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Hong Kong high-speed rail

Lawmakers finally back Hong Kong government’s push for joint railway checkpoint with mainland

But new controversy arises as city’s justice minister fails to clarify doubts about what legal basis will be used to justify so-called co-location arrangement

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 November, 2017, 6:40pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 November, 2017, 11:31pm

Lawmakers finally gave a symbolic green light to the government on Wednesday to get moving on a politically contentious joint checkpoint on the Hong Kong side of the cross-border railway to Guangzhou, as filibustering opposition members exhausted all their delaying tactics.

However, while the Legislative Council passed the government’s non-binding motion backing the so-called “co-location” arrangement that would allow mainland Chinese officials immigration and customs jurisdiction over part of the West Kowloon terminus leased to them, new concerns arose after Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung remained vague about questions over what legal basis would be used for such a set-up.

After days of filibustering, the pan-democrats continued their campaign to drag out the debate on Wednesday, but Legco president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen overruled their tactics.

Eight amendments proposed by opposition lawmakers were vetoed, and the motion was passed 38-22.

Legco debate on joint rail checkpoint adjourned after meeting descends into chaos

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor had been counting on Legco’s non-binding endorsement, equating it with public support, to go ahead with her three-step plan: reach a formal agreement with mainland China on the co-location arrangement; secure the approval of China’s top legislative body; and enact local legislation to implement the system.

Officials cited Article 20 of the city’s mini-constitution as providing the legal basis for the co-location legislation, as it states that Hong Kong “may enjoy other powers” granted to it by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee or the central government. That would enable the local government to seek the authority from the NPCSC to enact the relevant co-location law.

But Basic Law Committee chairman Li Fei, a senior mainland Chinese official who specialises in the mini-constitution, was quoted on Tuesday as telling a visiting delegation of Hong Kong barristers that there was no decision on the application of Article 20.

When asked about Li’s remarks, the city’s justice minister said: “We will frankly reflect Hongkongers’ opinion on the adoption of Article 20 to Beijing. “We’ve already been doing that to a large extent, and we will keep reviewing the legal basis.”

A pro-establishment lawmaker who wished to remain anonymous said Article 20 was unnecessary in this case and even some Beijing officials had reservations about it.

The NPCSC can already authorise the Hong Kong government to enact local legislation,” the lawmaker said.

That would be worse than undermining the city’s high degree of autonomy by invoking Article 20, the pan-democrats warned.

“It’s even more barbaric. It’s like saying the NPCSC has so much power that it could even scrap the entire Basic Law,” said Tanya Chan, the opposition lawmaker convening a co-location concern group.

The pan-democrats slammed the passage of the motion as a “sham” giving the false impression that there was majority public support for the joint checkpoint when the public had not really been consulted.

Carrie Lam reverses threat to push forward mainland checkpoint plan without Legco approval

The council’s approval will eventually be needed, as local legislation must be enacted to proceed with the plan.

Lam has cited opinion polls showing that most Hongkongers supported the arrangement, but pan-democrat lawmakers dispute it.

Yuen insisted Hongkongers were not being misled.

“Claims that Legco is rubber stamping this motion are not respectful to lawmakers and their voters,” he said, noting that the third step of the process would still require Legco’s approval.

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

The HK$84.4 billion (US$10.8 billion) high-speed rail link is expected to start running in the third quarter of next year.