The Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XRL) is scheduled to begin services in the next quarter after the Legislative Council approved the controversial co-location bill for the multibillion-dollar project.
The legislation was passed on third reading on Thursday night, 40-20 with one abstention, after bitter debates that lasted 38 hours since last week, which prompted Legco president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen to restrict the time for the lawmakers’ speeches and the duration of the meeting of the committee of the whole council.
That completes the “three-step process” to implement the XRL project, including reaching a cooperation arrangement between Hong Kong and Beijing, getting approval and endorsement from the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, and legislating the proposal in Hong Kong.
During the voting, several pan-democratic lawmakers tore and tossed documents from their seats and chanted slogans to express their strong protest against the legislation, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
All of the pan-democrats, except for five who had been expelled from the proceedings, voted against the bill. Dr. Pierre Chan Pui-yin, representing the medical functional constituency, abstained.
People Power lawmaker Raymond Chan Chi-chuen accused the Legco president of being fickle, noting that the multiple arrangements he made during the process clearly violated the rules of procedures.
Under the co-location plan, customs, immigration and quarantine facilities of Hong Kong and mainland China will be located at the West Kowloon terminus of the Express Rail Link.
The arrangement sparked concerns because China will rent a part of the terminus where its officers will enjoy full criminal jurisdiction on trains and platforms, as well as the border clearance zone.
Pan-democrats opposed the plan, saying it violates the Basic Law and is tantamount to ceding Hong Kong territory to China.
Speaking to lawmakers after the vote, Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan said the government is more determined than pan-democrats to respect the Basic law, and called on them to experience the XRL with an open attitude.
As he was leaving the chamber, Chan was surrounded by lawmakers belonging to the Council Font, including Gary Fan Kwok-wai, Claudia Mo Man-ching and Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, who shouted at him and accused him of selling out.
Lawmaker Tanya Chan Suk-chong, who is also the convenor of the Co-location Concern Group, said that the government won the bill at the cost of the “one country, two systems” principle. Charles Mok Nai-kwong, a pan-democrat who represents the information technology functional constituency, called the occasion “the darkest day in Legco” in recent years.
While the controversy over the co-location plan has been officially concluded, it is understood that the pan-democratic camp will seriously consider the possibility of filing for a judicial review of the legislation.
However, the opposition is also mindful of the possible consequences of such an action, including the possibility that it may prompt another interpretation of the Basic Law by the National People’s Congress.
The transport chief reiterated to media that if any citizen decides to seek a judicial review, the government will respect their right and deal with it by abiding by the spirit of the rule of law.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor welcomed the passage of the bill, and thanked lawmakers and different sectors of the community for supporting the implementation of the co-location arrangement.
It signifies a big step towards commissioning the Hong Kong section of the XRL in September this year, Lam said, adding that the government and MTR Corporation are pressing ahead with the preparatory work at full speed.
The bill will be gazetted on June 22 and come into operation on a day to be appointed by the transport secretary through a notice published in the Gazette.
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