Joseph Lian Yi-zheng, a former professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology who also was chief editor of the Hong Kong Economic Journal, recently wrote a shocking article for The New York Times titled “Trump is wrong about TikTok. China’s plans are much more sinister”, in which he accuses the Confucius Institutes, an international Chinese-language and culture educational organization, of being part of a nefarious plot.
I have read many of Lian’s articles that appeared in the Economic Journal. The narrative he has been promoting in recent years has gotten very disturbing. Unfortunately, many youngsters, just like Lian, have been misled by the Western narrative that China somehow has “sinister ambitions”. His Times article makes it compelling for me to rebut this narrative.
To begin, let us recall the genesis of the recent series of Hong Kong protests against the Chinese mainland. I would say the first large-scale anti-government action was the protest against the proposed introduction of moral and national education as a compulsory subject in our school curriculum. Given that moral and national education is not peculiar to Hong Kong or China as a whole, and given that the proposal to introduce moral and national education had been made as early as 2010 in the Policy Address of then-chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen without much ado, the widespread and strong opposition against it in 2012 is difficult to understand.
China has honored its commitments to humanitarian causes and multilateralism
One can, of course, relate it to a proposed text that tried to promote the “China Model” of development. There are probably valid objections to that text, but the special administrative region government had never endorsed it and in fact, then-secretary for education Eddie Ng Hak-kim had announced that it was not a suitable text. The government also had proposed to form a committee comprising all the stakeholders to oversee the content and administration of the proposed curriculum. But the protests continued, and would not subside until the government eventually shelved the proposal altogether.
Is there anything sinister about moral and national education, especially when parents and teachers were invited to work together to oversee how it was to be carried out?
The following year, Reverend Chu Yiu-ming, Benny Tai Yiu-ting and Chan Kin-man proposed a movement called “Occupy Central with Love and Peace”, which eventually took place in 2014. They wanted to force Beijing to walk away from the stipulated clause in the Basic Law, which had taken effect on July 1, 1997, the day of Hong Kong’s handover.
That clause is explicit in requiring that candidates for the chief executive post must be chosen by a nominating committee, which was to become progressively broadly representative over time. Thus the truth is that Beijing never reneged on its commitment. But the “occupiers” somehow managed to convince the West that Beijing had broken its promise to grant “dual universal suffrage” without vetting by the nominating committee.
The West of course cannot be so naive, since the terms of the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law are publicly available for everybody to see. Why does the West choose to believe the narrative of the “occupiers”? To me, there is probably something sinister about that.
Lian in his Times article referred to President Xi Jinping’s “Chinese Dream” as indicative of Beijing’s aspiration for global dominance. He pointed to the Confucius Institutes and the seaports controlled by Chinese interests around the world, and concluded: “China’s move to establish physical footholds around the world is easy enough to recognize as evidence of a coherent game plan” for global dominance. But if China’s Confucius Institutes are problematic, how about Alliance Francaise and the Goethe Institut, both of which claim to be benign language and culture organizations?
To Chinese, Confucius is the “Teacher for Ten Thousand Generations,” while Confucian ethics is nothing other than “Do not do unto others what you don’t want others to do unto you” and to “Let virtues shine” and to “Work until perfect”. Confucian teaching is inwardly perfecting one’s character, and never outwardly achieving dominance. As a matter of fact, this is common to all the main strands of Chinese culture, including Buddhism and Daoism. Thus the Chinese Dream is just a world without barriers so that “the world is a family”. What is so “sinister” about it?
If China’s “establishing physical footholds around the world” through such initiatives as the Confucius Institutes and the Belt and Road Initiative is so sinister, US military bases around the world should be 100 times more worrying. China has always preferred multilateralism and non-interference in other countries’ affairs. China has honored its commitments to humanitarian causes and multilateralism. Beijing has repeatedly stated it has no intention of replacing the United States.
Some people in Hong Kong and in the West fear that China has evil intentions; they need only look at what its policies have achieved over the past 40-odd years to see that this is not true: poverty alleviation, better healthcare, better education, more personal freedoms and a more independent judiciary. In Hong Kong, Beijing has helped stem the spread of a life-threatening pandemic by sending more than 500 experts to the city to help conduct the universal testing program. It also created a tailor-made National Security Law that has restored peace and safety to the SAR.
Based on this, it is clear that, far from being sinister, Beijing always has the best interests of everyone in the country and abroad at heart.
The author is a senior research fellow at the Pan Sutong Shanghai-Hong Kong Economic Policy Research Institute, Lingnan University.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
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