The Legislative Council has passed a motion of thanks for the chief executive’s policy address – the first time in nine years. It means that the legislature will return to the debate on the controversial joint checkpoint arrangement next week.
The motion this week debated the details of Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s maiden policy address, though it is non-binding in nature. The pro-Beijing camp was able to pass it as six members of the pro-democracy camp were previously disqualified by a court, which stripped the democrats of their veto power.
Unlike the motion debate on the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link’s joint checkpoint – in which creative filibustering tactics were adopted – the debate at the legislature this week was relatively calm, as the pro-democracy camp exercised a truce.
Democratic Party chair Wu Chi-wai said the party still opposed the motion to support the policy address, since it focused on livelihood issues and ignored democratic development.
“The government should have the responsibility, courage and the determination to better defend the ‘One Country, Two Systems,’ ‘Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong’ and ‘high degree of autonomy’ principles,” he said. “Livelihood issues cannot be separated from political issues.”
However, three pro-democracy lawmakers voted to support the motion, including Ip Kin-yuen of education sector, Kenneth Leung of accountancy and Joseph Lee of health services.
Ip said he viewed the policy address pragmatically and most teachers felt positively about the measures Lam laid out. “I just approve what is right and condemn what is wrong,” Ip said.
But pro-Beijing DAB party chair Starry Lee said that the conditions to restart political reform have yet to be fulfilled, thus the government should focus on livelihood matters.
“If you ask Mrs Lam to push every time she meets [Chinese President] Xi Jinping for universal suffrage and political reform in Hong Kong – if we think carefully, considering China’s political rules, can we get universal suffrage like that? It’s impossible.”
Calm before the storm?
Lee said the Legislative Council over the past three days had been calm: “After the calmness, we don’t know if we will have good days afterwards – but we hope so.”
As the LegCo resumes next Wednesday, it will continue the debate over pro-democracy lawmaker Eddie Chu’s motion to request the media and public leave the Legislative Council chamber, a last-ditch – and unusual – effort to stall the meeting.
The joint checkpoint arrangement 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.
Although the joint checkpoint motion would be non-binding, the government has said it will seek the legislature’s permission, before starting a three-step procedure to approve the mechanism.
The three steps include: 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 to the mainland; and enacting the arrangement through local legislation.
Pro-democracy groups and scholars have raised concerns over what they call a ceding of territory to China and potential violations of the Basic Law, as it is unclear whether the National People’s Congress can – upon Hong Kong’s request – declare any part of the city to be within its own jurisdiction, as per Basic Law Article 20.