Hong Kong justice minister vows to hear public opinion on allowing mainland law officials at high-speed rail link
But he rules out pro-democracy lawmakers’ demands for formal public consultation
Justice minister Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung on Thursday promised to listen to public opinion on allowing mainland law to be enforced on the Hong Kong side of the long anticipated high-speed rail link to Guangzhou.
But he effectively ruled out opposition lawmakers’ demands for a formal public consultation, saying it would be “no different”.
The pan-democrats remained unimpressed, saying the government was simply worried that such an exercise would backfire.
Speaking at the Legislative Council, for the first time since the “co-location” arrangement was announced a week ago, Yuen also failed to convince his critics that the plan would be implemented without setting a bad precedent and compromising the “one country, two systems” principle.
Under the arrangement, mainland officers will enjoy almost full jurisdiction over a quarter of the West Kowloon terminus leased to them.
Local officials said it would not breach the Basic Law because the leased area would be regarded as outside the city’s boundary, and this could be done by seeking authorisation from the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) under Article 20 of the mini-constitution, which stipulates that Beijing can grant Hong Kong power it does not already have.
Dismissing fears that it would undermine “one country, two systems”, Yuen said: “The plan is for realising the rail link’s economic benefit ... and the NPCSC’s decision would also offer a sound legal foundation for it.”
The Democratic Party’s James To Kun-sun asked: “Why are you so reluctant to conduct a public consultation? ... The government should give residents a few months to express their views.”
To added that Hongkongers should be allowed to choose from different options for immigration arrangements.
“We will carefully listen to the opinions in society, including Legco,” Yuen replied. “We believe that the effect of this would be no different from conducting a public consultation ... I believe you wouldn’t say it’s the only channel to collect public opinion.”
He later added that time was running short as Legco would have to start scrutinising relevant legislation by the end of this year. Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor previously said the legislation would have to be approved before the HK$84.4 billion rail link opened in the third quarter of next year.
The Civic Party’s Dennis Kwok, representing the legal sector, was concerned whether a Hong Kong resident arrested in the leased area would be protected by local laws.
Yuen would only say: “Authorities will set up a working group to coordinate matters such as the management of public order.”
During the marathon Legco meeting to examine funding for the rail link in 2009, then transport minister Eva Cheng Yu-wah had pledged to look into different options, such as carrying out immigration clearance on trains.
The Democratic Party’s Andrew Wan Siu-kin asked if Cheng or any current official had lied.
“Let’s be fairer to Cheng and to society: times have changed. Even Cheng had mentioned co-location and different options at that time ... and we studied them,” Yuen replied.
The Liberal Party’s transport representative, Frankie Yick Chi-ming, said his party had interviewed 1,071 residents recently, and 61.6 per cent agreed with the co-location arrangement.