National law enforced in Hong Kong’s high-speed rail terminus from midnight, as 800 mainland officers set to be stationed in port area
Handover ceremony took place at 11.45pm, marking the creation of a controversial mainland port area in Hong Kong ahead of the opening of the rail link on September 23
About 800 mainland Chinese personnel will be stationed daily at Hong Kong’s new cross-border high-speed rail link terminus, with a midnight ceremony on Monday marking the handover of the designated port area where they will enforce national laws, according to government sources.
The 15-minute handover ceremony was arranged after the government gazetted the controversial “co-location” joint checkpoint arrangement last Friday, authorising mainland officials to start work in the port area under their jurisdiction at the West Kowloon terminus on Tuesday.
It is understood the 800 mainland law enforcers, including about 160 police officers, will work in two shifts in the port area when the HK$84.4 billion Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link opens on September 23.
The 800-strong team also includes immigration, customs and quarantine personnel.
“We are told that 80 extra officers from the mainland public security bureau will be stationed in the nearest Shenzhen train station each shift and can arrive in Hong Kong within half an hour if necessary,” the source said.
He revealed they would be allowed to carry firearms in the mainland port area, but it was not known whether all of them would be armed while on duty.
The source said about 800 local officers were also expected to be stationed at the Hong Kong side of the terminus in two work shifts every day.
While most of the mainland officers would have to return to Shenzhen every day after the closure of the railway service at around midnight, dozens would remain and guard their port area overnight, sources said.
“It is necessary because some of [overnight staff] will help to do clearance and facilitate technicians and workers to enter the port area from the Hong Kong side to carry out repair and maintenance work after midnight,” one source said.
He added the control centre run by mainland authorities on the basement 2 level of the terminus would also run around the clock.
As there were no catering facilities in the zone that mainland officers on duty would be confined to, thousands of meals would be prepared in Hong Kong and delivered to them every day, another source said.
The MTR Corporation on Monday said the mainland side would pay for the meals for their officers working in Hong Kong if it accepted the results of a tender the rail giant had helped to arrange.
But the MTR Corp did not confirm or deny reports that the sum involved would be HK$100 million a year.
About 100 mainland and Hong Kong officials attended the ceremony to mark the handover of the port area at 11.45pm on Monday.
A 50-member mainland delegation, led by Lin Ji, deputy secretary-general of Guangdong provincial government, arrived in the city for the ceremony via the Lo Wu border control point.
Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan led the Hong Kong delegation. Officials from the Highways Department, police, Customs and Excise Department and Immigration Department also attended.
After the ceremony in the Hong Kong port area, about 20 mainland officers would be officially stationed in their own port area, the sources said.
They revealed that a thorough inspection had been carried out to make sure no one would remain in the mainland port area before the ceremony, after which the city’s law enforcers or government staff would also not be allowed to go to the other side without permission from the mainland authorities.
Under the co-location arrangement, national laws will apply in the port area leased to the mainland side, namely the immigration counters on floor levels serving departures and arrivals, as well as on platforms and in the compartments of moving trains in Hong Kong.
The legality of the arrangement has been challenged by opposition lawmakers and the Bar Association, which argued that it breached the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law.
The local government revealed in a leaflet that incidents involving passengers in the mainland port area would be handled through conference calls involving both Hong Kong and mainland authorities.
Regardless of whether passengers in the zone called the local 999 emergency hotline or the mainland’s 112 version, the case would be first answered by Hong Kong police before being referred to a conference call.
Hong Kong personnel would also be authorised to provide help within the port area – for example, in the case of a fire – according to the leaflet.
The 26km Hong Kong section of the railway line that will link the city to 44 destinations on the mainland, is expected to carry up to 80,100 passengers a day.