Hong Kong’s imposing new harborfront rail terminus promises a high-speed link with China but for some the station represents an existential crisis for the city, with nothing less than its cherished freedoms under threat.
Joint immigration checkpoints at the West Kowloon Station are set to become special port areas, patrolled by mainland Chinese security and subject to Chinese law.
Officials on both sides say it is for the convenience of travelers but opponents see it as further eroding the semi-autonomous status that was guaranteed for the former British colony on its handover in 1997.
Hong Kong enjoys liberties unseen on the mainland, including freedom of speech and an independent judiciary, with rule of law a bedrock of its culture and success as a business hub.
A string of incidents including the disappearance of five Hong Kong booksellers and the ousting of six elected rebel lawmakers have fueled concern that Chinese authorities are undermining that status. The rail terminus controversy goes to the heart of those fears.
It has prompted questions over how Hong Kong citizens will be required to behave in those zones, whether they will be free to use sites such as Facebook and Twitter which are banned on the mainland, or targeted for wearing clothing with political slogans.
The Hong Kong Bar Association said it was “appalled” by Beijing’s decision last month to approve the plan and leading lawyers have questioned its legal basis.
“The restlessness [in the legal community] comes from the continued and relentless challenges to the rule of law as we understand it,” barrister Randy Shek said.
Hong Kong’s mini-constitution — the Basic Law — clearly cites that national laws do not apply to the city apart from in limited areas, including defense. Barrister Johannes Chan said Beijing had bypassed the usual process for adding a mainland ruling to the Basic Law and that its powers should not be “unlimited and absolute.” “This is basically rule without law,” he told AFP.
The checkpoint plan has been backed by Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing government and is likely to be passed by the legislature which is weighted towards the establishment.
The disappearance of the five booksellers in 2015, including one who went missing from a warehouse in Hong Kong, triggered concern that Beijing security agents were clandestinely operating in the city.
A year later, an intervention by Beijing to make a special “interpretation” of the Basic Law forced the dismissal from parliament of publicly elected pro-independence and pro-democracy lawmakers who staged protests while taking their oaths of office.
That Beijing ruling prompted more than 1,000 lawyers dressed in black to march silently through the city.
The jailing last year of student activists who led mass pro-democracy rallies in 2014, which were an unprecedented rebuke to Beijing, also led to protests and accusations of “political prosecution” from their supporters. Officials on both sides of the border insist that rule of law has not been compromised with the joint checkpoint proposal.
City leader Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥) accused opposing lawyers of adopting an “elitist mentality” for judging Hong Kong’s legal system as taking priority over the mainland’s. “They are unwilling to accept the political reality that China is the sovereign state of Hong Kong,” solicitor and pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho (何君堯) said, adding that China “must have the ultimate say on Hong Kong affairs.”
But other lawyers are mobilizing to defend Hong Kong’s status.
Prominent British lawyer Philip Dykes, seeking election this month as chairman of Hong Kong’s Bar Council said the organization has a “duty to uphold the rule of law and should speak out” when it is perceived to be under threat.
Barrister Shek, who is running with Dykes for a role in the council, said they are not taking a political stance, but trying to defend the city’s established legal system.
“The bar must speak up at any sign of attack on this very fundamental principle that made Hong Kong what Hong Kong is,” Shek said.
“Warning signs are everywhere.”
The first large-scale study of a four-day workweek has come to a startling close: Not one of the 33 participating companies is returning to a standard five-day schedule. Data released Tuesday show the organizations involved registered gains in revenue and employee productivity, as well as drops in absenteeism and turnover. Workers on a four-day schedule also were more inclined to work from the office than home. “This is important because the two-day weekend is not working for people,” said lead researcher Juliet Schor, an economist and sociologist at Boston College who partnered with counterparts at University College Dublin and Cambridge University. “In
Taiwan Plus (@taiwanplusnews), the excellent English-language media outlet, reported last week that water levels were down in Taiwan’s largest reservoir as the nation’s dry season looms. The northern reservoirs may be brimming, but the rains have neglected the south, forcing the nation’s water bureaucracy to scramble to maintain supplies without rationing. Almost a metaphor for the nation’s political geography. There’s no little irony in this happening on the heels of a business-as-usual election in which all incumbents were re-elected. That construct we misleadingly label “mother nature” is sending us another tranche of signals telling us that business as usual is
Winter is the best season — the only season, many would argue — in which long walks near sea level are enjoyable. Remembering that Miaoli County is often very pleasant in the cool season, with little of the pollution that often plagues Taiwan’s south during that time of year, I broke out a map and scanned parts of the county I’m not familiar with. I hoped to work out a route that’d link a few points of interest I’d not visited before, and also begin and end at places served by public transportation. Jhunan Township (竹南), which has a population
Before she starts singing, Vivi Tan (陳映璇) asks the crowd of mostly children: “Do any of you understand Taigi?” Only a few raise their hands, but they sing along when she teaches them how to say “good morning” in the night’s first number, Gau tsa. Taigi is the transliteration of Hoklo (better known as Taiwanese). The tune is an original by Tang Lek-hian (董力玄), cofounder of Taigi Road (牽囡仔e手行台語e路), a support and activity group for parents who are teaching the language to their children. Tan and her husband Iunn A-ian (楊晉淵), a professional musician, have been participating in the group