Hong Kong Government Brings National Security to Education System, Cracks Down on Dual Citizens in Custody

The Hong Kong Government has introduced comprehensive guidelines to securitize the city’s schools in line with the Law, in a move aimed at quashing political dissent in the education system and restricting critical inquiry. Starting from elementary school, students will be required to learn basic concepts of the National Security Law including naming its key offenses and recognizing central state institutions in Hong Kong, while older students will be taught that their rights and freedoms are “not unrestricted.” Schools will also be urged to call the police to discipline students in cases “beyond administrators’ control.”

’s Chan Ho-him, Ng Kang-chung, and Lilian Cheng reported on the sweeping curriculum changes announced on Thursday:

The guidelines, spelled out in seven documents covering all grades, specifically instruct schools to ban any display of words or material around campus that would constitute an endangerment to national security, prevent teachers from approaching national security as a debatable matter, and bar outsiders from conducting activities on campus involving political propaganda.

[…] While national security would not be an individual subject, it would be taught through different subjects such as general studies, Chinese history, civic education, geography, biology and music.

According to the teaching framework laid out in the guidelines, pupils as young as six years old are expected to learn about how the national security law was formed and its importance to the city, as well as identify the offences. Students in secondary school should know what acts constitute a breach of the law, the relationship between national security and terrorism, war and colonialism, and “the country’s opportunities and challenges” in its participation in international affairs.

[…] In situations where students were chanting slogans, singing political songs on campus or displaying separatist materials, the school could consult a police community relations officer if illegal acts were suspected. But in a “grave or emergency situation”, the police force should be notified immediately and provided with details about the acts and suspects. [Source]

The guidelines are also noteworthy in requiring action from Hong Kong’s international schools, impacting expat children who are typically insulated from the Education Bureau’s curricular requirements. Financial Times’ Nicolle Liu and Primrose Riodan reported on those requirements, which may influence expats’ decisions to locate themselves in Hong Kong:

Hong Kong’s education bureau released the guidelines on Thursday, which will also impact expat students at international schools. The department said that while they accepted these schools’ curricula was different, teachers would be expected to ensure students “acquire a correct and objective understanding” of principles in line with Beijing’s tough national security law introduced last year.

[…] There are 52 international schools in Hong Kong that cater to expatriate and local students, especially those looking to study abroad. The territory is home to 587 primary and 504 secondary schools.

Teachers of subjects such as geography and biology will also need to incorporate lessons about national security into the topics taught in class. The provided by the bureau suggested that biology students should, for example, study how the local and mainland Chinese government protected the country during the pandemic. [Source]

Significant new changes have also been proposed to the embattled liberal studies subject, which pro-Beijing figures have frequency criticized for “radicalizing” Hong Kong students. Introduced by Hong Kong’s first Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, now a vice-chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, it aimed to promoting students’ awareness about contemporary social issues and encourage greater critical thinking. Following the 2019 protests, numerous pro-Beijing politicians and Tung’s own think tank had called for the subject to be revamped. In November, Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung said cuts would be made to the syllabus and textbooks would be subject to vetting. South China Morning Post’s Chan Ho-him reported on further changes this week to introduce content on “national security, lawfulness, and patriotism”:

Liberal studies, first introduced in 2009 as one of four compulsory subjects for senior secondary students under a curriculum reform, was aimed at enhancing young people’s awareness of social issues and developing their critical thinking skills.

[…] The Hong Kong section covers topics related to sociopolitical participation and local identity, while some textbooks on the modern China module mention the mainland’s legal system and bring up the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989.

[…] According to the document sent to schools on Tuesday, the focus of learning proposed in the new syllabus under the Hong Kong theme will include the significance of safeguarding national security, upholding and abiding by the rule of law, as well as the fundamental rights and duties of Hong Kong residents.

One topic highlighted will also be the constitutional relationship between Hong Kong and mainland China. On this, the document stated that “China has indisputable sovereignty and jurisdiction over Hong Kong”. [Source]

The timing of the announced education system changes is noteworthy, arriving at a similar time that new guidelines were issued in mainland China to boost ideological education among students there. On Wednesday, schoolchildren with the Chinese Young Pioneers, a national youth organization under the Party’s Central Committee, ordered that all students in elementary school take classes about Thought.

In 2012, a protest in Hong Kong against a proposed Moral and National Education curriculum aimed at promoting patriotism among Hong Kong’s students drew tens of thousands of protestors into the streets. The anti-national education protests were a watershed moment for the modern Hong Kong democracy movement, ushering in a new generation of stars: the demonstrations were led by a crop of young activists including three high school students named Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow, and Ivan Lam. After the protests succeeded in getting education reforms shelved, Wong, Chow, and Lam were propelled to political fame, and took leading roles in the 2014 Umbrella Protests and beyond. Last year, Wong, Chow, and Lam were all jailed on charges of illegal assembly relating to the 2019 protests. Eight years on, it seems that the Hong Kong government will finally get its way with its education reforms.

The sweeping changes to the education system will likely spark further alarm among parents sympathetic to the pro-democracy movement, with possible implications for the city’s ongoing emigration wave. This week, London opened the U.K.’s doors to Hong Kongers holding British National (Overseas) (BN(O)) passports, allowing them to relocate with an eventual option of gaining citizenship. Numerous profiles of families who have chosen to emigrate have cited the desire to shield children from politicization of the education system as a primary motive for leaving. Still, pro-Beijing politicians in Hong Kong have called for even more stringent measures to police Hong Kong’s schools, including CCTV cameras in all classrooms to monitor teachers.

The political crackdown in Hong Kong’s schools this week has not been limited to the K-12 system. Early this week, the University of Hong Kong (HKU) issued a warning to the student union urging it to cancel a screening of “Lost in the Fumes,” a documentary about Edward Leung, the jailed pro-independence activist who coined the phrase: “liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times.” Hong Kong Free Press’ Selina Cheng reported on the warning from HKU’s administration:

HKU’s Student Union (HKUSU) had planned on screening the film in early February, but staff from the university contacted the union’s committee to discuss “possibly illegal” issues over the film’s screening. Citing union Vice-President Tracy Cheung and other sources, the union’s Campus TV reported on Tuesday that the university indicated that security guards may be deployed to block the screening, if it were to go ahead.

[…] The union also received an informal document from the school, saying it was offering the “strongest possible pieces of advice” and asked students to seek legal advice and mitigate risks, since the screening would generate “serious legal concerns and consequences,” the document read.

The nine-page document contained a series of screenshots taken from the documentary, such as when Leung discussed his beliefs about using force against the authorities, and dialogue that included the phrase “liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times.”

The slogan – initially used by independence activists – became much more popular during protests against the China bill in 2019. The government said last year that it was illegal under the Beijing-imposed national security law, though no films have been banned in Hong Kong. [Source]

Notably, HKU said in its warning letter that the current environment “is fundamentally different from Oct, Nov 2020. It’s far more stringent and taxing.” The student union ultimately went ahead with the screening, after blocking out windows of the viewing auditorium with black trash bags. CDT has previously written about fears about the impact of the National Security Law on Hong Kong’s higher eduction sector.

At the Chinese University of Hong Kong last week, police arrested three students, including the student union president, in connection with a protest last month. As of now, five of Hong Kong’s eight universities have no elected student unions, amid fears of legal repercussions under the National Security Law.

Sweeping political changes that have affected Hong Kong’s legislature, courts, independent media, financial sector, and now the education system, have highlighted the heavy hand of the new law and its long shadow over Hong Kong society. Other new measures introduced in the past week include a decision by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) to suspend recognition of the BN(O) passport as a valid travel document, in retaliation towards the U.K.’s offer of a path to citizenship for BN(O) passport holders. While that decision will have limited effect for most Chinese Hong Kong residents who will be able to on their HKSAR passports instead, the revocation threatens to strand ethnic minorities, who face difficulty applying for HKSAR passports as non-Chinese nationals. Then on Thursday, following MoFA’s decision, local banks were instructed to stop recognizing BN(O) passports, a decision that could complicate matters for financial institutions already caught in the political crossfire.

Finally, in a move that has alarmed Western governments, Hong Kong’s Correctional Services Department, in charge of managing the city’s prisons, has reportedly demanded that a Hong Kong-Canadian dual citizen choose between his nationalities. Declaring themselves as Canadian would mean losing their right of abode in Hong Kong, while declaring themselves Chinese would remove their ability to seek assistance from the Canadian government. Last year, China’s ambassador to Canada issued a thinly-veiled threat against Canadian dual citizens in Hong Kong in response to moves by Ottawa to create a scheme for young Hong Kong college graduates to immigrate. Pro-Beijing figures in the city have in recent weeks urged the government to crack down on dual citizenship, a special right which Hong Kongers possess, but mainland Chinese nationals technically do not. For AFP, Su Xinqi and Jerome Tylor reported that diplomats were scrambling given the implications for hundreds of thousands of dual-citizens in the city:

A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP they were also aware of more examples than the single case Canada went public with.

[…] In response to enquiries, a State Department spokesman said Washington had “deep concerns that this new Hong Kong policy will compel people to declare their citizenship under duress and without an opportunity to understand the full implications of the declaration”.

The city’s Security Bureau cited China’s nationality laws to explain why consular visits might be rejected.

[…] While residents are allowed to have more than one passport, those of Chinese descent are considered Chinese nationals inside Chinese territories, which includes Hong Kong, the bureau said.

It did not address why the regulations were only being enforced now. [Source]

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