The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will open to the public a Hong Kong waterfront site designated for military use when defence operations allow, the city’s garrison commander has said.
Chen Daoxiang’s access pledge was made at Tuesday’s official handover ceremony of the military dock in Central, the last of 19 Hong Kong sites to be transferred to the garrison.
“The garrison will continue to use and manage [the site] strictly in accordance with the law … At the same time, the garrison will show its consistency in loving Hong Kong and the people, and open the military dock for the public if defence operations allow,” the commander said.
Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.
The scenic strip running 150 metres (492 feet) along Central promenade became a military site last June. The government said it had since been constructing the docks and carrying out administrative tasks ahead of the official handover, which was held at its headquarters on Tuesday morning.
Responding to concerns previously raised by a civic group and opposition lawmakers that the government was failing to deliver on its promise to allow public access to the site, when it was not used by vessels, the city’s leader reiterated the decision had always rested with the garrison.
“Defence is of utmost importance to the country and must be fully safeguarded. No persons can enter military sites without authorisation,” Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said on Tuesday.
“The [garrison] has agreed to consider opening the military dock on a discretionary basis to allow the public to enter the non-restricted area of the military dock, under the condition that defence work would not be affected.”
She added the design of the military dock was in harmony with the surrounding park area and the view of the Victoria Harbour. Movable gates are installed on three sides of the site to allow members of the public to walk through.
“We believe citizens will understand that the military dock, which is a military facility for defence purposes at all times, is situated on a military site and its legal status will not change whether it is open or not,” Lam added in her speech.
Lam said the dock was the last military site that Hong Kong was required to reprovision for the garrison. The other 18 military sites have long been used and managed by the base for defence purposes after Hong Kong’s handover from Britain to China in 1997.
“This is a historic moment which fully underlines the relationship between the central authorities and the HKSAR [Hong Kong Special Administrative Region] under ‘one country, two systems’; it carries an important constitutional significance,” she said.
The area earmarked for the military site was originally part of the harbourfront’s open space before the government applied to change its land use in 2013, a move the Town Planning Board endorsed in 2014.
The opposition camp made last-ditch attempts last June, amid the emergence of mass anti-government protests, to block the site’s transfer, including moving amendments in the Legislative Council to quash subsidiary legislation, and staging a small occupation minutes before it was transferred to the garrison.
The site became a military dock on June 29 last year and since then has been legally in the custody of the PLA, with the public barred from entering. The maximum sentence for anyone found guilty of trespassing is six months in jail and a fine.
Under the Garrison Law, if the local government required any part of a military site for public use, it could seek approval from Beijing.
In a bid to preserve the waterfront site solely for public use, former Hong Kong student leader Lester Shum last April applied for a judicial review to quash the government’s decision to reclassify part of the land for military use. Shum said he did not proceed with the case because he was not granted legal aid.
More from South China Morning Post:
- Opened or closed? Debate over public access to Hong Kong waterfront site under People’s Liberation Army
- China has the ‘resolution and power’ to end Hong Kong unrest amid protests, says ambassador to Britain Liu Xiaoming