Hong Kong MTR

Joint checkpoint at Hong Kong railway terminal touches a nerve despite success of Shenzhen model

Residents fear mainland Chinese officials will be free to check their mobile phones and electronic devices

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 July, 2017, 9:33pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 July, 2017, 4:25pm

For the past decade, Hong Kong travellers crossing the border at Shenzhen Bay Port in the west of the special economic zone have been able to complete the customs clearance of both sides under one roof thanks to an unprecedented joint checkpoint.

While this arrangement allows Hong Kong’s immigration officers to enforce Hong Kong laws on mainland Chinese soil, a similar joint checkpoint planned for the terminus of the Hong Kong-Guangzhou high-speed rail link in West Kowloon has stoked controversy.

Watch: all you need to know about the high-speed rail link

The idea of mainland immigration officers enforcing their laws in a leased area of the busy commercial district has led to fears it could undermine the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, which states that national laws should not apply in Hong Kong.

This became a hot topic in the wake of the disappearance of five local booksellers in late 2015, who eventually turned up in the custody of mainland authorities.

Despite such controversies, the Hong Kong government is working hard to persuade the public and lawmakers that the co-location arrangement would work just as well as in Shenzhen Bay. Details are expected to be announced on Tuesday.

Why is Hong Kong’s cross-border rail link causing such a fuss?

“The experience has been positive, and has been recognised by many travellers,” former transport minister Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung told lawmakers in March. The government also said that the West Kowloon plan would mirror the system used in Shenzhen Bay.

Currently the Hong Kong government rents an area at the Shenzhen control point for around HK$7 million a year, with the lease valid until 2047. It includes part of the customs building, an adjacent open area and a section of a corridor bridge.

The leased area is regarded as Hong Kong government land, and Hong Kong laws – civil or criminal – are implemented there.

However, having mainland officials do the same has touched a nerve in Hong Kong, with people fearing their personal information could be intercepted by mainland authorities, for instance if they asked to check travellers’ details on their mobile phones or electronic devices.

Privacy Commissioner Stephen Wong Kai-yi said his office had yet to engage in any consultation on personal data protection for cross-border passengers at the West Kowloon terminus under the joint arrangement.

“I believe we will be consulted,” Wong said on the sidelines of the Hong Kong Book Fair on Monday. “If not, we might make some announcement or publication of our own accord.”

Hong Kong Customs, in response to Post queries, said its officers enforced Hong Kong laws at the designated area at the Shenzhen Bay checkpoint “basically the same” as at other land control points.

Additional reporting by Xinqi Su