Hong Kong MTR

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

Lawmaker Michael Tien reveals that mainland laws will also be enforced on Hong Kong section of express rail link in a move expected to prompt pan-democrat fury

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 May, 2017, 8:31am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 July, 2017, 4:27pm

Mainland officers will be allowed to fully enforce national laws in the immigration hall and on express trains in Hong Kong under a consensus reached on the joint checkpoint arrangement for the high-speed rail link to Guangzhou, the Post has learned.

Citing reliable sources, lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun told the Post that Beijing and Hong Kong had reached a consensus that a mainland restricted zone serving as part of a joint immigration checkpoint would be created at the West Kowloon terminus of the express rail link.

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

The restricted zone, however, would not be limited only to the two-floor mainland immigration office in the basement of the terminus, but also extend to cover the rail tracks from the Hong Kong border to the terminus.

“It means that for arrivals, from the point where the high-speed train is on Hong Kong soil up to the mainland immigration office at the West Kowloon terminus, those who commit crimes during the journey will still be subject to mainland laws. The same also applies to departing trains,” he said.

In other words, even if an express train is on Hong Kong soil, before passengers pass through mainland immigration checks at the terminus, anything happening will be governed by mainland laws. For north-bound trains, once passengers go through checks carried out by both sides and board a train, they are subject to the same laws.

Watch: Justice minister comments on co-location arrangements

Both governments have been eager to resolve the arrangement for a joint immigration facility at the West Kowloon terminus to facilitate the opening of the HK$84.4-billion rail link, which is set to be completed by the third quarter of next year.

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.

Tien said Beijing and Hong Kong expected to strike a formal agreement allowing both sides to proceed with legislation.

For the mainland side, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC) will decide that mainland enforcement agencies are authorised to exercise mainland jurisdiction in the restricted zone in Hong Kong.

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

To address concerns that the co-location arrangement would contravene the “one country, two systems” policy, the NPC Standing Committee is expected to incorporate the rules on enforcement in the restricted zone in Annex III of Hong Kong’s Basic Law.

The move will fulfil the requirement of Article 18 of the mini-constitution, which states that national or mainland laws will not be applied in the city unless they are listed in Annex III.

In Hong Kong, the government is expected to table a resolution in the Legislative Council in June to validate the co-location agreement. Once the resolution is endorsed by lawmakers, the government will table local legislation in October setting out enforcement details.

The operation is based on the co-location arrangement at Shenzhen Bay Port, a control point opened in 2007 at Shekou in Shenzhen linked to the city through the Shenzhen Bay Bridge. A Hong Kong immigration point was set up in the port area allowing the city’s law enforcement agencies to fully exercise Hong Kong laws.

In the case of the express rail link, Tien said both sides were once at loggerheads over the extent of the mainland officers’ enforcement powers on Hong Kong soil, but Beijing stood firm on the need for full enforcement power.

“Applying the same principle at the Shenzhen Bay Port where Hong Kong officers are authorised to fully exercise Hong Kong laws at its restricted zone on the mainland, there is no reason for mainland officers to accept partial enforcement only in Hong Kong,” he said.

“Full enforcement powers will prevent mainland separatists or terrorists from using the express rail as a gateway to Hong Kong to seek asylum or international protection. Partial enforcement will cause a lot of confusion and conflicts over these scenarios,” the lawmaker said.

Hong Kong lawmaker urges government to come clean on joint immigration arrangements at rail terminus

But there would still be some grey areas even with full enforcement powers by mainland officers, Tien said, citing a scenario where a train is suddenly halted by an arson attack from mainland separatists before it reaches the terminus.

“What happens if the train comes to a halt in the middle and the injured separatists are sent to a Hong Kong hospital for treatment? Since they are already outside the mainland restricted zone, will they be subject to mainland laws or Hong Kong laws? This is the question,” he said.

Tien envisaged that the Legco resolution procedure could be at risk of being delayed by filibusters orchestrated by highly sceptical lawmakers.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice said various government bureaus and departments had been discussing the co-location issue with the mainland authorities to ensure it complied with the Basic Law and the principle of “one country, two systems”.

“Since the arrangements involve complex legal and operational issues, relevant work is still under way. The public and Legco will be informed when the government is in a position to do so,” she said.

Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai said he opposed any form of arrangement that would grant mainland officers enforcement powers in Hong Kong. He also criticised the government for trying to rush through the Legco resolution before the next government assumes office in July, depriving the public of sufficient time to scrutinise the arrangement.

“Everyone knows that the co-location arrangement will be highly controversial. The current government just wants to rush through this agreement to prevent the next government from adopting other options. It should leave the whole matter to the next government to handle so other options can be explored,” he said.