Longer wait ahead for solution to dispute over high-speed rail linking Hong Kong to Guangzhou

Transport chief says proposal on contentious joint immigration facility may not be ready before new government takes over

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 June, 2017, 10:25pm
UPDATED : Friday, 02 June, 2017, 11:27pm

With only 28 days to go before its term ends, the outgoing Hong Kong administration has failed to come up with a solution to the dispute over whether mainland immigration officers should be allowed to operate on the Hong Kong side for the high-speed rail link to Guangzhou.

Backtracking on an earlier pledge, transport minister Anthony Cheung Bing-leung on Friday admitted that he could no longer guarantee a workable plan on the joint immigration facility at the West Kowloon terminus before the new government took over on July 1.

“Now I can’t say [I will deliver a proposal this month] because we are still in discussion with the mainland authorities,” he said.

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Cheung and justice chief Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung had earlier made that promise, with undersecretary for transport and housing Yau Shing-mu saying the contentious issue, involving the enforcement of mainland laws on Hong Kong soil, should not be left to the next government to fix.

Time is running out for the government to iron out all the legal issues concerning 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.

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Critics of the co-location arrangement argue it 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 territory. The plan needs Legislative Council approval because it involves the enactment of local legislation.

“After these discussions, what I can say today is we have made very substantial progress. Both sides ... agree that the co-location arrangement can be legally feasible in accordance with the Basic Law,” Cheung said. “The issue involves rather complicated constitutional, legal and operational perspectives ... But some of the details have yet to be deliberated in greater detail ... so as of now, we are not able to say too much.”

At a Legco subcommittee meeting on railway matters on Friday, Yau was also criticised for being non-committal on the co-location arrangement.

Legislators Claudia Mo Man-ching and Tanya Chan Suk-chong of the Civic Party accused the government of forcing Legco into a “shotgun wedding”, with a part of the joint checkpoint designated as the “mainland port area” already making good progress. “[Without Legco approval] it is tantamount to ceding Hong Kong territory to the mainland,” Mo said.