Hong Kong-Beijing talks on high-speed rail link’s joint checkpoint at final stage, transport minister claims

Officials confident they can clear all legal hurdles surrounding West Kowloon terminus before project launch next year

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 June, 2017, 8:31pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 June, 2017, 11:15pm

Hong Kong’s negotiation with Beijing over a controversial joint checkpoint for a high-speed rail link to Guangzhou has reached its final stage, local officials claim, with sufficient time for the city to clear all legal hurdles before the project’s completion next year.

Outgoing transport minister Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung sounded an optimistic note for the planned joint immigration facility at the West Kowloon terminus on Thursday as he was due to step down by July 1 and make way for the next administration and its new ministerial line-up.

“Our negotiation with the mainland over the co-location arrangement has reached its final stage,” he explained. “Now we need to wait for both governments to finalise enforcement details, such as customs and immigration procedures.”

However, Cheung stopped short of saying whether the government could deliver a formal proposal before its term ends on June 30.

Chinese immigration officers to exercise full powers at Hong Kong’s West Kowloon terminus

Time is running out for officials to iron out all the legal issues of the co-location arrangement as the HK$84.4 billion Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link is expected to launch in the third quarter of next year.

Without a joint checkpoint, the 48-minute journey to Guangzhou is set to take at least another 30 minutes, defeating the purpose of the high-speed service.

All you need to know about the Hong Kong-mainland rail link, co-located checkpoints and law enforcement issues

But Cheung was confident there would be sufficient time for Hong Kong to clear the hurdles for the joint checkpoint before the rail link’s opening.

Critics have long argued such an arrangement will violate the Basic Law by allowing officers to fully enforce national laws inside designated zones of the ­terminus, or even on board the trains in Hong Kong. The plan needs Legislative Council approval because it involves the enactment of local legislation.

The proposal will be able to ride out the challenge of a judicial review
Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, transport minister

The transport chief said the government was well-prepared for any legal challenges.

“The proposal will be able to ride out the challenge of a judicial review,” he added.

“According to our assessment, there is enough time for the enactment of local legislation.”

Cheung also confirmed the Post’s earlier report that the restricted zone for the mainland side would not be limited only to its immigration office at the terminus, but also extend to the rail tracks from the Hong Kong border to the terminus.

“For departure, after passengers pass through mainland immigration inspection at the terminus and get on board the train, they would be subject to mainland laws even though they are still on Hong Kong soil,” he said. “The same also applies to arriving trains.”