Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the government would not rule out simultaneously conducting the three-step process for approving the controversial joint checkpoint arrangement, should the legislature be unable to pass a motion on the mechanism in time. The pro-democracy camp says that Lam’s stance proves that the motion is unnecessary.
The Legislative Council was scheduled to debate a non-binding motion on the arrangement for the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link on Wednesday, but a surprise tactic employed by the pro-democracy camp delayed it for a day. Democrats also deployed filibuster tactics such as calling for headcounts.
Lam had said that the government would begin a three-step process after the motion was passed. But on Thursday, she warned that the government may take action, if legislative approval is not forthcoming in next week’s meetings.
The mechanism will involve “leasing” land to China and effectively giving up Hong Kong jurisdiction across a quarter of the West Kowloon terminus for faster immigration procedures performed by mainland law enforcement agents. Pro-democracy groups and scholars have raised concerns over what they called the ceding of territory to the mainland and potential violations of the Basic Law.
The three-step process involves: reaching an agreement with mainland authorities; seeking approval from the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress to give Hong Kong power to “lease” land; and then enacting the arrangement through local legislation.
‘There is a time limit’
“I do not have any guarantee that the non-binding motion will be passed in a short period of time – thus, I will not rule out simultaneously launching the three steps in one go, should lawmakers continue to delay the motion,” she said. “There is a time limit – the public sincerely expects the rail link to operate in the third quarter next year.”
She denied she was threatening the legislature: “A responsible government, a responsible chief executive cannot ignore this worsening situation.”
“However, it’s too early to say what we will do – we still have a few days of meetings. I have said yesterday that I did not dream of passing it this week,” she said, adding that she expected it to be passed by next Thursday.
“But if it cannot be passed by then, I cannot just stop all work to wait for the Legislative Council. If you want to use [words] like ‘threatening’ or ‘blackmailing’, maybe it’s not accurate to use them against me – now, the government is the victim.”
The delay tactics adopted by pro-democracy lawmaker Eddie Chu had ceased by noon Thursday, since pro-democracy lawmakers had each used up their 15 minute speaking slots.
But as the LegCo started debating the joint checkpoint motion, lawmaker Claudia Mo raised a counter motion to suspend the debate, further stalling the meeting.
Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan said that it proved that the non-binding motion debate was not a prerequisite to the three-step process.
Chan said the government had suspended the debates for the stamp duty bill amendments, and another bill on amendments to the District Council laws, in order to allow the joint checkpoint debate to jump the queue.
“She has used all means to manipulate public opinion, forcing the LegCo to pass the non-binding motion to create a mandate for her,” she said. “Passing the non-binding motion or not is unrelated to the operation of the Express Rail Link – the pro-establishment camp should stop smearing us.”