People gather in a shopping mall in September 2019 to sing ‘Glory to Hong Kong’, which became an anthem for the city’s democracy movement – Copyright AFP/File Nicolas ASFOURI
Hong Kong’s government reacted with fury on Monday after a popular democracy protest song was played instead of the Chinese national anthem for the city’s team at a rugby sevens tournament in South Korea.
The city’s sports teams play the Chinese national anthem, but before Hong Kong faced South Korea in the Asia Rugby Sevens Series final in Incheon on Sunday, “Glory to Hong Kong” was broadcast.
The song was written by an anonymous composer during the huge and sometimes violent protests of 2019 and became an anthem for the city’s now crushed democracy movement.
The Hong Kong government “deplores and strongly opposes the playing of a song closely associated with violent protests and the ‘independence’ movement” instead of China’s national anthem, it said in a statement.
“The National Anthem is a symbol of our country. The tournament organizer has a duty to ensure that the National Anthem receives the respect it deserves,” a government spokesperson said.
In a later statement, the Hong Kong government said the city’s chief secretary, Eric Chan, met with Seoul’s consul general on Monday “and requested the Korean side to thoroughly analyze the incident and the responsibilities involved.”
The confusion has plunged the Hong Kong rugby team into a political dispute.
Video of the incident showed that the players kept a straight face and did not react when the wrong song was played.
Junius Ho, an incendiary pro-Beijing Hong Kong lawmaker, attacked the players for that choice.
“They just let the country be humiliated,” Ho wrote on Facebook. “They have completely failed and lost our trust. Now the only solution is to disband the Hong Kong rugby team.”
Ronny Tong, who sits in Hong Kong’s cabinet, said the incident “cannot be a careless mistake” and likely violated the city’s national security law.
China imposed a sweeping security law on Hong Kong in response to 2019 protests to crack down on dissent.
Its wording calls for universal jurisdiction: Hong Kong and Chinese authorities say they can prosecute people for national security crimes committed abroad.
“It is hardly credible that the incident does not involve any assistance provided by people in Hong Kong,” Tong wrote on Facebook.
The Hong Kong government said police had launched an investigation.
– ‘Human error’ –
Asia Rugby said the mistake was a mistake and issued an apology to the Hong Kong and Chinese governments.
“The incident occurred due to a simple human error by a minor member of the local organizing committee, who played a song downloaded from the Internet instead of the correct anthem,” the tournament organizers said.
After the final, which Hong Kong won, Asia Rugby said apologies were broadcast in the stadium in Korean and English and then the Chinese national anthem was played.
The Hong Kong Rugby Union said it had “registered our deepest concern and regret over this incident” with the tournament organisers.
“While we accept that this was a case of human error, it was not acceptable,” HKRU said.
China’s “March of the Volunteers” was born out of the Communist Party’s struggle to liberate the country from Japanese occupation and begins with the rallying cry “Stand up! You who refuse to be slaves”.
It was played in the 1997 handover of Hong Kong to China as colonial Britain departed.
Before the 2019 democracy protests, Hong Kong soccer fans used to boo the national anthem, something that angered Beijing.
Subsequently, Hong Kong passed a law banning insults to the anthem. The first person convicted under that new law was jailed last week.
“Glory to Hong Kong” is an equally moving composition and was secretly recorded by an anonymous orchestra during the protests.
But his lyrics are about a very different fight: freeing Hong Kong from Beijing’s control and bringing democracy to the city.
Playing the song in Hong Kong is now almost illegal under the national security law.
In September, a harmonica player was arrested for playing the tune for a crowd commemorating Britain’s late Queen Elizabeth II.