In the ongoing public consultation exercise on the way forward for our land policy, the Task Force on Land Supply has offered dozens of short- to medium- as well as long-term options for discussion.
However, while these options are already quite diversified, one key option is missing, i.e., tapping into some of the idle military lots occupied by the Hong Kong garrison of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) for public housing.
The idea has been proposed by the honorary chairman of the Liberal Party James Tien Pei-chun earlier on.
Media reports, citing sources from political circles, said the Task Force had intended to include this option in its consultation paper, only to withdraw it in the last minute due to Beijing’s opposition.
According to Article 13 of the Garrison Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, the SAR government has the right to designate some of the military land holdings in the city for public use, on condition that it must relocate existing facilities in these areas to other sites with the agreement of the central government.
In other words, under the Garrison Law, it is fully legitimate and constitutional for the SAR government to seek Beijing’s approval to convert some of the areas occupied by the PLA into public housing sites.
All the Hong Kong government needs to do is to seek Beijing’s thumbs-up and then arrange for a new location and pay for the costs of moving the facilities.
It actually baffles me as to why Beijing would be so outraged by this suggestion.
The only reason I could think of is that perhaps what actually angered Beijing wasn’t the idea itself, but rather, our reference to these sites as “idle military land”.
Beijing could have been upset because from its point of view, the word “idle” may carry negative connotations, or may even be regarded as an implicit criticism against the deployment of PLA troops in Hong Kong.
But even so, I still strongly believe that there is room to discuss the conversion of PLA land holdings into housing development sites.
If Beijing had considered all PLA military sites in Hong Kong as absolute off-limits to the SAR government from day one, then why would it have bothered to put Article 13 into the Garrison Law in the first place?
As such, I believe it isn’t entirely impossible for the SAR government to relocate several PLA military sites that are either located in our urban heartland or on the outskirts of new towns to more remote areas or restored landfills in the New Territories. By doing so it could also avoid upsetting Beijing.
At present, there are 10 PLA sites scattered across the city, with some of them right in downtown areas such as Kowloon Tong and the Gun Club Hill Barracks.
These military bases are mostly underused, and have barely seen any large-scale military drills over the years. So why not tap into these sites, which aren’t too big in size but lying on premium locations?
In fact, the deployment of PLA troops to Hong Kong is more of a symbolic move than anything else, because our police by themselves are capable of maintaining law and order in the city.
Therefore, I just can’t see any justification for stationing troops at the center of our urban areas.
It is quite unlikely that relocating some of the PLA facilities to remote areas would fundamentally undermine the defense of our city.
Yet releasing these plots of land for housing would prove instantly and substantially effective in alleviating our land shortage.
The central government has always claimed that it is very concerned about our city’s economy and people’s livelihood.
If so, isn’t releasing PLA sites for housing development a great way for our Beijing leaders to show their sincere concern for the people of Hong Kong?
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has been eagerly pitching land reclamation as the ultimate solution to our city’s land shortage. But why didn’t she even have the guts to bring up the issue of converting PLA sites with her Beijing bosses?
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 12
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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