Summary: Hong Kong unveiled a proposed law on Wednesday to punish anyone who disrespects the Chinese national anthem with up to three years in jail and a fine of up to HKD50,000. Today afternoon, a group of 70 civic pressure societies and 4 lawmakers held a press conference to oppose this bill, which will have its first reading in the Legislative Council on January 23. Chapman Chen, on behalf of Local Press, asserted in the conference that this bill apparently contravenes Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Articles 27 and 34 of the HK Basic Law. On the other hand, Americans who violate the US Flag Code will face no punishment. American quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, and Nike have actually profited lucratively from the “just do it” ad, capitalizing on Kaepernick’s refusal to stand up when the anthem played before his games. Just as the US Supreme Court ruled in 1943 that the Free Speech Clause of the 1st Amendment protects students from being forced to salute the American flag in public school, most Hongkongers do not think that patriotism can be compelled. Further, many of them do not think that the anthem of a regime, that has caused the deaths of more than 70 million people and put 1 million Uyghurs in concentration camps, deserve respect, whereas the national anthem of America, which represents the spirit of freedom and democracy, does call for esteem.
During the Hong Kong v Maldives match in the FIFA World Cup qualification at Mong Kok Stadium in June 2015, HK fans booed when the national anthem was played ahead of the game. The booing reoccurred during the Hong Kong v Qatar match in September 2015. The National People’s Congress consequently adopted the National Anthem Law in 2017 and required Hong Kong to enact a corresponding law in due course.
Basic Law and International Law Articles Contravened
Article 19 (2) International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: 1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference. 2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression. Article 27 of the Basic Law states : “Hong Kong residents shall have freedom of speech, of the press and of publication.” Article 34 of the Basic Law states: “Hong Kong residents shall have freedom to engage in academic research, literary and artistic creation, and other cultural activities.”
China Anthem Law vs US Anthem Law
The draft outlaws playing the anthem “in a distorted or disrespectful way, with intent to insult”. It also forbids altering the anthem’s lyrics and its score. As aforementioned, the maximum penalty is three years’ imprisonment and/or a fine of HKD 50,000. Contrastively, The US Flag Code states that when the US national anthem plays, persons present are expected to stand and face the flag, if there is one. Civilians should stand to attention with right hand over heart, while military personnel in uniform and veterans should salute throughout. The code is never enforced, however, and there is no punishment for breaching it.
US Elites Profiting from Dishonoring the Anthem
While Hongkongers who fail to take the anthem “solemnly” may go to jail when the new law is enacted, certain Americans are able to make big money by disrespecting their anthem. In 2016, Colin Kaepernick, American quarterback formerly with the San Francisco 49ers of the National Football League (NFL), chose not to stand up while the United States national anthem was being played before the start of NFL games. He later stated this was to protest against racial injustice and systematic oppression in the United States. President Donald Trump condemned this act for being unpatriotic and said that professional athletes who protest during the US national anthem should be fired. Following his departure from the 49ers in 2016, Kaepernick went unsigned through the off-season. In November 2017, Kaepernick filed a grievance against the NFL, accusing NFL owners of collusion to keep him out of the league because of his activism connected with the anthem.
However, according to Dieter Kurtenbach (2017) from Foxsports, Kaepernick was not signed because he was a bad quarterback throughout 2016. In September 2018, Nike aired its first “Just do it” ad, narrated by Colin Kaepernick, who says: “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything,” insinuating that he has sacrificed everything for his anthem-related activism. Nonetheless, the fact remains that after the ad came out, Nike’s market value has risen to 6 billion dollars and Kaepernick’s deal with Nike could be worth millions of dollars a year. Tucker Carlson from Fox News deems it decadent of US elites to profit from attacks on the country, which has enabled them to prosper in the first place.
An Anthem that does not Merit Respect?
Unlike the pro-democracy camp, which mostly embrace a pan-China ideology, the HK localists think that the anthem of a regime, that has caused the deaths of more than 70 million people (cf. Halliday and Chang 2005), and put 1 million Uyghurs in concentration camps, does not merit respect, whereas the national anthem of America, which represents the spirit of freedom and democracy, does deserve esteem. In fact, Tian Han (1898-1968), the composer of Communist China’s anthem, was persecuted to death during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, while Francis Scott Key, who composed the lyrics of The Star-spangled Banner, has always been held in high regard.