Anthem blunders raise national security concerns

Organisers repeatedly playing the incorrect tune instead of the national anthem during Hong Kong’s participation in international sports tournaments have raised eyebrows.


Head coach Mixu Paatelainen hopes to salvage a point in the remaining games. (PHOTO COURTESY OF HKFA)

December 8, 2022

HONG KONG – Imagine the annoyance, unpleasantness and irritation you feel when a lingering fly keeps buzzing over your head. You know you must do something drastic to get rid of it, otherwise you run the risk of becoming infected by some contagious bacteria the fly might be carrying.

This is exactly the situation the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region is facing. The repeated occurrences of organizers playing the incorrect tune in place of the national anthem when Hong Kong teams have participated in international sports tournaments over the past few months have raised Hong Kong people’s eyebrows.

A country’s national anthem is a national symbol, and it is an internationally recognized virtue for all attendees, irrespective of their nationality or political inclination, to show due respect to any country’s national anthem when it is played at a solemn ceremony. Mistakenly playing the wrong song in place of China’s national anthem is both disrespectful and hurtful to the people of Hong Kong and the nation.

The latest incident, which happened early this month at the Asian Classic Powerlifting Championships in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, has added fuel to the fire. This is because a song associated with the violent protests of 2019 was again played instead of China’s national anthem at the award ceremony, despite the fact that Hong Kong authorities have repeatedly voiced strong concern following similar mix-ups which have occurred several times within a very short period.

In this latest incident, the wrong song was obviously played in defiance of the earlier guidelines stipulated by the Hong Kong Sports Federation and Olympic Committee (SF&OC), demanding that all sports bodies use the official version of the Chinese national anthem provided by the Hong Kong team, and not any version from the internet.

After the mix-up, the organizer of the event, Asian Powerlifting Federation (APF) — like the organizers responsible for the other mix-ups — shifted responsibility for the mistake onto the shoulders of junior staff instead of admitting to the lack of a gatekeeping mechanism.

In a letter of apology, APF confirmed that the Hong Kong team had submitted the official national anthem file, but added that the technical team is made up of volunteers from various countries who may not be familiar with the Chinese national anthem. As a result, they downloaded all national anthems from the internet in advance as a backup, but the incorrect file was not deleted and was played during the award ceremony.

It’s interesting to note that in similar cases on July 23 in Australia, Nov 6 in United Arab Emirates and Nov 13 in South Korea, the organizers, Asia Rugby and World Rugby, apologized and gave similar explanations. They said respectively that the mistakes had been made “unintentionally” and “innocently” by junior staff, interns and graphics operators who had no knowledge of China and “no understanding of the politics of the world”. Subsequently, they all made a common mistake of downloading the wrong “national anthem” from the internet.

The return of Hong Kong to the motherland, the People’s Republic of China, in 1997 was a globally significant event. Similarly, China is a great power in sports and its national anthem, March of the Volunteers, has been played at numerous sports events, including the Olympics, for decades. The name “Hong Kong, China” has also appeared in international sports arenas for 25 years since 1997. No mistake was ever made with the national anthem when the Hong Kong team took part in international championships before the 2019 “black-clad” riots.

After the exaggeration, twisting and fabrication of facts over the 2019 social turbulence by the Western media and their ongoing smear campaign against the National Security Law, implemented to restore law and order to the HKSAR, news about Hong Kong has actually been under the watchful eyes of the international community constantly. So, it is unconvincing to say that our Asian neighbors are ignorant about Hong Kong.

Particularly irritating to those peace-loving Hong Kong residents is that all the national anthem mix-ups feature the song Glory to Hong Kong, which was used by the rioters as a war horn during the monthslong violent campaign representing the darkest chapter in the city’s recent history. So, it is extremely hard to believe that all those “mistakes” were not politically motivated.

Asia Rugby, World Rugby and APF are big organizers and experienced at hosting world-class sports events, so why weren’t their gatekeeping mechanisms improved following the first blunder in July, to prevent the same mistake from reoccurring? Is the deletion of a file so technically difficult that it couldn’t have been done in time?

The Hong Kong Sports Federation and Olympic Committee should consider making it compulsory in its guidelines to send a high-ranking official to sit inside the control room in advance of any ceremony involving the playing of China’s national anthem and the showing of the HKSAR flag. The official’s paramount duty should be to check carefully that the Chinese national anthem is played correctly and the HKSAR flag is securely placed and shown during the ceremony. The very presence of a reliable official from our side inside the control room throughout the process would “help” the organizer avoid using the wrong song “innocently”.

The repeated disrespect for our national anthem must not be tolerated. Despite our strong opposition and prompt action to draft a series of guidelines to protect our national dignity, the repeated national anthem blunders have indicated that a group of troublemakers is hiding behind different international sports associations. They are testing our bottom line with repeated insults to our national dignity by replacing the national anthem with a song associated with the protest movement, or by inserting the wrong song name when the correct national anthem is playing.

Don’t overlook the impact of the national anthem blunders. If we do not take determined action to ensure these blunders are not repeated, it will loosen our national unity gradually and pave the way to further social unrest and even insurrections, as was the case with the gradual escalation of violence in the 2012 anti-national education protests, the 2014 Occupy Central protests and the “color revolution” of the 2019 anti-extradition protests.

On the other hand, while the national anthem blunders have been distressing, we should also be alert to the small-scale “mourning” activities which have occurred recently at different locations in Hong Kong. The participants never voiced their discontent about the national anthem mix-ups, but showed their sudden “care” over a fire accident in Urumqi and some recent COVID-driven protests on the mainland.

Secretary for Security Chris Tang Ping-keung has warned that those activities were highly organized, and showing signs of a “color revolution”. He said some familiar faces from the illegal activities of 2019 have used this opportunity to incite hatred against the central government.

Another important issue that deserves our vigilance is the trial of media tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying in his national security case. The case has been postponed by the High Court, pending an interpretation of the National Security Law by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress to clarify whether overseas lawyers who are not qualified to “practice generally” in Hong Kong should be allowed to engage in national security cases in the city.

Lai, founder of the now-defunct Apple Daily newspaper, is charged with colluding with foreign forces to endanger national security. He has hired British barrister Timothy Owen to represent him in the case. If the NPCSC’s interpretation is not in favor of Lai, his supporters are likely to start an offensive to whip up media consensus to badmouth the rule of law in Hong Kong and stir up social unrest or even another “color revolution”.

A spark can start a great fire and a fly can kill a person with its contagious bacteria. So, we should always be on alert to fend off any small threat that will endanger our national unity and social stability.

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