The Hong Kong government is doing its best to allay concerns over impending legislation that will apply China’s National Anthem Law to Hong Kong. It says people have nothing to fear as long as they refrain from insulting or ridiculing the “March of the Volunteers” when it is being played.

The proposed local law devised to protect the dignity of the Chinese national anthem in Hong Kong, now a special administrative region of China, is seen as a compulsory political task handed down by Beijing.

But local officials stress that no one will fall foul of the new law unless an offender willfully boos the song, sings it in a distorted or derogatory manner or alters its lyrics or score to insult or poke fun at it.

Hong Kong soccer fans boo the Chinese national anthem 

Proposed penalties include a maximum fine of HK$50,000 (US$6,378) and a three-year custodial term – the same as existing punishments for desecrating the Chinese flag and national emblem.

The city’s Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Patrick Nip rejected claims that the two-year prosecution time frame in the proposed law – as opposed to the usual six months for minor offences – would give the government room to lay political charges against dissidents or anyone deemed as unpatriotic.

“The new law is plain and simple: just show the country’s anthem the respect it deserves,” said Nip in a radio interview.

Nip said the government plans to table the bill before the city’s Legislative Council on January 23 for its first reading.

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China’s National People’s Congress passed the National Anthem Law in 2017. Photo: Xinhua

He also acknowledged the need for pupils at the city’s 53 international schools to learn to sing and respect the national anthem because they should know and respect that Hong Kong is part of China; they should also understand the symbols of the nation, regardless of their own nationalities, he claims.

The city’s Education Bureau said it had already met with representatives from international schools, adding it would also pour more resources into supporting schools to step up their promotion of the Chinese constitution and the city’s Basic Law.

Hong Kong’s leading international school operators such as the English Schools Foundation, which runs 22 educational institutions across the territory, are yet to come up with a formal response to the new legislation.