Legislators across Hong Kong’s political spectrum were preparing for a showdown over a controversial joint checkpoint plan for a high-speed cross-border rail link, with almost all lawmakers vying for a seat on the bills committee that will start scrutinising the proposal on Monday.
Sixty lawmakers – 24 pan-democratic and 36 pro-establishment politicians – had signed up for the pivotal panel. Only four Legislative Council members did not follow suit, it was learned on Saturday.
The committee will hold its first meeting on Monday, and atop its agenda is the election of a chairman and vice-chairman.
The Civic Party’s Tanya Chan, who also convenes a co-location concern group, said she would seek to be chairwoman. That would pit her against pro-establishment lawmakers Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee and Horace Cheung Kwok-kwan.
“Both [Ip and Cheung] are Executive Council members, and they could be biased and force lawmakers to vote by a deadline set by the government,” the pan-democrat said, referring to their duties as advisers to the city’s leader, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor. Chan added that unresolved legal questions about the plan could lead to a constitutional crisis.
Beijing’s top legislature last December endorsed the joint checkpoint arrangement, which would allow mainland immigration and customs officers to enforce national laws in a zone leased to them at West Kowloon station in Hong Kong. The link extends to the city of Guangzhou on the mainland.
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Pan-democrats and prominent legal professionals have blasted the plan as diminishing the city’s autonomy. They demand the government explain how the arrangement does not breach Article 18 of the Basic Law, which states that no national laws can be enforced in Hong Kong unless they are annexed in the mini-constitution.
With its predominant membership in the committee, the pro-establishment camp is expected to ensure that Ip and Cheung become chairwoman and vice-chairman.
“I am well-qualified for the post given my previous background in immigration and border matters,” Ip, a former security minister, said. “Whether the chairman is an Executive Council member or not, the window for legislation is limited as train services are expected to start in the third quarter.”
Ip hoped the committee would finish its review of the bill by the end of May and then put it forward for a full Legco vote.
Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah, security minister John Lee Ka-chiu, and transport minister Frank Chan Fan will attend the Legco meeting on Monday to address questions.