Legislative Council of Hong Kong

Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong to re-enter the fray at rally against high-speed rail checkpoint plan

Pan-democrats pledge to drag out debate on highly fraught issue, even as opponents move to lessen their power to filibuster

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 October, 2017, 8:02am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 October, 2017, 2:45pm

Pro-democracy leader Joshua Wong Chi-fung was set to re-enter the political arena on Wednesday, leading a rally at the Legislative Council as lawmakers debate the government’s controversial joint border checkpoint plan, just a day after he was released from prison on bail.

Inside the chamber, the recent impasse in the city’s legislature looked set to endure, as opposition members pledged to drag out debate.

The joint checkpoint plan would see mainland officials enforce Beijing’s laws on Hong Kong soil, in part of the terminal of an under-construction high-speed rail line to Guangzhou.

The line is expected to be running by the end of 2018.

“We will try our best to express our objection to the co-location arrangement,” Civic Party leader Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu said, using a common term for the plan, which has inflamed fears over mainland authorities’ encroachment into the semi-autonomous city.

“Calling quorum bells surely is one of the ways.”

Last Thursday, opposition lawmakers forced the debate inside the chamber to adjourn after calling 11 quorum bells, a tactic used to grind proceedings to a halt by forcing a headcount. Adding in the 15 quorum bells the camp called the day before, a total of 4.5 hours were spent on headcounts.

The pro-Beijing camp vowed to stay disciplined and united in the chamber in a bid to minimise the chances of adjournment.

A source in the camp said its members would strive to hit the quorum requirement of 35 by “strictly following” the strategy of sitting in the chamber for 45 minutes and taking one quorum bell for a 15-minute break every hour.

Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan will bring the motion in question, which was initiated by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.

The motion is non-binding. But it will, if passed, give Lam a mandate to go ahead and work out the details of the checkpoint plan, including making a deal with the mainland government and having it approved by Beijing’s legislature.

The council will still have to approve her final plan.

Lam has said the motion would end months of public discussion, with a view to finishing the whole process before the link opens in the third quarter of 2018.

The co-location concern group – formed by pan-democrats, activists and scholars – planned to rally outside Legco for two days as debate – or delay – rumbles on. Wong will join them.

The 21-year-old was jailed for six months over his role in an illegal protest in the run-up to 2014’s pro-democracy Occupy protests but granted bail on Tuesday. He is expected to be among a dozen speakers who will address the crowd on Wednesday night.

Meanwhile, tension among lawmakers was heightened on Tuesday, when Legco president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen barred the pro-democracy camp from raising their recent deluge of rule book amendments at a full council meeting in November. They will have to take it to the Committee on Rules of Procedure (CROP) instead.

Camp members said their 34 suggested amendments were to boost Legco’s transparency and efficiency. But the move was rebuffed as a stalling tactic to stymie their opponents’ plan to tighten the rules themselves, to curb filibustering.

“It is a long-established practice that any proposal to amend the rules of procedure should be first considered by CROP and then by the House Committee before being considered by the council,” Leung said.

“The ‘three steps process’ needs to be followed.”

Why is Hong Kong’s cross-border rail link causing such a fuss?

The Beijing-friendly camp has an opportunity to force procedural changes while the pan-democrats’ numbers are weakened. In the last year, six pro-democracy lawmakers have been disqualified over badly taken oaths.

Four of the six vacated seats will be filled at by-elections in March, which may provide the pan-democrats with reinforcements.

Leung said he was not under pressure from the Beijing government or pro-establishment allies to block the amendments, saying it was his own judgment.

But the Civic Party’s Dennis Kwok, who represents the legal sector in the legislature, criticised Leung for, as he saw it, abusing his power to come to a “biased” ruling.

Kwok said he and his colleagues were not disappointed by the outcome, which they had expected, and that they had a contingency plan in mind, which he declined to reveal.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Legco meeting at about 1pm on Wednesday, Chan said the government had raised the motion to the legislature “with due respect” and the views from the lawmakers were very important.

He called on lawmakers to stay in the chamber, saying it was their responsibility to discuss issues which concerned Hongkongers and were of utmost importance to the city’s future development.

“I believe Hong Kong lawmakers are committed and [early] adjournment [of the meeting] would not happen,” he said.