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Hong Kong unveils national security guidelines for children aged six and above

Hong Kong has unveiled controversial guidelines for schools in the Chinese-ruled city that include teaching students as young as six about colluding with foreign forces and subversion as part of a new national security curriculum.

Beijing imposed the security law on Hong Kong in June 2020 in response to months of often violent anti-government and anti-China protests in 2019 that put the global financial hub more firmly on an authoritarian path.

The Education Bureau’s guidelines, released late on Thursday, show that Beijing’s plans for semi-autonomous Hong Kong go beyond quashing dissent, and aim for a societal overhaul to bring its most restive city more in line with the Communist Party-ruled mainland.

“National security is of great importance. Teachers should not treat it as if it is a controversial issue for discussion as usual,” the guidelines said.

Teachers should “clearly point out that safeguarding national security is the responsibility of all nationals and that as far as national security is concerned, there is no room for debate or compromise.”

After the 2019 protests in which many of the demonstrators were teenagers, Chinese leaders turned to re-education in a bid to tame the city’s youth and make them citizens loyal to China.

Children in primary schools will learn how to sing and respect the national anthem, learn about police and the People’s Liberation Army as protectors of Hong Kong, as well as about the four main offences in the security law, including terrorism and secessionism.

In secondary schools, pupils will learn what constitutes the four main offences, which can carry sentences of up to life in prison.

Some legal scholars have said the law’s language is broad and vague, and the range of activities authorities might see as potential threats to national security was unclear and fluid.

An educational cartoon video released by the government shows an owl wearing glasses and a graduation hat explaining Hong Kong’s institutional architecture, its duties to the central government in Beijing and the national security law.

At one point the video says “national security affairs are of utmost importance to the whole country,” while showing smiling faces of a student, a chef and an engineer.

Schools are encouraged to “organise various game activities, such as puppet theatre, board games, creating picture books … to establish a good atmosphere and improve students’ understanding of national security,” the guidelines say.

The bureau said it accepted international and private schools have different curricula, but said they had a “responsibility to help their students (regardless of their ethnicity and nationality) acquire a correct and objective understanding and apprehension of the concept of national security.”

Schools should also stop students and teachers from participating in activities deemed as political, such as singing certain songs or shouting slogans. Teachers and principals are required to inspect notice-boards and remove books that endanger national security from libraries.

The bureau said national security education will become part of a range of subjects, including geography and biology, so as to enhance students’ sense of national identity.

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