Legal scholar Eric Cheung has rebutted pro-Beijing lawmaker Priscilla Leung’s claims that the national anthem law already took effect in Hong Kong on November 4, when China’s legislative body incorporated the law into the Annex III of Basic Law.

The Hong Kong government previously said that it has begun the local legislative process for the upcoming law. The highest penalty for disrespecting March of the Volunteers in the mainland is three years in prison.

The new law comes as Hong Kong football fans have repeatedly booed the anthem at matches, most recently at an Asian Cup qualifying match against Lebanon on Tuesday.

Priscilla Leung Mei-fun
Priscilla Leung Mei-fun. File Photo: HKFP/Catherine Lai.

Leung told Commercial Radio on Wednesday that – from the mainland’s perspective – the law was passed on November 4 and it takes effect from the day it was officially announced: “This is not [the law being] retroactive either, it is just that Hong Kong has been unable to legislate locally,” she said.

On Thursday, University of Hong Kong principal lecturer Eric Cheung told the station that Article 18 of the Basic Law clearly states that national laws in Annex III shall only be applied locally by way of promulgation or legislation by the local government.

However, Cheung noted that there have been unexpected developments over the past year, saying, “The Basic Law feels more and more unfamiliar to me.”

For example, Cheung said, if China exercises its powers of interpretation, it could become law in Hong Kong.

However, he added that – based on Leung’s logic of treating the law as already taking effect –  Article 23, the ill-fated national security law, would also already have been implemented: “I don’t think this is the legal system of Hong Kong… There must be clarity in Hong Kong’s laws.”

eric cheung
Eric Cheung Tat-ming. File photo: HKFP.

He added that the government may be less likely to resort to unusual methods of implementing the law if there were fewer actions that are seen as challenging Beijing’s bottom line.

Cheung also said that he could understand why the mentality of mainland officials differed from those in Hong Kong. However, when local legal scholars make similar comments, he says it is an insult to the legal system.

Earlier, a Hong Kong government spokesperson also said that there will be no enforcement of the law before local legislation is completed, in response to Executive Councillor Ronny Tong’s comments that certain acts could already be illegal.

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.