a debate on whether the actions were legal. On September 7, the issue was complicated after a poster taunting an education official over her son’s recent suicide appeared on a noticeboard at Education University.

Koon, 51, said the saga revealed a “worrying” lack of compassion and empathy in Hong Kong.

It’s quite clear there would be civil war if we sought to separate from China
Anglican priest Rev Peter Koon Ho-ming

“The Bible teaches us that you should not treat others in a particular way if you don’t want them to treat you like that,” he said.

The priest claimed “Chinese people’s feelings were hurt” when Hongkongers advocated the city’s separation from the mainland.

A year ago, pupils from more than 50 secondary schools joined the independence debate by setting up Facebook groups addressing localism. Then chief executive Leung Chun-ying had repeatedly stated that promoting separatism should not be permitted in schools.

But, citing practicality, Koon disagreed.

“It cannot be disallowed because it’s a social topic. But they need to let students know what would happen,” he said. “It’s quite clear there would be civil war if we sought to separate from China.”

On whether university students and scholars should research the issue, he said: “If you do this at such a controversial time, people would feel you are intentionally [advocating it].

“This topic would deeply divide society. If it is purely for academic reasons, would it be better for them to talk about it if they studied abroad?”

Earlier this year, Koon was appointed a member of the civic education promotion committee and the Curriculum Development Council, which both advise the government on school curricula.

Koon hoped the committee could help promote respect as “qualities of Hong Kong citizens”, while he said the council could play a part in strengthening moral education in secondary schools.

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Universities should also boost their moral education, he added, as he questioned whether university management had done enough to “discipline” their students.

Last month, Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung said he did not feel the need for a separate subject on national education any time soon.

Koon agreed with Yeung’s view: “It’s quite embarrassing to talk about national education in secondary schools. Even children in primary schools or kindergarten should know that ... they need to respect a country.

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In 2015, a year after the pro-democracy Occupy movement involved large-scale street protests across the city, the priest was criticised for suggesting that Hongkongers should “behave because a cat would be granted more freedom by its master for good conduct”.

He clarified to the Post that all he wanted to say was that it was important for Hong Kong and Beijing to communicate with and trust each other.

Koon also revealed his grandfather was a prominent Shanghai-based banker in the 1920s and 30s, and his family had suffered persecution during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s.

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But after witnessing China’s social and economic progress over the last three decades, Koon believed it was better to embrace the country than to hate it.

“I don’t believe God doesn’t love the Communist Party and the Chinese people,” he said.