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Hong Kong high-speed rail

Joint checkpoint plan will not undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy, Basic Law Committee member says

Albert Chen Hung-yee responds to concerns over controversial arrangement that some believe violates the Basic Law

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 December, 2017, 7:03am
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 December, 2017, 11:14am

A Basic Law Committee member has dismissed fears that the joint checkpoint arrangement for the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong rail link would set a precedent to undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy, saying the city has control in two key parts of the three-step process involved.

Albert Chen Hung-yee was responding to concerns by the legal sector and pan-democrats, who said the controversial plan violated the Basic Law.

The controversy centres on ­Article 18 of the city’s mini-constitution, which states national laws shall not be applied in Hong Kong except for those listed in Annex III.

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Basic Law Committee chairman Li Fei on Wednesday said people should not just understand the ­article merely by “the wording”, but also the “principles and intentions” behind the constitution.

“Beijing authorities view the articles from the perspective of legislative intent … which is a bit different from the local legal ­sector, which understands [it] from the wording,” said Chen, who is also a law professor at the University of Hong Kong, suggesting that reflected the difference between mainland law and a common law system.

Chen dismissed concerns that part of Hong Kong would be “randomly leased” to the mainland and have its jurisdiction changed.

“It depends on whether the Hong Kong executive and legislative branches would like to make it happen,” Chen said, adding the Hong Kong government had control over the first and third parts of the three-step process.

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“It was not something forced by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee,” he said.

The three-step [process] started with Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor signing a deal on the matter with Guangdong Governor Ma Xingrui last month. The second step was the National People’s Congress Standing Committee’s approval, which was secured on Wednesday. The final step is to introduce local ­legislation in Hong Kong in ­February for the rail link to ­commence operations.

But Eric Cheung Tat-ming, University of Hong Kong principal law lecturer, argued that the precedent would sweep over protections for Hongkongers covered by the Basic Law. “What is pathetic is the local courts could not find any way to challenge [the plan ­endorsed by the NPCSC] in ­reality,” Cheung said.

In Beijing, Li Fei, who is also deputy secretary general of the NPCSC, said the decision on Wednesday had the “highest legal effects”.

Newly approved joint checkpoint plan will damage Hong Kong’s rule of law, legal heavyweights say

Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan warned the public the issue was not merely about transport. “It was the first demonstration of Beijing’s ‘comprehensive jurisdiction’ over Hong Kong,” she said, referring to President Xi Jinping’s recent assertion at the 19th Communist Party congress.