The police chief delivered a confusing message yesterday about who has the power to police the new PLA berth in Central.
Commissioner Andy Tsang Wai-hung said the city's police had the authority to handle crime or social disorder regardless of where it occurred. But when asked how those powers applied to the berth at Admiralty, Tsang said the police had the "authority and responsibility to assist the garrison" if there was unrest.
The question of who has the power to police the area has often come up during a year-long debate over the proposal to rezone land on the harbourfront for military use, with some academics warning of legal grey areas.
The police chief made the remarks on an RTHK programme a day after the Town Planning Board approved the proposal, which involves rezoning 0.3 hectares of land from open space to military use for the dock.
Asked on the programme whether it was the People's Liberation Army or the police that would enforce the law during any unrest there, Tsang said: "The administration of this dock area is different from other military sites as it will sometimes be open [to the public] and sometimes closed. We will discuss detailed arrangements with the garrison.
"One thing I want to emphasise is that whenever there is crime or social disorder, the police have the responsibility and authority to handle it - regardless of whether it is on military land, or in a public or private area."
But when pressed by the programme's host to elaborate on exactly when police would step in to remove unruly protesters from the site, Tsang said the law stipulated clearly that the police had the power and duty to "assist the garrison" in this regard.
Civic Party lawmaker Kenneth Chan Ka-lok said Tsang's answer did not help clear up the confusion over the issue.
"Tsang said they would 'assist' the PLA. That would mean the Hong Kong police would take only a secondary role," Chan said. But the Democratic Party's James To Kun-sun, deputy chairman of the Legislative Council's security panel, said it was clear under the law that enforcement power lay in the hands of local police, regardless of Tsang's choice of words.
The military berth is covered by a 1994 Sino-British defence agreement, which states that 150 metres of the eventual permanent waterfront should be left free for such a facility after reclamation work between Central and Wan Chai is completed.
But there has been debate over whether this means the land had to be handed to the military.