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Hong Kong high-speed rail

Carrie Lam pushes for Legco to prioritise debate on high-speed rail link border checkpoint

Chief Executive says ‘time will be very tight’ if debate is delayed, as government aims to get Beijing’s endorsement for the plan by end of this year

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 October, 2017, 1:49pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 October, 2017, 12:34pm

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said on Tuesday that the government wanted to ensure that lawmakers debate, in just over a week, her border checkpoint plan giving mainland officials almost full jurisdiction over a section of a Hong Kong train terminal.

To do this, it would at Wednesday’s Legislative Council meeting ask to postpone a potentially lengthy debate on stamp duties to November, she said. This would allow the debate on the controversial checkpoint plan to start on October 25, as she had planned.

The Hong Kong government in July proposed leasing to the mainland a quarter of the West Kowloon terminus of its under-construction HK$84.4 billion high-speed rail link to Guangzhou. National laws would apply in the leased area.

All you need to know about the Hong Kong-mainland rail link, co-located checkpoints and law enforcement issues

Hong Kong would put local immigration, quarantine and customs facilities in the area as well. Giving an example of why this was necessary, the government said that without mainland law enforced in the area, there could be an influx of criminals and asylum seekers from the mainland to the city.

Pro-democracy lawmakers argued that this goes against the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, which says that under the “one country, two systems” principle, mainland law does not apply in the city. Government officials retorted that the area would be leased to the mainland, though it acknowledged that it would first need to get authorisation from China’s legislative body, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee.

Lam had earlier announced that the transport minister would table a motion in the Legco on October 25 to trigger a debate on the plan. She said that while the motion would not have any legal effect, it would draw to a close months of public discussion.

On Tuesday, Lam said that it was crucial for the debate to take place as planned.

“We still need time to discuss it and sign an agreement with mainland authorities, and then there will be a local legislative process … If we don’t finish this on October 25, the time will very tight,” she said.

Lam previously said the government would aim to get Beijing’s endorsement for the plan by the end of the year, as the rail link is set to open in the third quarter of 2018. Earlier in October, she pointed to opinion polls that showed public support for having local and mainland checkpoints in the same place, sometimes referred to as “co-location”.

She asked that lawmakers draw their own conclusions from that before the debate.

Lam’s announcement on Tuesday drew heavy criticism from opposition lawmakers, who said the chief executive was disrespecting them and backtracking on her promise to improve ties between the executive and the legislature, only a day after she hosted a lunch with legislators from both sides of the political divide.

The Civic Party’s Tanya Chan said: “I don’t know why Mrs Lam is in such a hurry to pass a non-binding motion on co-location … when we have clearly voiced our opposition to it.”

Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai said society was “deeply divided” over the co-location plan. Wu said an opinion poll conducted by the party found that 41.5 per cent of 1,053 residents supported co-location, while 42.8 per cent opposed it and 15.7 per cent had no comment.

On Tuesday, group of pan-democrat lawmakers vowed to march from the Legco building to Lam’s office to get her to cancel the October 25 debate and launch an official public consultation exercise.