CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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On the train but off the rails

HONG KONG (UCAN): The Legislative Council (LegCo) has been told by the chief executive, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, that the leasing of space at the Hong Kong terminus of the Express Rail Link connecting the city with Guangzhou on the other side of the mainland border may have gone ahead whether it passed a non-binding bill or not.
However, critics from the pro-democracy seats in the LegCo say that this may see Hong Kong on the train but off the rails, as the arrangement could be used to usurp law in the city.
Eric Cheung Tat-ming, the principal lecturer from the law faculty at Hong Kong University, said this means the special administrative region would be giving up its jurisdiction over the area at West Kowloon Terminus.
A legal expert warned that a land-leasing agreement for the $83.7 billion joint rail project between Hong Kong and mainland China could be used as a stalking horse by Beijing to usurp the city’s laws.
Some members of the LegCo have condemned the agreement for ceding control of territory to Beijing, saying it violates the One Country Two Systems principle, which guarantees the territory’s high degree of autonomy.
The Hong Kong government has referred to Article 20 of the Basic Law which it says allows for sections of the territory’s area to go under the control of the mainland in order to provide travellers with smooth immigration and customs clearance.
Article 20 notes that the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region is allowed to share powers conferred by the National People’s Congress, the Standing Committee and the central government.
Cheung told a seminar held on October 29 on the co-location rail arrangement organised by the Justice and Peace Commission that the deal reflected Beijing’s tightening grip on Hong Kong.
He said if the National People’s Congress Standing Committee authorised the Hong Kong government to give up its jurisdiction through legislation, it “may be regarded as doing something that would override the Basic Law and violate its constitution.”
Cheung explained that if the central government set a precedent by authorising the Hong Kong government to violate the Basic Law, anything could be authorised in the same way in the future, which could bring endless trouble.
“The rights of Hong Kong people originally protected by the Basic Law may be put aside to fulfill political needs,” he said.
Cheung projected that it could well clear the way for Beijing to authorise the Hong Kong government to enact security laws under Article 23 of the Basic Law without going through the LegCo.
Under Article 23, Hong Kong is required to enact national security legislation, but an ill-fated attempt back in 2003 saw the administration back off and the idea was shelved for the time being.
Father Stephen Chan Moon-hong told the seminar that the Church had no set position on the leasing arrangement, but he called on people to stand on the side of truth and raise objections on their own.
Under the plan, travellers will be able to complete both Hong Kong and Chinese immigration and customs clearances under one roof inside the West Kowloon Terminus Building, before boarding trains on the national railway network.
China will lease a Mainland Port Area that will include mainland immigration and customs, waiting and departure areas, as well as platforms.
In the entire area, full Chinese law, both criminal and civil, will prevail even though it is located on Hong Kong soil.
The agreement was signed at Government House on November 18, but few details of the deal have been made public pending approval from the National People’s Committee.
Many fear it could leave Hong Kong on the train next year, but many fear off the rails shortly afterwards.

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