With much of the world facing travel restrictions and lockdowns, Hong Kong is emerging from the outbreak and going back to protesting. Over the weekend, authorities arrested around 230 people for unlawful organising and the breaking of social distancing rules.

Protests are only expected to increase into the summer as the city readies itself to commemorate the Tianamen Square massacre and other key dates – including the date Britain returned Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty. Hong Kong will also mark a year since its 2019 protests against a now-shelved extradition bill began.

Now, citizens are protesting a proposed law that would criminalise insulting the Chinese national anthem with up to three years in prison. On Tuesday, the government announced that lawmakers would resume debate on the law on May 27th. Many believe the law is another sign of Beijing encroaching on Hong Kong’s freedom.

“We urge her (Chief Executive Carrie Lam) to revisit the whole thing and learn a lesson and hopefully to rethink and reconsider whether it is a suitable time to discuss these very sensitive political matters at this moment,” pro-democracy lawmaker Tanya Chan told reporters.

Nearly one year ago, Hong Kong broke into protests that would go on to last for seven months and see thousands arrested. The trigger was an extradition bill that would see Hong Kong citizens extradited to mainland China. While the bill was removed by Lam, the protests evolved to become a pro-democracy movement. The proposed law on China’s national anthem could trigger another bout of month-long protests to the city still recovering from last year’s demonstrations and the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

Any disrespect to China’s national anthem is already banned on the mainland, and now Beijing hopes to do the same with Hong Kong football fans who have started routinely booing at matches.

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Hong Kong and China’s Fraught Relationship

The relationship between Hong Kong and China has been tense since Britain returned its former colony to the mainland in 1997. Under the Sino-British Joint Declaration, it was agreed that Hong Kong and China would abide by a “one country, two systems” principle with the former having its own legal system and rights for 50 years.

However, Beijing has been infringing on the city’s freedoms. From pre-screening candidates for Hong Kong elections to pushing for residents to be extradited to China, it’s clear that Beijing isn’t planning to wait until 2047 to quell the city’s autonomy.  

Aisha Mohamed