Hong Kong schools in 'brainwashing' row over plan to broadcast Basic Law speech by Beijing official

Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam during a press conference after her first policy address at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong on Oct 11, 2017.
Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam during a press conference after her first policy address at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong on Oct 11, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG (AFP) - The Hong Kong government was accused of "brainwashing" on Thursday (Oct 26) after it suggested schools broadcast to students an upcoming forum during which a Beijing official will speak on the city's mini Constitution.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam will make opening remarks at the Nov 16 forum, before Li Fei, deputy secretary general of the National People's Congress Standing Committee, gives his hour-long speech.

The topic of the forum is "Hong Kong's role and mission under the country's constitution and the Basic Law as a Special Administrative Region", reported local media.

Pro-democracy lawmakers said on Thursday that schools now felt under pressure to show it.

"This is very, very strange. In Hong Kong, we have not had anything like this," legislator Ip Kin Yuen, who represents the education sector, told AFP.

He said the circular had suggested schools reply to the government about whether they would be broadcasting the event.

"The schools will very naturally feel the pressure from the government," he said.

The outcry comes as concern grows that Chinese authorities are squeezing semi-autonomous Hong Kong's freedoms in a range of areas, from politics to media and education.

The education bureau said it had sent schools information about the seminar on Hong Kong's Constitution - known as the Basic Law - and had invited them to broadcast it, but said it was voluntary.

Pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo said it was part of Beijing's bid to re-educate Hong Kong's youth in the wake of 2014's mass Umbrella Movement protests calling for political reform and the emergence of an independence movement which wants to see a complete split from the mainland.

"(Chinese authorities) are furious that that the Hong Kong young are not patriotic," Mo said.

"It's a huge attempt at brainwashing."

The education bureau said the Basic Law seminar was part of celebrations marking 20 years since the city was handed back to China by Britain.

The bureau told AFP it would "allow schools to decide whether or not to make arrangements for students to watch the live broadcast".

A proposal to introduce patriotic lessons into schools, known as "national education", was shelved in 2012 after more than 100,000 protesters rallied against it outside government offices, led by a then 15-year-old Joshua Wong.

But there are fears in the democracy camp that it is back on the agenda.

Mrs Lam announced in October that teaching Chinese history would be compulsory in secondary schools from next year.

China's education minister Chen Baosheng also said on Monday that teachers in Hong Kong "need to love the country first", speaking on the sidelines of the week-long Communist Party national congress in Beijing.

In an interview with Hong Kong broadcaster RTHK, Chen added that Hong Kong needed to re-introduce national education and branded worries about brainwashing as "ignorant".