Hong Kong schools ordered to display Chinese flag and sing national anthem in latest squeeze on independence

Semi-autonomous city fears further erosion of freedoms by Beijing

Joe Sommerlad
Saturday 20 June 2020 19:03 BST
Police out in force as Hong Kong protests continue

Hong Kong’s Education Bureau has ordered all primary and secondary schools in the semi-autonomous Chinese city to display the mainland’s flag and sing its national anthem at special occasions.

The guidelines enforce the new National Anthem Ordinance bill, which came into effect on 12 June and urges respect for the song – “March of the Volunteers” – imposing a HKD50,000 (£5,224) fine or three-year prison sentence on anyone who misuses it for commercial purposes or otherwise insults it.

Schools are now “strongly advised” to sing the anthem on “important and special occasions” like open days, graduation ceremonies, sports days and swimming galas, as well as on New Year’s Day, the anniversary of the city’s 1997 handover from Britain to China on 1 July and on National Day on 1 October.

They are also being encouraged to investigate accusations of disrespect against pupils and teachers and inform police if the case warrants it, according to The South China Morning Post.

The bill in question passed Hong Kong’s legislature by a vote of 41-1, despite having been initially met with dismay when it was first drafted in 2019.

It is being introduced now as “part of moral, civic, and national education, and helps enhance students’ sense of national identity,” said a departmental spokesperson in a statement, suggesting it was important for children to understand the “spirit” of the flag and anthem.

But Rachel Tong Chung-yee, a spokeswoman for Parents United, told The Morning Post some parents are concerned about the lack of definition as to what constitutes an “insult” in the guidelines, fearing alleged violations could be used as a pretext through which to punish children arbitrarily.

“Parents feel like it is kind of a white terror when the Education Bureau spells out advice to schools, saying they may ask for help from police… Even if children get into a fight, police may not be involved,” she said.

Pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong remain concerned about increasing Chinese encroachment on the city’s freedoms, which has officially operated under a “one country, two systems” form of governance since returning from British imperial rule.

Joshua Wong tweeted recently that the imposition of authoritarian legislation by Beijing amounted to “retaliation” for months of dissent, unrest and violent clashes between independence demonstrators and law enforcement.

A controversial new national security law for Hong Kong drafted by China and giving it overarching jurisdiction over the city threatens to further erode its autonomy.

According to the official Xinhua news agency, Hong Kong is preparing to establish a local national security council to enforce the legislation, fronted by the city’s leader Carrie Lam and supervised and guided by a new central government commission created by Beijing, with a mainland adviser also sitting on the body.

New local police and prosecution units will be set up to investigate and to enforce the law, backed by mainland security and intelligence officers deployed to Beijing’s new commission.

China sees Hong Kong as a growing threat to its own national security and says the draft law is aimed at tackling separatist activity, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces but critics fear it will crush the wide-ranging freedoms seen as critical to Hong Kong’s status as a global financial centre.

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