Looming Hong Kong government pick sparks new national education fears

A pro-Beijing school principal appeared on Tuesday morning as the sole candidate to be the new education undersecretary, despite more than 17,000 people objecting to her appointment.

It was understood that the appointment of Christine Choi Yuk-lin, vice-chairman of Federation of Education Workers, was awaiting the final green light.

That came as the government prepared to announce the appointment of more than 10 of the 26 undersecretaries and political assistants on Tuesday. The rest were expected to be appointed later this month.

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Choi lost in a Legislative Council election last September, when pan-democrat Ip Kin-yuen beat her in the education functional constituency race by a large margin. Critics fear her appointment would mean a comeback for the controversial national education curriculum.

Her candidacy prompted more than 17,000 people to sign a petition against her getting the job.

Political party Demosisto and a few student groups went to Choi’s office on Monday, demanding to speak with her. They staged a protest outside her office, after that demand went unmet.

“Oppose Christine Choi to be the education undersecretary. Oppose using Putonghua to teach Chinese. Oppose national education,” they chanted.

The government has sought for years to insert the national education courses into primary and secondary school classes, aimed at strengthening “national identity awareness” and nurturing patriotism towards China.

Sources from the pro-Beijing camp said the high-profile protests may well have strengthened Choi’s claim, as Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was urged not to back down.

Choi could not be reached for comment.

It was understood that the government planned to adjust the salaries of political assistants by ditching the fixed rate of 35 per cent of ministers’. Instead, their pay would vary from 25 per cent to 35 per cent of ministers’ salaries, ranging from HK$84,000 to HK$117,000 per month.

Tuesday’s appointees were expected to include Casper Tsui Ying-wai and Bernard Chan Pak-li, both set to step up from political assistants to undersecretaries.

Tsui and Chan, alongside district councillor Kathy Siu Ka-yi, who will become political assistant, are members of the largest pro-Beijing party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, which supported Lam’s election bid.

Two members of the Liberal Party, Mark Fu Chuen-fu and Joseph Chan Hoi-lim, are expected to join the government as political assistants while the New People’s Party’s Jeff Sze Chun-fai will continue to work as political assistant to the secretary for education.

Two journalists, TVB’s Kenneth Ng King-chun and RTHK’s So King-hang, were tipped to join government. But a government source said Lam and her staff had yet to scrutinise So’s candidacy.

Liu Chun-san, a project manager from the Civil Engineering and Development Department and Chui Tak-yi, former chief executive of the Kowloon East group of hospitals, were expected to be the undersecretaries of Development Bureau and Food and Health Bureau respectively.

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