Hong Kong schools have been losing their academic freedom since the 1997 handover as Beijing pursues efforts to implement patriotic education in the city’s campuses.
But there is an urgent need to uphold academic freedom amid growing pressure from the north of the border to stifle critical discussion of issues and dissent.
Last week, Chan Ho-tin, chairman of the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party, revealed plans to support and encourage the promotion of Hong Kong independence in secondary schools and universities.
He also voiced hopes that independence advocates will lead student unions in the universities to advance the cause.
At the same time, another localist group, Studentlocalism, plans to launch a campaign to drum up support for Hong Kong independence in secondary schools after the summer holiday.
As to be expected, the government immediately expressed alarm over such plans, saying that calls for independence contradicts the provisions of the Basic Law and China’s policy towards Hong Kong.
Such an advocacy, and activities related to it, have no place on campuses, it said.
It urged headmasters, teachers and parents to advise students against being “misled into participating and advocating any activities that violate the Basic Law”.
But why should independence be a taboo subject in schools? Why should the government prevent teachers and students from talking about it?
Meanwhile, the government is making every effort to stop independence advocates from running in next month’s Legislative Council election.
If this trend continues, young people who believe in independence, and are vocal about it, will find it hard to secure a school place or, after graduating, land a job in the city.
However, despite determined efforts to brand it as unlawful and illegal, the concept of independence continues to burn in the hearts and minds of the young generation.
According to a survey conducted by Undergrad, a student publication of the University of Hong Kong’s student union, more than 60 percent of the students support the holding of a referendum on Hong Kong independence, regardless of whether Beijing accepts it or not.
The results show that many youngsters have changed their views on the issue, from being a supporter of a Greater China union to an advocate of Hong Kong independence.
The support rate for Hong Kong as an independent state jumped from 42 percent in 2014 to 65 percent this year, while the percentage of those who want to maintain the “one country, two systems” policy declined to 43 percent from 68 percent in 2014.
In the same survey, 48 percent of the respondents said they consider themselves as Hong Kong citizens, not Chinese.
Hong Kong Indigenous and the Civic Party gained the most support from the youngsters, according to the survey.
Although the survey only interviewed HKU students and the sample size wasn’t big enough (more than 300 respondents) to represent all local students, the results show growing support for Hong Kong independence.
If there is anyone to blame for this growing trend, it’s none other than Beijing itself, which has spared no efforts in undermining Hong Kong’s core values and transforming the territory into a submissive municipality of China.
Yet the more Beijing tries to suppress the discussion of this “dangerous” subject, the more the youngsters become interested in the concept, and what it means as they grow up into adults and responsible members of the community.
How can they be assured that they will continue to enjoy the freedom to shape their own destiny if they are not even allowed to vote for the leaders of their choice?
Yes, this whole discussion of independence is about the future of our youth, who now see bleak prospects for themselves and their future children under a repressive government.
What is the use of the Basic Law if academic freedom and freedom of expression are suppressed?
It seems Beijing is afraid that any discussion of Hong Kong independence could become a threat to the legitimacy of its rule.
Cheung Yui-fai, the vice-president of the Professional Teachers’ Union, said on Wednesday that secondary school students should have the right to discuss Hong Kong independence because they should be allowed to think for themselves.
After all, it is their future that any discussion on Hong Kong independence is about.
Besides, Cheung said, why should the government hinder any interaction between teachers and their students?
The more the authorities try to stop the discussions about independence, the more eager the people become to discuss and understand it.
And so by preventing the discussion of independence, the government is only promoting its spread.
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