In his first remarks to the press on Thursday, the new chief of Hong Kong’s exams authority said the body had not received any instructions from the government regarding the Beijing-imposed national security law, despite the recent emphasis on how the legislation should be taught in schools.
Wei Xiangdong – who took over this month as secretary general of the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority (HKEAA) in the wake of a controversy surrounding an exam question deemed biased against China – also confirmed reports that circulated when his appointment was announced last year that he had previously served as a member of a local political advisory body in Shenzhen.
Wei, an adjunct economics professor at Lingnan University, also revealed that the authority would be rolling out new measures for this year’s Diploma of Secondary Education exams set to take place in April and May, including releasing results via SMS for the first time.
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“Regarding the national security law issue, we haven’t got any specific instructions from the government. As far as our organisation is concerned, we will always be following the curriculum guidelines to set papers for our students,” Wei said during Thursday’s press conference.
The legislation, imposed on the city last June, outlaws acts of subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, and carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Universities and schools are required to promote national security education under the law.
Meanwhile, Wei, who received his bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Zhongshan University in China and an economics PhD from the University of Birmingham, confirmed to reporters he had previously served one term as a Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference member in Longgang district in Shenzhen.
“At that time, they invited me to join because of my expertise in education. Longgang is not a very advanced region in Shenzhen, so they desperately wanted to catch up with other regions,” he said.
The exams authority’s politics came into question in May last year following an uproar over a history exam question that asked about 5,000 test takers whether Japan did “more good than harm to China” in the first half of the 20th century. The question was blasted by pro-establishment politicians and Beijing’s foreign affairs arm in the city for purportedly ignoring the atrocities endured by Chinese people during the Japanese invasion in the Second World War.
Amid the sustained criticisms, the Education Bureau took the unprecedented step of demanding the exams authority invalidate the question, which it did after a week.
At least three staff from the exams body, including one who had helped develop the history questions, quit over the furore.
On Thursday, Wei addressed the fallout, saying “the whole event has already resolved” and pledging that this year’s exams would proceed smoothly.
“We have already internally carried out an investigation and reached some conclusions,” he said. “The new measures put in place are really to safeguard the quality of question-setting. I think it’s working smoothly as far as I know.”
The Education Bureau previously said it would step up scrutiny of the exams authority’s question-setting processes, while a government task force last November recommended the body strengthen its internal gatekeeping mechanisms.
Wei was also asked to comment on how the HKEAA planned to honour the recent insistence from a top Beijing official that the precept of “patriots governing Hong Kong” be implemented in the city’s statutory bodies, in addition to its government departments.
“I don’t know how to define exactly what is a patriot,” Wei said, when asked how he would implement the principle. “I just consider myself a good citizen and I want to do my best for the [betterment] of this place.”
“I have been living in Hong Kong for over 26 years. I love this place, and I love Hong Kong,” he added. “Hong Kong is part of China, the country, and I think I love the whole country.”