There is no urgency to grant approval for the One Belt, One Road scholarship programme, said Ip Kin-yuen, a pro-democracy lawmaker representing the education constituency. Lawmakers from both the pro-democracy and pro-establishment camp have remarked in recent days on the necessity to pass legislations related to the programme as soon as possible.
The Beijing-led initiative is designed to strengthen cooperation between countries along the ancient silk road and to form a new “maritime silk road.” The scholarship, named after the project, allows students from participating countries to study in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong students – in turn – will also be able to study in participating countries. The government has suggested setting aside more than HK$1 billion for scholarship.
Local media previously reported that the scholarship may be placed before the bill to increase wages for civil servants in the Legislative Council’s Financial Committee’s agenda, so that it may be passed within the current council.
“This has never been seen before. [Secretary for Education] Eddie Ng Hak-kim led many officials to convince lawmakers. He seldom does that. I think the situation is that they really care about the issue and want it passed,” said Ip. “But where it would be placed has not yet been decided. There is a rumour that they want to place it before the bill to increase wages for civil employees… if this is done, we think that this would be very ridiculous.”
Ip added that there was an agreement between the government and lawmakers to first pass issues with less controversy. He said the scholarship is a controversial matter and could be put in the next year’s meetings for discussion.
Jasper Tsang, Legislative Council President, said on RTHK radio on Saturday that “right now, since in the Legislative Council there are lawmakers from different factions who are conservative about [the need to pass the scholarship], I think that the government should think about it again, if it is really very urgent.”
Lawmaker Lam Tai-fai, who chairs the Legislative Council’s Panel of Education, said that there was no need to rush the legislation if details, such as whether the government will accept tertiary degrees from participating countries, have not been settled.
Michael Tien Puk-sun said on DBC radio on Monday: “I think maybe his intention is to [do more], to get something. Like as many people say, it seems like the Chief Executive [Leung Chun-ying] might be trying to get re-elected, because otherwise I really can’t see where the urgency is coming from.”
The Secretary for Education said on Sunday that he hopes that “separate measures and suggestions can all be passed in this year’s Legislative Council… [but] as to individual reports mentioning queue jumping, I have not heard about it.” However, it will be difficult for the scholarship to be passed this year before the term ends in July unless it is placed ahead of other items on the agenda.