The government will put forward a motion debate at the Legislative Council (LegCo) in support of the controversial joint checkpoint arrangement for the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link.

Although the motion to be debated on October 25 will be non-binding, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the government will go ahead and start procedures needed to implement the arrangement after the motion is debated.

The motion is likely to pass as the pro-Beijing camp, which supports the arrangement, holds a majority.

Carrie Lam
Carrie Lam. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

Lam said there have been many discussions in society after the arrangement was announced on July 25, and multiple surveys showed that more than half the population supported the arrangement.

“I hope lawmakers can listen to the public’s voices,” she said. “The public is not worried that there will be violations of the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ principle, and many hope the rail will start operating soon.”

The 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.

Express Rail Link High-Speed Rail terminus West Kowloon Floor Plan
Proposed floor plan of the terminus. Photo: Legislative Council.

Pro-democracy groups and scholars have raised concerns over what they called the ceding of territory to the mainland and potential violations of the Basic Law.

The government will adopt a three-step process to implement the arrangement: 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.

express rail link construction terminus
File photo: In-Media.

Lam said the last step must be completed before summer break next year so that the railway can begin operating in the third quarter of 2018. Around 95 percent of the railway is completed.

“We respect the Legislative Council and we believe that lawmakers represent public voices. As there have been discussions in society, we are willing to have a debate in the Legislative Council,” she said.

The top officials in charge of promoting the agreement had refused to meet with a concern group – formed by activists, scholars and lawmakers – to discuss alternate proposals.

The High Court previously declined applications for judicial reviews over the arrangement, saying such challenges are “clearly premature at this stage.”

Public opinion

Democratic Party lawmaker James To said democrats will not support the motion.

He said it was his understanding that the government originally planned to raise the motion in November, and speculated that the government wished to speed up the plan in order to crush hopes for alternative proposals.

“My feeling is the government is a bit worried that public opinion may swing,” he said. “It is not giving space for the public to discuss and compare whether they want the rule of law, or convenience.”

carrie lam legco
Carrie Lam at the legislature. Photo: LegCo.

Meanwhile, Lam also agreed to a suggestion from lawmakers to hold additional 30-minute question and answer sessions before regular LegCo meetings on Wednesdays.

There may be one or two additional sessions each month, Lam said.

Owing to time constraints, Lam will not make opening speeches during the sessions.

The chief executive usually attends four 90-minute question and answer sessions each year.

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.