Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is enjoying a honeymoon period with the public as well as the pan-democrats, but most lawmakers believe that will all end the day she tables a bill on the “co-location arrangements” for a cross-border high-speed rail link.
Legislating for co-location of customs and immigration facilities at the Hong Kong terminal of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, which would see mainland officials operating on Hong Kong soil, is both urgent and imminent as the rail link is expected to come into service by mid-2018.
Well aware that pushing the highly controversial bill through Legco will prove a daunting task, the administration has been preparing itself for the upcoming fight. And its goal can’t be clearer: win the public opinion war in order to give the government a popular mandate to press ahead with the proposal.
According to government sources, while the administration is confident that the proposal is unlikely to encounter too much opposition among the public, it is expecting a tough and drawn-out battle with the pan-democrats in Legco over the bill.
For those wondering as to whether the bill is going to have an easy or rough passage through Legco, the outcome will depend, to a significant extent, on what kind of stance the pan-democrats are adopting on the issue.
If they see the co-location arrangement as an open-ended political issue that can be dealt with flexibly, then the administration is quite hopeful that the bill can pass Legco according to schedule.
However, if the pan-democrats regard it as strictly a legal or even constitutional issue that absolutely has no room for compromise, then chances are, discussions of the bill are likely to end in stalemate in Legco, and the opposition may also file a judicial review application with the court.
Sources say that in the worst-case scenario, the political deadlock over the bill could eventually trigger another interpretation of the Basic Law by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee.
In the meantime, some moderate pan-democrats have admitted that the government has gained the upper hand over them on this issue, because so far there is not much backlash against the bill among the public.
And they also have difficulty in trying to raise public awareness about how the co-location arrangement may undermine “One Country Two Systems” because the technicalities and legal concepts involved in the issue are simply incomprehensible to the average individual.
That said, the opposition groups have vowed that if the government proposes that mainland law enforcement officers be given powers of arrest within Hong Kong, something which they found totally unacceptable since day 1, they would definitely fight with all their means against the bill.
Civic Party chairman Alan Leong Kah-kit said he simply can’t see any justification for pressing ahead with the co-location arrangement. It is beyond dispute that the proposal is totally against the Basic Law, he said.
He said his party is planning a “counter-propaganda” campaign in order to awaken the public to the potential threat posed by the co-location arrangement to Hong Kong’s autonomy.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 7
Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting
[Chinese version 中文版]
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