Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has claimed that students should be protected from being “poisoned” as she said that “false and biased” information had spread on campuses. She also rejected criticism on her administration’s Covid-19 measures and warned against legislative filibustering and “foreign interference.”

In an interview with state-run newspaper Ta Kung Pao published on Monday, the city’s leader said education cannot become a “doorless chicken coop” without regulation. She said that – in addition to the subject of Liberal Studies – other subjects could be “infiltrated,” urging the Education Bureau and schools to act as gatekeepers.

Carrie Lam
Chief Executive Carrie Lam. File photo: inmediahk.net.

“In terms of handling the subject of Liberal Studies, we will make it clear to everyone within this year,” she said.

Introduced in 2009, Liberal Studies is one of the four core subjects in the senior secondary curriculum. The subject is aimed at developing students’ critical thinking skills and enhancing their social awareness.

But state media and pro-Beijing politicians – including former Hong Kong leader Tung Chee-hwa – have blamed the subject as encouraging students to take part in the city’s large-scale protests, which erupted last June over a now-axed extradition bill.

civic square
Student-led protests against national education legislation at the Civic Square in 2012. File Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Previous attempts by the government to overhaul the school curriculum sparked major controversy. In 2012, more than 120,000 people took to the streets to protest plans for a moral and national education curriculum, which was criticised as “brainwashing” students with patriotism. It led to the proposal being scrapped by then-chief executive Leung Chun-ying amid protests by activist Joshua Wong’s Scholarism.

Lam also criticised the new District Council – dominated by pro-democracy councillors – as being unable to show any constructive results since January. “Every District Council is rebuking and insulting government officials, especially colleagues from the police force,” she said, adding that she supported some officers’ decisions to walk out of meetings.

No compromise

Lam also addressed the Covid-19 outbreak in the interview. She had resisted calls to impose a full border shutdown with China at the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak. The loudest calls came from the medical sector, with thousands of frontline medics going on strike for days led by the Hospital Authority Employees Alliance.

In the interview, Lam said the government would not make compromises based on “slogan-type requests” that are not supported by facts and scientific proof. She added that Hong Kong could serve as a standard for the World Health Organization, if it wants to review the epidemic control work done by China and European countries.

Medics strike placard virus
Medics on strike holding placard. Photo: Jimmy Lam/United Social Press

“We shouldn’t compromise because of relative populism in society, or even threats made towards the government,” she said.

Lam said the government had been quick to respond, cautiously prepared and transparent in handling the coronavirus outbreak. Nevertheless, some lawmakers had criticised the government’s move to waive the 14-day mandatory quarantine for cross-border students and Hongkongers who operate factories on the mainland.

They slammed the policy as being threatening to the city, but Lam hit back at the critics as using “double standards” to “hijack” the government’s anti-epidemic efforts.

Tsim Sha Tsui masks public coronavirus virus Covid-19
File photo: GovHK.

“But they asked me to bring people home from India, Pakistan, Peru and Morocco. I’m really offended,” she said.

She added the government’s giveaway of reusable masks had been politicised, after officials from the Information and Technology Bureau came under fire for not disclosing the details of how the manufacturer was selected. Lam cited the two million-strong registration for the giveaway as proof that citizens welcomed the reusable masks.

“It was definitely not an operation behind closed doors, it was for safeguarding the interests of Hongkongers,” she said.

Carrie Lam reusable mask
Chief Executive Carrie Lam visits a production workshop of the reusable mask on May 6. Photo: GovHK.

“I tell my colleagues: don’t be afraid of others’ criticism. If we did the right thing, society will see it in the end,” she added.

Filibustering and ‘foreign interference’

The Hong Kong leader pointed to filibustering in the Legislative Council as a “stumbling block” to the city’s economic recovery. She said the “if we burn, you burn with us” mentality of the protest movement would eventually jeopardise the well-being of all citizens in Hong Kong.

Lam has repeatedly backed Beijing’s attacks on opposition lawmakers, who stand accused as paralysing the legislature by stalling the election of the House Committee chairperson. Last Tuesday, she urged the gridlock to be solved as soon as possible, saying “time is running out” to pass the controversial national anthem law, which would see those who mock March of the Volunteers jailed.

The recent remarks made by Beijing on the city’s legislature, as well as the arrests of 15 high-profile democrats, have triggered an international backlash. But Lam said the Hong Kong government objects to “foreign interference.”

“In the past, objecting to interference by foreign forces was the language of the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. But now it is also the language of our SAR government,” she said.

In January, Lam admitted she had no conclusive evidence of foreign interference in Hong Kong.

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.