How Carrie Lam is dragging preschoolers into politics

June 21, 2017 13:01
Carrie Lam says Hong Kong people must develop a sense of being Chinese from an early age and that it is the government's job to nurture young people's national identity. Photo: HKEJ

Many Hong Kong people hope incoming Chief Executive Carrie Lam will implement her policies from a Hong Kong perspective, rather than blindly follow Beijing’s orders.

But regrettably Lam may be no different from her predecessor, Leung Chun-ying, a devout Beijing loyalist, as she turned tough on promoting patriotic education from kindergarten in a bid to curb a rising independence mindset among young people.

Speaking to Beijing's Xinhua news agency, Lam showed her hawkish tone on the subject. She said Hong Kong people must develop the sense that "I am Chinese" from kindergarten and that it is the government's job to nurture young people's national identity.

Chinese history ought to be a compulsory subject in secondary schools, she said.

This is Lam’s strongest stance yet on the Hong Kong independence issue and the most detailed plan on re-launching national education in all levels.

Her idea is sure to draw fire from democrats, pro-independence activists and parents.

It seems that education is on top of Beijing's agenda as Hong Kong enters its 20th year under Chinese sovereignty.

Lam earlier told an interview that the idea of Hong Kong independence is supported by very few people and has not gained ground as a popular ideology.

Her remarks drew criticism from Leung who said Hong Kong cannot be complacent in its response to calls for various degrees of self-determination, including separatism and outright independence.

Beijing officials followed Leung in voicing their concern about separatism and urged the incoming administration to counter-brainwash local youths to rid them of their colonial mindset.

It is quite clear that Lam failed to have her say in terms of patriotic education. She knows Hong Kong parents and students will take the issue to the streets just like five years ago when the government tried to launch a national curriculum program.

But Lam has been forced by Beijing's top leaders to adopt an iron-fisted stance. She has no say in Hong Kong's education affairs and can do nothing except follow Beijing's bidding.

Yes, the script has been written. The Beijing authorities have put anti-Hong Kong independence at the top the agenda of Lam’s administration.

That could be the reason Lam changed her stance completely to follow Beijing’s direction. That came after some local pro-independence lawmakers formed an alliance with a parliamentary group from Taiwan to push for Hong Kong's democratic development.

The move drew massive criticism from pro-Beijing loyalists who said the alliance is a direct challenge to Beijing's sovereignty over Hong Kong.

Under pressure from Beijing, Lam has no choice but to take a tough stance against any separatist and independence movements in Hong Kong.

Lam said the idea of Hong Kong independence cannot be allowed to develop in the younger generation and that the government will strictly enforce the law against any such calls under her leadership.

Several online critics questioned Lam as to which local laws defined advocating Hong Kong independence as illegal. They argued that such allegations could be abused by the authorities to arrest members of the opposition camp. 

It could be quite difficult to convince parents to accept mandatory patriotic education for their children unless the children of senior officials stay in Hong Kong to undergo the same education.

Local parents have complained that government officials always get away with sending their children to schools abroad to avoid a politically sensitive curriculum.

That’s unfair to all local parents. Lam, whose children studied overseas, should apologise to all parents if she insists on pushing her policy.

It is fine for local children to learn about Hong Kong's history such as the 1997 handover and its sovereign but that should be all.

Children should be spared from any kind of brainwashing from an early age. They can learn more about the Chinese culture and history through reading and extra-curricular activities.

If children have any interest in matters concerning China, both positive and negative, the schools and parents should help them find the answers but not spoon-feed them with a one-sided story.

The government should respect the professionalism of teachers and not make schools a political battlefield.

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EJ Insight writer