Much ado about nothing: Fears overblown about immigration clearance for high-speed rail linking Hong Kong to Guangzhou

Such systems are in place the world over, so concerns about mainland officials working at our end are unwarranted

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 November, 2015, 1:29pm
UPDATED : Monday, 30 November, 2015, 5:10pm

The high-speed rail link from downtown Hong Kong to Guangzhou is simple enough in concept: getting from one to the other as quickly as possible. On paper, that can be done in 48 minutes, almost an hour less than by the present train and about two hours faster than road. But it requires passengers to go through mainland immigration, customs and quarantine before they board at the West Kowloon terminus. Sensibly, that is what officials have decided upon, despite the concerns of some people about the necessity of upholding the Basic Law and preserving the principles of one country, two systems.

Politicisation of the discussion was bound to happen. From the moment the decision was made for Hong Kong to be linked to the mainland’s high-speed rail network, objections were raised about the necessity and cost. Of the need there is no doubt: the connection will vastly improve travel to and around the nation while boosting our city’s image as an advocate of all things high-tech. Delays and cost-overruns are partly the fault of the MTR for poor oversight and planning, but so ambitious a scheme was also bound to encounter unforeseen difficulties.

There is no question about the need to station mainland officials at the Hong Kong end, though. For passengers to have to go through Chinese immigration at Shenzhen would defeat the purpose of high-speed travel by forcing the train to stop and start for formalities. Guangzhou is no place for checking validity for mainland travel. The same reasons are why passengers on the Eurostar between France and Britain go through French and British passport controls in Paris and the US carries out pre-clearance at 15 foreign airports in six countries.

There appears to be no better alternative. But those who oppose the idea worry about erosion of one country, two systems or that mainland police could exercise their powers beyond their duties at the West Kowloon station. Others feel that the Basic Law does not have such provisions. The challenge for authorities is to enact their decision while complying with the mini-constitution.