Hong Kong’s Secretary for Education has asked the education sector to guard against infiltration into campuses by pro-independence activists.

Kevin Yeung made the statement in the Legislative Council on Wednesday in response to a question from pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho. Ho asked whether the bureau has issued any guidelines “to prevent school campuses from becoming the breeding ground for spreading the idea of ‘Hong Kong independence’ or inciting students to conduct activities related to ‘Hong Kong independence.’”

In response, Yeung said: “Our stance all along is that any proposals or activities advocating ‘Hong Kong independence’ should not be allowed on our campuses. We also request the education sector to guard against pro-independence activists from infiltrating into our campuses.”

Kevin Yeung
Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung. File Photo: GovHK.

He added that advocating Hong Kong independence was against One Country, Two Systems, the Basic Law and “the overall and long-term interest of the society of Hong Kong.”

Ho also asked the government about the activities of pro-democracy scholar Benny Tai. Ho said: “There are public criticisms that Professor Tai is actually promoting ‘Hong Kong independence’ under the pretext of academic freedom.”

The Education Bureau responded by saying that Tai has not received any funding to conduct research projects that advocate Hong Kong independence from the Research Grants Council.

Ho has launched high-profile campaigns against Tai over his role as one of the co-founders of the 2014 Umbrella Movement. He held a rally urging the University of Hong Kong – where Tai is employed –  to sack him, and wrote to former HKU President Peter Mathieson over the matter.

In recent months, Tai was subjected to a wave of further attacks after he made remarks at a forum in Taiwan this March, musing over whether Hong Kong and ethnic groups could form independent states in the event that China’s authoritarian rule collapses. Afterwards, the Hong Kong government issued a rare statement in response saying it was shocked by the remarks made by a university teaching staff member.

benny tai
Benny Tai. Photo: Catherine Lai/HKFP.

On Wednesday, Yeung said Tai’s remarks in March on Hong Kong independence “was not an issue of freedom of speech or academic freedom” and while the government safeguards and respects institutional autonomy, the autonomy “does not exempt institutions from public interest.”

HKU told the Education Bureau that information on the research findings, conference papers, and publications of its academics – including Tai’s – can be found on the HKU Scholars Hub.

Yeung added that universities are “obliged to ensure that nothing in contravention of the Basic Law would occur in any aspect of their operation, including that none of their platforms and resources will be abused to advocate ‘Hong Kong independence’ and promote such activities, adding that such obligations are “in line with public expectations.”

Tai told MingPao that the University of Hong Kong has not contacted him over the matter and that the Education Bureau was pressuring the school by making such enquiries.

Tai also said he did not know of any law that prohibited debates on the future of China’s constitutional system and Hong Kong’s democracy, whether or not topics of Hong Kong independence are involved.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.