The view from Asia: Patriotic education will foster national identity

Protests continue in Hong Kong, weeks after lawmakers voted down an electoral reform package backed by China. One writer laments the dearth of national education and another stresses the importance of economic ties with China.

Patriotic education will foster national identity

Eddy Li
President, Chinese Manufacturers' Association of Hong Kong

It has been 18 years since the handover. While economic cooperation between Hong Kong and the mainland continues to grow, and has benefited companies and people on both sides, the ideological gap is expanding.

Personally, I am most concerned about the defects in our education system.

In recent years, most of Hong Kong's social issues have arisen from problems associated with the younger generation. The illegal "Occupy Central" movement, with students as its backbone, is the most cogent evidence for such an assertion. While Hong Kong's legislature was preparing to vote on the crucial constitutional reform Bill some two weeks ago, 10 people were detained on suspicion of plotting bomb attacks to derail the democratic process. Most of those arrested were young people, some of whom were members of a radical group calling itself the "National Independent Party".

Most Hong Kong people are shocked by the campaigns launched by these young people, and I have pondered over these issues over and over again.

I realise that Hong Kong's education system is defective in some aspects. These systemic defects are the root cause of the behaviour of many young people who have been led astray.

It is because of the lack of patriotic education that some of our young people view Hong Kong as an independent political entity.

It is because of the lack of legal consciousness that many young students get involved in the Occupy protests.

It is because of the lack of knowledge of the Basic Law that many of them oppose the government's constitutional reform proposals, which are formulated in strict accordance with the Basic Law and decisions of the National People's Congress Standing Committee.

The people of Hong Kong always respect the rule of law, and the city is reputed for its good public security. Many residents take pride in this. While it is right to promote democracy in Hong Kong, I believe that any such move should be based on respect for others. Everyone has the freedom to express his or her views, but this should be conducted in a civilised and legal manner, without jeopardising the freedom and basic rights of others.

If democracy is pursued at the price of violence, illegality and even the safety of others, democracy will be meaningless.

We need to educate our descendants on this. More importantly, we need to educate them on the real meaning of country and patriotism. That Hong Kong is an integral part of China is beyond question, so the idea of "love the country and Hong Kong" should be embedded in our minds. This is the most fundamental concept that a worthy citizen should have.

It is a pity that the government's proposed electoral reform for the election of the Chief Executive by universal suffrage fell through in the Legislative Council last month. Otherwise, Hong Kong would have much more to celebrate on the 18th anniversary of its handover.

As we enter the 19th post-handover year, Hong Kong has to move on.

First of all, we should continue to find ways to boost our economy and maintain the good practice of relentlessly enhancing the overall well-being of society.

The Hong Kong government should also attach greater importance to education.

I suggest that the Education Bureau consider adding Basic Law and patriotic education to the school curriculum, including the background of the drafting and legislation of the city's mini-Constitution, and the reason for maintaining "one country, two systems", as well as Hong Kong's history before the handover.

This will promote students' understanding of Hong Kong, and give them a sense of national identity. Equipped with historical facts through appropriate education, students will be able to make independent and critical judgments if attempts are made to mislead them.

This will greatly reduce the chances of absurdities, like the Occupy movement, recurring.

Big strides in economy come with tough lessons

Zhou Bajun,
Senior research fellow,
China Everbright Holding

Economic integration accelerated when Hong Kong signed the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (Cepa) with Beijing in 2003. The pact was initiated by Hong Kong and promoted by the central government when Hong Kong was experiencing its worst economic recession in history amid the severe acute respiratory syndrome epidemic.

Hong Kong then needed urgent economic aid and Beijing lost no time in providing as much help as necessary. Hong Kong people should never forget that the Individual Visit Scheme had enabled the city to overcome two economic recessions - in 2003 and 2009. Mainland visitors to Hong Kong have contributed much to the local economy, spending billions of dollars there. They account for 40 per cent of the city's retail sales, which have been a major driving force behind the growth of its gross domestic product.

By continually broadening and enriching Cepa, a free trade zone for commodities has been established across the Shenzhen River.

In the light of economic globalisation, Hong Kong should maintain its economic status through cooperation with the Pearl River Delta region in Guangdong.

Meanwhile, the city is strengthening economic links with other major mainland cities, especially Shanghai. On Nov 17 last year, the Shanghai-Hong Kong Stock Connect programme began.

Any international financial centre needs a broad economic base measured by population and land. Hong Kong - a tiny city with just seven million residents and around 1,000 sq km of land - has to extend its financial services to the whole nation of 1.3 billion people and 9.6 million sq km of land.

And the mainland has been the No. 1 engine driving the world economy in recent years. Therefore, to Hong Kong, the sooner the Shenzhen-Hong Kong stocks cross-trading is launched, the better it is for Hong Kong's financial markets. Bolstered by the mainland economy, Hong Kong occupies the top position among global securities markets and is now the second-largest area for direct investment inflow and outflow in the world.

If Hong Kong wants to make itself a bona fide global financial centre, further integration with the mainland is a must.

Yet, in the 12 years since the July 1 demonstration in 2003, Hong Kong has been continually harassed by the opposition camp. The troublemakers have gone out of their way to undermine the Hong Kong government's lawful administration and frequently violated the Basic Law in a bid to jeopardise the implementation of the "one country, two systems" policy, much to the detriment of the city's economic development.

On the other hand, while becoming increasingly reliant on the mainland economy for growth, Hong Kong has not been able to achieve the level of structural transformation it wants from a services-centric economy to a knowledge-based innovative economy.

As a result, it has been surpassed by Singapore in some key aspects, while Shanghai is breathing down its neck.

Hong Kong has benefited greatly from its economic integration with the mainland, but not without some tough lessons along the way. The most alarming of these lessons, perhaps, is that Hong Kong people may not realise how easy it is for them to take the mainland for granted.

Economic integration should be mutually beneficial. The recent illegal harassment of mainland visitors by a small number of ill-motivated individuals in the name of "nativism" has seriously hurt the feelings of mainland compatriots and has led to a noticeable drop in the number of tourist groups, as well as individual visitors. Such "backlashes" will only increase if we do not make improvements for the sake of our own economy.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 03, 2015, with the headline 'The view from Asia Patriotic education will foster national identity Big strides in economy come with tough lessons'. Print Edition | Subscribe