At a gala yesterday to celebrate the 71st anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, Luo Huining (骆惠宁), director of the Central Liaison Office in Hong Kong, gave an address in which he used a phrase with menacing freshness: “For those who are Chinese,” said Luo, “love for the country is not a choice but an obligation.”

Luo’s address was full of talk of patriotism and its benefits. At one point he said, for example: “Only by strengthening the social and political foundation of patriotism and love for Hong Kong, and enhancing the sense of national identity, belonging and national pride, can Hong Kong set the right direction in the great process of national rejuvenation, and only then can the individual values ​​of citizens be better realized.” But his assertion about patriotism as an “obligation,” or yiwu (义务), deserves special scrutiny, particularly as Hong Kong police have been out in force today to prevent dissent after authorities denied permission for a protest march.

Are all Chinese – and of course Luo means to include all Hong Kong residents of Chinese ancestry – really under an obligation to love China? Surely, the question of obligations to the country is not one that can simply be addressed haphazardly. China’s Constitution, after all, deals rather clearly with citizens’ obligations. What are its stipulations?

Let’s look at Chapter 2 of the Constitution, “Fundamental Rights and Obligations of Citizens” (公民的基本权利和义务). The chapter outlines four specific “obligations,” which are:

First, in Article 52: “Citizens of the People’s Republic of China shall have the obligation to safeguard national unity and the solidarity of all the country’s ethnic groups.” Second, in Article 54: “Citizens of the People’s Republic of China shall have the obligation to safeguard the security, honor and interests of the motherland; they must not behave in any way that endangers the motherland’s security, honor or interests. Third, in Article 55: “It is the sacred duty of every citizen of the People’s Republic of China to defend the motherland and resist aggression. It is an honorable obligation of citizens of the People’s Republic of China to perform military service or join the militia in accordance with law.” And fourth, in Article 56: “Citizens of the People’s Republic of China shall have the obligation to pay taxes in accordance with law.”

To sum up, these four passages outline four basic obligations incumbent upon the Chinese citizen: 1) to safeguard national unity, 2) to safeguard national security, 3) to perform military service and 4) to pay taxes. Nowhere in China’s Constitution is there any mention of patriotism being an obligation.  

Well then, what does Hong Kong’s Basic Law say? In Chapter III, on the “Fundamental Rights and Duties of Residents,” there are 19 articles (24-42), and of these 18 specify the rights enjoyed by Hong Kong residents, while just one, Article 42, deals with the question of obligations. Article 42 states: “Hong Kong residents and other persons in Hong Kong shall have the obligation to abide by the laws in force in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.”

No law, it seems, either in China or in the SAR, obligates Hong Kong people to love the country. But Luo, of course, is playing at politics and emotion, with very real consequences for Hong Kong. “To build Hong Kong as a home,” he says, “we must stimulate feelings for the home country.” Only then can Hong Kong “rise with the nation.”

And the rights guaranteed by Hong Kong’s laws? How far, one wonders, must they fall?