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Hong Kong high-speed rail

High-speed rail link border checkpoint in Hong Kong ‘has public support’ says city leader Carrie Lam

Chief executive announces non-binding motion on October 25 to launch debate on co-location proposal

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 October, 2017, 12:17pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 October, 2017, 11:27pm

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is pressing ahead with controversial plans to set up a joint checkpoint in the city for the cross-border high-speed rail link, citing opinion polls showing that the “majority of Hong Kong people” support the arrangement.

Heading into her weekly cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Lam said the government would present a non-binding motion to the Legislative Council on October 25 to debate the so-called “co-location” plan.

She also agreed to lawmakers’ request that she attend question and answer sessions with them once or twice a month in addition to the traditional four times a year.

Lam was speaking two days after thousands of Hongkongers took to the streets to oppose her “authoritarian rule” and demand the resignation of justice minister Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung, whom they accused of damaging the city’s rule of law. Organisers said 40,000 took part, while police put the figure at 4,300.

The pan-democrats are strongly opposed to the co-location of immigration checkpoints, as this would give mainland Chinese officers almost full jurisdiction over the zone leased to them at the West Kowloon terminus of the rail link to Shenzhen and Guangzhou. They argue it contradicts Article 18 of the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, which states that mainland Chinese laws shall not be applied in Hong Kong under the “one country, two systems” policy.

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Officials counter that the arrangement will be lawful as the area will be officially leased to the mainland.

The motion for the debate reads: “This council supports ... implementing the co-location arrangement at the West Kowloon Station upon the commissioning of the Hong Kong section of the [express rail link] in the third quarter of 2018, with a view to fully unleashing the transport, social and economic benefits of the [rail link] and maximising convenience to passengers.”

“Since the plan was announced on July 25, officials have explained a lot, and there was much discussion in society,” Lam said.

“Opinions polls showed that the plan has the people’s majority support, and people are not worried that the plan would destroy ‘one country, two systems’ and contravene the Basic Law.

“It would be best for Legco to draw a conclusion on the public views ... and we will launch our three-step process after their debate.”

The process refers to the signing of a cooperation agreement with mainland authorities first, then endorsement by China’s top legislative body, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, and finally the local legislative process. Lam said she expected the NPCSC to approve the co-location plan by the end of December, followed by Legco’s scrutiny next year.

“If we can have our first and second reading in February, there are four months for lawmakers to discuss it. I am confident that it can be approved with majority support in the legislature,” Lam said. The next legislative year starts next Wednesday with Lam’s maiden policy address and ends in mid-July.

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A co-location concern group formed by pan-democrat politicians, academics, professionals and university student union leaders recently counter-suggested that the government should set up the joint checkpoint at the Shenzhen or Guangzhou stations.

Asked to comment on opposition from lawmakers, Lam would only say: “I hope Legco listens to the people’s voice. In opinion polls done by different organisations, there were more people in support of the plan than those who opposed it.”

Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan, convenor of the concern group, said her party would oppose the motion.

“Lam is simply trying to force Legco to endorse a plan that the public was not officially consulted on, and that contravenes the Basic Law,” the barrister-at-law said.

“Lam said the plan has majority public support, but we believe it should be the government’s responsibility to persuade the 30 per cent of residents who oppose the co-location plan. The opinion polls were also flawed because pollsters did not give residents any alternative option.”

Chan said it was too early to predict whether any pan-democrat would start a filibuster to block the motion.

She said pan-democratic lawmakers had asked for a public hearing on co-location as soon as possible, and she was disappointed that pro-establishment lawmakers wanted to wait until after the legislature’s various panels had chosen their chairmen on October 12.

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Veteran Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kan-sun accused Lam of not respecting Legco and the public.

“We [pan-democrats] have asked the government for the proposal over the past seven years. But it only released the proposal in July, and Legco held only one special meeting before the summer break,” To said, questioning if the non-binding motion was meant to stifle discussion in Legco and society.

“I wonder if Lam is not willing to listen to the public’s views. This is Carrie Lam’s working style ... just like her past handling of the Palace Museum,” To said.

He noted that the co-location concern group had started a campaign to promote its own proposal, and would continue doing so via street booths and social media.

The Democratic Party would vote against the resolution, he added.

Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai accused the government of trying to pave the way for forcibly implementing the joint checkpoint proposal without adequate discussion in the community.

Pro-establishment lawmaker Lo Wai-kwok, chairman of the Business and Professionals Alliance, supported the co-location plan but had reservations about Lam’s motion as all panels would be very busy in October when the new Legco session begins.

As for facing lawmakers once or twice a month, Lam said she expected to attend shorter, 30-minute sessions at 10:30am, half an hour before full council meetings.