21 October 2018
Anyone found guilty of insulting or showing disrespect to the national anthem could be imprisoned for three years, according to a new Chinese law which will also be enacted in Hong Kong. Photo: Reuters
Anyone found guilty of insulting or showing disrespect to the national anthem could be imprisoned for three years, according to a new Chinese law which will also be enacted in Hong Kong. Photo: Reuters

Will the national anthem law widen the social rift?

China’s national anthem law will take effect in Hong Kong soon after the city’s Legislative Council completes the legislation process for a local application of the mainland statute.

Hongkongers will be well-advised to take this new law seriously for violators face the penalty of not just 15 days behind bars, but three years’ imprisonment, according to the amendment to the mainland’s criminal law.

We may never know what constitutes disrespect to the national anthem until a law enforcement officer collars us for doing something that they perceive to be in violation of the law – or perhaps for not doing something that they expect us to do to show respect to the national anthem.

While most people in Hong Kong have no issue about respecting the national anthem, many are worried that any new legislation on the matter might affect their freedom of expression and force them to show their love for China to affirm their political correctness.

By providing for punishment to violators, the new law could be turned into a political loyalty check, a form of “white terror” that will infringe on our liberties and way of life.

Whenever we hear the strains of The March of the Volunteers, are we supposed to stop whatever we are doing, stand up straight, put our hand on the chest, and with a serious mien sing the lyrics of the anthem with ardor? 

Several Hong Kong and mainland officials have assured us that fears about the implementation of the law are far-fetched because the law is very clear in saying that it only seeks to punish those who deliberately insult the national anthem, along with the national flag and emblem.

But the circumstances that led to the enactment of the national anthem law, and Beijing’s insistence that it be incorporated in Hong Kong’s Basic Law, attest to the fact that the purpose of the law goes well beyond its obvious intent.

The law springs from the desire of the central authorities, under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, to deepen the patriotism of the people, including us in Hong Kong, which, as far as they are concerned, means loyalty to the Communist Party and its rule.

On Monday the Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen said it would be impossible to list down every scenario where Hong Kong people could find themselves in breach of the national anthem law.

When asked whether people in restaurants will have to stand up if the anthem is played on television, Yuen said if the principle of the law is clear, everyone will know how to behave.

His answer did not clear the uncertainties.

He also said the government will have to synchronize the Chinese legislation with Hong Kong’s common law system, adding that it will gather the views of the public on the matter.

Unsurprisingly, the pro-Beijing camp rejoiced over the enactment of the law. They said it’s about time something was done about those local football fans who boo and disrespect the national anthem whenever it is played before international matches, adding that such behavior could affect the national interest.

Until Tuesday morning, there was no word from the Carrie Lam administration as to whether the local version of the law would be made retroactive or what the specific terms of punishment would be for offenders.

Meanwhile, former chief executive Leung Chun-ying shared his thoughts about the national anthem law. He told a forum on Monday about his experience during a graduation ceremony in 2014, when the graduating university students opened their yellow umbrellas while the national anthem was being played.

Leung said no one was made to bear responsibility for the disrespectful behavior of the students, adding that such a behavior in a public ceremony resulted from their lack of patriotism. Which is why, he said, patriotic education must be introduced in Hong Kong.

But why is CY Leung coming out again? It seems that CY, in his capacity as a state leader, intends to play a key role in the public debate about the national anthem. Will his involvement help in ensuring a calm, intelligent debate over the issue or will he only stir up controversy and division that we thought the incumbent administration is trying to heal?

Executive Council member Ip Kowk-him, a certified Beijing loyalist, asserted that Hongkongers may be in violation of the law if they don’t stand up solemnly when the national anthem is played. Several pro-establishment legislators have also warned that the law may have retrospective effect under civil procedures.

On Tuesday morning, however, the chief executive said the new law will not be retroactive, and expressed the hope that the legislation will not be complicated by other issues.

We have a request: Could Carrie Lam please tell all those Beijing loyalists to shut up and just let Legco go through the legislative process?

– Contact us at [email protected]


EJ Insight writer

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