Hong Kong is ramping up a political ideology drive in lockstep with mainland China as it holds “study sessions” celebrating President Xi Jinping’s speech during his recent visit to the city, experts say.
Since the July 1 remarks, thousands of civil servants, lawmakers and business leaders have taken part in nearly 100 political study seminars, which are common on the mainland but almost unheard of in Hong Kong.
Copies of Xi’s remarks, delivered at an event to mark a quarter century since the former British colony was handed back to China, were also being distributed to hundreds of local schools.
“This is new here, and these sessions are very systematic and extensive,” said political commentator Johnny Lau. “In the mainland they’re called ideological study sessions, even though (in Hong Kong) they officially call it a ‘symposium’.”
The changes are the latest in a marked shift in Hong Kong’s political scene as Beijing tightens its grip on the city.
While he pledged to respect Hong Kong’s semi-autonomous “One country, two systems” governance style, Xi said the city must be run by “patriots.”
And he warned that more “chaos” would not be tolerated, referencing the 2019 mass street protests that ushered in a Beijing-imposed national security law less than year later.
Critics say the vaguely worded legislation has crushed civil liberties and criminalized dissent in a city that once had a vibrant press and regular protests. Activists, journalists and lawyers have been arrested on charges, including subversion, that can carry sentences of up to life in prison.
Hong Kong officials say the law was necessary to restore stability after the mass demonstrations, which drew millions onto the streets.
A Nikkei Asia count found that, since Xi’s speech, at least 93 study events have been organized by government departments, pro-China business chambers, political parties and education groups with the sessions titled “The spirit of President Xi Jinping’s important July 1 speech.”
Kindergartens, primary and secondary schools have been told they would receive copies of Xi’s address to help schools “understand the essence of his remarks” and “deepen teachers’ understanding of the development of the nation and the world,” according to an education bureau circular sent to schools last week.
Those who have attended the meetings describe them as hourslong political indoctrination sessions championing Xi and his remarks.
“In the past few weeks, I along with other teachers been invited to many sessions that focus on national education and understanding China,” one local principal told Nikkei. “It’s absurd. It’s brainwashing.”
In one of the first sessions held days after Xi’s visit, China’s Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong insisted that references to respecting “One country, two systems” should give the international community confidence in the city’s future.
“Those who fear possible changes to this policy can remain assured, and those who scold and smear it can stop,” Liu Guangyuan told foreign consular staff and the heads of foreign business chambers less than a week after Xi’s visit.
Other study events, online and offline, have been organized by groups including the Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers, Hong Kong Federation of Journalists and several youth bodies with thousands of people attending.
Local bookstores have also started stocking the fourth volume of “Xi Jinping: The Governance of China,” the latest collection of his speeches, while state-controlled publishing groups began printing pamphlets with Xi’s handover remarks in English and traditional Chinese.
Ideological study sessions — and public shaming — became prominent during China’s chaotic Cultural Revolution under Mao Zedong, and remain common in the mainland today as a tool to psychologically pressure people against making critical comments, said Ho-fung Hung, a professor in the sociology department at Johns Hopkins University
“It is true to modern authoritarian and totalitarian states and from Mao’s time to now that there is this kind of collective performance of loyalty which is seen as a very important tool to enforce and to ensure conformity,” added Hung, the author of “City On the Edge: Hong Kong under Chinese rule.”
Since the security law came into force, Hong Kong has mandated school flag-raising ceremonies to boost patriotism. It has also added national security courses to the public school curriculum and replaced liberal studies with a subject focused on China’s national development titled “citizenship and social development.”
A new crop of school textbooks also claims that Hong Kong was never a British colony at all, but only subject to “colonial rule,” a change likely aimed at asserting China’s unbroken sovereignty over the territory.
While study sessions may have little immediate effect on most of Hong Kong’s 7.4 million residents, they could lay the groundwork to influence future generations, Lau said.
“At some stage, Beijing will be able to achieve some of the goals it sets,” he added. “No doubt there will be a long-term impact.”
Source : Nikkei Asia