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Hong Kong high-speed rail

20 Hong Kong delegates to skip flying in favour of train to Beijing for annual political meetings

Group will make 2,000km journey by high-speed rail as government seeks to promote new line to Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 February, 2018, 10:40pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 February, 2018, 11:04pm

Twenty Hong Kong delegates to China’s national legislature and top political advisory body will ditch flying in favour of the country’s fast expanding high-speed rail network when they journey north to Beijing for their annual meeting on Thursday.

The group will need to cross the border into mainland China and board trains in neighbouring Shenzhen to begin the almost 2,000km trip. But from September the journey could start at Hong Kong’s West Kowloon after a cross-border rail line opens connecting the city to the national network.

Their decision to opt for the train is being seen as a publicity stunt to promote the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong express rail link, which has been plagued by cost overruns and delays.

The line has also faced opposition from Hong Kong’s pan-democrat lawmakers who have insisted a joint immigration and customs checkpoint to be operated together by mainland and local officers at West Kowloon does not fit with the city’s mini-constitution. That is because it will involve enforcing mainland laws on Hong Kong soil for the first time.

The 20 members of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and the National People’s Congress announced on Tuesday their travel plans for the parliamentary meetings commonly known as the “Two Sessions”. The opening meetings of the CPPCC and NPC will kick off on Saturday and Monday respectively.

The group will depart from Futian station in Shenzhen early on Thursday morning and arrive in Beijing about 10 hours later. Flying means about 3½ hours in the air.

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“We would like to take the opportunity to experience the convenient, speedy and comfortable ride, enjoy the scenery along the way and have a taste of the great achievements of the national network construction,” said Wong Ting-chung, one of the NPC delegates.

“When Hong Kong is connected to the national rail network it will be more convenient as we no longer will need to bring our luggage all the way to board in Shenzhen.”

Wong is also the chairman of a leading knitwear label on the mainland.

A source with the group, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong had encouraged them to take the train as a “soft-sell” campaign to rally support for the joint checkpoint arrangement.

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However, most delegates declined and insisted on travelling by air as usual, the source added.

Time is running out for Hong Kong lawmakers to approve the so-called co-location bill for the checkpoint, without which the rail line will be unable to function effectively. It proposes parts of the West Kowloon terminal be a “mainland port area” inside which national laws will apply.

In a bid to expedite the vote, the city’s security, justice and transport chiefs accompanied about 30 lawmakers on a tour of the terminal on Tuesday afternoon, answering questions on how the plan would be implemented.

But pan-democrats were disappointed they were only given one hour to survey the station, which has five levels and 11 hectares of floor space.

“There are deep, troubling constitutional issues that we are still very much concerned with and there are other technical issues. For example, the transfer arrangement from one jurisdiction to another – how does that conform with Hong Kong laws?” the Civic Party’s Dennis Kwok said.

Fellow party member Tanya Chan meanwhile called on government officials to hand over floor plans detailing station facilities, including access doors, which she feared could become a law enforcement loophole.