Published: 22:59, April 22, 2024 | Updated: 09:16, April 23, 2024
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‘Holistic concept’ crucial to national security education
By Tang Fei

The enactment of the Safeguarding National Security Ordinance, which took effect on March 23, has met the relevant requirements of Article 23 of the Basic Law, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee’s May 28, 2020, decision, and the National Security Law for Hong Kong (NSL).

Combined with the NSL, the ordinance has established a comprehensive and effective legal system for safeguarding national security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region by plugging the existing legal loopholes.

The comprehensive national security protection legal system, meanwhile, provides all the necessary teaching content for national security education. This allows schools to have a solid theoretical basis for promoting national security education, which should instill a correct concept of national security and foster awareness of national security in young people, with the ultimate goal of raising a new generation of responsible citizens.  

Law and education have always complemented each other in building a harmonious and stable society, and the one cannot do without the other. As the old saying goes: “Education is like rain and dew; and law is like wind and frost.” Education enlightens people and breeds moral awareness in the way that rain and dew nourish trees and grass. Law upholds the rules without favor and bias in the way that wind and frost treat everything.

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Since the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress enacted the NSL in June 2020, I, as a representative of the Hong Kong Education Workers Federation, have been giving lectures on national security education in various primary and secondary schools. I found that the most common questions from the audience were often related to the provisions of the NSL, especially those concerning the boundary between legality and illegality. In contrast, few people asked about the various national security risks or the whole concept of national security.

National security education is not limited to education within schools but should be widely promoted outside schools, aimed at establishing a social consciousness and concept of safeguarding national security

I realized from this experience that national security education should cultivate awareness and a holistic concept of national security. It should be a positive and proactive value education, emphasizing that one cannot just stop at “how to avoid crossing the red line” or “how to avoid falling into legal traps”. Admittedly, the average person, especially businesspeople, naturally tend to be concerned about new laws, particularly where the line between legal and illegal lies. This is human nature, and it is the responsibility of the concerned government departments to elaborate on the new laws and allay residents’ concerns. However, from an educational perspective, a positive and proactive value should be cultivated among residents: People should have a conscious awareness of protecting national security, rather than obsessing about the boundary between legality and illegality. The former is moral awareness, facilitating an individual to actively fulfill duties; the latter is merely avoiding violation of the law, indicating passivity. The “Occupy Central” campaign in 2014, the Mong Kok riots in 2016, and the “black-clad” insurrection in 2019-20 have caused great anguish and grief to Hong Kong society, especially because some teachers and students participated in those events. This must have saddened any education worker with a conscience and a love for Hong Kong. Those events remind us that we must always be vigilant against national security risks.

National security education aims at prevention. Thus a holistic national security concept should be fostered among residents. This is not to say that the two national security laws are not important, but that national security education should not be narrowed down to education on the content of the national security laws. Without a holistic national security concept that helps people to first understand and recognize the various risks to national security, it would be difficult to understand the necessity of legislating for the two security laws. Without first understanding the holistic national security concept, one would not recognize more than a dozen nontraditional security areas and realize the importance of safeguarding them, apart from traditional security areas like territorial security and military security; and one would not understand that political security is the core of national security. Therefore, in promoting national security education, both the holistic national security concept and the contents of the security laws are equally important. One cannot be taken lightly in favor of the other. In terms of teaching sequences, the holistic concept should come first, followed by the security laws. The former is to raise residents’ awareness of the problems, and the latter is to explain to them the solution. This “problem-solving” pedagogy is more in line with the laws of education and human cognitive and learning habits.

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A correct understanding of the necessity and significance of promoting national security education is also important. Some people have opined that national security laws are only aimed at a small group of people who threaten national security and have nothing to do with the vast majority of residents. The first half of this statement is fine, but the second half clearly misinterprets “enforcement of national security laws is not aimed at the general public” as “national security is not relevant to the general public”. National security education is not limited to education within schools but should be widely promoted outside schools, aimed at establishing a social consciousness and concept of safeguarding national security.

National security should not be regarded as solely the work of relevant government departments and having nothing to do with the general public. If the public feel that it is not their concern, they will become indifferent to it and might fail to understand that safeguarding national security is ultimately safeguarding their lives and property. They might even develop doubts and distrust toward the law enforcement departments’ actions, providing opportunities for external forces to split Hong Kong society and undermine national security and social stability once again.

The author is a member of the Legislative Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.