Hong Kong activists upset by a planned Chinese military dock at waterfront

HONG KONG (AFP) - Plans to construct a Chinese military dock on a prime piece of Hong Kong waterfront sparked angry reaction from activists on Monday, the latest sign of resistance to Beijing's influence on the city.

A planning board last week granted permission for the 150 metre-long docking area on the city's downtown shoreline, designed to connect with an existing People's Liberation Army (PLA) barracks in Hong Kong's Admiralty district.

Civic Party lawmaker Kenneth Chan told AFP the plans ran contrary to the semi-autonomous status granted to the territory, which has its own government, currency and legal system.

"Balance was not achieved. The government, increasingly so, fails to practise the One Country Two Systems and its core values," Mr Chan said.

The former British colony reverted to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 under a "One Country, Two Systems" arrangement granting it broad autonomy for 50 years.

But China controls foreign affairs and defence and has several military garrisons in the territory including the waterfront facility which is the former headquarters of British forces.

Hong Kong residents have staged protests in recent months against what they perceive to be Beijing's meddling in local affairs.

Mr Chan said a grey area could arise as to whether national garrison laws will be practised in the dock area, as is the case for the military barracks.

Mr Paul Zimmerman, CEO of Designing Hong Kong, a group devoted to improving urban planning, told AFP the proposed pier would impede people's right to enjoy the waterfront which includes a newly created park.

"Under PLA control, Hong Kong rules don't apply" he said. "You are there with permission and you greet the guard."

A spokeswoman for Hong Kong's development bureau said the plan would go ahead following approval by the city's Executive Council, a de facto cabinet led by pro-Beijing Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.

"The plan has been approved by the Town Planning Board. It will need approval of the Executive Council as a procedural requirement," she said.

According to documents presented to the Legislative Council last year, the dock area will accommodate landing steps for military personnel among other basic facilities including a reception room, an office and fire pumping facilities.

"When the pier is not in military use on normal days, the public will be able to walk past the dock area along the waterfront promenade without making a detour," a document presented to the Legislative Council last May read.

But the area will be "separated by fences and gates" when it comes under military use, including conducting military training, berthing military vessels, holding ceremonies and carrying out maintenance works, the policy paper said.

The Hong Kong government has said the dock was planned under a deal struck by London and Beijing during negotiations before the handover.

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