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Published: 00:03, September 14, 2022 | Updated: 09:34, September 14, 2022
A gap in national security education needs to be filled
By Ho Lok-sang
Published:00:03, September 14, 2022 Updated:09:34, September 14, 2022 By Ho Lok-sang

The official website of the National Security Education Day hosted by the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government has listed 16 areas that need attention. 

These are: political security, homeland security, military security, economic security, cultural security, public security, science and technology security, cybersecurity, ecological security, resource security, nuclear security, overseas-interests security, biosecurity, outer space security, deep sea security, and polar security. The list is certainly very comprehensive, and the key message is that national security is multidimensional. National security is about securing the long-term well-being of the lot of all countrymen.

As comprehensive as the list is, there is a gap that needs attention. We need a well-educated public that is capable of critical thinking and that will not easily succumb to dangerous ideas. Sadly, although critical thinking has been in the curriculum of our schools and universities, most students and many teachers were not capable of critical thinking. That is why many were misled by the propaganda of some hostile forces. They could not distinguish between right and wrong. This weak link in our education system is responsible for the rejection of the proposal to introduce Moral and National Education in our curriculum in our schools in 2012. Following the massive opposition, the government postponed the commencement of the subject indefinitely. This episode no doubt emboldened the opposition, giving rise to the “Occupy Central” movement in 2014 and the violent protests and riots in 2019 and 2020.

Because Liberal Studies was blamed for the radicalization of some students, it was eventually replaced by a new subject called Citizenship and Social Development. But I would have liked just revamping the way Liberal Studies was taught, rather than replacing Liberal Studies with a course that “tells it straight”, directly informing student the rights and obligations of citizens and covering only three themes: Hong Kong, the nation, and the contemporary world. I am worried that without actually going through the critical-thinking process, students would merely regurgitate the ideas that are expected from them in examinations rather than fortifying their values. Short of character building, it might fall short in building a better future for Hong Kong, their motherland and for the world.

We need to remember three things about critical thinking: Critical thinking is about humility, so one will examine one’s own thinking process critically to avoid drawing wrong conclusions. Critical thinking is about openness, so one will not dismiss any source of information right away without even taking a look at it. Critical thinkers always must remind themselves that we are all human and are subject to errors

The biggest problem with the radicalized students is that they are too arrogant. They were taught that they already had critical thinking and that they knew best. They are adept at criticizing others, but they rarely critically examine their own thinking process. They believe that the version of democracy that they pursue is “genuine democracy” without realizing that ballot-box democracy may not deliver what the public truly needs. They did not ask whether and how the democratic process through the ballot box would lead to the desired policies and decisions. They did not bother to look at how ballot-box democracy works in practice. They did not study history. So they are not aware of the cruelty of colonialism, the destruction of the indigenous populations in America and in Australia. There are many books that critically examine the democratic process in practice, but the likes of Joshua Wong Chi-fung and Nathan Law Kwun-chung apparently have not studied them.

I have pointed out in this column that Article 21 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has some misleading clauses that need to be revised. If Wong and Law had critical thinking, they would not be misled, because they would then be capable of independent thinking. The spirit of the declaration is that people should have the same rights, including the right to participate in the government of the country. But why is the ballot box a required part of human rights? Is it not more important to have a rigorous, transparent system that allows everyone to compete for the leadership positions based on merit? So long as the process of selection is robust and based on transparent and reasonable criteria, a country is democratic without requiring the ballot box. China’s political system is a one-party system and because there is no party rotation, it is defined as “undemocratic” and “authoritarian”. But this is really not fair. 

Multiple surveys, including the authoritative 13-year surveys conducted by Harvard’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, and that of the Alliance of Democracies on the state of democracy, gave high marks to China’s democracy. A higher percentage of the citizenry in China are satisfied with their government than that of any other country with elected governments. China’s perceived democracy deficit is the smallest in the world, and on par with that of Switzerland. In Switzerland, however, 27 percent of the people think the country is not democratic enough; in China, the figure is only 10 percent. In the US, 47 percent think the country is not democratic enough.

A lack of the ability to think critically creates loopholes that hostile forces can leverage on and attack China. We need to remember three things about critical thinking: Critical thinking is about humility, so one will examine one’s own thinking process critically to avoid drawing wrong conclusions. Critical thinking is about openness, so one will not dismiss any source of information right away without even taking a look at it. Critical thinkers always must remind themselves that we are all human and are subject to errors.

The author is director of 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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