Government to push ahead with plan for mainland officials to work at Hong Kong high-speed rail terminus
Transport chief says administration will not line up a backup plan to controversial arrangement, ahead of Exco meeting on Monday
The plan for immigration checkpoints manned by mainland officials on Hong Kong soil will go ahead on schedule and with no plan B, the government reiterated ahead of the formal announcement of the details as early as Tuesday.
Current and past officials continued to drum up support for the controversial plans for the Hong Kong terminus of the high-speed rail link to Guangzhou over the weekend, despite legal and constitutional uncertainties.
On Saturday Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor visited the station, which is causing one of the hottest political potatoes her young administration has had to handle.
Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung, security chief John Lee Ka-chiu and top brass from the MTR Corporation – which will run the new line – joined Lam on the tour.
Yuen and Lee’s presence underlined the visit’s purpose of making sure the station was ready for the placement of mainland immigration and quarantine stations, a plan which has drawn the ire of pan-democrats.
Lam vowed the controversy would not hinder the building schedule for the HK$84 billion rail link, which was 90 per cent complete as of March.
She said: “We firmly believe that the project will commence operation on schedule, by the third quarter of next year.”
The latest rumoured proposal for having mainland border officials working at the terminal as well as their local counterparts involved a “mainland port area” inside the building on leased land. Under such a plan, mainland staff would come and go by train daily.
That idea drew mixed responses. Executive councillor and barrister Ronny Tong Ka-wah said he did not believe the Hong Kong government had the power to lease land to another jurisdiction for the enforcement of foreign laws.
The Executive Council was set to deliberate the plan on Monday, ahead of the formal announcement of the details the next day. Tong noted that the final decision on whether to go ahead with it lay with Lam, Exco being an advisory body.
Rao Geping, a key member of the Basic Law Committee under the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, said during a press conference in Beijing on Friday that “mutual rental” of land to promote economic and transport cooperation was normal.
But he did not say how it could happen in accordance with Article 18 of the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, which prohibits the enforcement of national laws on Hong Kong soil.
Past officials also waded into the debate. Former transport minister Anthony Cheung Bing-leung said the controversy was a matter of mutual trust.
“Some worries [about the plan] had logical basis, but others did not… but I don’t see any reason not to implement it,” he told a radio programme on Sunday.
Such was the determination of the current administration that his successor, Frank Chan Fan, said there would be no plan B, saying it was just a matter of ironing out differences between the two sides.
Additional reporting by Jun Mai