In Hong Kong school’s national security law class, Donald Trump makes an appearance

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Rows of agitated Hong Kong school children watched a short film explaining what constitutes a national security crime, using former US President Donald Trump as an example – and a warning.

The television was surrounded by dozens of stuffed pandas, which children were sure to play with later if they listened carefully.

The screening took place at Hong Kong’s premier Patriotic Education Center, which teaches students about the city’s new national security law as well as China’s history and achievements.

Beijing imposed the sweeping law in Hong Kong to stifle dissent after huge and sometimes violent democracy protests in 2019 – and schools have been ordered to instill a new sense of patriotism in children.

As the new academic year kicked off on Thursday, another group of about 40 students from Pui Kiu College, known for its patriotic teaching, were among the first visitors.

“Can someone tell me why national security is important,” asked a retired teacher-turned-volunteer guide, who gave her surname Kan, to the chirping crowd.

“Without national security, humanity cannot live well,” replied one student.

“Well said,” Kan replied. “People can’t live well, neither can pandas.”

Kan told AFP his “most important” task was to help children understand the four new offenses under the security law: secession, subversion, collusion with foreign forces and terrorism.

Trump and Lai

During Kan’s speech, Trump and the Capitol Riot of January 6, 2021 were used to illustrate subversion – the offense of trying to overthrow or undermine the government.

For foreign collusion, she used Jimmy Lai, a pro-democracy media mogul imprisoned in Hong Kong – without naming him.

Lai and the editors of the now closed Apple Daily newspaper face an upcoming trial for collusion for allegedly pushing for international sanctions against Hong Kong.

Then Kan turned to when Hong Kong’s legislature was robbed by pro-democracy protesters in 2019.

“What offense was committed by the kids who seemed to be going crazy in the legislative council,” Kan asked.

“Terrorism,” some students replied.

“They didn’t set fires or kill people,” Kan said, pushing them towards the subversion offense.

Political conversion

The center is run by the city’s largest pro-Beijing teachers’ union in a liberated school at the foot of Lion Rock, a mountain popularly seen as a symbol of the city’s vibrant spirit.

Until recently, teachers in Hong Kong could also join a pro-democracy union, but this closed following political repression.

The huge rallies in 2019 came after years of growing demands for Hong Kongers to have more of a say in the running of their city.

Leaders in Beijing and Hong Kong have dismissed calls for democracy and instead portrayed the move as a foreign-led plot to destabilize all of China.

Hong Kong’s new leader, John Lee, a former security chief who helped lead this crackdown, attended the center’s groundbreaking ceremony in July.

“In the past, some ill-intentioned people (…) have long soiled national education,” he said at the time.

“I firmly believe that the center will become… a learning area that nurtures a new generation of young people who love China and Hong Kong.”

Kan told AFP she used to attend annual vigils in Hong Kong to commemorate pro-democracy protesters killed by Chinese troops in Tiananmen Square.

“But after seeing how violent it got on TV (in 2019), I had a big turn,” she said, referring to the protests.

“I regret the delay with which I started to love my country,” she said as tears welled up in her eyes.

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