Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor hit out on Thursday at critics of the joint checkpoint plan for the cross-border high-speed rail link, describing them as irrational in failing to accept the city’s constitutional order 20 years after the handover.
But former Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing, a pro-Beijing stalwart, said local officials were partly to blame for the dispute over the “co-location” arrangement under which national laws would be enforced in a section of the West Kowloon terminal leased to the mainland.
Lam’s defiant words came during her first question-and-answer session this year at Legco after pan-democratic lawmaker Helena Wong Pik-wan mocked the government for its “slavish attitude” towards Beijing by pressing ahead with local legislation for the joint checkpoint.
The plan for the high-speed rail link to Guangzhou was endorsed last month by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) but slammed by the city’s Bar Association as the most retrograde step since 1997. Critics said officials had failed to explain how the arrangement would not breach the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution.
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On Thursday, Lam recited the claims – “the NPCSC decided it just by saying so”, “the government was scared of the NPCSC”, and “the NPCSC’s decision emasculated the local courts” – and refuted each one as irrational.
“After 20 years since the handover, some people still have not mastered or even accepted the constitutional order,” the chief executive said, referring to the city’s transfer of sovereignty from Britain to China in 1997.
Lam said a solid legal basis existed, starting with Hong Kong signing a deal for the arrangement with the mainland, followed by the NPCSC’s endorsement, and then pursuing local legislation to formally implement the plan in the city.
She said her public speeches or remarks on the co-location proposal since July amounted to 43 pages when transcribed. She urged Hongkongers to view the matter in an objective and inclusive manner.
But Tsang asserted officials had not explained clearly enough the legal basis for the unprecedented joint checkpoint.
“The government should know well the issue is controversial and should have discussed it for a long time,” Tsang said in an online interview on Thursday. “Officials should be able to give a clear and comprehensive explanation [as to] why co-location does not breach the Basic Law, rather than just saying there is no breach. That is not satisfactory.
He added that the recent debate over whether civil law principles should be applied had diverted public attention.
“This seems to suggest the plan would be unconstitutional if you see the Basic Law from a common law approach and that it would be OK if you took a civil law approach. But this should not be the case.”
Tsang believed the proposal did not breach the Basic Law and was in line with the spirit of the mini-constitution, which, he said, was to “ensure the implementation of the basic policies of [China] regarding Hong Kong”.