Hong Kong’s legislature has passed a bill that will allow Chinese authorities to enforce their own laws within a portion of the semi-autonomous territory, setting off alarm bells among those concerned about Beijing’s tightening grip.
Independent lawmakers believe the bill governing the Hong Kong terminus of the rail link from the Chinese city of Guangzhou contravenes the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution that was adopted after the former British colony was handed over to China in 1997.
The bill passed late Thursday allows passengers to clear Chinese border checks inside Hong Kong at the end of the 26-kilometer (16-mile) high-speed rail line, which is to open in the third quarter of 2018. That will permit Chinese police to enforce mainland Chinese laws within the terminus, the first time such rights have been granted within Hong Kong’s territory.
The move comes as Beijing is seen as stepping up pressure on the territory’s legal system and civil liberties that are supposed to be preserved until 2047, apart from legal matters related to defense, foreign affairs and national security. Hong Kong residents enjoy rights such as freedom of speech and assembly that are routinely violated on the mainland.
Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the legislature’s offices Thursday to watch a live broadcast of the debate and the vote that followed.
Tanya Chan, a member of Hong Kong’s legislature, was among those opposed to the move.
“Obviously this co-location arrangement violates the Basic Law, as well as very common legal practices in Hong Kong,” Chan said.
Chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association Philip Dykes said the decision set a worrisome precedent because people entering the zone could be found in violation of mainland Chinese laws they weren’t aware of and whisked off to detention.
“And the concern is, in the future, if this can be done for a railway station, it might also be done for some other reasons, some other purposes,” Dykes said. AP