Pro-democracy veteran Martin Lee has warned that China could lease more land from Hong Kong in order to crush protests in the city, following the precedent set by the joint checkpoint arrangement for the Express Rail Link terminus.

Areas of the West Kowloon terminus will be leased to China and Chinese laws will be enforced there. Under the government’s proposal, the Hong Kong government will ask Beijing to issue an order declaring parts of the underground terminus to be legally regarded as outside the territory of the Special Administrative Region.

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Martin Lee. File photo: Catherine Lai/HKFP.

The proposal said the National People’s Congress can cite Article 20 of the Basic Law – which allows it to grant “other powers” to Hong Kong – to lease the land and allow it to enforce Chinese law there. The government argued that, since the leased areas will legally cease to be Hong Kong, the agreement will not violate Basic Law Article 18, which stipulates that mainland laws cannot be enforced in Hong Kong.

But Lee, a former member of the Basic Law drafting committee, said the Hong Kong public would not accept this deal.

“If there is a second Occupy Central, in Central or Mong Kok, say they are occupied for a few days, and [China] feels that things are not right – it will be easy to cite Article 20, under a mutual agreement, to lease the occupied area back to the mainland for a week,” the former Democratic Party leader said on a RTHK programme on Thursday.

“During that week, Hong Kong laws will not apply, the Basic Law will not apply, only mainland laws will be enforced – then what can we do?” he said. “It means Hong Kong people will not be protected by Hong Kong laws, including the Basic Law.”

He said the agreement would violate the Sino-British Joint Declaration, on which the Basic Law was based. Lee added that Hong Kong’s interests in land rights should be protected.

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Photo: P H Yang.

But Maria Tam, a pro-Beijing heavyweight who was also a member of the Basic Law drafting committee, said the scenario that Lee imagined would not happen.

“This arrangement was only proposed after many years of consideration by Hong Kong – we even reserved space for a mainland port area… we will not lease land to the mainland to use out of the blue,” she said.

The government has been in discussion with the mainland over the joint checkpoint arrangement since 2010, when construction for the Express Rail Link had already begun.

Tam, a Hong Kong member of the National People’s Congress, said the top Chinese legislature has the power to set rules for Hong Kong.

“The decision from the National People’s Congress will clear all doubts,” she said. “With the decision from the National People’s Congress, all legal issues will be solved.”

At least four Hongkongers have filed judicial reviews challenging the government over the joint checkpoint arrangement.

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.