Hong Kong has been warned that legislation banning any public form of disrespect to China's national anthem, the March of the Volunteers, must be passed into local law as recent protests when it is played have sparked "rage."
Zhang Rongshun of China's National People's Congress Standing Committee said the authority of the ruling Chinese Communist Party is at stake after repeated incidents where Hong Kong soccer fans have booed the anthem, which is played at the start of international fixtures.
"In recent years, incidents of disrespecting the national anthem had occurred in Hong Kong, challenging the bottom line of the principle of 'one country, two systems' and social morality and triggering rage among Chinese including most Hong Kong residents," Zhang said.
"It is urgent and important to apply the National Anthem Law in Hong Kong, in a bid to prevent and handle such offenses," he said.
Speaking at a parliamentary hearing on the application of the anthem law to Hong Kong, Zhang said that to protect the anthem was to protect the "authority of the state, the people and the Chinese nation."
Under the terms of a 1984 treaty governing the handover to Chinese rule, Hong Kong was promised enough autonomy to run its own affairs, with the exception of foreign policy, defense and "other matters outside the limits of its autonomy," Zhang told the committee.
The anthem law will be deemed one of those "other matters," and will likely be added to Annex III of the city's mini-constitution, the Basic Law, he said.
The National People's Congress passed its own anthem law earlier this month, which could soon be amended to bring the maximum penalty to three years' imprisonment.
However, Ip Kwok-him moved to calm concerns that the new law could lead to retroactive prosecutions of soccer fans under the new law.
"There is nothing in the resolution [on the Hong Kong law] to suggest retroactive enforcement," Ip told journalists on Tuesday. "I don't believe Hong Kong people or Legislative Council members would think that necessary, either."
Retroactive enforcement concerns
Civic Party leader and lawmaker Alvin Yeung said the new legislation would need to take into account the fact that Hong Kong is a common law, rather than a civil law, jurisdiction, making retroactive enforcement out of the question.
"In the spirit of common law, there is no retroactive enforcement for criminal law, so I can't see why they would make an exception to do so with the anthem law," Yeung said.
"I can't see that anyone would have a reason to call for retroactive enforcement ... because anyone who has legal knowledge knows that Hong Kong criminal law doesn't allow for it," he said. "People should think very carefully before calling for this to change."
Hong Kong already has a law forbidding disrespect to the flag and national emblem of the People's Republic of China, but banning mistreatment of a non-material object presents special challenges, according to Democratic Party lawmaker James To.
"The national flag and emblem are objects with a physical form, but the national anthem is made up of pure sound," To said. "It could be broadcast, heard in the distance, for example by people passing by in cars outside the stadium at the start of a football match, or people lining up for tickets, or whatever."
"I think such details will need very careful treatment."
District councillor and retail magnate Michael Tien said he is strongly opposed to any form of retroactive effect for the new law.
"Now that this law has been enacted in mainland China, we should enact ours as soon as possible," Tien said, adding that a long delay could strengthen the argument for retroactive enforcement.
"If we don't deal this for three, or 10, years, then this issue will raise its head," he said.
President Xi Jinping told delegates at the ruling Chinese Communist Party's 19th National Congress in earlier this month that Beijing will maintain "a firm grasp" on Hong Kong, and exercise full powers of governance in the former British colony.
Xi told delegates that Beijing's jurisdiction over the city, and the former Portuguese enclave of Macau, should not be shaken, amid concerns that the "one country, two systems" principle has already been diluted by repeated interventions in Hong Kong.
A series of high-profile interventions by China's parliament in recent years have sparked concerns over Beijing's growing political influence in the city, which extended to stripping six pro-democracy lawmakers of their seats in the Legislative Council after their oaths of allegiance were ruled invalid.
Reported by Lam Kwok-lap for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.