After Hong Kong's return to the motherland, many land leases will need to be renewed, and the authorities have indicated that many land leases will expire from 2025 onwards. The Development Bureau (DEVB) today (7th) submitted a paper to the Legislative Council revealing that the authorities intend to amend the Government Lease Renewal Ordinance to empower the Government to gazettal whether to renew lease renewal within a period of not less than 6 years for each expiring lease, which is twice the time recommended six months ago.

A spokesman for the Development Bureau also mentioned that the real estate of a consular establishment can only be renewed with the approval of the Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong. Asked whether a national security clause would be added to the title deed, the authorities said that national security would be included as one of the factors considering whether to renew the lease if necessary.

Some scholars are of the view that the decision of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to intervene in the examination and approval of land leases of foreign institutions in Hong Kong is due to the fact that the Central Government considers that Hong Kong's political and national security are threatened after the conflict against the extradition bill, and therefore tightens its jurisdiction over Hong Kong, which is also a blow to Hong Kong's ties with the West. He added that although other countries have followed similar practices, the new measures conflict with the implementation of "one country, two systems", believing that Hong Kong's internationalisation will fade and Hong Kong lose its advantage.

The Administration plans to gazettal whether or not to renew each instalment with a maturity date of not less than 6 years. (File photo)

According to the Legislative Council paper submitted by the Development Bureau, the authorities propose to extend the period of publication of the renewal notice from not less than 3 years before the expiry date of the lease proposed six months ago to not less than 6 years before the expiry date of the lease, emphasising that the latest proposal is in response to the recommendations collected in the earlier consultation and can increase certainty.

It is worth noting that the Bill stipulates that the real estate of consular offices and representative offices of international organizations in Hong Kong, as well as the residence of the curator and the librarian's quarters, must apply for written approval from the Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China in Hong Kong for renewal of the title deed at least 60 days before the expiry of the title deed, and only with the approval of the PCPD can the title lease be renewed.

The Bill also provides that the Director of Lands will register a notice on the Land Registry's land register stating that the land concerned will not be renewed.

When asked why the measures had been in effect for more than a year, but the Development Bureau did not include the relevant provisions when it submitted its proposed legislative amendments in May, a spokesman for the Development Bureau said frankly that the PCPD proposed to the Hong Kong Government in the middle of this year that the requirements for the handling of real estate by foreign related entities would also be applicable to the renewal arrangement, so the authorities have also "actively followed up".

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A spokesman for the Development Bureau stressed that the relevant clause is "a diplomatic power, in other words, not within the autonomy of the HKSAR Government", and is not consulted by the Hong Kong Government, and that the measure has been in effect for one year, "for the time being, we have heard some other voices opposing it."

In June last year, the PCPD required foreign connected entities not to acquire or dispose of properties without approval, and the practice also applies to the renewal of land leases.

The spokesman pointed out that the scope of application of the new measure is quite "focused", with only 63 consular embassies and 8 international organisations currently regulated, involving a total of no more than 10 plots of land and 100 individual unit deeds of multi-storey buildings.

Asked whether there would be an appeal mechanism if the consulate or international organisation did not renew the land, a spokesman for the Development Bureau said that the appeal mechanism only applies to the Hong Kong government's decision as a landlord whether to renew the land concerned, but not to the PCPD's consideration.

Xu Zhen, director of Zhiming Research Institute. (File photo)

Xu Zhen, director of the Chi Ming Research Institute, said that after the intervention of the Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong in the land lease renewal arrangements of foreign institutions or organizations in Hong Kong, and the turmoil over the opposition to the extradition bill, it is difficult for Beijing to reassure Beijing about its governance and public-private relations, and it is also worried that national security and the government will be threatened, so it has tightened its delegated powers, including land approval powers.

He added that the central government's thinking on governing Hong Kong is also part of the response to the Western mentality, and he believes that one of the factors of the authorities' continuous tightening of the Hong Kong government's autonomy is to weaken Hong Kong's ties with Western countries and crack down on Western circles in Hong Kong. He is not optimistic about whether the Central Government will relax the relevant powers again in the future.

He added that although the establishment of offices in Hong Kong by foreign institutions or international organisations in Hong Kong is subject to the approval of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Central Government is currently withdrawing its delegated powers, and although other countries have also adopted similar practices, stressing that "one country, two systems" is Hong Kong's advantage, and the weakening of the autonomy of the Hong Kong Government by the authorities to bring Hong Kong on a par with the Mainland will obviously fade Hong Kong's internationalisation and make Hong Kong lose its advantage in attracting overseas organisations to settle down.

Current affairs commentator Liu Ruishao. (File photo/Photo by Zheng Zifeng)

Lau Rui-shiu, a current affairs commentator, also said that many countries have similar regulations, and diplomacy and military are also within the purview of the Central Government, so from this point of view, it is not to tighten the governance of Hong Kong, but the Central Government has successively tightened its management of Hong Kong in various aspects such as the electoral system in recent years, so in terms of perception, it will be perceived that the Central Government has further tightened its control over Hong Kong.

He added that Hong Kong has become a pawn from the perspective of China and Western countries, but the Consulate General in Hong Kong has generally reached the level of an embassy in Beijing, which is of great importance. He explained that although there is a possibility of further deterioration in Sino-US or Sino-British relations, if the two sides refuse to renew the term, the relationship between the two sides will break down, and he believes that the central government does not want this to happen.

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