A special Legislative Council committee that was set up to examine a bill drafted by the government on a joint checkpoint system for the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link held its first meeting on Tuesday.
The meeting on the bill, which deals with the so-called co-location plan under which mainland border control officials will be allowed to operate on Hong Kong soil, took place as pan-democratic lawmakers continued to question the legal basis for the controversial arrangement.
Under the co-location arrangement, customs, immigration and quarantine facilities of Hong Kong and mainland China will be located at the West Kowloon terminus of the Express Rail Link, which is scheduled to open in the third quarter this year.
The plan has sparked concern because China will rent part of the terminus where mainland officers will enjoy full criminal jurisdiction on trains and platforms, as well as the border clearance zone.
In December last year, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee said in a resolution that the arrangement will be in compliance with the Chinese constitution as well as Hong Kong’s Basic Law.
There will be no contravention of Article 18 of the Basic Law, which states that national laws shall not be applied in Hong Kong, the committee ruled.
However, the Hong Kong Bar Association had voiced strong objection to Beijing’s decision soon afterwards, saying such logic is a misinterpretation of the Basic Law because it completely bypasses and emasculates the requirement under Article 18(3) of Hong Kong’s mini-constitution that states that only national laws listed in Annex III of the Basic Law shall be applied to the HKSAR.
In response to concerns raised by some pan-democratic members of the Bills Committee on Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (Co-location) Bill about the issue on Monday, Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah said the co-location only applies to a designated area of the terminus, the Mainland Port Area (MPA).
Cheng dismissed criticism that setting up the MPA at the terminus is tantamount to “ceding land”, claiming the co-location arrangement only makes adjustments to jurisdiction without revising Hong Kong’s borders and regions in any way, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
The justice chief stressed the allegation of “ceding land” is totally groundless, since Article 7 of the Basic Law stipulates that the HKSAR Government shall be responsible for the management, use and development of its land and for the lease or grant to individuals, legal persons or organizations for use or development.
As lawmaker Wu Chi-wai, chairman of the Democratic Party, suggested that the co-location could be deemed to be in place even in area outside the West Kowloon terminus. Cheng disagreed and said it is a baseless and inadmissible argument.
The justice chief also said that nothing can happen without achieving an agreement and formulating a cooperation arrangement between Hong Kong and mainland authorities first.
Lawmaker Starry Lee Wai-king, who chairs the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, criticized the pan-democratic camp for misleading the public by smearing the co-location plan by making disparaging descriptions of it.
Calling on lawmakers to be rational, Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan said he thinks it is sufficient for the Legco to pass the co-location bill in two and a half months.
If the bill is not passed before the third quarter, it could make things difficult to start operations on the Hong Kong section of the Express Link on schedule, he said.
Asked by lawmaker Raymond Chan Chi-chuen from People Power about whether the government has any backup plan if it suffers a setback during a judicial review on co-location after services begin, Chan suggested such worry is unnecessary since related infrastructures will have already been in place and they cannot be changed easily.
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