By KEN MORITSUGU – Associated Press
BEIJING (AP) — Hong Kong is preparing to introduce new college textbooks that will deny that the Chinese territory was ever a British colony. Chinese communist leaders say the semi-autonomous city and neighboring former Portuguese colony of Macau were simply occupied by foreign powers and China never relinquished sovereignty over them.
It’s not a new stance for China, but the move is another example of Beijing’s determination to uphold its interpretation of history and events and instill patriotism as it tightens its grip on Hong. Kong following massive protests demanding democracy in 2019.
“Hong Kong has been Chinese territory since ancient times,” says a new manual seen by the AP. “While Hong Kong was occupied by the British after the Opium Wars, it remained Chinese territory.”
It is one of four sets of textbooks offered to schools to replace those currently in use, all stating the same position, Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post newspaper reported earlier this week.
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Hong Kong was a British colony from 1841 until it passed to Chinese rule in 1997, except for Japanese occupation from 1941 to 1945. Its colonial status was the result of a pair of 19th century treaties signed at the end of the First and Second Opium Wars, along with the granting of a 99-year lease in 1898 to the New Territories, greatly expanded the size of the colony.
China’s Communist Party, which seized power during a civil war in 1949, says it has never recognized what it calls the ‘unequal treaties’ the former Qing dynasty was forced to sign as a result of military defeats.
At the end of the 20th century – with China unwilling to extend the lease on the New Territories and the colony not viable without them – Britain entered into protracted and often contentious negotiations with Beijing over the terms of the return of Hong Kong to Chinese rule.
Ultimately, China took control of Hong Kong in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” agreement that would keep the city’s economic, political and judicial systems separate from those of mainland China for 50 years. This was spelled out in a 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration registered with the United Nations, although China now refuses to recognize the agreement.
HAS THIS PROBLEM OCCURRED BEFORE?
In 1972, just months after China’s seat at the United Nations was moved to Beijing by the Republic of China government which fled to Taiwan during the civil war, the government moved to withdraw Hong Kong and Macau, which returned to Chinese rule in 1999, from a UN list of settlements, thus depriving them of their right to self-determination.
At a time when European nations had granted independence to other colonies, China feared the same would happen to the British and Portuguese enclaves it wanted back. “The settlement of the Hong Kong and Macao issues is entirely within China’s sovereign right and in no way falls under the ordinary category of ‘colonial territories,'” the Chinese representative said at the time.
Mary Gallagher, who teaches Chinese studies at the University of Michigan, said then-Chinese leader Mao Zedong wanted to ensure Hong Kong remained part of China. “So Hong Kong is moving between the Chinese empire and the British empire, but losing its right to determine its own future,” she said.
WHY IS HONG KONG CHANGING TEXTBOOKS NOW?
The new textbooks are part of wider changes to education following the 2019 protests, in which many students took part and some took on leadership roles.
The texts are aimed at liberal studies classes, which the government revised last year after pro-Beijing lawmakers and supporters said they encouraged opposition and militant thinking. Classes now focus on themes such as national security, patriotism and identity.
The textbooks promote the official view that the protest movement was the result of foreign agitation and threatened national security. The Beijing government used such arguments to pass a sweeping national security law for Hong Kong in 2020, restricting freedom of speech, criticism of authorities and political opposition.
Authorities launched a national security education day on April 15, with students encouraged to learn more about national security and participate in educational activities that emphasize the importance of protecting China.
The new textbooks are part of a push to bring Hong Kong’s institutional values closer to those of mainland China, particularly in the areas of politics and history. Increasingly, Chinese leader Xi Jinping is imposing his vision of a strongly nationalist and increasingly authoritarian regime in the region.
China has sought to eradicate any memory of the army’s bloody 1989 crackdown on student protests centered in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, citing pandemic concerns to ban once-huge public commemorations in Hong Kong on the occasion of the June 4 birthday.
“The Communist Party has a monopoly on truth and history in China,” said Steve Tsang, a China policy scholar at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. “In Xi’s approach to history, facts are only incidental. Only interpretation matters. And only one interpretation is allowed.
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