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Hong Kong MTR

Legal rights of express rail users will be protected, Hong Kong justice secretary says

Rimsky Yuen makes comment in capital as sources say Beijing wants full powers for its immigration staff at West Kowloon terminus

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 March, 2017, 4:24pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 March, 2017, 11:58pm

The legal rights of passengers will not be undermined under the arrangement for a joint immigration facility for the express rail link from Hong Kong to Guangzhou, the city’s justice minister said on Tuesday.

Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung made the comment in Beijing without elaborating, leaving questions unanswered on how much power mainland officers will have at the joint facility and which mainland laws, if any, will apply at the West Kowloon terminus.

Rail link row sparks call for mutual agreement on co-location of mainland and Hong Kong checkpoints

Complicating the situation, local National People’s Congress deputy Michael Tien Puk-sun said he heard from sources in Beijing that the central government had rejected suggestions from the Hong Kong side that mainland officers should have only partial powers.

“The passengers’ legal responsibilities would not be increased in any way and the passengers’ legal liability would not be affected,” Yuen said in Beijing after a two-day trip to meet mainland officials.

“So, in other words, that’s the whole spirit of putting forward the co-location [arrangements], to ensure that it would be consistent with the Basic Law, that it would provide convenience and also efficiency to passengers.”

Yuen and Secretary for Transport and Housing Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung flew to Beijing on Monday and left on Tuesday. They met Huang Liuquan, deputy director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, as well as Basic Law Committee chairman Li Fei during the trip.

High-speed rail link does not need border checks, says top rail engineer

Both sides had reached a “common consensus” that the co-location arrangement had to be strictly in accordance with the Basic Law and the “one country, two systems” principle, Yuen said. He added that the government would announce a “broad direction” before the current administration’s term ends after June 30.

Critics have expressed concern that the co-location arrangement would contravene Article 18 of the Basic Law, which states that national or mainland laws will not be applied in the city unless they are listed in Annex III of the mini-constitution.

Without a joint checkpoint, the 48-minute journey to Guangzhou is expected to take at least another 30 minutes, effectively defeating the purpose of the link.

Location of West Kowloon terminus

Tien heard from sources that the central government did not accept suggestions from the Hong Kong side that mainland officers would only have the power to carry out customs, immigration and quarantine duties. He said both sides were inclined to set up a restricted area in the basement of the terminus for mainland officers to enforce national laws.

“The restricted area is an enclosed area located at the lowest basement level which will lead nowhere. This can exclude the possibility of straying. When one enters this area it means one is literally on the Shenzhen side. Therefore there’s no impact on legal responsibilities or rights.

“This location is very tricky because the use of an underground area will not affect the autonomous territory of Hong Kong.”

However, Tien said both sides were at loggerheads over the ambit of the mainland officers’ enforcement power.

“From my Beijing sources, mainland police would like to have full enforcement powers, while Hong Kong authorities want them to accept partial enforcement,” Tien said.

“Beijing has stood very firm on this because the whole nation adopts the same standards for law enforcement. If some laws are not enforced at the terminus, how could mainland authorities handle terrorists and separatists? I believe in the end this partial enforcement proposal will fall through,” he said.

Barrister Alan Leong Kah-Kit of the Civic Party said: “If this time they can enforce national laws on a particular floor of the terminus, the next time they can move their operation to Central.”