Hong Kong will “comply” with mainland China’s “patriotic education law,” Chief Executive John Lee has said after a bill aimed at helping citizens enhance their sense of national identity was tabled to China’s legislature.

john lee press conference
Chief Executive John Lee at a press conference. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

In his routine press conference on Tuesday, Lee said that national education can “facilitate the building of a mainstream value that sees loving China and Hong Kong as its core.”

Regardless of whether the proposed law is applicable to Hong Kong, the government would “comply” with its requirements, he added.

The chief executive’s comments came after a patriotic education bill was tabled for the first time at the National People’s Congress, China’s legislature, on Monday.

The proposed law included requirements for different groups, including for Hong Kong and Macau residents, to strengthen their recognition of traditional culture, and to consciously maintain the unity of the country.

Secondary school students Covid-19
Secondary school students in Hong Kong. File photo: GovHK.

The chief executive added that he would consult the city’s Basic Law committee, which oversees Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, and have the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress decide whether the proposed law would be implemented in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong had conducted a “large amount” of patriotic education and national education in different areas, said Lee, which included the city’s Chinese history curriculum, and national security law education.

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The city introduced national security education for children aged six or above in 2021, which included teaching the four offences outlawed by the Beijing-imposed security legislation.

Lee also announced a one-off HK$60 million funding to facilitate kindergarten pupils’ learning of Chinese culture in his maiden Policy Address last October.

In June 2020, Beijing inserted national security legislation directly into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution – bypassing the local legislature – following a year of pro-democracy protests and unrest. It criminalised subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts, which were broadly defined to include disruption to transport and other infrastructure.

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

The move gave police sweeping new powers, alarming democrats, civil society groups and trade partners, as such laws have been used broadly to silence and punish dissidents in China. However, the authorities say it has restored stability and peace to the city.

The city’s attempt to introduce a patriotic education curriculum in 2012 was met with mass protests. Then-chief executive Leung Chun-ying scrapped the plan after more than 120,000 people took to the streets in protest.

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Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.