Date
20 September 2017
Peter Koon (L), provincial secretary general of ‪Hong Kong's‬ ‎Anglican‬ Church; and John Tong Hon (R), Chinese Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. There is criticism that the church leaders are not standing up for Hong Kong people's rights.
Peter Koon (L), provincial secretary general of ‪Hong Kong's‬ ‎Anglican‬ Church; and John Tong Hon (R), Chinese Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. There is criticism that the church leaders are not standing up for Hong Kong people's rights.

Christian churches: Should they bow to Beijing?

Christian churches in Hong Kong are once again in the spotlight as they outline strategies to deal with planned class boycotts by secondary school students unhappy with Beijing’s electoral reform proposals. 

The Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui — the city’s Anglican Church — have taken different approaches with regard to the class boycott campaign, stepping into the picture as they both run various educational institutions in the city.

The Catholic Church has advised its schools not to punish students and teachers who join pro-democracy protests, while its Anglican counterpart said students will be better off if they steer clear of such activities.

The differences on this issue aside, both the churches are however moving in one direction overall — compromising with Beijing and stepping back from open support for political reforms in Hong Kong.

While activists say it is a good time for the churches to demonstrate their social responsibility and support campaigns that promote social justice, fairness and openness — the core values of Hong Kong, church leaders are signaling that they want no confrontation with Beijing. 

Keeping the church business going as usual is more important right now, the leaders reckon. 

The Anglican Church, which said last year that universal suffrage is not a panacea, or cure-all medicine to solve the deep-rooted problem in Hong Kong, continues to adopt a very conservative stance as seen in its approach toward the class boycott campaign.

The Church’s provincial secretary general Peter Koon said schools shouldn’t be the place for politics. He urged student group Scholarism and the Alliance for Peace and Democracy not to intervene in schools’ internal affairs, and not to put pressure on students and teachers.

While the call can be justified as upholding the schools’ independence, Koon however went on to say that the Church won’t allow students to distribute promotional leaflets regarding the class boycott, or give away or wear yellow ribbons on school uniforms. Students will also not be allowed to take leave to join the class boycott, which had been planned from September 22. 

There are more than 30 Anglican Church schools in Hong Kong.

It seems that Koon would like to keep the schools quiet during a critical moment in the city’s political reform debate, and to stand away from any controversial social demonstrations and campaigns.

As for the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong, which has been in the frontline of the city’s political reform debate over the past decade, it is now exercising caution as the Vatican is said to be in the final stage of negotiation to establish diplomatic relations with Beijing.

According to Apple Daily, the Catholic Church has been told not to comment on the Hong Kong 2017 political reform proposal as the Vatican doesn’t want to jeopardize the expected breakthrough in ties with the mainland.

The Catholic Diocese had earlier been a vocal supporter of public nomination proposal for chief executive candidates, which would allow Hong Kong people to choose their election candidates. But now the Church is no longer making such comments.

Instead, it is merely stressing the importance of mutual communications between the government and the opposition camp, and urging the government to bear responsibility in handling the political reform issue.

With a larger China-Vatican issue at stake, the Catholic Church appears to have decided on its priorities for the moment. 

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SC/JP/RC

EJ Insight writer

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