Hong Kong border issue is merely a storm in a teacup

  • The occupation of private Hong Kong land by the Guangdong Border Defence Corps should be settled swiftly before it becomes a full-blown political problem
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 November, 2018, 5:15pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 November, 2018, 10:13pm

The Guangdong Border Defence Corps appears to have illegally occupied a tract of private land on the Hong Kong side of the border and turned it into a 21,000 sq ft garden for its own use.

This seems like a simple matter to resolve. But, given the sensitivity of border issues, it’s threatening to become a full-blown political problem.

The Hong Kong government is in panic mode. Some members of the opposition are already exploiting the situation by calling it “a violation of ‘one country, two systems’.”

No doubt seeing a potential opportunity for profit, a few rural leaders have got into the act by advising the government to buy the land from its owners.

Instead of being a political crisis, it sounds more like a satirical comedy. Apparently, mainland border guards have been using the garden to rear fish and poultry, and grow vegetables.

The Development Bureau, the Security Bureau, the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau, the Lands Department and the police are directly involved.

Chinese police occupying private land on Hong Kong side of border

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung are leading the government’s response.

But clearly, existing rules and laws should be sufficient and are to be followed, rather than extra-political considerations.

The restricted area in question is classified as a frontier closed area, where people need permits to enter. It lies between Sha Tau Kok on the Hong Kong side and the Yantian district in Shenzhen.

Mainland officers have claimed it’s part of a buffer zone between the two jurisdictions that they could freely enter in carrying out operations such as intercepting smugglers.

Even if that were the case, they clearly have no business occupying private land on Hong Kong’s side, let alone building a garden.

The land’s ownership by two families and two indigenous trusts does not seem to be in dispute, even though the owners and trust managers said they were not aware of the issue until the latest news reports.

To the extent that there needs to be cross-border liaison, the Hong Kong government ought to tell the border defence corps to vacate the site and enforce such an order once ownership has been verified. If the owners want to seek compensation, that should be a civil case between them and the corps.

And if there are unclear border issues such as enforcement powers, the two sides should use this as an opportunity to clarify them.