Harbour protection groups against the rezoning of a military berth on the Central harbourfront say a state-run newspaper has politicised what is supposed to be a town planning issue.
Their comment came after a Global Times news report on Monday that said anyone who mounted a legal challenge to rezoning the site posed "a challenge to state sovereignty".
The newspaper also said the Civic Party was trying to remove the People's Liberation Army from the Central pier to prevent possible army intervention in the brewing "Occupy Central" pro-democracy movement.
"We only want to maintain the harbourfront as public space. Even the pro-establishment lawmakers are concerned with the issue," Civic Party lawmaker Kenneth Chan Ka-lok said. "Don't mix up this town planning issue and Occupy Central. That newspaper is being too nervous."
The Legislative Council's development panel will discuss the case next month.
The Civic Party and other groups oppose a government plan to rezone a 0.3 hectare stretch of land on the newly reclaimed Central waterfront from open space to military use, for fear of restricted public access.
They also accuse the government of bypassing the rules, as it started building berth structures on the site, which is still an open space zone, without applying to the Town Planning Board.
They do not object to the provision of the berth, which the government was obliged to do under a 1994 Sino-British defence deal, but say an open-space zoning would be enough to enable the military to use it.
Albert Lai Kwong-tak, of the Professional Commons lobby group, said PLA vessels had visited Victoria Harbour only four times since the 1997 handover. "Do we need to set up a military zone for a site that will be used by the PLA only once in three or four years?" he said. The group invited Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po to a public debate to address concerns.