Pro-Beijing lawmaker Horace Cheung says there is no time for a public consultation on the controversial joint checkpoint arrangement for Hong Kong’s Express Rail Link to Guangzhou.
The rail system is expected to start operating in the third quarter of next year. The government proposal involves asking the National People’s Congress (NPC) to grant Hong Kong power to lease a quarter of the station to the mainland authorities for faster border checks. The leased area will no longer be considered Hong Kong territory, in order to bypass the constitutional stipulation that mainland laws cannot be implemented in the city.
But the pro-democracy camp has said that such a move will set a bad precedent, as it urged an independent consultation. On Wednesday, Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen said that consulting the Legislative Council would have the same effect.
The government has laid out three steps to enact the arrangement. First, Hong Kong and the mainland will reach an agreement, then the NPC will have to approve and endorse it, and finally the Hong Kong legislature will need to pass a law to enact it.
Cheung said that time is running short before the rail system starts operating, so Hong Kong has to complete the process by June next year. Cheung is also a member of the Executive Council, representing his party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.
“How long do you want [the consultation] to be? When should we discuss the agreement? If we do not reach an agreement, how will we go to the Standing Committee of the NPC? How do we do local legislation?” he asked on a RTHK programme on Friday.
Cheung said that, if there is a consultation before reaching an agreement, it may not be completed in time to be sent to NPC Standing Committee meeting in December.
If it could only be passed by the NPC in February next year, he said – then there will only be a few months for the local legislation to be passed.
In 2007, Hong Kong reached an agreement with Shenzhen in order to pass local laws to lease an area at the Shenzhen Bay control point.
Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan said the local legislation process for the control point took only two months, and yet there is a year before the rail link begins operations.
“The consultation for the political reform package took two to three months – all problems were solved in one-to-two months and a report was submitted in time. Why can we not have a consultation under the same timeframe?” she asked on the programme. “If you say timing-wise we can’t do it, I disagree.”
Cheung said the Shenzhen Bay issue was not as complicated as the Express Rail Link’s joint checkpoint.
“It’s complicated, so it is even more necessary to consult the public,” Chan replied.
But Cheung said the issue “did not come up all of a sudden” and it has been under discussion for a long time.