HK teachers’ union still faces legal risks even after its disbandment
Published: Aug 10, 2021 10:21 PM
Aerial photo taken on March 6, 2021 shows citizens displaying China's national flag and the flag of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in support of implementing the principle of patriots administering Hong Kong at Tamar Park in Hong Kong, south China.Photo:Xinhua

Hong Kong citizens displaying China's national flag and the flag of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in support of implementing the principle of "patriots administering Hong Kong" at Tamar Park in Hong Kong, south China.Photo:Xinhua

 The Executive Committee of the Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union (PTU), a group that has long engaged in anti-China and trouble-making activities, announced Tuesday that it had decided to disband and had stopped recruiting new members or extending memberships with immediate effect, days after the city's education bureau severed ties with the union.

As the PTU has been inciting violence and preaching "Hong Kong independence" in the disguise of a teachers' union, it has drawn strong criticisms from various sectors in Hong Kong, and appeals for its eradication have been on the rise, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

Experts noted that the PTU could be held accountable legally even after its disbandment, as it was deeply involved in the Hong Kong turmoil in 2019, and the eradication of the PTU is likely to correct the existing mistakes and problems in Hong Kong's education system. 

The PTU was founded in 1973 by Szeto Wah, who later became a leading opposition politician. The union has emerged as the largest teachers' group in Hong Kong and the biggest union for a single profession. 

However, representing almost 100,000 members, in the past decades, with connections with hostile foreign forces, the PTU has been actively and closely participating in secessionist political groups, and encouraging and training the youth to conduct radical or illegal acts to damage public order and national security in Hong Kong under the guise of a professional education organization, experts noted.  

There's no room for the PTU to survive in Hong Kong, and dissolving the group is within the expectations, but it does not mean the group would escape legal accountability, Lau Siu-kai, vice-president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, told the Global Times on Tuesday. 

The problem was that some teachers from the group have held anti-China and anti-CPC ideologies, which would bring more obstacles for the education reforms, Lau noted. "Without the PTU as their haven, those teachers are likely to change their behavior accordingly."

The PTU was not simply a labor union or a professional group, given its long-term stance of going against the CPC and striving for Western-style democratic reforms, which was contrary to the "one country, two systems," while playing the role of instigating and provoking conflicts in the previous social turmoil, Lau noted. 

Lau also said he believes that as the PTU opposed the national education and covered up for unethical teachers, the group also had close relations with anti-government groups, including Hong Kong Alliance and the Civil Human Rights Front.

Despite claiming to be a professional education organization, its remarks and deeds in recent years were inconsistent with what was expected of the education profession, rendering it no different from a political body, experts noted. It is also believed that the PTU was the most powerful anti-government force in Hong Kong.

Between 2013 and 2014, the PTU instigated teachers and students to participate in the illegal Occupy Central protest under the name of "holding law lectures." In 2019, the PTU took a large number of its teachers into a citywide strike during the yearlong social turmoil. 

On August 1, the Hong Kong Education Bureau announced that it would cut ties with the PTU and no longer regard it as an education professional organization. On August 5, Secretary of Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung denounced the union for "practicing politics in the name of the education profession" and for not saying no to the social chaos, but instead pushing teachers and students to the point of no return by breaking the law.

At the end of July, both Xinhua and the People's Daily ran commentaries denouncing the PTU as a "tumor" in Hong Kong's education system and calling for the eradication of it.

The eradication of PTU is a wake-up call for the education community, Lawrence Tang Fei, principal of the Heung To Secondary School (Tseung Kwan O) in Hong Kong, told the Global Times.

"Some organizations that used to act against national security laws will rectify their actions, and teachers will become more aware of the need to do work that is commensurate with their status and integrity, rather than taking political actions that are suspected of being illegal in the name of teaching," Tang said.

"We can see the government's flagging opposition to secessionist forces in the dissolution of the PTU, and that education reform in Hong Kong is beginning to move in a positive direction," Jin Tongtong, chairman of Hong Kong Putonghua Professional Association, which has brought together many patriotic teachers, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Jin pointed out that the PTU has long been trying to brainwash the young generation in Hong Kong by cultivating secessionists among teachers, making the youth hate their motherland.

"Many of the teachers in our [Putonghua] association were members of the HKPTU. In the past, since the union has a long history and has the support of many anti-China forces, it has a lot of resources and has the right to speak. Many teachers were afraid to speak out due to pressure. But now, the situation is about to change," she said.

The disbandment of the PTU does not mean local teachers with distorted ideologies would suddenly change and acknowledge the "one country, two systems" as well as the principle of "only patriots governing Hong Kong," as the reform of the education sector still remains as a systematic task, Tian Feilong, a member of the Beijing-based Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, told the Global Times on Tuesday. 

On one side, authorities need to enhance the training and evaluation system on local teachers while on the other side, more patriots should carry on the work of teaching to form the correct ideology among students, he said.