Hong Kong Scraps China Education Plan

CDT previously reported on protests in Hong Kong against a planned curriculum change and on the possibility of the plans being scrapped due to mounting protests. Reuters reports Hong Kong is now backing down from the education plan:

The decision by the island’s pro-China Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to make the curriculum voluntary for schools came a day before elections for just over half the seats of Hong Kong’s 70-seat legislature.

“We don’t want the recent controversy to affect the operations of schools, nor do we want to see the harmony of the education environment to be affected,” said Leung, noting the move was a “major policy amendment”.

“They have made a substantive concession,” said Joseph Wong, a former senior government official and political scientist.

“One may say it’s too late, but better late than never. I think it will defuse the issue, maybe not entirely, but at least it will remove a lot of the tensions … This is a great day for Hong Kong’s civil society.”

According to the Associated Press, schools can decide on whether or not they will offer the class:

Hong Kong officials backed down Saturday on plans to make students take Chinese patriotism classes following a week of protests in the former British colony sparked by fears of pro-Beijing “brainwashing.”

The semiautonomous Chinese city’s leader, Leung Chun-ying, said it would be up to schools to decide whether to hold the classes. They were to have become a mandatory subject in 2015 after a three-year voluntary period.

According to curriculum guidelines, students would learn in the classes about China’s political leaders, the contributions they have made and the difficulties and challenges they face. They would also learn how to “speak cautiously,” practice self-discipline and get along well with others in a rational and respectful way.

The controversy is the latest sign of increasing discomfort with mainland China’s growing influence on the city. Hong Kongers have also been perturbed about stunted democratic development and an influx of wealthy mainlanders buying up property and driving up prices.

Aside from scrapping the planned education change, Beijing also shelved a plan that would have spurred mainland tourism to Hong Kong. From the Wall Street Journal:

Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying said Friday that the plan—which would have made it easier for four million more residents of nearby Shenzhen to get multiple-entry tourist visas to Hong Kong—has now been postponed indefinitely by Chinese authorities. Locals have long complained that the deluge of mainland tourists, over 28 million of whom arrived in the city last year to shop for luxury goods and sightsee, has overwhelmed Hong Kong and sent the price of everything from toothpaste to property spiking.

On Friday, Mr. Leung said that Beijing has been responsive to local anxiety over the plan. “The central government has been very supportive and they are aware of the concern of the Hong Kong people,” said Mr. Leung. “And therefore as soon as I raised this question with the central authorities and passed on the concern of the Hong Kong people, they responded.”

The plan had initially been slated to begin on Sept. 1, but was delayed at the last moment for a period of three weeks amid vociferous local protests.

Despite Mr. Leung’s latest statement, integration between Hong Kong and the greater Pearl River Delta continues to speed along. In one small indication of the larger shifts at play, last week, a version of the Octopus card—Hong Kong’s ubiquitous smartcard, which can be used to pay for everything from subway rides to drinks at 7-Eleven—even went on sale that can be used across the border in Shenzhen, as well.