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The anthem law has already been inserted into the Basic Law. Photo: K.Y. Cheng

Hong Kong’s Chinese national anthem law ‘shouldn’t include rule for schools’, legal scholar says

Legal scholar says it’s pointless for local legislation to state schools must teach March of the Volunteers – if law is just for ‘guidance’ and won’t be enforced

A legal expert has questioned the need to include schools in a Hong Kong government bill for the local version of mainland China’s national anthem law.

Eric Cheung Tat-ming, the University of Hong Kong’s principal law lecturer, said that including clauses covering schools – which would face no punishment if they did not comply – would undermine the law. The bill is set for its first reading at the Legislative Council in July.

According to a government document submitted to Legco’s constitutional affairs panel last week, the bill would include a clause stating that primary and secondary schools would need to teach pupils to sing and understand the history of March of the Volunteers.

Eric Cheung says such clauses are a ‘complete deviation’ from Hong Kong’s legislative process. Photo: K.Y. Cheng

Cheung said the inclusion of such clauses was a “complete deviation” from Hong Kong’s legislative process. “Now that you’ve put it there, there is no consequences in violating it,” Cheung told a radio programme. “If someone is violating the law intentionally, and there is no consequences, it will reduce the solemnity of the law.”

No need for formal consultation over law against national anthem abuse

He said the inclusion of “ideological” and “guidance” clauses was common on the mainland because many laws “are not enforced legally, they do more on the policy level”.

Instead, Cheung said the city’s government should have stuck to administrative means.

Civic Party leader Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu also raised doubts, saying that it was unclear whether international schools were covered. “Are international schools included? If not, then Hong Kong would have laws that are not generalised,” he told a different radio programme.

Alvin Yeung says the law has ‘no role’ in the matter. Photo: Sam Tsang

The pan-democrat lawmaker also said the law had “no role” in the matter, as the Education Bureau already had guidelines on teaching the anthem.

The bureau would discuss with international schools how the law might apply to them, education chief Kevin Yeung Yun-hung said last week.

In Beijing, Education Minister Chen Baosheng told reporters on Monday that all Chinese citizens should sing the national anthem and he saw no problem in such legislation. Basic Law Committee vice-chairman Zhang Rongshun said “it goes without saying” schools should be required to teach the national anthem and that other countries did the same thing.

Intention key to determining whether national anthem insult merits jail

Pro-establishment lawmaker Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, of the Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong, said schools would still be required by law to teach the anthem, even if there was no penalty. They had a responsibility to teach pupils to respect the anthem, Leung said.

The bureau should also give schools enough guidance on the matter and it should judge whether not teaching the anthem was an issue, she added.

In a briefing on Friday, a government source said local schools would not be required to do anything more under the law, as most, except private and international ones, already taught the anthem. The source also said the bill needed to mention schools because the mainland law also did.

The anthem law was inserted into the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, in November, meaning the Hong Kong government was obliged to implement a local version by pushing a bill through Legco.

The source said inclusion of the teaching of the anthem in the bill was a fulfilment of the government’s responsibility to localise the national law.

“We are just following the existing arrangements, without adding anything new for the education sector, and there is no penalty or extra legal responsibility for schools, teachers and students … We are only reflecting the requirement in the national law that the anthem shall be included in education.”

The mainland version of the law states that “secondary and primary schools shall regard the national anthem as an important component in education to promote patriotism, organise students to learn to sing the national anthem, and teach students on the history and spirit of the national anthem and to observe the etiquette for performing and singing the national anthem”.

Additional reporting by Tony Cheung

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: exempt schools from anthem law, expert says