‘Foreword to Hong Kong’s national anthem law will promote patriotic spirit’
The city’s constitutional and mainland affairs chief Patrick Nip tells lawmakers this amid discussions of whether the local version of mainland laws should contain political declarations
The foreword to Hong Kong’s national anthem bill will “mention the promotion of patriotic spirit”, similar to what is in the mainland law, the city’s constitutional and mainland affairs chief said on Friday.
Patrick Nip Tak-kuen said this to lawmakers when he briefed them on the bill that is set to be tabled in the Legislative Council before July, amid public discussion on whether local laws should contain political statements or declarations commonly found in mainland laws.
The issue at hand is the government’s proposal for the Hong Kong national anthem law – in keeping with the mainland version – to state that schools “shall teach students to sing the national anthem, and to understand the history and spirit of the national anthem”, even though there would be no punishment if they did not comply.
Legal scholars said legislation should spell out what conduct is prohibited and not regulate standards of behaviour while lawmakers said there was no precedence for legislation that did the latter.
For example, they added, the Hong Kong version of the national law on the Chinese flag – enacted in 1997 when the city returned to Chinese rule – did not rule that full-time schools must display the flag daily and hold a flag-hoisting ceremony once a week.
Also, the ordinance simply says the legislation is “to provide for the use and protection of the national flag and national emblem” in the city.
In the case of the mainland Chinese national anthem law, Articles 1 and 3 say the legislation is meant “to enhance the sense of nation among citizens; to promote patriotism; and to cultivate and practise the core values of socialism”.
Nip said the government planned to “suitably incorporate” these phrases into the preamble of the Hong Kong version of the law, to keep with the spirit of the mainland law. But he did not reveal the exact language it would use.
When lawmakers pressed him for the likely choice of words, Nip said the bill would not contain the phrase “cultivate core values of socialism”.
“But we will mention the promotion of patriotic spirit, everyone would understand and agree to this,” he said.
He also stressed that there was no question about whether there should be a national anthem law but rather, the focus was to pass the bill as soon as possible as part of the city’s constitutional duty.
Hong Kong is obliged to adopt local legislation once China’s top legislative body, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) inserts a national law into Annex III of the mini-constitution.
The NPCSC imposed the law on Hong Kong last November.
The local bill says anyone who distorts or insults March of the Volunteers will be fined a maximum of HK$50,000 and face a prison term of up to three years.
Civic Party lawmaker, Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu, was against the introduction of “non-legal and ideological text” into legislation.
“If it happens with this law, then what about other laws in future?” he asked.
However, pro-democracy lawmakers did not say if they would filibuster the law when it was tabled, noting that Legco first had to deal with legislation on co-location, the controversial plan for mainland officials to enforce national laws in part of a station on the Hong Kong side for a cross-border rail link under construction.
Pro-establishment lawmakers were overwhelming supportive of the bill, saying it was time that football fans –notorious for booing the national anthem during matches – faced the music.
Hong Kong fans ignore warnings and again boo the national anthem – this time before an Asian Cup qualifier
Responding to worries about how strictly the law would be applied, Nip clarified that passers-by or diners at restaurants when the anthem was played would not be subject to the law, as they were not “attending or performing in the ceremony”.
But when other examples were posed to him – such as if a person remained seated, or closed his eyes or kneeled as a form of protest, like what some American Super Bowl players did –Nip was reluctant to comment.
He just said that the decision to prosecute would depend on “circumstances and evidence”.
Nip also rejected calls for a public consultation – from over 30 civic groups, individuals and lawmakers – before Legco scrutinises the bill, and dismissed remarks that the bill posed reasonable restriction to freedom of expression.