23 October 2018
Schoolchildren perform a flag-raising ceremony during the recent visit of PLA officers to a kindergarten in Aberdeen. Photo: CNSA
Schoolchildren perform a flag-raising ceremony during the recent visit of PLA officers to a kindergarten in Aberdeen. Photo: CNSA

PLA, please just leave our children alone

Chinese authorities appear intent on winning the hearts and minds of Hong Kong’s youth, even without the help of the SAR government.

Following massive student protests, the government had shelved plans to introduce national education into the school curriculum.

The scheme was intended to instill patriotism among students, but critics say it was a form of brainwashing that only seeks to foster loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party.

Beijing, of course, knows there are many ways to skin the cat. And so, without having to push the controversial scheme, it has sent its soldiers on a “friendly” visit to schools.

There seems to be nothing controversial about that, but has Beijing found another way to achieve the same objective? Is it now using innocent schoolchildren to achieve its political goals?

The recent visit by members of the People’s Liberation Army to a local kindergarten appears to be a harmless gesture on the part of mainland officials to establish closer ties with Hong Kong’s next generation.

The state news agency Xinhua reported on Tuesday that 20 officers of the PLA Hong Kong garrison visited a kindergarten in Aberdeen to show their kindness and love for the children, giving them Christmas presents and joining them in playing group games, singing songs and making art works.

It was a well-orchestrated visit. A group of kindergarten children welcomed the PLA officers by playing drums and lining up for a flag-raising ceremony in which the national anthem of the People’s Republic of China was played.

But beyond the cheerful and seemingly innocuous ceremony, the real intent of the event was all too obvious to overlook or ignore. 

The event, though promoted as a part of the PLA’s community service, is in fact part of Beijing’s efforts to win the support of the schoolchildren and their parents.

It’s all part of the national government’s objective of building a “harmonious society” in Hong Kong.

During the visit, a senior PLA official in Hong Kong revealed what the Chinese military intends to achieve.

He said: “The Hong Kong garrison stresses the importance of communications and exchanges with the Hong Kong public, and [we hope] society can achieve long-term stability and prosperity, and the army will do what it can to support the public’s properties and and healthy way of life. Loving Hong Kong and caring for Hong Kong people remain an unchanged vision of the Hong Kong garrison.”

Xinhua said it was the PLA Hong Kong garrison’s ninth visit to schools to show their care and love for Hong Kong children.

The PLA visit did not attract much coverage from local media, but Apple Daily, known for its fiercely anti-Beijing stance, surprisingly published a positive piece on the visit, reporting that “the children felt happy as the PLA lady members played with them”.

Apple Daily may find a “human interest” angle in the PLA garrison’s PR stunt, but the newspaper did take a serious thought on what might be the hidden agenda behind the visit.

And what is the goal the PLA to achieve?

Is it appropriate for the PLA to perform community service in Hong Kong? There’s no clear prohibition in the Basic Law, the city’s constitution.

But Article 14 of the Basic Law states: “Military forces stationed by the Central People’s Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region for defense shall not interfere in the local affairs of the Region.”

Providing community services to Hong Kong people may seem acceptable, but paying a visit to a kindergarten may not be appropriate, according to the law.

The PLA has been respectful of the Basic Law since it entered Hong Kong in 1997, but it should be cautioned about its growing exposure in the city.

Though its activities have been confined to community services and open days at the garrison, the PLA should guard itself against interfering in the Hong Kong people’s way of life.

Both Beijing and the Hong Kong government have been working very hard to penetrate the city’s school system and introduce the patriotic education scheme.

But with the stiff opposition they encountered from secondary school students under the leadership of Scholarism, should they now start with schoolchildren at the tender age of two or three?

Such a scheme could completely mess up pre-school education in Hong Kong, as children in this age group are supposed to learn social skills and basic knowledge as well as how to mingle and play with fellow schoolkids, rather than understand the glorious history of the People’s Republic of China.

But it seems that some pro-Beijing education professionals have other things in mind.

According to the Hong Kong government’s kindergarten guidebook for parents, there are at least 11 kindergartens implementing patriotic education by way of forming flag-raising teams and singing the national anthem during morning assemblies.

Parents have expressed concern over such arrangements, but some teachers said they are just trying to let the children feel the ceremony and the rhythm of the national anthem, as it could be too difficult for the kids to learn how to respect the national flag or inculcate love for their country at this early stage.

But such an arrangement does open the door for Beijing to introduce national education by first teaching them about the national flag and the national anthem, and then slowly promoting patriotism when they reach primary school.

What Beijing and Hong Kong authorities apparently want to do is gradually mold the minds of our next generation, to clear their minds of the anti-Beijing sentiments that their parents and older siblings may have, and as they grow up, teach them to accept the rule of the Communist Party of China. 

That said, the army is a private organization of the Communist Party. And Hong Kong people cannot forget how the army shot unarmed students on Tiananmen Square on the night of June 4, 1989.

That infamous day was also a tipping point in Hong Kong-China relationship for that was when Hong Kong people lost their trust in Beijing authorities, when they started to think that what the PLA did on Tiananmen they could also do to them on the streets of Hong Kong.

It seems that patriotic education is now unavoidable in Hong Kong.

What can parents do if their children salute to the PLA in the schools, or stand up straight when the national anthem is played on television?

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EJ Insight writer

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