Why the national anthem bill is causing fresh concern

December 18, 2018 11:57
The Hong Kong government is expected to table a controversial bill on the national anthem law in the Legislative Council early next year. Photo: Reuters

The government plans to table the national anthem bill to the Legislative Council at the beginning of next year.

According to sources, the administration has decided to add a new clause to the bill, under which the national anthem will have to be played during the oath-taking ceremonies of chief executives, members of the Executive Council (Exco), judges and lawmakers.

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Patrick Nip Tak-kuen said at a media session on Monday that oath-taking ceremonies for those public officers are deemed as occasions where the national anthem need to be played.

When asked if the administration will consider having the national anthem played at the oath-taking ceremony for Legco members, Nip said that when the bill is introduced into Legco, the principle behind it will be clear and the details of its individual provisions will be apparent.  

"We have to reflect the intention and the principles of the national law, and so we look at each and every provision of the national law and consider how the intent and the rationale behind (them) could be reflected in the local legislation," he said. 

"But at the same time, we have to make some necessary adaptation or adjustment to reflect our local legal system, our drafting convention, and also Hong Kong’s circumstances," he added.

The decision has raised considerable concern as to whether it would mean yet another challenge thrown at lawmakers, in particular those from the pro-democracy camp.

The law, once passed, is expected to have little impact on the Chief Executive-elect, his or her principal officials designate and new Exco members, because under the existing practice, these key members of every new term of government are always sworn in on July 1 in the presence of state leaders from China.

Also, as the date marks the handover anniversary, there is another reason for the national anthem that day.

But for any new cabinet member who joins the government halfway through, the national anthem will have to be played again during the person's oath-taking ceremony once the new law comes into effect.

Also, the national anthem will be played during the oath-taking ceremonies of every new Legco term and events featuring newly appointed judges

And that begs the question: will a lawmaker risk being disqualified if he or she refuses to stand up for the national anthem?

According to a government source, he won’t jump to any easy conclusion based on only whether a lawmaker rises during the national anthem or not. Rather, they would focus on what message that individual is trying to convey.

In other words, if an elected lawmaker is deliberately derogatory to the national anthem or refusing to acknowledge “one country” during the Legco oath-taking ceremony, the person may possibly face disqualification under the proposed new law.

While the source didn’t respond to the question as to whether the new requirement has been introduced at Beijing’s request, all he said is that the new arrangement is intended to make official swearing-in ceremonies more solemn.

Yet he has also not denied that the new requirement is aimed at, among other goals, highlighting the importance of “one country”. This is, after all, the reason why Beijing is determined to extend the national anthem law to Hong Kong in the first place.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec 15

Translation by Alan Lee with additional inputs from a HKEJ Dec 18 report

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal.