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Hong Kong high-speed rail

Admit that Basic Law does not provide legal basis for joint checkpoint plan, Jasper Tsang urges Hong Kong officials

Former Legco president says justifying the arrangement as such will only erode Hongkongers’ faith in the city’s mini-constitution

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 December, 2017, 8:19pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 December, 2017, 11:23pm

Pro-Beijing heavyweight Jasper Tsang Yok-sing on Thursday said officials should admit that the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, did not provide the legal basis for the controversial joint checkpoint arrangement of the cross-border express rail link.

The former Legislative Council president said the plan did not contravene the “one country, two systems” principle, but if officials kept insisting the Basic Law provided for such an arrangement, it would only undermine Hongkongers’ faith in the mini-constitution.

Tsang’s remarks on the management of the terminus, which would allow mainland officials to enforce national laws in part of the rail terminus, came as three ministers are set to attend a meeting on the matter with the country’s top legislative body on Friday.

‘City can legally surrender land for high-speed rail link’

Questions remain over the scheme’s legal and constitutional justification, even as Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor penned a deal last month with Guangdong governor Ma Xingrui to set up a mainland port area at the West Kowloon terminus of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong express rail link.

“The Basic Law has left no room for implementing the ‘co-location’ arrangement,” Tsang wrote in his column in a Chinese-language newspaper. He said the government should not try to find justification from its clauses but instead admit that the situation was beyond the imagination of law drafters some 20 years ago.

By insisting otherwise, it would make Hongkongers worry that they were no longer protected by the mini-constitution, Tsang argued.

Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung had suggested that Article 20 of the Basic Law be applied to the situation. Under that provision, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee could grant powers not yet enshrined in the Basic Law to Hong Kong.

Yuen’s suggestion was blasted by pan-democrats, who said he was basically saying: “Give me power to give up my power”.

Don’t worry about anthem, checkpoint sagas, Beijing tells Hong Kong

Beijing academic Rao Geping, a member of the Basic Law Committee, also argued that the article was intended for the NPCSC to “exercise discretion to add power of autonomy” for Hong Kong.

Yuen’s predecessor, Elsie Leung Oi-sie, had pointed to Article 7 of the Basic Law instead. The article states that Hong Kong’s land and natural resources belong to the state, but the city’s government has the right to manage, use and develop them.

Addressing such explanations without naming Yuen and Leung, Tsang said their suggestions, if valid, would mean that the Basic Law had failed to prevent Beijing from enforcing national legislation in Hong Kong.

He said this would open the floodgates for nightmare scenarios that the opposition could raise, such as whether the same situation would happen in Mong Kok, Admiralty and Victoria Park?

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“The government should admit this is an exceptional and special arrangement,” Tsang said, noting that despite the plan’s uniqueness, it did not contravene the one country, two systems model under which Hong Kong is guaranteed a high degree of autonomy from Beijing.

On Friday, Rimsky Yuen, along with security chief John Lee Ka-chiu and transport minister Frank Chan Fan, will attend the NPCSC meeting in Beijing to deliberate on the matter. Hong Kong officials have never been summoned to attend previous meetings of the standing committee, including earlier ones which centred on an interpretation of the Basic Law.

The NPCSC is expected to vote on the arrangement next Wednesday, marking the second of a three-step process following the signing of the deal by Lam. Enacting local legislation would be the final step.

Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan urged officials to explain to the public the legal justifications of the plan before they leave for Beijing.

“The NPCSC will gradually override Hong Kong’s powers, depriving Legco of its legislative abilities,” she said.