A plan to change Hong Kong’s laws related to its flag aimed to make residents “consciously respect and love” the symbol of the city, a government official has said as the amendment bill was officially tabled at the legislature.

Hong Kong China flag patriotic
Hong Kong regional flags and Chinese national flags. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Erick Tsang on Wednesday submitted a bill on amending the Regional Flag and Regional Emblem Ordinance and the Registered Designs Ordinance to the Legislative Council (LegCo).

He called on lawmakers to support the proposal, which included updating the legislation to state that provisions outlawing insults to the regional flag or emblem would apply to online and real life behaviour. Anyone convicted of breaching the law could face up to three years in prison and a fine of HK$50,000.

The amendments were based on changes made to the National Flag and National Emblem Ordinance, which passed in September 2021. Tsang said the government wanted the two ordinances to be more “aligned,” adding the amendments would allow residents to express their “love and allegiance” to the city by respecting the regional flag or emblem and using them properly.

Tsang told lawmakers that the government was pleased to see that some organisations and people voluntarily displayed the regional flag on July 1, when the city marked its 26th year since its Handover from Britain to China in 1997.

“There is only one fundamental principle and spirit for the bill to introduce various amendments, that is to hope the public would consciously respect and love the regional flag and regional emblem as the symbol of the HKSAR,” Tsang said in the LegCo during the second reading of the bill.

Erick Tsang
Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Erick Tsang submits the Regional Flag and Regional Emblem (Amendment) Bill 2023 to the Legislative Council on July 12, 2023. Photo: Legislative Council screenshot.

Other stipulations in the flag law are also set to be tightened:

  • The government has sought to expand the scope of a ban on certain uses of the regional flag and emblem in commercial advertisements. Additionally, use of the flag and emblem in funeral activities would be banned unless prior approval was granted by the chief executive.
  • The authorities said subsequent amendments would be introduced to the Registered Designs Ordinance to render designs containing the regional flag and emblem non-registrable.
  • The proposed amendments also covered the etiquette to be adopted at a ceremony in which the regional flag was raised. People should stand solemnly facing the flag and look at it with “respectful attention,” the government said. Any behaviour deemed to undermine the dignity of the regional flag would be prohibited.
  • An additional provision was suggested to require the education minister give directions to local primary and secondary schools for the inclusion of education on the regional flag and emblem.
  • The Communications Authority should also require local broadcasters to play television and radio announcements containing the regional flag and emblem with reference to directions given by the city’s leader, the bureau wrote.

The debate on the suggested amendments was adjourned as the bill was referred to the House Committee for lawmakers to consider.

The government’s intention of aligning laws against insulting the regional flag and emblem with those pertaining to the national flag was mentioned in the 2022 Policy Address delivered last October. Chief Executive John Lee said at the time that the move aimed to “further preserve the dignity of the regional flag and the regional emblem as a symbol and ensign of the HKSAR.”

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Ho Long Sze Kelly is a Hong Kong-based journalist covering politics, criminal justice, human rights, social welfare and education. As a Senior Reporter at Hong Kong Free Press, she has covered the aftermath of the 2019 extradition bill protests and the Covid-19 pandemic extensively, as well as documented the transformation of her home city under the Beijing-imposed national security law.

Kelly has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration. Prior to joining HKFP in 2020, she was on the frontlines covering the 2019 citywide unrest for South China Morning Post’s Young Post. She also covered sports and youth-related issues.