100 riot police to be on standby for launch of Hong Kong’s express rail line to mainland China
Officers will ‘deal with any possible complications’ when Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam and Guangdong governor Ma Xingrui tour the terminal
About 100 riot police will be on standby near the West Kowloon terminal on Saturday as Hong Kong marks the launch of its long-awaited and controversial cross-border high-speed rail link to mainland China.
The officers would not patrol the area, a police source said, but would “deal with any possible complications” that may arise when Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, Guangdong governor Ma Xingrui and 500 guests begin their tour of the terminal at 10am.
Officers from Yau Tsim district and the Kowloon West regional headquarters will maintain order inside the station.
The guests will then board a Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong express train heading for Guangzhou South, a 142km journey that would take them 48 minutes on a non-stop service.
Legislators from Hong Kong’s pro-establishment parties said they would attend the ceremony, held a day before trains begin running.
“Everybody wants to be on [that train],” Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong vice-chairman Gary Chan Hak-kan said.
A number of the city’s 26 pro-democracy lawmakers were invited to the event but at least nine refused, with Civic Party legislators saying “there was nothing worth celebrating”.
Instead, the pan-democrats will stage a small protest outside the terminal at 9am, and they expected “dozens” of supporters to turn up.
The delays, inflated costs and legal wrangles that have plagued the MTR Corporation’s Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail
Saturday’s ceremony comes a decade after Hong Kong embarked on the HK$84.4 billion (US$10.76 billion) project, consisting of construction of the station and a 26km line through the city to the mainland’s rail network.
Since then, there have been protests against evictions of villagers, chaotic Legislative Council debates, building delays, and the hugely controversial decision to implement “co-location”, which lets mainland Chinese officers enforce national laws in part of the terminal.
In an interview with Chinese state media outlet Xinhua published on Friday, Lam said people would “get used to” the joint checkpoint arrangement, which has been criticised by legal experts at Hong Kong’s Bar Association as “unconstitutional”.
“After the commencement of the express rail, citizens will feel the convenience brought by the co-location arrangement, and should get used to it quickly,” Lam said.
The co-location bill was bitterly contested and only passed by Legco in June following months of wrangling.
Tanya Chan of the Civic Party, who led a group of pan-democrat lawmakers in a campaign against co-location, said: “Not only did the express rail damage the ‘one country, two systems’ principle and the Basic Law, but recent information shows it is not very convenient.”
She was referring to the formula under which Hong Kong has been governed since the handover of sovereignty from Britain in 1997, as well as to the city’s mini-constitution.
The government previously claimed the express rail would take passengers from Hong Kong to Guangzhou in less than 48 minutes, but it was later revealed that only three pairs of non-stop trains would achieve that daily.
In the same interview, Lam said she would be using the express rail herself.
“I often attend meetings in Shenzhen – riding the express rail will be very convenient,” she said, noting that the journey to Futian station took less than 20 minutes.
Train services on the Hong Kong section of the line will begin on Sunday, with the first train leaving the terminal at 7am, heading for Shenzhen North station.
Additional reporting by Kimmy Chung