Hong Kong government slaps down alternative border plans for high-speed rail link
Law scholars offer different possible solutions for immigration and customs at new terminal, but government remains intent on lease plan
Two leading legal scholars have floated alternative plans for border checks on the high-speed rail link to Guangzhou, as debate rages over the Hong Kong government’s controversial plan to let mainland officers enforce mainland laws in part of the local terminal.
But the government quickly rejected the proposals, from University of Hong Kong law experts Johannes Chan Man-mun and Eric Cheung Tat-ming.
That rebuff, which Cheung said was “saddening”, came as a group formed by the pan-democratic bloc to oppose the so-called co-location of checkpoints pledged to evaluate alternative proposals, saying that would strengthen its hand.
“If we have two or three feasible proposals on hand, we could push for the government to explain why we are left with this sole option,” Tanya Chan, the group’s interim convenor, said.
Last month the government announced the plan for joint immigration and quarantine facilities on the cross-border express rail link to Guangzhou. Under that plan, Hong Kong would lease a quarter of the West Kowloon terminal to the mainland. Mainland officials would have almost total jurisdiction in the leased area.
The idea stoked fears that the city’s autonomy would be eroded, but Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor made it clear it “would not be overturned”. The government has already rejected six alternative proposals, including on-board border clearances.
Johannes Chan, the former HKU law dean, called on the government to revisit the idea of immigration checks for Hong Kong-bound passengers on the train at Shenzhen, on the border with Hong Kong.
“My proposal ... will require the train to stay at the Shenzhen station for about 15 to 20 minutes, and immigration control from both the mainland and Hong Kong could do immigration checks on the train,” Chan said. “The lost time would be made up by the absence of further need to do immigration checks when the train arrives at West Kowloon.”
Chan said joint checkpoints in Hong Kong were still feasible for northbound passengers, but mainland officers should only have the power to do immigration checks.
A spokeswoman for the Transport and Housing Bureau said it would be impractical to do immigration checks for all passengers on the train in that time as the high-speed trains for short-haul services seat 579.
Chan suggested it would not take long if there were two immigration officers from both Hong Kong and the mainland checking documents in each carriage.
“At the end of the day, it is a question of balance,” he said.
“Do we wish to give up the integrity of the two systems and open a gap for mainland law to apply to Hong Kong ... or would we rather endure a short delay to keep the Basic Law intact?”
Meanwhile, the government reiterated the necessity of letting mainland criminal law be enforced in the port area. Otherwise, there would be an influx of mainland criminals and asylum seekers to the city, it said.
Cheung, Chan’s HKU colleague, proposed limiting the power of mainland officers to enforcing only laws related to immigration, customs and quarantine in the designated zone. He said they could also have the power to arrest, escort and deport anyone who breaks the law, saying that would ease worries over criminals at the border.
Lam rejected Cheung’s suggestion too, saying it would be difficult for mainland officers to only partially enforce their laws in the zone.
“It is quite saddening,” Cheung said yesterday. “Mine is already a compromise proposal ... and it seems the government only takes care of the concerns raised by mainland authorities.”
Chan echoed Cheung’s sentiments and said the government was taking “a very defensive attitude” and had “refused to consider any alternative proposal”.
“No doubt there may be difficulties in different proposals, but the proper approach is to consider if those difficulties could be overcome rather than brushing aside these alternatives,” he added.