‘Divine miracle needed for checkpoints to be ready in time at Hong Kong-China rail link’

Lawmaker issues warning as there is still no sign of a proposal on the controversial co-location system at the West Kowloon terminus

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 January, 2017, 5:10pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 January, 2017, 5:10pm

With just 18 months to go before the long-delayed HK$84.4 billion express rail link is due to open, lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun said he feared a “divine miracle” would be needed for the controversial co-location of checkpoints at the West Kowloon terminus to be ready in time.

Tien, of the New People’s Party, made the prophecy on Wednesday as there was still no sign of the Hong Kong and Beijing governments coming up with a co-location proposal.

The arrangement, which pan-democrats say violates the Basic Law, would mean mainland Chinese officers being stationed at the terminus to conduct customs, immigration and quarantine procedures and enforcing laws in Hong Kong.

Speaking in the Legislative Council, transport minister Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung said they were still in discussions with the mainland authorities but that they hoped to implement an arrangement in tandem with the opening of the high-speed rail link to Guangzhou as it would maximise the link’s benefits.

“The foremost and obvious objective of the government is to try to implement co-location arrangements at the commissioning of the express rail link,” Cheung told lawmakers.

“We appreciate that time is running short. When both sides have reached a consensus regarding the aforementioned arrangements for the express rail link, we will report to Legco and the public as soon as possible.”

While admitting that local legislative work would be required for the enforcement of co-location, Cheung pledged to give “ample opportunities” to listen to the views of the public after the final proposal was announced.

Tien, however, cast doubts on the feasibility of the government’s target as it usually took several years for a bill to get passed in Legco. “The government has less than one and a half year’s to introduce a bill for local legislative work and have it passed at Legco,” he pointed out.

“I am a Christian. I really think it needs a a divine miracle to make this [co-location] happen.”

Tien warned the rail link was in danger of becoming an international laughing stock if it opened without the co-location arrangements in place.

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Admitting that meeting the deadline was a “very big challenge”, Cheung said there had been cases of proposals being endorsed by Legco speedily.

Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu of the Civic Party expressed fears that Beijing would resort to an interpretation of the Basic Law to resolve the dilemma.

Brushing this aside, Cheung said both parties sought to address the legal issues and ensure a strong legal basis for the implementation of co-location in compliance with the Basic Law and the “one country, two systems” principle.