Hong Kong schools given 'no room for debate or compromise' with new national security rules

A cartoon-eyed owl teaching about “subversion” and activities that promote a sense of national pride: Hong Kong children will learn very different lessons as new guidelines align schools with China’s comprehensive national security law last year imposed on the territory.

Students aged six and over in Hong Kong are now learning the basic concepts of national security law and the details of its four crimes – subversion, secession, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces – in a campaign to promote patriotism from an early age.

Authorities publicized the reforms through a series of guides sent to schools and videos posted online.

It will deal a blow to many parents in Hong Kong who have long feared a Beijing-led overhaul of education in the city.

ON new ‘audio book’ The picture released by the Education Bureau on Friday shows an animated owl with glasses wearing a graduation hat and explaining the law to students.

“We have the right to express our views through lawful means, but we are not allowed to do anything that threatens other people or society,” explains the owl in the Videotitled “Let’s Learn About National Security.”

Schools are also asked to “organize various game activities such as puppet shows, board games … to create a good atmosphere and improve students’ understanding of national security”, according to the guidelines.

“When it comes to national security, there is no room for debate or compromise,” the city’s education bureau said in one Circulars issued to schools Thursday.

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Beijing imposed the national security law on Hong Kong in June 2020, putting the global financial center more firmly on an authoritarian path after months of violent protests.

The new education guidelines, released Thursday, suggest that its plans for Hong Kong go beyond mere suppression of disagreements and may aim at a broader social overhaul that would reconcile the most troubled city with the Communist Party-ruled mainland .

The Hong Kong government has previously attempted “national education” courses to promote patriotism towards China, but has faced frequent backlash in a city that traditionally enjoys greater freedoms than the mainland.

Students go to school on the first day of Hong Kong reopening last September.Zhang Wei / China News Service via Getty Images File

National security will now be on the curriculum in several subjects, including biology and geography in secondary schools.

A spokesman for the education bureau said in a statement Thursday that schools should ensure that staff are employing appropriate strategies to strengthen students’ sense of national identity.

“Schools play an important role,” said the spokesman. Raymond Yeung, a former teacher who was partially blinded by a projectile during the 2019 Hong Kong protests, described the policy to Reuters as “one-dimensional, if not brainwashing.”

The United States, its allies and international human rights organizations have heavily criticized China for the national security law, and what they say has been a growing crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong.

In his first major foreign policy address on Thursday, President Joe Biden took a firm stance on China.

“American leadership must face this new moment of advancing authoritarianism, including China’s growing ambitions to keep up with the United States,” he said.

Hong Kong schools given 'no room for debate or compromise' with new national security rules 1

A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry responded with a press conference on Friday that the cooperation between China and the US could benefit the world on issues ranging from climate change to Covid-19.

“China and the United States share far-reaching interests and have special and important roles in maintaining world peace and stability,” said spokesman Wang Wenbin.

“As in any relationship … differences between China and the United States are inevitable, but common interests far outweigh their differences.”

Reuters contributed to this report.

Dawn Liu contributed.

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