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Hong Kong high-speed rail

Hong Kong is authorised to surrender jurisdiction of land to mainland China for high-speed rail link, Elsie Leung says

Hong Kong’s former justice chief points to Article 7 in city’s mini-constitution which says government enshrined with right to manage, use and develop land and natural resources

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 November, 2017, 9:08pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 November, 2017, 10:41pm

A controversial plan by the Hong Kong government to give up jurisdiction over part of a rail terminus and a 26km strip of land for a high-speed cross-border railway is legally justified, former justice chief in the city, Elsie Leung Oi-sie, said on Saturday,

Leung also said since Hong Kong has been granted the right to manage its land, it was therefore authorised to surrender jurisdiction within its border.

Her latest comments followed criticism by Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who said opposition to the plan was based on fear, pessimism and complacency.

One week after Lam penned a deal with Guangdong governor Ma Xingrui to set up a so-called mainland port area at the West Kowloon terminus of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong express rail link, questions remained over the scheme’s legal and constitutional justification.

A heated debate is continuing on which provisions of the Basic Law should be cited to support the unprecedented move.

Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung, the legal point man behind the scheme, suggested applying the Basic Law’s Article 20 – which says the National People’s Congress Standing Committee could grant powers not yet enshrined to Hong Kong.

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But Yuen’s predecessor dismissed the idea. Speaking on a radio programme on Saturday, Leung 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 is enshrined with the right to manage, use and develop them.

Leung, vice-chairwoman of the Basic Law Committee, admitted it was “rather difficult” to quote a specific article from the Basic Law, which was passed in 1990.

“When it was drafted and passed, there were a lot of unforeseeable matters … as long as this agreement is beneficial and done with the consent of both sides, I think it will have legal basis,” she said.

Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun said he was shocked by Leung’s comments.

“How can we just try to casually set aside the issue of legal basis ... this is coming from a veteran legal expert,” he said.

As to fears that mainland Chinese officers would operate outside their designated zone, Leung said the boundaries were clearly drawn and surveillance cameras were everywhere, so the concerns were unnecessary.

Her views were echoed by Lam.

“Some people still oppose the co-location arrangement. I don’t know whether this is … [based on] fear, pessimism and complacency towards changes brought about by a new era,” the chief executive said, during a speech at Hong Kong Law Society event.