Easier border crossing welcome; now for Lowu

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 January, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 27 January, 2003, 12:00am

The 24-hour opening of the border crossing between Hong Kong and Guangdong at Lok Ma Chau last night was, like the first flight between Shanghai and Taiwan yesterday afternoon, largely symbolic. With 83 per cent of passenger traffic still moving through Lowu, the event will not have much immediate impact on those living on either side. But it is an important step towards the freer flow of people and goods between Hong Kong and its economic hinterland.

The change will no doubt be appreciated by freight forwarders who have complained of long delays at Lok Ma Chau. With the added hours to get through each day, queues and delivery times should be shortened.

Pressure should now build for further liberalisation of regulations governing cross-border passenger traffic. At the least, Lowu should follow Lok Ma Chau forthwith.

This is not to call for imprudent haste on the matter, however. There are serious concerns to take into account in easing restrictions on cross-border traffic, not the least of which is security. But there also appear to be some irrational concerns still influencing the maintenance of restrictions.

First and foremost, fears about the impact of easier border crossings on the property market in the New Territories should not be the government's concern. If there really is such huge potential for Hong Kong residents to make a more affordable home for themselves in Shenzhen while they work in Hong Kong - and they are prepared to journey between the two after midnight - then the government should bear guilt for the fact that taxpayers feel compelled to submit themselves to such inconvenience.

There are signs that the government understands this all too well, and knows in which direction to head. Yet despite all the talk of integration with the Pearl River Delta, it still seems hard for senior officials to get the ball rolling on substantive change. For a government that need not spend as much time worrying about opinion polls - or even campaign-finance interests - as countries with comparably sophisticated bureaucracies, this seems a pity.

If the government were able to keep momentum going on the issue of easier border crossings by following up with further changes - especially at Lowu - this newspaper, for one, would be impressed.