The Education Bureau has rolled out a curriculum framework of national security education, which covers teaching content of 15 academic subjects in secondary and primary education, aiming at injecting the so-called national security into daily teaching and learning. I said “the so-called national security” because I am convinced teachers and students, with such a curriculum framework, are not able to possibly discuss what national security is, but it is, eventfully, just an excuse for requesting them to blindly pledge allegiance to the regime. Majoring in geography, I am going to take the curriculum framework of national security education of geography as an example.
When it comes to geography and national security, it is natural for one to call to mind domains. The curriculum framework requires students to get to know the lands and waters over which China has dominion. Though admittedly a patriotic appeal for holding aloft a country’s sovereignty over its domains is touching, conscientiousness in teaching at schools is important. However, once we earnestly delve into the issue of China’s domains, we will find that there is no place for us to lay hands on it for it is not public information.
In 2017, a civilian in China requested China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to make public the information about the boundary between China and Russia according to the Regulation of the People’s Republic of China on the Disclosure of Government Information, especially the sovereignty over Tannu Uriankhai. Consequently, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that the information was classified. In the 70s last century, the Chinese government described Tannu Uriankhai as a territory seized by Russia, hence not acknowledging it. For the time being, the information about Russia in the hands of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs includes data of the territory concerned. Has the Chinese government changed its stance on it in secret? If changes in the stance taken by the Chinese government on China’s domains are kept classified, how do teachers in Hong Kong instruct students in it?
Unfortunately, it seems that the Education Bureau in Hong Kong is not as visionary as it needs to be, and had even failed to figure out the aforementioned difficulty before the curriculum framework was devised. For instance, the curriculum framework mentions that “the lands and waters over which China has dominion have to be shown (including the nine-dash line in the South China Sea) so that students can get to know the ambit of Chinese territories”. However, whether the “nine-dash line” advocated by the Chinese government is equivalent to its “territorial waters” is obscure. The Chinese government promulgated that its territorial waters in the South China Sea include areas 12 nautical miles away from the baseline connecting coastal islands of China and the Paracel Islands, which is pursuant to the definition given by the United Nations. The line, 100km away from the “nine-dash line”, should not be confused with the latter. As to the baseline for the territorial waters around the Zhongsha Islands and Spratly Islands, the Chinese government has not declared anything yet. Equating the “nine-dash line” with the “map of territorial waters” is probably the result of the Education Bureau officials being ignorant. If it is handled carelessly, it will possibly touch off a diplomatic crisis, troubling our country.
If the “nine-dash line” has to be really taught at schools in Hong Kong, is it also necessary to make clear the difference between the “nine-dash line” claimed by the People’s Republic of China and the “eleven-dash line” claimed by the Republic of China? The original “eleven-dash line” included the Bạch Long Vĩ Island in the Gulf of Tonkin between Vietnam and China, the biggest island among all in the South China Sea. It used to belong to China, and was handed over to North Vietnam in 1957, so the “eleven-dash line’ having turned “nine-dash line”. As the curriculum framework requests students to “understand well the importance and ways of safeguarding security of national territories”, can the Education Bureau elaborate on how to instruct students in the history of the Bạch Long Vĩ Island?
“Facts” rewritten according to policy
The curriculum framework demands mention of national security in geography, including not only national domains, but also natural resources such as “demonstrating a map of distribution of coal and iron mines in China” so that students understand “they need to be made good use of for national security”. Moreover, the curriculum framework also requires teachers to introduce students to tropical rainforests in Yunnan and Guizhou, and discuss with them ways to protect them, so as to ensure ecological security. The question is: If China reckons natural resources part of its national security, other countries can do so as well, can’t they? In light of the fact the large-scale acquisition of mines all over the world by Chinese state-owned enterprises in recent years has made the countries worry about their national security ruined; the demand of China’s consumer market is considered the major cause of the acceleration of global deforestation; China is in dispute with other Southeast Asian countries over water resources…as the curriculum framework reckons natural resources part of national security, how would one respond to the query from other countries? Is one only allowed to stand with national policy? Are “facts” rewritten every time national policy changes?
Lastly, the most bemusing part of the curriculum framework is the request that by getting to know national security students become “willing to be an enthusiastic and responsible civilian”. Funnily enough, I know quite a number of mainland civilians, who sincerely believe biodiversity is the basis for national security as what is noted in the curriculum framework, running from pillar to post for environmental protection for their entire life, and opposing projects launched by various local governments in China that pollute Mother Nature. By the standard set by the curriculum framework, they are all exemplary students, but in reality, they are deemed troublemakers by China’s national security department. Being dogged and grilled are just daily routines for them.
At the end of the day, national security as a political slogan is a far cry from it being a topic for academic discussion in China. There is no objective criterion for whether an event lies within the ambit of national security, but everything is simply subject to what officialdom spontaneously wishes for. The national security education looks complicated, but it really boils down to only a simple line: Be obedient and pledge allegiance to the regime.
(Leung Kai-chi, current affairs commentator)
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