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Hong Kong high-speed rail

Greater transparency needed on detentions at rail joint checkpoint

  • Concern has been raised over why the seizure of two travellers by mainland authorities at the West Kowloon facility was revealed by the media and not the Hong Kong government
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 January, 2019, 9:58pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 January, 2019, 4:52am

That the mainland authorities have reportedly detained at least two travellers since the high-speed rail link came into operation in September is not much of a surprise. After all, they have the power to do so within the designated area at the West Kowloon terminus under the joint checkpoint system.

The concern is more about whether such incidents should have been made public by our own government instead of mainland media. Given the sensitivity of the co-location arrangement, greater transparency is called for.

According to mainland news reports, at least two people were taken away over the past few months. The first case involved a Hong Kong permanent resident who allegedly failed to comply with a mainland court order to return 1 million yuan (HK$1.1 million) to a former buyer of his house.

He was said to have been intercepted at the mainland port area of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link terminus in West Kowloon on October 27 and was released after settling the payment that night.

The other case saw a man stopped for defying a civil court order to leave the mainland on December 13. He was said to be returning home, but it is not clear whether he is a Hongkonger.

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

The co-location deal gives mainland law enforcers full jurisdiction within the designated port area inside the terminus. Based on the details in the reports, the actions were taken because of non-compliance of civil court orders.

There was no evidence to suggest mainland officers had arbitrarily exercised authority or overstepped into Hong Kong’s jurisdiction and territory. Indeed, the mainland side did not shy away from disclosing the cases via the media.

There may well be similar incidents in future. It is, after all, within the law for the mainland authorities to exercise such powers in the designated area. Northbound travellers should be aware that even though they are still physically in the city, they are legally on the mainland once they step into its port area. The same applies to those coming to Hong Kong.

Concern has been raised as to whether the Hong Kong government was alerted on the detentions. Chief Secretary for Administration Matthew Cheung Kin-chung would only say the current notification system covers criminal detention and deaths through unnatural causes.

It can be argued that the mechanism is not in place to cater for those caught in civil disputes. But under the principle of “one country, two systems”, it is still in our interests to know when there are detentions by mainland authorities inside the city.

The political sensitivity of co-location makes a case for greater transparency. This will help dispel worries and enhance confidence in the arrangement.