The Hong Kong government has said that there will be no enforcement of the proposed national anthem law before local legislation is completed, after Executive Councillor Ronny Tong raised concerns.

China’s legislative body approved a new law in early September that will criminalise insulting the national anthem, March of the Volunteers. It took effect on National Day on October 1. On Tuesday, the Committee considered a bill mandating prison sentences of up to three years for those disrespecting the anthem. A version is set to be rolled out in Hong Kong.

ronny tong
Ronny Tong. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

Tong said on Thursday that after the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress adopts the decision to add the law to Annex III of the Basic Law, it will become part of Hong Kong’s law.

In accordance with common law principles, Tong said, the maximum sentence for criminal offences that have no specified penalty is seven years in prison. Tong said that legally, the authorities can enforce the law before local legislation.

“I advise Hong Kong people not to test the law themselves, because if it’s in Annex III, theoretically speaking – as I’ve said – these acts will already be considered illegal,” Tong said.

Tong said there is a grey area during the current period and he hoped the government would make it clear that it will not enforce the law yet, as it would create complicated legal problems.

one country two systems flag china
File photo: In-Media.

A government spokesperson told RTHK in response to Tong’s statements that there will be no enforcement of the law before local legislation is completed.

The spokesperson also said that according to Basic Law Article 18, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress may add to or delete from the list of laws in Annex III after consulting Hong Kong’s Basic Law Committee and the government.

The laws listed in Annex III are to be applied locally by way of promulgation or legislation by Hong Kong, and therefore – even after the law is incorporated into Annex III – it cannot be immediately implemented in Hong Kong, the spokesperson added.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.