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Hong Kong high-speed rail

Hong Kong’s justice minister responds to opposition fears on joint railway checkpoint

Rimsky Yuen tells pan-democrats he does not see how national laws might be applied elsewhere in the city in future but he can’t offer guarantees

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 August, 2017, 10:50pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 August, 2017, 10:50pm

The justice minister refused on Tuesday to guarantee that a plan allowing national laws to be enforced in the Hong Kong terminus of the cross-border rail link would not be applied elsewhere, but he said he could not see such a need arising in the near future.

Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung made the remarks after being pressed by pan-democrats at a Legislative Council meeting to promise that the joint checkpoint would not set a precedent that would undermine people’s rights.

Hongkongers are ‘calm’ about joint checkpoint plan for high-speed rail terminal, top Chinese official says

At issue is a plan to apply national laws in a quarter of the West Kowloon terminus that will be leased to the mainland. The HK$84.4 billion rail link is scheduled to open in the third quarter of next year.

Under the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the city cannot lease land in such a manner, so it will seek permission from the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, China’s top lawmaking body, to allow it to do so. Article 20 of the Basic Law allows Beijing to grant Hong Kong that power.

On Saturday, executive councillor Ronny Tong Ka-wah suggested a clause be added in the resolution by the NPCSC to guarantee the plan would be “once and for all”. This would help ease Hongkongers’ mistrust in the central and local governments, he argued.

Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai asked if Yuen could promise that the “co-location” arrangement would not set a precedent “that would gradually chip away Hongkongers’ rights protected by the Basic Law”.

“I cannot see that there will be another similar situation in the short run … your worry is groundless,” Yuen replied. “But I don’t have the power to represent future administrations in making such a promise either.”

He said the co-location plan was picked after thorough studies.

Why is Hong Kong’s cross-border rail link causing such a fuss?

“The government is absolutely not blindly superstitious about co-location. Based on our objective studies, it is the most ideal … for passengers’ convenience and Hong Kong’s long-term development,” Yuen said.“We have no regrets for Legco and Hong Kong.”

The Civic Party’s Dennis Kwok asked whether residents’ rights would be protected in the port area leased to the mainland.

Yuen said it was not a simple question to answer as mainland officers needed to follow the Basic Law, which is a national law, as well as mainland laws.

Meanwhile, more than 20 legal experts and pro-government legislators launched a coalition in support of the joint checkpoint plan. It was the third concern group set up on the issue as both sides of Hong Kong’s political divide mobilise campaigns for and against.

Pan-democrats have joined forces with more than 90 organisations and individuals to fight the plan, which they said would destroy the “one country, two systems” principle. On Monday about 20 pro-establishment business groups also set up a coalition to support the scheme.

Why Hong Kong’s justice minister Rimsky Yuen is so sanguine about joint checkpoint for express rail link

A poll of 1,262 people by the Liberal Party showed Hongkongers were split on whether the plan would have a negative impact on “one country, two systems”, with 43 per cent saying yes and 43.3 per cent saying no, while the rest had no comment.

Among those who had negative views or no comment, about 35.1 per cent said they would still be willing to accept the co-location arrangement, while 41.5 per cent found it unacceptable.

The poll, conducted from August 2 to 7, also found that 68.2 per cent of respondents felt it was “important” or “very important” to have a joint checkpoint to achieve the efficiency offered by the high-speed railway.