Notification system is failing to notify

  • A Hong Kong resident’s arrest over a civil case in the mainland China section of the high-speed rail station has highlighted a serious loophole in the notification system which is meant to alert city officials of such matters
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 January, 2019, 9:51pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 January, 2019, 10:35pm

You can’t fault mainland officers who were enforcing Chinese law in their section of the West Kowloon express rail station over a civil case in October. But you have to seriously question the competence and intention of Hong Kong officials when they drew up their notification system with mainland authorities.

The Hong Kong government wouldn’t say whether it knew about the arrest of a local resident in October at the station over a civil dispute involving 1 million yuan (US$145,580) for a property transaction. Mainland officers were executing a Shenzhen court order and the man has since been released after paying up. The case only came to light after a Nanfang Daily report.

Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung and Security Bureau officials said Hong Kong would only be notified in cases of local residents being subject to “criminal compulsory measures” such as an arrest, or who died an unnatural death. That leaves out detention over civil disputes as well as administrative detention, which may or may not come with criminal charges. But given the prevalent use of such detentions on the mainland and that someone could be so detained for weeks or even months, it seems reasonable for the Hong Kong public to expect the notification system to cover them.

China officials not required to tell Hong Kong about arrest, says Cheung

Did Cheung and his boss Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor know about this arrangement? Now that it has come to light, does the Hong Kong government intend to close this loophole and so start renegotiating with mainland authorities to extend the scope of the notification system? Or did it know about it from the start and was fine with it? Did the mainland insist on it and there was nothing Hong Kong could do about it? We ought to be told. The evasiveness of Cheung’s answers to the local news media hardly offers reassurance.

The furore over joint customs at West Kowloon was always a red herring. If you are so afraid of running into trouble with mainland authorities, why would you use the express rail to cross the border in the first place? However, the Hong Kong government has not only devoted tremendous resources to defending the constitutionality of “co-location”, but also to claiming the notification system would alert local officials and families of locals who run into trouble with mainland law.

The case in October has exposed a serious oversight. What will the government do about it?