Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen has avoided committing to a public consultation on the controversial joint checkpoint arrangement for Hong Kong’s new rail link, saying that consultations are not the only option for gauging opinions.
The checkpoint system for the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link involves asking the National People’s Congress to grant Hong Kong power to lease a quarter of the station to the mainland authorities. The arrangement will allow for faster customs and immigration procedures, though the area will no longer be legally considered Hong Kong territory.
The pro-democracy camp criticised the government for pushing forward the proposal without consulting the public. The plan will likely receive support from the National People’s Congress, and it will already have enough votes at the Legislative Council with the support of the pro-Beijing camp.
Democratic Party lawmaker James To said the process was worse than the Hong Kong Palace Museum proposal for West Kowloon: “You did not even try to conduct a fake consultation.”
But Yuen said the government has been listening to public opinion over the years. He said that other proposals from were listed in the document given to lawmakers, though they were all rejected.
“This is not a black-box process,” he said at a special Legislative Council House Committee meeting on the issue.
“We have been respecting opinions from the public and the Legislative Council… We will continue reviewing the process to obtain opinions.”
He did not give directly answer as to whether there will be a public consultation.
IT sector lawmaker Charles Mok said the government proposal was without any precedent, as the mainland would have jurisdiction on moving trains.
“I have not seen you being so innovative with other laws,” he said sarcastically. “The whole thing is just done forcefully… there are so many questions, there are other proposals, there is enough time for you to fix your misleading information – would you consider a public consultation?”
The pro-democracy camp has criticised the proposal for “ceding land” to the mainland and giving up jurisdiction. They say it cannot be compared to foreign examples – such as pre-clearance checks by US authorities at Canadian rail stations – as stated in government documents.
Yuen said joint checkpoints have past precedence at the Shenzhen Bay control point, where Hong Kong leased land from Shenzhen.
“We will listen carefully to public opinion in the coming months, including opinions from the Legislative Council. We believe the effect will be the same as public consultation,” he said.
Transport Secretary Frank Chan said that Mok’s statement was wrong, as all information provided by the government was factual.
Yuen also maintained that there would not be any more leasing of land, other than at the West Kowloon terminus.
But lawmaker Andrew Wan questioned how could he keep the promise if he leaves his current role.
The then-transport secretary Eva Cheng said in 2009 that the government was open to proposals and the joint checkpoint arrangement may not be essential to the Express Rail Link.
“I am concerned you will be Eva Cheng no.2,” Wan said.
But Yuen said the circumstances had changed since Cheng’s term. He said the government has studied different plans and eventually rejected all others.
“I think we all have to be fairer to Ms Cheng… We cannot just pick a few lines from past documents and said the government or Ms Cheng have lied,” he said. “We have to objectively look at the meaning of the words said at the time.”
Labour Party lawmaker Fernando Cheung tabled a non-binding motion urging the government to hire an independent agency to conduct a public consultation. It was rejected by the pro-Beijing camp, after it received 18 “yes” and 27 “no” votes.