Universities in Hong Kong need to beware of "external forces with ulterior motives", Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Tuesday, warning that students could be indoctrinated into taking part in illegal activities.
Ahead of her weekly Executive Council meeting, Lam was asked by a journalist to respond to reports in pro-Beijing newspapers that a study on social activism showed students were paid HK$350 to join a protest in 2017.
In response, Lam said that based on the events of 2019, there should be no doubt in people's minds that "there are external forces quite active in Hong Kong for their ulterior motive".
"Either they want to undermine the Chinese government, or they have ideological prejudices against China. So these external forces are at work, and how are they acting, penetrating into various institutions in Hong Kong including the universities is something that everyone in position should be very sensitive to," she said.
"So, if there are reports that things like this sort are taking place in a university, I would urge the university management, the council chairman, and the president to be extremely careful and to make sure that university students will not be easily indoctrinated by these prejudices and bias, let alone to take part in activities that will breach the laws of Hong Kong."
The 2017 study reported on by pro-Beijing newspapers involved splitting some 850 Hong Kong University of Science and Technology students into two groups, with one group told they would be paid HK$350 if they joined the annual July 1 march to take pictures of the crowd to help estimate the turnout.
The researchers found the turnout rate at the march was about 10 percentage points higher for those offered money compared to the other group, and it was five percentage points higher the year after, when no incentive was offered.
The researchers, including professors from abroad, concluded that their study showed social interaction and friendship are important for sustained political engagement. The pro-Beijing newspapers said the study was proof that foreign forces had tried to incite a "colour revolution" in Hong Kong.