Chinese Military Port gets Go-AHEAD despite protests
Published on 18th Feb 2014
Hong Kong residents are uneasy about Chinese plans to build a military base in Victoria Harbour. Photo: Reuters
Shanghai: The controversial construction of a People's Liberation Army port in Hong Kong's historic Victoria Harbour has been approved, amid growing unease about China's role in the former British colony.
The port proposal was "unanimously" passed by Hong Kong's planning board, China's state broadcaster announced.
The port, which would be the PLA's first in Hong Kong, was first discussed in 1994 as part of pre-handover talks between London and Beijing, the broadcaster CCTV claimed.
However, CCTV made no mention of widespread opposition to the plans, which have added to concerns about Beijing's vision for the former colony.
About 19,000 formal "comments" about the construction of the PLA port were submitted to city planners, of which just 20 were favourable, according to the South China Morning Post newspaper.
Last December, at least four pro-independence activists broke into the PLA's Central Barracks in Hong Kong, waving colonial-era flags and calling for the port project to be scrapped.
The PLA subsequently staged a major military drill in Victoria Harbour involving two frigates and helicopters. The move was widely interpreted as a reminder that Beijing held ultimate authority over Hong Kong.
Most critics of the installation, in public at least, frame their objections in terms of urban planning not politics. "It's not a question of ideology or whether or not we trust the PLA - anyway, we've all seen what happened on June 4, 1989 - this is an issue about our rights as citizens," Kenneth Chan, a legislator who is campaigning against the port, told the South China Morning Post last year, in a reference to the army's bloody crackdown on Tiananmen Square protesters.
Extensive public consultation on the PLA port, including "face-to-face" talks, had been carried out. Its construction in the Central district was "reasonable and in line with the overall interests of Hong Kong", Regina Ip, a pro-Beijing member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong, told the Chinese network.
Government officials have attempted to reassure residents about the PLA's presence in such a key location. In January, Hong Kong's security minister ruled out deploying the PLA to quell protests. Last May, officials said the port would be used for "conducting military training, berthing military vessels, running ceremonial activities and carrying out pier maintenance".
Still, the PLA's presence in such a central and historic part of Hong Kong is highly symbolic and has added to concerns over Communist Party meddling.
The former colony was guaranteed a "high degree of autonomy" from Beijing under the "one country, two systems" model introduced after the handover in 1997. Yet the true extent of that autonomy has been questioned in recent months.
Last week, Hong Kong's Foreign Correspondents' Club warned that outside interference threatened "to erode Hong Kong's unique position as a bastion of free expression under Chinese rule". Reporters Without Borders said local press freedom was "in jeopardy".
Those alerts came after Kevin Lau Chun-to, the editor of the Chinese-language broadsheet Ming Pao, was sidelined in January amid speculation that his employers had ceded to pressure from Beijing.
Participants in yesterday's Hong Kong marathon wore blue ribbons in protest against dwindling press freedom.
Tensions are unlikely to ease over the coming months. Tens of thousands of demonstrators are likely to flock on to the former colony's streets in June to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.
Pro-democracy activists are also calling for public demonstrations as they push for the introduction of universal suffrage by 2017 when the election for Hong Kong's next chief executive is held.
Last month, the Global Times, a fiercely nationalistic Chinese tabloid, accused the United States and Britain of stirring up opposition to Beijing in order to satisfy their "own selfish interests in Hong Kong". Hong Kong's pro-democracy groups enjoyed "flaunting" their "real freedom" but they now needed to "learn their place," it said.
BEIJING — Hong Kong has taken a key step towards approving the construction of a Chinese military port along its waterfront, China’s state media reported Saturday, despite fierce public opposition to the move.
In a unanimous decision, Hong Kong’s Town Planning Board Friday gave the green light for the construction of a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) military port in the city’s Central District, state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) said.
The proposal to develop the port — marked for an area of prime harborfront property covering 2,970 square meters — must now be approved by Hong Kong’s top policy-making body before it becomes final, CCTV reported.
A spokesman for the planning board told the broadcaster that the port, which would be the PLA’s first in Hong Kong, had been in planning since 1994, three years before the former British colony was handed back to China.
But the proposal has drawn sharp criticism from some of Hong Kong’s residents who argue the public will lose access to valuable open space along Victoria Harbor if the land is converted for military use.
According to the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, more than 19,000 residents have submitted public comments to the board since last February, when the government submitted its application for the re-zoning of the land.
Only 20 of those comments were in favor of the proposal, it reported.
The newspaper also cited legal experts who said that it remains unclear as to what extent the public will be able to use the land when it is not in use by the PLA.
Tensions between the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong have flared in recent months, with some residents of the semi-autonomous territory staging protests to vent their frustration over livelihood issues and the pace of political reforms.
Civic Party lawmaker Kenneth Chan, who leads a campaign against the PLA port, accused Hong Kong’s government, whose current chief executive is appointed by a pro-Beijing committee, of failing to protect the territory’s interests.
“The place belongs to Hong Kong people,” he told AFP on Saturday.
A survey published by Hong Kong University last June showed that only 33 percent of Hong Kongers said they took pride in becoming a Chinese national, the lowest level since 1998.
The controversy over the construction of the military pier spilled over into public view in December, when a group of pro-independence activists broke into the army’s Central Barracks in Hong Kong to protest against the handover of the land, China’s state-run Global Times reported.
Hong Kong police have arrested five people in connection with the incident, during which activists also waved a former colonial flag and called on the PLA to leave Hong Kong.
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