In the middle of last month, during the final between Hong Kong and South Korea of the second leg of the Asian Rugby Seven Series held in Incheon, South Korea, Asia Rugby, the organizer, played a song closely associated with the riots and the demonstrations for Hong Kong independence in 2019 as China’s national anthem. There are comments pointing out that the incident has seriously undermined the dignity of the country and Hong Kong. Moreover, although Asia Rugby has confirmed that the recording of China’s national anthem submitted by the coach of the Hong Kong Team before the competition was the correct one, the South Korean organizer has been quoted by the South Korean media as saying that it could not obtain the recording of the national anthem submitted by the Hong Kong Team before the competition. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) whether it has gained an understanding as to why, under the circumstances that the wrong song was played anthem of hong kong. instead of the national anthem, the Hong Kong Team did not take the initiative to request suspension of its playing and lodge a protest;
(2) whether it has studied if the Hong Kong National Security Law is applicable to this incident;
(3) as it is learnt that some people who have emigrated have, in respect of this incident, incited on the Internet other people to deliberately perform the same act on other similar occasions, whether the authorities will take follow-up actions; and
(4) whether the Government will submit a detailed investigation report on this incident to this Council; if so, of the timetable; if not, the reasons for that?
The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Government strongly deplores and opposes the playing of a song closely associated with violent protests and the “independence” movement in 2019 as the National Anthem of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) at the men’s final between Hong Kong and the Republic of Korea of the second leg of the Asian Rugby Seven Series held in Incheon, South Korea on November 13, 2022.
Asia Rugby, the organiser of the tournament concerned, has already apologised and taken responsibility for the incident, confirmed in writing that the recording of the National Anthem of the PRC provided to them by the head coach of the Hong Kong Rugby Team was correct, and explained that the incident was due to a human error from a junior member of the local organiser (namely the Korea Rugby Union). At its online press conference of November 15, Asia Rugby confirmed that it did not pass the correct recording of the National Anthem of the PRC that they had to the Korea Rugby Union.
On November 22, 2022, the President of Asia Rugby, Mr Qais Abdulla Al Dhalai, specially paid a visit to Hong Kong from Dubai to explain the incident to the Chief Secretary for Administration in person. He reiterated that the incident was due to a human error entirely without any political or malicious intent, and undertook to strengthen relevant procedures and ensure no similar mistake would happen again.
To prevent any similar mistake from happening again, the HKSAR Government has liaised with the Hong Kong Sports Federation and Olympic Committee of Hong Kong, China and the Hong Kong Paralympic Committee. Guidelines were promulgated on November 22 for all national sports associations and all sports organisations subvented by the HKSAR Government. The guidelines clearly set out how they should ensure the correct use and description by overseas event organisers of the National Anthem of the PRC and the Regional Flag of the HKSAR, and also require them to proactively approach their corresponding international and Asian sports federations to ensure that our National Anthem and Regional Flag receive the rightful respect warranted.
Having consulted the Security Bureau and the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau, my reply to Dr the Hon Priscilla Leung’s question is as follows:
(1) According to the information provided by the Hong Kong Rugby Union, the Hong Kong Rugby Team had alerted Asia Rugby, the event organiser, in the first instance after they realised that an incorrect song had been played as the National Anthem for the Hong Kong team. Asia Rugby made a public announcement in the stadium right after the match to apologise for having played a wrong song as the National Anthem for the Hong Kong team, as well as arranged the playing of the correct National Anthem of the PRC, “The March of the Volunteers”, at the medal presentation ceremony for Hong Kong team after it had won.
(2) and (3) The Organized Crime and Triad Bureau of the Police is investigating the incident of the wrong National Anthem being played when the Hong Kong Rugby Team competed overseas. The Police are investigating if there has been any violation of the National Anthem Ordinance, National Flag and National Emblem Ordinance or other Hong Kong laws in the incidents. The Police’s investigation is ongoing and will continue to approach relevant individuals and organisations for ascertaining the happening of the incidents and collection of evidence.
The Internet is not an unreal world that is beyond the law. Most of the laws in Hong Kong enacted to prevent crimes in the real world are in principle applicable to the online world. Any person or organisation publishing information on the Internet must comply with the relevant requirements under the National Security Law and local laws. If any illegal acts are uncovered, law enforcement agencies will hold the relevant individuals or organisations criminally liable.
In addition, we must emphasise that the National Security Law has extraterritorial effect. Regardless of where the persons or organisations which violate the National Security Law are located, they will be dealt with by the HKSAR Government in accordance with the law.
As regards whether the National Security Law is applicable to the current incident, the National Security Law has clearly stipulated four categories of offences that endanger national security, namely secession, subversion of state power, terrorist activities, and collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security. Whether the acts of any persons or organisations violate the law would depend on the actual circumstances of the case, including the facts, the relevant acts and the mens rea, the evidence gathered, and so forth. Since the investigation is still ongoing, we should not comment on individual case.
In any event, endangering national security is a very serious crime. No one should attempt to break the law, so as to avoid bearing any unnecessary legal risks. If there is any evidence showing that any person has violated the National Security Law or other Hong Kong laws, such as the National Anthem Ordinance and the National Flag and National Emblem Ordinance, we will follow up in accordance with the law.
(4) We absolutely cannot accept that a song closely associated with violent protests and the “independence” movement in 2019 was played as the National Anthem of the PRC. The national anthem is the symbol and sign of a nation and must be respected on all occasions. Asia Rugby took responsibility for the incident and undertook to ensure no similar mistake would happen again. Based on currently available information, we have thus far not had any reason to believe that any political factors or malicious intent was involved.
As mentioned above, the Police is investigating the case as to whether there has been any violation of the National Anthem Ordinance or any other Hong Kong laws in the incident. The Government will, based on the results of the investigation, take appropriate follow-up action.