Co-location opponents abhor closer ties between HKSAR and mainland
Despite the Express Rail Link’s obvious advantages, launching the link on schedule is a big test for the city’s new administration, writes
The first thorny issue the new administration has to handle is the co-location arrangement for immigration and customs control at the Express Rail Link’s (XRL) terminus in West Kowloon. When the high-speed rail link project was submitted to the Legislative Council back in 2010, the proposed joint checkpoint arrangement was already regarded as one of the main obstacles. I believe the core reason for the skepticism is that some members of the community oppose having closer connections with the Chinese mainland.
The mainland’s high-speed rail network has exceeded 20,000 kilometers and is still growing. The network ranks as No 1 in the world and the country is exporting the technology to many overseas nations. Many people, including myself, who have tried the express rail on the mainland are deeply impressed by its convenience, punctuality, stability and comfort. I could not fathom the damage to Hong Kong if we did not link ourselves to this great network. Moreover, it has to be pointed out that the proposed joint checkpoint arrangement is essential since it allows for the best economic efficiency. It is simply impractical to require passengers to board the train at the West Kowloon Terminus and then disembark at the Shenzhen Futian Station 20 minutes later to go through the mainland’s immigration procedures. This complicated arrangement would be a huge waste of time and greatly reduce the attractiveness of the XRL.
The existing joint checkpoint arrangement at the Shenzhen Bay Port can serve as a good reference for the new terminus. The only difference is that we now need to set up a Mainland Port Area (MPA) with mainland law-enforcement officials conducting arrival and The author is an executive member of the New People’s Party and a former civil servant.
departure clearance within a confined area inside the West Kowloon Station. It is this variation that complicates the matter. The opposition has long been trying to spread false rumors against the proposed co-location arrangement. One tactic was to say that setting up an MPA is equivalent to selling out part of Hong Kong. However, Article 7 of the Basic Law states that the “land and natural resources within the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall be State property”, so these accusations are baseless. Moreover, the mainland authorities would lease the MPA from the Hong Kong government under mutually agreed terms.
Another point of contention is that some people in Hong Kong are uncomfortable with having mainland law enforcement officials working in the SAR. However, the new arrangement would no doubt clearly stipulate that mainland officials can only work within the MPA; they cannot work and have no authority outside that area. Therefore, most Hong Kong citizens will simply never lay eyes on any of the mainland officials.
It should be noted that it is crucial for mainland authorities to maintain a comprehensive checkpoint in West Kowloon for both the security of the mainland and Hong Kong. Criminals, terrorists, separatists and the like simply cannot circumvent the mainland checkpoint and easily enter Hong Kong. Moreover, there have been thousands of asylum-seekers who have successfully entered into Hong Kong via the mainland. If the West Kowloon terminus becomes a loophole in the system, Hong Kong would face unnecessary extra pressure and security risks.
I am sure mainland and Hong Kong legal experts have adequately studied the legal issues involved. Article 20 of the Basic Law states that “the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region may enjoy other powers granted to it by the National People’s Congress, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPCSC) or the Central People’s Government”. Therefore, the Hong Kong government can seek authority from the NPCSC to set up an MPA and restrict the authority of mainland officials within that area. Article 2 of the Basic Law states that “The National People’s Congress authorizes the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to exercise a high degree of autonomy and enjoy executive, legislative and independent judicial power, including that of final adjudication, in accordance with the provisions of this Law”. In other words, the local judicial power comes from the NPC and its future decision on the joint checkpoint arrangement will ensure its legality. Hence, any attempt by the opposition to apply for a judicial review in Hong Kong court would have zero chance of success.
Apart from legal issues, the matter ultimately is about political mobilization. The opposition will surely spare no effort in coming months to stir up distrust in the community, mobilize mass protest and use all sorts of filibustering tactics to delay the local legislative procedure required. It is good to know that the government also understands the coming challenges clearly and had stepped up its publicity campaigns. Whether the high-speed rail link can begin operation in the third quarter of next year as scheduled is a big test on the new administration team.