Hong Kong-mainland rail link terminus ‘a total waste’ without a joint checkpoint, says ex-justice minister

Basic Law Committee vice-chairman Elsie Leung Oi-sie says the whole design of the West Kowloon terminus was based on the checkpoint

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 May, 2017, 4:42pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 May, 2017, 10:50pm

Basic Law Committee vice-chairwoman Elsie Leung Oi-sie said the West Kowloon terminus of the HK$84.4 billion cross-border rail link would have to be torn down and redesigned if it did not include joint checkpoint control.

Leung, also Hong Kong’s former justice minister, said the terminus of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link had been specifically designed to accommodate the joint checkpoint.

“[The project] had been approved for a long time and the West Kowloon terminus has also been built based on this concept,” she said during an interview with Commercial Radio on Sunday.

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“So, if we don’t have joint checkpoint arrangements at West Kowloon, [the project] would be a total waste. We may have to bomb it and rebuild another one or re-plan the land use. How could you explain to the public the some HK$80 billion [invested in the rail]?”

Beijing and Hong Kong still have not reached a deal on checkpoint arrangements for the high-speed rail, which is scheduled to open in the third quarter of 2018. The Hong Kong government has said it hopes to announce a decision by the end of June, when the current administration’s term ends.

Both sides have said a joint checkpoint is necessary because having counters on each side of the border would lengthen travel times and defeat the purpose of a high-speed railway.

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There is no question of cross-border law enforcement. It is only an excuse to block the development of Hong Kong
Elsie Leung Oi-sie

“If you have to get off [at the border for clearing immigration and customs] and get on again, why would we not simply go to Shenzhen to take the high-speed rail there?” Leung said.

Critics of the design say allowing mainland officers to exercise immigration control and security checks could breach the Basic Law – Hong Kong’s mini-constitution – which expressly forbids the exercise of mainland laws in the city.

But Leung insisted the Basic Law was foremost in place to serve the people, not obstruct social development, and the joint checkpoint arrangements would not threaten the “one country, two systems” principle or Hong Kong’s autonomy.

“You can say you don’t want it [the joint checkpoint]. But if so, you will have to explain to the public why you do not want it after so much money has been spent [on the project],” she said.

“There is no question of cross-border law enforcement. It is only an excuse to block the development of Hong Kong.”

Leung had earlier suggested that the design of the West Kowloon terminus could follow that of the Shenzhen Bay port. The mainland’s top legislative body, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, agreed to let Hong Kong authorities lease a piece of mainland land at the port to exercise their own laws.

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The Hong Kong section of the Express Rail Link runs from the West Kowloon terminus north towards the Shenzhen and Hong Kong boundary, where it will connect with the mainland section. The Hong Kong section is about 26km long.

Meanwhile, the former minister rejected any suggestion that negotiations would commence with Beijing over the city’s political system post 2047, when the mainland’s 50-year pledge to maintain Hong Kong autonomy expires.

Leung said there could not be any further talk on Hong Kong’s future.

“After 2047, it will either be one country one system or one country two systems,” said Leung, adding that it was too early for Hongkongers to worry about.