A top Hong Kong official has denied accusations of “brainwashing,” after the Education Bureau encouraged schools to let their students watch a live broadcast of a forum attended by Li Fei, the deputy secretary general of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee.

The Bureau asked school sponsoring bodies to cancel classes so that students may watch the televised Basic Law forum on November 16. It said participation was voluntarily, but the education sector lawmaker said he received complaints from government school principals about feeling indirect pressure from the Bureau.

Patrick Nip, secretary for constitutional and mainland affairs, said the forum was part of the events to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Handover and was hosted by the Basic Law Promotion Steering Committee.

Patrick Nip
Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Mr Patrick Nip Tak-kuen. File Photo: GovHK.

Li was invited to make a speech on Hong Kong’s role and mission under the Chinese Constitution and the Basic Law. The forum will also feature an expert panel on Hong Kong’s development under “One Country, Two Systems.”

Nip said the issues were important topics: “Other than at the forum venue, we hope to let relevant people including youths and students watch it if possible – hence the arrangement from the Education Bureau,” he said.

“As per my understanding, this is purely a decision to be made by schools themselves – I think we should see it with a normal attitude. The main point is that – if schools think it appropriate, and they can make arrangements – I think it would be a good thing to let more people listen to the sharing and explanations over such important topics from relevant scholars and experts.”

Li Fei
Li Fei. File Photo: GovHK.

Asked by reporters if the live broadcast would constitute “brainwashing,” he said: “Don’t link everything to brainwashing immediately.”

“This is not a one-way speech. On many issues, we need to first understand its background, facts and situations, so that it will provide a good foundation to make solid and constructive discussions over such issues,” he said.

‘Indirect pressure’

Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung denied there was any pressure: “Sponsoring bodies and schools can decide themselves.”

However, Education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen said schools have to return a reply slip on whether they will participate in the live broadcast, creating indirect pressure.

ip kin yuen
Ip Kin-yuen. File Photo: Stanley Leung/HKFP.

Yeung said it was only meant to measure how many schools were interested and thus what arrangements to make. He said such methods have been used before: “If schools have made enough preparations, they do not necessarily have to return the reply slip,” he said.

Asked about potential “brainwashing,” Yeung said students can have their own independent thinking, or discuss with guidance of teachers: “There is no need to worry.”

Official’s demeanour

Lau Siu-kai, vice-president of the semi-official Beijing think tank the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, also said he believed schools could decide whether to participate.

lau siu kai
Lau Siu-kai. File

But he said his concern was that Li’s speech may not be designed for secondary school level: “Regular students may not understand his Mandarin, may not understand his words,” he said. “Regardless, there’s some value if schools want to join. At least students can have the opportunity to concentrate and [feel] the demeanour, the choice of words… of a mainland official. It may be a new experience.”

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.