Published on September 16th, 2012 | by TAY0
Hong Kong Makes New Chinese Curriculum ‘Voluntary’ As Elections Loom
On Saturday of last week, Hong Kong’s chief executive, Leung Chun-Ying, suspended a mandatory education curriculum aimed at rewriting the role of the Chinese Communist Party and the history of the People’s Republic of China. Under plans drawn up by the island’s pro-Government camp, Hong Kong’s schools would see a new version of China’s communist history introduced into their curriculum. The new syllabus makes no mention of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) or the Tiananmen Square protests (1989).
The plans have enraged pro-Democracy citizens, who took to the streets in their thousands to protest the introduction of a scheme allegedly designed to “brainwash” students. In an obvious concession to the island’s pro-Democracy camp, Mr Leung backed down a mere day before elections would take place. The so-called National Education Plan will now be made voluntary.
Many within the pro-Democracy camp, a loosely organised coalition of 8 political parties, regard the scrapping as a firm victory for Hong Kong’s civil society. Others are concerned that the scheme might still be enforced through the ‘back door’, referring to the possibility that the pro-Beijing parties might find ways to pressure schools into implementing the scheme.
Broader political issues
The education curriculum is part of a broader set of political issues that swamp Hong Kong.
Ever since being transferred from a British colony to becoming a Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) within the PRC, an uneasy relationship between the island’s two factions has persisted.
Hong Kong’s legal status within China’s ‘one country, two systems’ design is meant to uphold China’s territorial unity while guaranteeing a degree of autonomy for Hong Kong.
The pro-Government camp has strong ties to Beijing, whom many regard to have a heavy hand in Hong Kong’s affairs. Since the establishment of the HKSAR, a series of controversial policies—loosening restrictions against the migration of mainland China immigrants, the attempt to legislate against subversion, and delaying universal suffrage, among others—have led to accusations that Beijing is slowly trying to assimilate Hong Kong.
Dissatisfaction with the way Hong Kong is being governed has grown over recent years, giving rise to several popular protests.
Parties within the pro-Democracy camp, whose followers enjoy a numerical advantage over the pro-Government (Beijing) camp, nevertheless face a significant disadvantage within the island’s Legislative Council.
Hong Kong’s electoral design is among the most complex in the world. Just under half of all seats within the legislature are allocated to so-called functional constituencies, who elect their representatives. Functional constituencies represent professional or special interest groups. The remaining seats are directly elected by Hong Kong’s citizens.
Critics argue that this design provides minority interest groups with too much influence. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the pro-Beijing camp has never lost their majority within the Legislative Council.
Sunday’s elections proved no different. Although the pro-Democracy camp won 27 of the 40 seats up for election, it is insufficient to obtain a majority in the 70-seat legislature. The result allows the pro-Democracy camp to retain their veto power – the ability to block reforms to Hong Kong’s Basic Law.
Last week’s popular protests are said to have helped the pro-Democracy camp maintain their position within the legislature. Earlier polls suggested that the democracy parties were heading toward a loss in Sunday’s elections.
The long-expected introduction of universal suffrage, lined up for 2017, is expected to change Hong Kong’s electoral dynamics. Universal suffrage is generally regarded as a threat to the pro-Beijing camp’s firm power base. It remains to be seen whether soft measures, like the National Education plan, will turn the popular tide before universal suffrage is introduced.