Landmark Hong Kong-mainland rail checkpoint deal on track to be finalised
City’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and Guangdong Governor Ma Xingrui will sign controversial co-location agreement on Saturday
Hong Kong and the mainland will seal a politically contentious deal on Saturday to set up a joint checkpoint for the high-speed rail link to Guangzhou, dismissing critics’ warnings that it undermines the city’s autonomy.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and Guangdong province Governor Ma Xingrui will sign the so-called “co-location” arrangement at Government House at noon, marking the first of three steps that will allow mainland officials to exercise immigration and customs jurisdiction over part of the West Kowloon terminus to be leased to them.
The next step would be to secure the endorsement of China’s top legislative body, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC), expected by December.
Enacting the relevant legislation would be the final step, so as to “ensure timely implementation of the co-location arrangement”, “fully unleashing the transport, social and economic benefits” of the cross-border railway, and “maximising convenience to passengers”, according to a government statement issued on Friday.
A government source said the full agreement would not be released before the mainland’s top legislative body endorses it, but “descriptions” of the deal would be provided on Saturday.
The HK$84.4 billion Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link is expected to start running in the third quarter of next year.
Lam’s administration is going full steam ahead after the co-location proposal was passed as a non-binding motion by the Legislative Council on Wednesday, with filibustering opposition lawmakers running out of delaying tactics.
While the government is citing Legco’s approval as public support for the arrangement, the pan-democrats are calling it “fake” public consultation. They warn that it will violate the “one country, two systems” principle and set a bad precedent by allowing officers from across the border to exercise almost full jurisdiction on Hong Kong soil.
The government counters that it is a purely practical arrangement with no rolling back of the city’s autonomy.
New concerns have also arisen after Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung remained vague this week about questions over what legal basis would be used for such a set-up.
Officials had cited Article 20 of the city’s mini-constitution as providing the legal basis for the co-location legislation, as it states that Hong Kong “may enjoy other powers” granted to it by the NPCSC or the central government. That would enable the local government to seek empowerment from the NPCSC to enact the co-location law.
Basic Law Committee member Rao Geping challenged the suggestion, asking: “How would this be appropriate for co-location?”
The intention of Article 20, Rao said, was for the NPCSC to “exercise discretion to add power of autonomy” for Hong Kong.
This meant the party being awarded power was Hong Kong, he added.
Earlier this week, Basic Law Committee chairman Li Fei, a senior mainland Chinese official who specialises in the mini-constitution, was quoted as telling a visiting delegation of Hong Kong barristers there was no decision on the application of Article 20.
“The legal basis is still a question mark for now and the public has no idea about the arrangement,” said Tanya Chan, the opposition lawmaker convening a co-location concern group. “It is very inappropriate for Lam to press ahead with the signing on her own. I demand the government disclose the arrangement before signing.”
“We condemn the government for operating in the dark,” said fellow lawmaker Charles Mok, convenor of Legco’s pro-democracy bloc.
Pro-Beijing lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun said it was not important when the deal would be signed, but urged the government to table the bill at Legco as soon as possible for detailed scrutiny.