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Hong Kong high-speed rail

Hong Kong leader blasts views of joint checkpoint critics as ridiculous and incomprehensible

Carrie Lam maintains Hongkongers’ civil liberties and personal safety will not be compromised under contentious plan for cross-border express rail link

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 July, 2017, 4:13pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 July, 2017, 11:27pm

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said that Hongkongers’ civil liberties and personal safety would not be compromised under the controversial joint checkpoint arrangement for the cross-border express rail link’s terminus, as she described opposition lawmakers’ criticism as “ridiculous” and “incomprehensible”.

Breaking her silence for the first time since the government announced the plan on Tuesday, the chief executive expressed confidence that the Legislative Council would approve related legislation before the HK$84.4 billion rail link opened in the third quarter of next year.

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However, she dropped a strong hint that the government would not launch a formal public consultation to collect views on the arrangement.

Lam was speaking as top officials, pro-establishment lawmakers and the railway corporation’s chief continued their drive to sell a joint immigration and customs checkpoint at the West Kowloon terminus of the high-speed rail link to Guangzhou.

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

Under the arrangement, which is facing several judicial challenges, mainland Chinese officers will enjoy almost full jurisdiction in a quarter of the complex leased to the mainland.

Officials said it would not breach the Basic Law because the leased zone would be regarded as outside the city’s boundary and leasing could be done through Article 20 of the Basic Law, which stipulates that Beijing can grant Hong Kong powers that it does not already have.

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But founding Democratic Party chairman Martin Lee Chu-ming said the plan violated the legislative intent of Article 20, which was to grant the city more powers.

He also said the arrangement could set a precedent for the Hong Kong and central governments to invoke the same legal arguments in future to tackle difficult situations.

Some pan-democrats warned that residents’ freedoms would be at risk under the arrangement.

Defending the plan on a radio programme on Sunday, Lam urged residents not to consider the plan from a “politicised” perspective.

“You can only enter the ‘mainland port area’ after a series of gates, so when someone said ‘you must not get close to West Kowloon or you will be dragged inside and be treated under mainland law’, I think even an ordinary person would not say that, not to say experienced members of the legal sector,” Lam said, without naming anybody.

“It was incomprehensible ... and rather ridiculous for pan-democrats and the critics to take things to such an extreme.”

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

Lam added that if people were indeed worried about their personal safety at the West Kowloon terminus, they could choose to stay away from it and go to the mainland by other means.

Asked if the government would heed pan-democrats’ demands and launch a public consultation, she said: “The most important thing now is to explain, and whether the public support it will be reflected in the local legislative process.”

Pan-democrat lawmakers have vowed to block the plan in Legco, but Lam said she did not think it would be voted down.

Writing on their weekly official blogs, the city’s second and third ranking officials said the joint checkpoint plan was vital for Hong Kong’s economy.

Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said without the plan the rail link would not bring the envisioned economic benefits to Hong Kong and the city would face being marginalised.

Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po wrote that the joint checkpoint would help Hong Kong maintain its economic vitality.

Watch: Carrie Lam inspects high-speed trains at Shek Kong

MTR Corp chairman Frederick Ma Si-hang also said that as it would cost an estimated HK$80 million a month to operate the West Kowloon terminus, it would be money “wasted” if Legco was unable to approve the checkpoint plan by next summer. He added that the company and the government would need to hammer out an agreement to operate the line by the end of this year.

However, speaking at RTHK’s City Forum, Civic Party and legal sector lawmaker Dennis Kwok said he was not convinced by officials’ explanations in the past few days.

“At least we should let people consider different options,” Kwok said.

Pro-establishment lawmaker Priscilla Leung Mei-fun said the government’s plan was legally sound, adding that residents should raise “constructive” questions for Hong Kong officials to answer.