Row over education No 2 post puts Lam to test

A group of Professional Teachers' Union joins the July 1 rally, protesting against communist influence in education.

By Chris Yeung –

The first week of the Carrie Lam administration could not be better for her. Her debut at a Legislative Council question-time was largely peaceful and orderly. It contrasted sharply with the mayhem at the chamber as soon as her predecessor Leung Chun-ying appeared.

The truce between her and the pan-democrats may soon come to an end, however.

A brewing row over the appointment of Christine Choi Yuk-lin, a pro-Beijing school principal, as education undersecretary has given an early warning to the Chief Executive about the underlying tensions in mainland-Hong Kong relations.

The deep-rooted feeling of distrust towards the Chinese Communist Party and those being seen as their associates in the city among some quarters of the populace is set to continue to prevail, if not worsen. Like it or not, it will add oil to flame in cases like the naming of Choi to join the ruling team.

It is unclear whether it is a case of political naivety when Mrs Lam reportedly told a group of senior editors last week she did not understand why Choi was at the brunt of attack when she was named in the media as the next Undersecretary for Education. Mrs Lam was quoted as saying the number of people who signed up in an online campaign to oppose her appointment, or 9,000-odd by the time she spoke, was “small.”

Her dismissive attitude towards the opponents has given a fillip to the anti-Choi campaign. The number of signatories to the campaign has hit the 10,000-mark as of Sunday.

Educationists and the pan-democrats have joined hands to upgrade the campaign, which has now emerged as the first political test for Mrs Lam, just about one week after she took power.

Abilities, not political stance, count

Publicly, Mrs Lam has insisted she would pick people to join her team because of their qualities, not their political stance.

But behind the scenes, it is inconceivable that the selection and appointment of principal officials and undersecretaries and perhaps even political assistants have no politics in it.

Speculation was rife that Ms Choi was originally named by the central government’s Liaison Office to become the Secretary for Education, but was rejected by Mrs Lam.

The reported appointment of Christine Choi as deputy education minister causes a stir.

The reported appointment of Christine Choi as deputy education minister causes a stir.

If the report is true, there is good reason to believe the appointment of Ms Choi to become the Number Two in the Education Bureau may be a compromise between Mrs Lam and Beijing with the post of minister being take up by Kevin Yeung Yun-hung, a former senior administrative officer who became the education undersecretary in the Leung Chun-ying administration.

If the report is true, it is clear that Mrs Lam has indeed taken into account political factor in her reported decision to block Ms Choi from becoming the education chief for obvious reasons.

Ms Choi is one of the vice-president of the leftwing Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers, which is largely comprised of teachers from the city’s patriotic schools. It hit headlines in 2012 when a booklet called The China Model compiled by the group was distributed to primary and secondary schools for the now-shelved national education teaching. Critics lambasted the booklet as biased and brain-washing, citing its contents.

Choi vows to promote students’ national identity

Shortly after her possible appointment was leaked to the media, Ms Choi said in a China Central Television news programme one of her missions was to cultivate students’ sense of national identity.

A coalition formed to block her appointment said Ms Choi was not a suitable candidate because of her strong political views, which ran against the professional code requiring educators to remain neutral and balanced.

Fairly speaking, Ms Choi is not the only cabinet member with close ties to pro-Beijing groups if she is appointed. Tsang Tak-sing, sat on both the Donald Tsang and Leung Chun-ying administration as home affairs secretary. Tsang has close ties with both the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong and the Federation of Education Workers.

More young leaders from the DAB are set to join the Lam team as undersecretaries and political assistants.

That Ms Choi’s reportedly appointment has caused jitters and whipped up a storm of protests is because of Beijing’s call for the strengthening of national education and education about patriotism. Among the advocates was President Xi Jinping, who made the call in a speech delivered on July 1 in Hong Kong.

A no to Ms Choi’s appointment is also a no to Beijing’s intensified pressure on the city to impose national and patriotic education among the youth and in the society at large.

Chris Yeung, Chief Writer of newly-launched CitizenNews, is founder and editor of the Voice of Hong Kong website. He is a veteran journalist formerly worked with the South China Morning Post and the Hong Kong Economic Journal. He writes on Greater China issues.

Photo: CitizenNews and Ip Kin-yuen Facebook pictures

This article also appears on CitizenNews.


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