Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying invited opponents of plans for Chinese national education classes to hold talks as thousands of people protested outside government headquarters for a 10th day.
Leung called for “a frank exchange of views” and wants to arrange the discussions “as soon as possible,” according to a press release on the government’s information-services website today. Organizers said 120,000 people protested yesterday, while police said 36,000 took part, the South China Morning Post reported today.
“Discussion will help, but won’t solve the problem,” Michael DeGolyer, professor at the Hong Kong Baptist University, said by phone today. “At this point, the only solution will be a complete withdrawal of the national education proposals and a comprehensive rethink of the whole concept of national education.”
Leung, who took office on July 1, has the lowest public-support rating for a new leader since Hong Kong’s handover to China in 1997. He canceled a trip to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit this week as students, parents and teachers rallied to demand the withdrawal of national education lessons introduced this month that they say portrays an overly favorable view of Communist Party rule in China.
Concerns that the change would amount to “brainwashing” were unfounded, Leung wrote in an article run by local newspapers earlier this week.
Leung invited Scholarism, the Parents Concern Group on National Education and the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union to meet with him and Anna Wu, chairwoman of Committee on the Implementation of Moral and National Education, according to the government notice.
“I totally support this demonstration and hate the idea that the central government is trying to control people, especially children’s minds in Hong Kong,” Wong See Yuen, 28, who works for a local art studio, said today at the protest. She also attended yesterday’s rally. “I agree kids should learn about China’s history, but there is no way we should allow them to teach us how to think.”
R. Yung, 30, who attended today’s demonstration with his three-year-old son, said he wants the truth to be told. “I don’t want my kid to become a liar.”
The protests that began on Aug. 30 continued as Hong Kong prepares to elect a new legislature tomorrow.
The election may boost so-called pro-democracy parties that don’t back Leung, according to DeGolyer, whose Hong Kong Transition Project has tracked changes in the city of 7.1 million people since its return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. Dissatisfaction at the way the government deals with China has risen to the highest level in eight years, according to a survey by the project.
“No doubt there is a trust crisis on Leung and his new government, as many believed Leung came in trying to change the core values of Hong Kong,” DeGolyer said. “The national education program only reinforced people’s suspicions of him.
“A discussion is going to help, but at the same time the government has to back off a bit and think carefully whether it is an education or propaganda problem,” he said. “If it’s propaganda, then government should have no business in it at all.”
Leung has the lowest support rating for a new leader since the handover to China in 1997, according to the University of Hong Kong’s Public Opinion Programme. Leung’s rating fell to 50.3 out of 100 last month, based on surveys of about 1,000 residents.
An influx of mainland Chinese has spurred protests as the city’s residents face increasing competition for property and schooling. There were 3.3 million visitors from China in July, the most on record. Last week, neighboring Shenzhen relaxed visa rules to make it easier for more than 4 million non-permanent residents to visit the city. Leung said Sept. 7 the new policy will be suspended as Hong Kong studies whether it can support the extra visitors.
Voters will choose lawmakers in the expanded 70-member Legislative Council, with ballot-counting starting at 12:30 a.m. on Sept. 10. Pro-democracy parties, led by the Democratic Party and Civic Party, seek to retain or expand their one-third presence on the council, which gives them the power to veto bills that require a two-thirds majority.
Of the 70 seats, 30 are picked by representatives in specific industries including finance and education. The turnout may surpass the previous election in 2008 as 10 more seats are at stake, according to a survey of 13,457 people by the University of Hong Kong Public Opinion Programme conducted from Aug. 1 to Sept. 3.