HK schools 'invited' to air Basic Law seminar

Govt accused of 'brainwashing' as broadcast of event includes address by Beijing official

HONG KONG • The Hong Kong government was accused of "brainwashing" yesterday after it suggested that schools broadcast to students a seminar on the territory's Constitution - known as the Basic Law - that includes a live address by a Beijing official visiting the city.

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

The education bureau said it had sent schools information on the seminar and had invited them to broadcast it, but said it was voluntary.

Pro-democracy lawmakers said yesterday 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.

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.

"(The Chinese authorities) are furious that the Hong Kong young are not patriotic," she said. "It's a huge attempt at brainwashing."

The education bureau said the Basic Law seminar to be held in Hong Kong next month is part of celebrations marking 20 years since the city was handed back to China by Britain. It will include a 50-minute speech by high-ranking Chinese official Li Fei about Hong Kong's "role and mission" under the Basic Law as a Special Administrative Region of China, according to local media.

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.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 27, 2017, with the headline 'HK schools 'invited' to air Basic Law seminar'. Print Edition | Subscribe