Hong Kong’s legislature on Thursday night finally passed a bitterly contested bill to set up a joint border checkpoint with mainland China in the heart of the city after a marathon debate that saw attempts to delay the vote descend into chaos.
The so-called co-location bill was passed by 40 to 20 votes, five months after it was tabled at the Legislative Council for approval to station mainland Chinese immigration officers at the West Kowloon terminal of the HK$84 billion (US$10.75 billion) high-speed railway that will link the city to Guangzhou.
In a reflection of the controversy surrounding the issue, around 300 demonstrators gathered outside the Leco building at Tamar to watch a live broadcast of the vote and debate preceding it – those backing the bill were outnumbered by protesters opposing it.
Lawmakers resumed the final debate on Thursday morning following week-long deliberations on the proposed legislation.
Discussion on the second reading of the bill in the chamber began last Wednesday, following three months of scrutiny by a bills committee during which opposition lawmakers accused the government of failing to address their concerns.
Thursday’s discussions mainly centred on 24 amendments proposed by nine filibustering pan-democrat lawmakers.
Their suggested changes included a sunset clause, penalties for mainland officers operating outside the zone designated as a port area for them at the West Kowloon station, and allowing for the possibility of a Hong Kong court overturning the arrangement. All were voted down by the pro-establishment majority.
The Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (Co-location) Bill allows for passengers to clear both Hong Kong and mainland border checks at a single location, which means mainland laws will be enforced on Hong Kong soil for the first time.
Opposition politicians and their pro-democracy supporters see it as a violation of Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, which would undermine the city’s autonomy under the one-country, two-systems governing policy.
“Its passage comes not only at the cost of our core value of the rule of law, but it also shows people the legislature is only a rubber stamp,” unionist lawmaker Leung Yiu-chung said.