Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp has criticised the government’s decision on Tuesday to appoint staunchly pro-Beijing figure Choi Yuk-lin as undersecretary for education. Some have questioned whether the decision to appoint her was made by the chief executive or another political force.

Last week, activist Joshua Wong claimed that the Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers, Choi’s former industry group, developed some of the curriculum during the controversial 2012 plan to introduce national education in Hong Kong schools. Choi has also been accused of promoting the replacement of Cantonese with Mandarin as the language of instruction in Hong Kong.

Choi Yuk-lin
Choi Yuk-lin. File photo: Stand News.

Some 17,000 Hongkongers signed a petition opposing her appointment, though pro-Beijing activists have also signed a petition supporting her.

A ‘force behind the scenes’

“In a democratic country, this selection process would bring about a governance crisis,” said pro-democracy education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen during a Tuesday afternoon press conference. “But in Hong Kong, it seems there’s nothing we can do.”

“Is it because Hong Kong’s education sector has no talent? Why is there a need to appoint someone opposed by 17,000 people?”

“Why does the government feel it has to appoint her at all costs?” asked Ip. “What sort of force behind the scenes supported this process?”

Hong Kong Professional Teachers Union Ip Kin-yuen
Ip Kin-yuen and other activists from the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union. Photo: Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union.

“This is an even more important question… supported by such a force, what bigger changes will happen to education policies?”

In a press statement, pro-democracy party Demosisto – whose figurehead Joshua Wong led protests against the national education proposal as a teenager in 2012 – said it was also unhappy with the appointment process.

“Faced with criticism from the public, Carrie Lam’s cabinet… has never explained the decision,” wrote Demosisto. “Instead, it tried to create an illusion that [her appointment] was the ‘will of the people’. But today, she was forcibly appointed.”

See also: I pick officials based on talent, says Carrie Lam on possible pro-Beijing deputy education chief

Both Demosisto and the Democratic Party’s Ted Hui said they wished to invite Choi to a public debate so she could explain her stance on controversial issues, such as national education in Hong Kong – a proposal which has been criticised for potentially “brainwashing” its students.

“We do not oppose national education per se,” said Ip in his press conference. “We oppose a biased, factually incorrect or non-holistic type of national education.”

“In Ms Choi, I can only see a type of national education that praises [Beijing],” he added.

civic square
Student-led protests in 2012 against national education. File photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Last September, Choi ran against Ip during an unsuccessful campaign to oust him from his education sector legislative seat, but was defeated with only 28 per cent of the vote. On Tuesday, Ip claimed that Choi demonstrated a shallow understanding of education issues during their one-on-one election debates, and suffers from a lack of public service experience.

Ip said that the prominent pro-democracy Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union industry group did not have any plans on what to do in response to Choi’s appointment. “We are not the type of people to rush our actions,” he said.

He added that the education sector would continue to strictly monitor government policies, and would closely observe what actions the new undersecretary for education would take.

“I don’t have any response yet,” Choi told RTHK on Tuesday afternoon, adding that she would speak to the press in detail after taking office on Wednesday. “I will keep a calm attitude.”

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