As if Hong Kong’s miserable, friendless, talent-light puppet administration didn’t have enough holes to dig itself out of, Chinese officials decree that the city must fall into line with new ultra-tough Mainland punishments – up to three years in prison – for disrespecting the national anthem. (If it feels like the Mainland law was toughened as a pretext to symbolically and actually impose it on Hong Kong, you are probably not being paranoid. Local soccer fans who booed the anthem a year or so back hit a major nerve up there.)
Pro-Beijing sycophants have scrambled to promote, endorse and even explain the move, even though they have no more idea what is happening than anyone else. Annoying lawmaker Priscilla Leung clumsily highlighted the farce to come when she pontificated about whether people could be arrested for singing the March of the Volunteers off-tune, or for answering their phone mid-performance. Rita Fan (a member of the ceremonial legislative body supposedly responsible for the new Chinese law) tried to sound menacing rather than vague, when she said the measure might be retroactive in Hong Kong, or it might not.
To clarify things, genuine stern and authoritative Beijing official Li Fei passed the word that people would have to stand for the anthem at horse-racing events. Local patriotic politician Ip Kwok-him rushed to add that everyone must stop walking and stand still when they hear the rousing piece. Civil servant-turned-Beijing-loyalist Fanny Law reassures us that people won’t be arrested for failing to stand.
(For an amusing description of the challenges of instilling discipline among Hong Kong race-goers, read this.)
The fact is, no-one knows how to implement this over-the-top Communist Party control-freakery. That includes the Hong Kong government, which is now toning down promises of public consultation (a direct ‘tremble and obey’ edict from Beijing rules out even the usual quasi-consultative process).
Pro-establishment voices desperate to sound reasonable invite us to draw comparisons with the USA. Even in the Land of the Free, they point out, footballers who kneel during the anthem have stoked controversy – therefore Beijing’s anthem law is no biggie.
Is this parallel convincing?
Firstly, few in the US seriously suggest three-year prison sentences for not standing during the anthem (or parodying or mocking it). More to the point, the US sportsmen are protesting an injustice, namely racist police violence. The critics denouncing the kneeling as disrespectful to the nation and its symbols are (at best) trying to change the subject out of discomfort.
If you want parallels with the US, you could concede that not standing for the anthem is a valid form of protest against oppression and injustice. Or you could oppose such protest because you want to deny that creeping Leninist authoritarianism is a problem – or you support it and hate uppity activists.
So much for that parallel. Hongkongers who disrespect the anthem at the very least feel zero emotional attachment to China’s Communist regime, and in the case of the boo-ers, actively loath it and what it is doing to their city. Beijing’s logic is that imposing its anthem law on Hong Kong will make that disappear. The local administration has to pretend that makes sense.