Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen is under fire for his analogy for the lease of government land under the controversial co-location arrangement of the high-speed railway.
Some lawmakers and legal experts are calling Yuen’s remark “totally absurd”, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
On Tuesday, the government announced that part of the West Kowloon terminus of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, which is scheduled to open in the third quarter next year, will be leased to the mainland where only mainland laws apply.
The arrangement raised concern among the public because it effectively makes the area in question mainland territory, where Hong Kong has no jurisdiction at all.
Yuen told a Commercial Radio Hong Kong program on Wednesday that the arrangement is not “ceding land” and is no different from a lease between a landlord and a tenant.
In this case, Beijing is the landlord and Hong Kong is the tenant, Yuen said.
A landlord who rents out his flat to a tenant may later realize he needs more space and asks the tenant to rent out back to him one of the rooms in the flat, and the tenant has the right to do so, he said.
Yuen said the Basic Law allows the SAR government to lease out land in Hong Kong and therefore he sees no legal problem in the co-location scheme in which the customs, immigration and quarantine functions are conducted at the terminus by authorities from both sides to facilitate travel in the Pearl River Delta region.
The final co-location arrangement will be subject to approval and authorization from the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress based on Article 20 of the Basic law.
Disqualified lawmaker Edward Yiu, who represented the architectural, surveying, planning and landscape functional constituency, said a lease between a tenant and a landlord should be considered invalid if Yuen’s analogy — meaning the tenant allowing the landlord to freely enter and leave the leased property — stands.
That means China can, any time it wants, define the ownership of Hong Kong land transacted after the 1997 handover, a situation that is likely to impact foreign investors’ confidence in Hong Kong, Yiu said.
Calling the analogy absurd, Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting said the lease is tantamount to treating Hong Kong as a “borrowed place”, which renders the “one country, two systems” principle meaningless.
Barrister Martin Lee, who had helped draft the Basic Law, criticized the finalized co-location plan for completely ignoring the Basic Law and damaging Hong Kong’s rule of law. He said the arrangement surrenders Hong Kong’s jurisdiction to the mainland and urged the government to retract the plan.
Eric Cheung Tat-ming, a principal law lecturer in the University of Hong Kong, said the government should never give up rule of law for the sake of convenience. He said he worries that Hong Kong people will have less protection from the Basic Law.
Lawmaker Starry Lee, who chairs the Legislative Council’s house committee, called for a special meeting next Thursday to discuss the co-location arrangement. Yuen is expected to attend, along with Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan and Secretary for Security John Lee.
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