Thousands have signed an online petition opposing the rumoured appointment of staunchly pro-Beijing teacher Choi Yuk-lin as Hong Kong’s next undersecretary for education.

Choi is a vice-chairperson of pro-Beijing industry group Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers (HKFEW), and is the headmaster of the Siu Sai Wan campus of Fukien Secondary School, which was a pro-Communist Party institution during the colonial period.

Choi Yuk-lin
Choi Yuk-lin.

She ran and lost against pro-democracy candidate Ip Kin-yuen for the education sector seat in last September’s Legislative Council elections.

But on Wednesday, the pro-Beijing Sing Tao Daily carried a report claiming that she would be appointed as undersecretary for education, serving under incoming education chief Kevin Yeung Yun-hung.

Support for national education

The report caused alarm among pro-democracy educators, who set up an online petition against her rumoured appointment, citing her support for the government’s controversial national education initiative.

“In 2012, the HKFEW’s National Education Services Centre published the shocking ‘China Model’ curriculum, which brainwashes children in the name of national education,” the petition read.

“If the vice-chairperson of a ‘red’ association controls the development of Hong Kong’s education policy, the public will completely lose trust in the government’s policy.”

civic square
Anti-national education protests in 2012. File Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

“Choi lost in the 2016 Legislative Council education sector elections with less than 30 per cent of the vote,” it added. “This shows her abilities and political opinions are not supported by the majority of the education sector.”

On Wednesday, incumbent legislator Ip said that if Choi were to be appointed into government, it would be a “slap on the face of voters.”

See also: ‘New style of governance’? Democrats criticise lack of new faces in Carrie Lam’s cabinet

As of 9am on Thursday, over 3,400 had signed the petition – including 1,200 in the education sector and 2,200 members of the public.

But in a Wednesday evening op-ed, local outlet HK01 defended Choi, claiming that her words and actions were not too “blue” – in reference to the colour adopted by pro-Beijing protesters during the 2014 Occupy movement.

“Last year, she said that she would not avoid discussion of the June 4 incident [the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre]… compared with some ‘blue ribbons’ who completely avoid or twist June 4, Choi’s handling of the incident does not seem so ‘blue.’”

1989 Tiananmen Massacre vigil
The 2017 Tiananmen Massacre vigil in Victoria Park. File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

“Regarding the Hong Kong independence movement of recent years, although Choi clearly opposes spreading these messages, she does not oppose rational discussion among students inside the school campus.”

See also: ‘New style of governance’? Democrats criticise lack of new faces in Carrie Lam’s cabinet

Twenty-one bureau secretaries and other principal officials in incoming chief executive Carrie Lam’s cabinet were appointed by the Chinese State Council on Wednesday. The Executive Council – Lam’s formal advisory body – was announced on Thursday.

However, the list of undersecretaries is yet to be known.

Elson Tong is a graduate of international relations and former investigations consultant. He has also written for Stand News.