Beijing supporter plays down significance, but Democratic Party Chairman says this shows Central Government wants to emphasise sovereignty. Pan-democrats quick to reject invitation by Office Head Wang Zhimin to next gathering.

China’s National Anthem has been played at the annual spring reception hosted by Beijing’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong for the first time, as the city prepares to implement legislation this year to make disrespecting the song a Criminal Offence.

Liaison Office Chief Wang Zhimin on Tuesday led Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-Ngor and other Officials on stage in a rendition of March of the Volunteers and invited lawmakers from across the political spectrum to attend a gathering next month. A source familiar with the matter noted it was the first time that the office had made it a point to play the Anthem and display China’s National Emblem on stage.

“The office hopes to show its respect for the Anthem and the Emblem,” the source said.

“This was just a start and it will happen more often at major events hosted by Beijing’s representatives in the city.” David Wong Yau-Kar, a local Deputy to the National People’s Congress, played down the significance.

“The anthem is played in a lot of Major functions, so why not on an occasion organised by the Central Government’s liaison Office in Hong Kong,” he said. Democratic Party Chairman Wu Chi-wai said the unprecedented playing of the Anthem showed that Beijing wanted to emphasise its sovereignty over Hong Kong.

The move came a week after the local government tabled the National Anthem bill at the Legislative Council to promote patriotism and criminalise any derogatory or insulting behaviour when the song is played. The bill was expected to be passed by July.

While Wang took the opportunity to reach out to the opposition camp by extending his invitation for the next gathering to all lawmakers, the pan-democrats were quick to reject it.

Lam and her administration have maintained an absolutely clear stance when it comes to black-and-white issues

Wang Zhimin – Liaison Office Head

Wu and Civic Party leader Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu said they were not interested in casual gatherings. No opposition lawmaker was seen at Tuesday’s Reception at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai – some said they had not been invited, while others were not interested in attending.

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In his speech at the reception, Wang noted “positive and obvious changes” in Hong Kong last year.

“Under the leadership of Chief Executive Carrie Lam, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government has unswervingly upheld the principle of ‘one country, two systems’, the Constitution and the Basic Law, lived up to their Responsibilities in an active effort and achieved positive results by exercising law-based Governance,” he said.

Lam and her administration have maintained an absolutely clear stance when it comes to black-and-white issues and shown no tolerance for any act that would hit the country’s bottom line.”

That was a reference to the tough line President Xi Jinping laid down for Hong Kong in terms of respecting China’s sovereignty and showing zero tolerance for independence advocacy. Last year, the government banned the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party as an illegal society, citing national security concerns.

Former Hong Kong leaders.
Photo: Former Hong Kong leaders attend the Spring Reception.

Wang also praised Hong Kong for actively participating in China’s trade strategy, the “Belt and Road Initiative”, as well as the “Greater Bay Area” plan, which aims to turn Hong Kong, Macau and nine Guangdong cities into an economic powerhouse.

Looking ahead, Wang said he was confident Lam would lead Hong Kong in fulfilling the “four hopes” that Xi had spelt out for the city last year.

Beijing’s liaison office free to do its own thing, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam says
“We believe and hope all circles of Hong Kong society will contribute to the country’s comprehensive opening up in a more proactive manner, integrate themselves more proactively into the country’s overall development, participate in national governance more proactively and push for international people-to-people exchange more proactively,” he said. He also promised the liaison office would “open its doors wider” in the year ahead, expanding its outreach programmes to ensure more transparency.