The government is to launch a six-week public consultation over the controversial Hong Kong Palace Museum at West Kowloon next Monday. The consultation will only relate to the design and operation of the facility, as the project has already been announced.

The project will be supported with a HK$3.5 billion donation from the Hong Kong Jockey Club. It has already been criticised, as no public consultation had been held before Chief Secretary Carrie Lam announced the plan last month. A group of activists have submitted an application for a judicial review alleging a potential legal issue.

However, a day before Lam was due to answer lawmakers’ questions, the Chief Secretary for Administration’s Office and the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority (WKCDA) jointly submitted a document to the Legislative Council confirming that a consultation will indeed be launched.

Photo: GovHK.

Secrecy ‘judgement call’

The document restated that the long-term display of the Beijing Palace Museum’s collection in Hong Kong requires policy support from relevant mainland authorities. Currently, only a limited number of relics be borrowed for a limited time, therefore, discussions with the mainland had to be conducted on a strictly confidential basis.

“Neither the WKCDA nor the HKSAR Government can take forward the Hong Kong Palace Museum project on its own without the staunch support and approval of the Central People’s Government and the relevant Mainland ministries/agencies as well as funding support from the HKJC Charities Trust,” it read.

The document explained that they were aware of legal requirements in Section 19 of the WKCDA Ordinance that state it should conduct public consultations. It claimed, however, that the Board of the WKCDA had no basis to conduct a public consultation until a “pre-requisite” Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed with the Palace Museum.

File Photo: GovHK.

“We have taken a judgement call that the development of a Hong Kong Palace Museum should be welcomed by the people of Hong Kong and conducive to enhancing Hong Kong’s cultural development and tourism.”

“Once the announcement was made upon approval given by the relevant authorities and signing of the MOU, the WKCDA Board intends to engage the public and stakeholders on a range of matters relating to the Hong Kong Palace Museum.”

Focus groups

The document said that, aside from collecting views from the general public, focus group discussion will be conducted with professional groups and individuals in art, cultural, history and architectural sectors.

The results will be reported to the the LegCo Joint Subcommittee to Monitor the Implementation of the West Kowloon Cultural District Project.

Rocco Yim (left) at a prize presentation ceremony of the West Kowloon Reclamation Concept Plan Competition in 2002. Photo: GovHK.

Previously, Rocco Yim Sen-kee was selected to be an architect for the project without an open competition being held.

The document said Yim had participated in the conceptual design of the cultural district “and thus has a good understanding of the WKCD’s vision.”

“Having regard to the sophisticated technical requirements of designing the Hong Kong Palace Museum, the need to have proven experience and [a] track record in delivering Chinese art museums of a similar nature and scale as well as the need to integrate the new museum into its surroundings and the future facilities nearby, and having consulted the Palace Museum, the Board of WKCDA approved the appointment of Mr Rocco Yim of RDA to be the design consultant for the Hong Kong Palace Museum project.”

“The direct appointment of Mr Yim/RDA as the design consultant was duly approved by the Board with full justification and authority.”

Six-month window

According to the Memorandum of Understanding attached in the document, the WKCDA and the Beijing Palace Museum should strive to sign a cooperation agreement within six months to list out details of the cooperation.

It also said that any party can at any time with any reason give a six-month prior written notice to terminate the Memorandum. If it was terminated, no party would have to bear any responsibility, and the WKCDA will have to cease using the name “Palace Museum.”

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.