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Hong Kong high-speed rail

Is Beijing envoy’s personal travelogue a veiled boost for joint checkpoints at Hong Kong-mainland China link?

Liaison office deputy director extols virtues of national express network, and writes of pleasure that local government is laying the groundwork for operations at new – and controversial – 26km line

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 February, 2018, 8:03am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 February, 2018, 2:35pm

A Beijing envoy to Hong Kong has penned a story recounting a day out riding China’s high-speed rails on a one-day, cross-province trip, in an apparent bid to back a controversial push for joint border checkpoints at the local terminal of the city’s own express line.

Yang Jian, a deputy director at the central government liaison office – the Beijing government’s representatives in the city – posted the article extolling the virtues of high-speed trains on the office’s official website.

It was about a day trip from Guangzhou, Guangdong province, to Nanchang, Jiangxi province, on a Saturday early last year. The two cities are nearly 700km apart.

Yang wrote that a friend had recommended he take the high-speed train to Nanchang, to visit another friend in hospital.

And when he made the trip, the story went on, Yang was surprised to find that even after visiting the friend he had time to go for dinner with relatives and see the sights, and still get back to Guangzhou late that evening.

Yang wrote that the train was so fast it felt like it could “rocket to the sky at the push of a button”.

“I closed my eyes and let myself be absorbed by reverie. I felt like I had become the son of the wind and was riding on the winds,” he wrote.

He wrote that he balanced a HK$5 coin on the windowsill and it stayed upright as the train was travelling at about 300km/h.

“The country is keeping up its investment,” he wrote. “By 2025, the total length of high-speed rail track will be 38,000km.”

Yang concluded that he was pleased recently to see the Hong Kong government and the China Railway Corporation sign a deal in preparation for trains to finally run along the Hong Kong section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link.

Hong Kong high-speed rail ‘should offer 30 per cent discount to attract passengers’

The 26km Hong Kong section of the rail line, expected to go into use by the third quarter of this year, will link Hong Kong to mainland China’s high-speed rail network.

Under the so-called co-location plan, passengers will go through customs, immigration and quarantine procedures for both Hong Kong and the mainland at the Hong Kong terminal.

Critics have said the joint checkpoint arrangement goes against the “one country, two systems” principle because it allows national laws to be enforced in Hong Kong.

One country, two systems is the governing formula under which Beijing has ruled the city since 1997, and which guarantees the city certain freedoms which mainland Chinese cities do not get.

The Hong Kong government has said it would be pointless to build the high-speed rail link without joint checkpoints. It has tabled the plan at the Hong Kong legislature, and hopes to get it passed before the end of the current legislative session in July.

It also noted that the National People’s Congress Standing Committee – China’s top legislative body – had ruled the arrangement constitutional.

Watch: What does ‘one country, two systems’ mean?

Dr Chung Kim-wah, a political scientist at Polytechnic University, said he was not convinced that Yang’s piece was just a personal travelogue, and that in lavishing praise on the national express rail network Yang was adding to the case for going ahead with co-location.

“The timing of the piece tells us a lot. Maybe the liaison office sees it as its mission to help the Hong Kong government promote the high-speed rail or co-location,” Chung said.

He also noted that the liaison office is not supposed to interfere in local politics, and that “some Hong Kong people might feel uncomfortable when what should be politically invisible goes up to the front and becomes so politically active in Hong Kong affairs”.