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Beijing’s representatives in Hong Kong invite teachers to open day for first time

Some see a sign of office getting teachers onside, but others see a chance for professional development

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 September, 2018, 7:01am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 September, 2018, 11:32pm

The Beijing government’s office in Hong Kong has for the first time invited ­local teachers for an exclusive tour on Sunday, with talks by a senior official and a mainland Chinese professor.

The offer came as the liaison office prepared to hold its second open day on the same date, after opening its doors for the first time in April.

“The invitation letter named it as an exclusive session for teachers on the open day,” Halina Poon Suk-han, chair of the Hong Kong Subsidised Secondary Schools Council, told the Post. “I believe [the liaison office] wants us to know more about it and facilitate communication.”

It was understood that liaison office deputy director Tan Tieniu, formerly a university professor in electronic engineering, would host a talk on technological developments. Another mainland scholar would chair a talk on teaching maths.

Noting it was a rare arrangement, Poon said she would be happy to visit.

“Government House also holds open days. It is a good thing,” she said, rejecting the suggestion that the arrangement was to do with the tide of localism among youngsters in the city.

Last year, independence banners and posters surfaced on campus at several universities.

This year, a few representatives from student unions made their localist stance clear at ceremonies to mark the start of the new academic year.

Last week at Education University, the president of the student union’s provisional executive council, Cheung Yam, said: “Independence is the only way to build a place truly based on the interests of Hongkongers.

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Ho Hon-kuen, of the concern group Education Convergence, said the office had invited him over the phone.

Saying it was the first time teachers had been invited to set foot in the office, he agreed with the move.

“There is no need for the office to be so secretive,” he said.

When the office opened its doors in April, the media and up to 1,500 visitors from selected pro-establishment groups were granted access to five of the Sai Wan office’s more than 30 floors.

Director Wang Zhimin said he wanted to demystify the functions of the office and build trust with local residents.

Pan-democrat legislator Ip Kin-yuen, who represents the education sector, said the theme of the talks appeared to be apolitical, compared with those on Chinese history or language.

“It appears to be using an apolitical way to attract teachers to go,” he said.

Veteran China watcher Johnny Lau Yui-siu believed the invitation was a tactic to build a relationship with teachers, as Beijing placed a high value on local education.

“That will pay off in crucial times,” he said, recalling how schools had been invited to live stream a speech by Li Fei, then chairman of the Basic Law Committee, on the city’s mini-constitution last year.

Liaison office staff were also reported to have met secondary school principals last October to discuss the Chinese history curriculum.

However, Lee Suet-ying, principal of Ho Yu College and Primary School, who said she had received the invitation email and forwarded it to teachers of the relevant subjects, downplayed the political gesture.

“This is only an invitation, not coercion. Teachers should join if they believe it helps them to enhance their expertise,” she said.