The Hong Kong government was yesterday accused of “brainwashing” after it suggested schools broadcast to students a live address by a Beijing official visiting the territory.
It comes as concern grows that Chinese authorities are squeezing the semi-autonomous territory’s freedoms in a range of areas, from politics to media and education.
The Hong Kong Education Bureau said it sent schools information about a seminar on Hong Kong’s Basic Law and invited them to broadcast it, but added that it was voluntary.
Pro-democracy lawmakers said that schools now felt under pressure to show it.
“This is very, very strange. In Hong Kong, we have not had anything like this,” said Hong Kong Legislative Council member Ip Kin-yuen (葉建源), who represents the education sector.
Schools were asked to reply to the government whether they would be broadcasting the event, he said.
“The schools will very naturally feel the pressure from the government,” Ip said.
Pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo (毛孟靜) said it was part of Beijing’s bid to re-educate Hong Kong’s youth in the wake of 2014’s “Umbrella movement” protests calling for political reform and the emergence of an independence movement that wants to see a complete split from China.
“[Chinese authorities] are furious that the Hong Kong young are not patriotic,” Mo said.
“It’s a huge attempt at brainwashing,” she added.
The bureau said the seminar, which is to be held in Hong Kong next month, was part of celebrations marking 20 years since the territory was handed back to China by Britain.
It is to include a 50-minute speech by high-ranking Chinese official Li Fei (李飛) about Hong Kong’s “role and mission” under the Basic Law as a Special Administrative Region of China, local media said.
The bureau told reporters it would “allow schools to decide whether or not to make arrangements for students to watch the live broadcast.”
A proposal to introduce patriotic lessons into schools, known as “national education,” was shelved in 2012 after more than 100,000 protesters rallied against it outside government offices, led by then-15-year-old Joshua Wong (黃之鋒).
However, there are fears in the democracy camp that it is back on the agenda.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥) this month announced that teaching Chinese history would be compulsory in secondary schools from next year.
Chinese Minister of Education Chen Baosheng (陳寶生) on Monday said that teachers in Hong Kong “need to love the country first.”
In an interview with Hong Kong broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong, Chen added that Hong Kong needed to reintroduce national education and branded worries about brainwashing as “ignorant.”
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