Thursday, 27 July 2017

Selling the High-Speed Rail Joint Checkpoint

An image of the cross-border high-speed rail link terminus in West Kowloon
The controversy over China having its immigration officers stationed in Hong Kong's cross-border express rail link between here and Guangzhou was settled Wednesday with little opposition to kick up a big fuss.

In West Kowloon, the cross-border high-speed rail link terminus is being built, and as far back as eight years ago, many pan-democrat lawmakers slammed the government for planning to establish a joint checkpoint there, which would violate the Basic Law.

At the time, Civic Party lawmaker Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee said: "The Basic Law has banned Hong Kong from implementing a co-location arrangement which allows Chinese Communist Party officers to enforce mainland laws in Hong Kong. This is crystal clear."

The train that will travel between Hong Kong and Guangzhou
Her colleague, Ronny Tong Ka-wah also said it was constitutionally impossible to set up such a joint checkpoint in the city centre.

But fast forward to today and Tong quit the party two years ago and is now a member of the Executive Council, which advises the chief executive, and endorsed the deal.

In this agreement, mainland officers can exercise nearly full jurisdiction in the 105,000 square metre designated port area at the terminus that it will rent from Hong Kong, but currently that's technically not possible, but Beijing and the Lam administration will work out some kind of backroom deal...

This is a sensitive issue because Hong Kong and China have separate laws, the former being more liberal than the latter. There are concerns that what a traveler does in the Hong Kong side that is considered legal maybe considered illegal on the mainland, so would that person be arrested?

Another somewhat trivial but important question is that once a traveler goes to "Chinese territory" in the terminus, will they suddenly not be able to have access to things like Facebook, Youtube and Google, which are currently banned in China?

The construction of the terminus in West Kowloon
That's why some legal critics say allowing Chinese officers to exercise mainland laws in this particular space on Hong Kong soil is a slippery slope in quickening the pace of the mainlandization of the city.

Dr Cheung Chor-yung, from City University's college of liberal arts and social sciences, said the co-location agreement would set a "very dangerous" precedent that could "shake the civil rights and freedoms of Hong Kong people as protected under the Basic Law".

"The price is too huge if we have to give up some of our guaranteed protection to trade for convenience in taking the train," he said.

Currently the joint checkpoint is being sold to the public as a form of convenience when traveling to the mainland. Business and tourism sectors are saying this will generate more economic benefits, but will it really?

Rimsky Yuen welcomes legal challenges to joint checkpoint
The set up we have now between Hong Kong and Shenzhen is convenient already, with a no-man's land in between the two border points at Lo Wu. But for example, Federation of Hong Kong Industries deputy chairman Jimmy Kwok Chun-wah says the new rail link will give more opportunities for Hong Kong people to find work across the border, making it more convenient for them to commute.

Really? Is there suddenly going to be a surge of people rushing across the border to work there? And the same with tourists, because it's more convenient?

Those reasons make it even harder to believe the new arrangement is a win-win for Hong Kong. Perhaps over time more workers and tourists will travel back and forth, but with the current sentiment Hong Kong people have about their northern cousins, they aren't eagerly sprinting over the border. And if they are working there already, they haven't been loudly complaining about their commute.

The joint checkpoint is also being compared to the arrangement between the United States and Canada, but in the latter case, US officials may only question and search travelers in Canada, but do not have the power to arrest them, which would be the case in Hong Kong.

Once again another divisive issue in the city, but does the public really understand the implications of this new arrangement? How do they feel about it?

Probably a mixture of uneasiness but also resignation. There are some legal challenges to this new arrangement and it will be interesting to see how they are received in court. It's a last-ditch attempt to protect Hong Kong.


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