Palace museum deal signed and sealed

Top News | Phoebe Ng 30 Jun 2017

The disputed Hong Kong Palace Museum deal was finally sealed - and witnessed by President Xi Jinping.

Under the new collaborative agreement unveiled yesterday, Beijing's Palace Museum will offer a long loan involving at least 600 artifacts to its new replica to be constructed starting next year in West Kowloon Cultural District.

Together with temporary exhibits, the total number of collections up for display can reach up to 900 pieces.

However, lawmaker Tanya Chan Suk-chong criticized the closed-door and "secretive" signing ceremony.

The agreement was signed by Chief Secretary for Administration Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, who also chairs the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, and Palace Museum director Shan Jixiang.

Xinhua News Agency reported the ceremony at about 4.30pm yesterday, but no other media gained access to the event.

Apart from the two officials, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, his successor Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and Secretary for Home Affairs Lau Kong-wah were also present.

After the ceremony at the temporary Nursery Park at WKCD, Xi walked through exhibitions and architectural models of the arts hub.

Two children performed a Cantonese opera.

Chan, who is also deputy chairwoman of a Legislative Council panel monitoring the West Kowloon development, described the agreement as "a total mystery."

She added: "It is an antithesis of the government's open and transparent approach. Signing the deal in such a secretive way will only raise more question marks."

Chan also questioned the legality of the deal.

The memorandum of understanding, signed on December 23, 2016, stated that a formal agreement needed to be signed within six months.

However, the agreement signed yesterday came a week later than the June 22 deadline.

"The WKCDA ought to explain whether they have deferred the deadline in accordance to procedure," Chan said.

The arts hub was under heavy police watch, with officers patrolling outside every entrance to the 40-hectare site.

A pro-independence activist, Nakade Hitsujiko, was arrested near the district close to the Western Harbour Crossing. Police seized a remote control for drone cameras and scissors.

The museum plan stirred up a huge controversy when it was first announced in December by Lam without prior public consultation.

The WKCDA only launched an eight-week public consultation in January after the backlash, and it concluded that majority of the feedback "support" the project.

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