Hong Kong localism and independence

Teach pupils about Hong Kong independence as you would drugs and suicides, ex-Legco chief says

Veteran politician urges approach that educates pupils without advocating

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 October, 2017, 3:30pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 October, 2017, 5:27pm

Hong Kong teachers should be free to discuss independence in class but not advocate it, the former leader of the city’s legislature said on Saturday, urging an approach similar to educating pupils about drugs and suicide.

Ex-Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing, a veteran pro-Beijing politician, shared his thoughts on a radio programme and exchanged views with some young people.

Asked whether he agreed with Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s claim there was “no room for any discussion on Hong Kong independence” and if the city deserved freedom to discuss the matter, Tsang offered an analogy.

“What if I told the teachers not only to tell the pupils all the downsides of suicide, but also its benefits? What if I said the discussion could not be all one-sided?” the former school principal asked.

It’s like telling pupils it’s OK to take drugs and think about committing suicide
Jasper Tsang, pro-Beijing politician

Tsang, who led Legco from 2008 to last year, said schools in the city were free to discuss Hong Kong independence and that teachers should hear out pupils’ diverse views.

But that did not mean they should discuss both the pros and cons.

“If pupils are given the perception in school that it’s fine to advocate Hong Kong independence, you’d be harming them,” he said. “It’s like telling pupils it’s OK to take drugs and think about committing suicide.”

On the recent controversy over the government’s inviting schools to live stream a Basic Law seminar next month featuring senior Beijing official Li Fei, Tsang expressed puzzlement over the criticism.

“Why are lessons given by liberal studies teachers not called brainwashing?” he asked. “But watching a live broadcast of Li Fei’s talk or a Basic Law seminar is brainwashing and coercion?”

Tsang suggested some pupils might prefer watching TV to attending their regular lessons. He said the broadcast could be a good opportunity for them to learn more about the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution.

He also commented on a lengthy article addressing the central government’s “comprehensive jurisdiction” penned by Zhang Xiaoming, Beijing’s top official in charge of Hong Kong affairs.

Tsang called the detailed assessment a “good message”.

“It’s not about Beijing taking full jurisdiction because many people in Hong Kong misbehaved,” he said, adding Zhang had instead stressed the city’s autonomy had to be protected.

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The new director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office said Chinese President Xi Jinping’s assertion of Beijing’s “comprehensive jurisdiction” had been directed at a very small number of people who resisted the central government.

Speaking on a separate radio programme, education minister Kevin Yeung Yun-hung clarified that the planned broadcasts of Li’s speech were optional. He said there was no need for the public to worry that the government would exert pressure on schools to take part.

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“Basic Law education is an important part of the school curriculum, and we will continue to strengthen it in schools,” Yeung said.

Responding to Tsang’s remarks, education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen agreed that not everything should be discussed from both sides. But he said the controversy was not as simple as drugs and suicides, and while teachers should not advocate independence, they should state the reasons behind its advocacy when discussing the issue with pupils.

In 2012, the government shelved plans to make national education – intended to strengthen “national identity awareness” and nurture patriotism towards China – compulsory in schools. That came after strong opposition from parents and educators who raised fears that pupils could be “brainwashed”.