Lawyers are divided on whether there will be law enforcement problems at the military berth on the newly reclaimed Central harbourfront that will be open to the public while being managed by the army.
Their doubts came as a mainland newspaper said that anyone who mounted a legal challenge to rezoning the site would pose "a challenge to state sovereignty".
The government is asking the Town Planning Board to rezone the 0.3-hectare site from open space to military use under a 1994 Sino-British defence land agreement. The agreement stipulates that the Hong Kong government has to leave free 150 metres of the waterfront for a military dock.
In 2000, the People's Liberation Army promised it would allow public access when it was not using the berth.
But harbour protection groups argue that the original "open space" description would be enough to enable the military to use the berth. They fear a military zoning would pose more restrictions on public access to the promenade and say they may seek a judicial review.
University of Hong Kong law professor Eric Cheung Tat-ming said there could be confusion over law enforcement if the berth area were handed over to and controlled by the army even when it was not using it.
"When the army allows public access, will the area be considered a public place? Can police stop and search people suspected of a crime?" Cheung asked.Cheung had argued earlier that the 1994 deal did not require the government to hand over the berth area to the army after building it, as it was a "military facility" rather than a "military site".
But Democrat lawmaker and solicitor James To Kun-sun did not foresee enforcement issues.
Under the Public Order Ordinance, he said, even a private place was considered a public place if the public were allowed in, for payment or otherwise.
The Global Times, published under state paper People's Daily, cited unnamed analysts who said the Civic Party, one of the opponents of the rezoning, was trying to stir up political conflict. "Especially as the public is now hotly debating the 'Occupy Central' idea, the opposition is trying to remove the PLA from the Central pier to prevent possible PLA intervention in riots," it said.
Although the government said a military use was a more appropriate zone for the berth, it had not similarly rezoned the PLA's Military Transportation Centre at Chek Lap Kok. The 0.17-hectare centre stems from the same 1994 deal.
The Development Bureau says the military transportation centre fits the "airport service facilities" zoning, which covers almost the whole airport.