Pro-democracy lawmakers have accused the government of using the legislature as a “rubber stamp” to pass a non-binding motion over the controversial joint border checkpoint arrangement.
It was passed by the Legislative Council on Wednesday with the support of the pro-Beijing camp, after filibustering by the opposition caused a three-week delay.
Pro-democracy lawmaker Eddie Chu said a good discussion cannot be made without a proper disclosure of information: “LegCo was totally being used as a rubber stamp just to force an impression that society has already come to a consensus, but – definitely – the opposite is true.”
“Rubber stamp” is a political metaphor referring to institutions which are used to endorse the actions of more powerful organs.
The Express Rail link immigration mechanism will involve “leasing” land to the mainland and effectively giving up Hong Kong jurisdiction across a quarter of the new West Kowloon terminus. It will allow for faster immigration procedures performed by mainland law enforcement agents.
Although the government and the pro-Beijing camp claim the proposal received the public’s support, democrats have called for a public consultation, saying that polls showed that public opinion was split. Though the motion has no legal effect, the government will now start a three-step to implement the mechanism – the last step is to enact the arrangement through local legislation.
Pro-democracy lawmaker James To said according to current schedule, the bill will not return to the LegCo before the by-elections in March next year.
“I now understand why the pro-Beijing camp insists so much on changing the LegCo rules… If they changed the rules before March 11, it would greatly reduce our room for resistance against evil laws.”
“We will use every single means to block the rules from being changed.”
Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen said the government aims to complete the first two steps by the end of this year, so that the third step can be passed by the LegCo before the summer break next year.
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. Sections of the station in West Kowloon – set to open next year – will be considered part of the mainland under the agreement.
A top Beijing official has said there has yet to be a final decision on how to cite Article 20 of the Basic Law to enable the agreement. Yuen said the government has studied it thoroughly.
Article 20 stipulates that Hong Kong may enjoy other powers granted to it by the National People’s Congress or the central government. In the proposal, it will be cited to ask the Congress to grant Hong Kong the power to “lease” land back to the mainland.
“We have heard public opinions about Article 20 of the Basic Law – we will reflect the opinions to the central government. We will also keep on reviewing our legal analysis,” he said. “It is not like what some people said – that we did not listen to opinions – it is absolutely not the case.”
Transport secretary Frank Chan said 97 per cent of the rail system has been completed, and the rest of the project has to be completed as soon as possible.
Security Secretary John Lee said his bureau will form working groups with relevant mainland authorities over operations and contingency plans.