Hong Kong independence groups focus on schools

'Concern groups' formed in 15 schools as part of effort to lay groundwork for future elections

Hong Kong activist group Studentlocalism, founded in April, has been taking to the streets to canvass for the city to break away from China. The words on the T-shirts read: "Protect localism, the mission of students".
Hong Kong activist group Studentlocalism, founded in April, has been taking to the streets to canvass for the city to break away from China. The words on the T-shirts read: "Protect localism, the mission of students".PHOTO: STUDENT LOCALISM

Pro-independence activists might have been barred from next month's Legislative Council elections, but that is not stopping them from laying the groundwork for future polls.

Campaigns for the city to break away from China have hit 15 secondary schools in the past week, with students there forming "concern groups" and disseminating information on independence.

Tony Chung, 15, who initiated the school campaigns, said he hopes to get more teenagers to pay attention to Hong Kong's affairs and have a hand in shaping the city's future.

But a spokesman for the Education Bureau told The Straits Times yesterday that schools should not allow pro-independence advocacy or activities. He said schools that find students setting up "localist" concern groups without approval should take follow-up action to see if they have any close connection with groups outside the schools.

He added that the bureau would be keeping "close contact with the education sector and schools to provide appropriate support".

By yesterday, at least one school principal had warned some students against holding political activities at school, said Tony. The secondary school student co-founded activist group Studentlocalism with three others in April this year.

The group, which has 60 members, has been seen canvassing in the streets during major events like the Tiananmen anniversary on June 4 and the July 1 march to mark Hong Kong's return to China in 1997. Its Facebook page has garnered more than 3,800 likes.

"We believe the school principal must have been pressured by the Education Ministry to stop our activities. But there is no clause in our school rules that says we cannot discuss politics in school," Tony told The Straits Times.

"We expect to face such obstacles from school principals, but we are not afraid. We will continue to spread the words through social media platforms like Facebook.

"We want to engage student unions to promote independence and to hold discussion panels and invite well-known localist and pro-independence activists to speak."

Tony said he has had regular meetings with some pro-independence activists to seek their advice and "exchange ideas". But he declined to name any of them, citing the need to protect them ahead of the Sept 4 Legco polls. One of the barred activists, Mr Edward Leung, has said he will file for judicial review.

Teenagers like Tony are targeted by pro-independence activists because they would turn 18 and above and be eligible to vote in the next election which could take place in four years' time, said analysts.

But more importantly, young people are more receptive to localism as surveys have shown, said Dr Willy Lam, adjunct professor at Chinese University of Hong Kong.

He noted how "patriotic organisations" have already been targeting the younger generation by sending secondary school students to patriotic camps in the mainland.

"These students would spend two to three weeks in the mainland and be given a heavy dosage of patriotic ideas to ensure they get the right message about Hong Kong."

To reach out to more young people, localism activists, including from Hong Kong Indigenous, plan to hold a viewing of a "live" Olympics badminton match between China and Hong Kong tonight.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 12, 2016, with the headline 'HK independence groups reach out to schools'. Print Edition | Subscribe