The Hong Kong government today unveiled the details of “co-location arrangements” at the local terminus of the high-speed rail link to Guangzhou. The plan will allow mainland officers to enforce Chinese laws and conduct clearance procedures within a leased area at the West Kowloon station.
The Executive Council endorsed the building of joint immigration facilities at West Kowloon, one of the thorniest issues facing Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor since she took the helm on July 1, and one which could throw up a range of legal and constitutional uncertainties.
Under the plan, mainland officials would work in an area rented by the central government, and enforce mainland laws there. The lease would last until 2047, when the “one country, two systems” blueprint expires.
Trains and platforms would also fall under mainland jurisdiction, but the tracks would stay within the local purview, to facilitate maintenance and handle emergencies. Pan-democrats have cast doubts on the plan, saying it violates Article 18 of the Basic Law, which states that no national laws shall apply in Hong Kong, except those listed in Annexe 3 of the mini-constitution.
The proposal is based on a similar arrangement for a site at Shenzhen Bay port, which the Hong Kong government rents for around HK$7 million per year, and uses for border checks.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung said that implementing the “co-location arrangements” at the West Kowloon station could maximise the benefits that may arise from the operation of the Hong Kong section of the Express Rail Link (XRL).
“On the contrary, if the traditional form of separate location arrangements were to be implemented, the benefits of the Hong Kong section of the XRL would be greatly reduced,” Yuen said. “The ‘co-location arrangements’ should comply with three objectives, namely: first, from the legal perspective, it should be consistent with the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ policy and should not contravene the Basic Law; second, from the operational perspective, it has to be feasible and effective; third, from a security perspective, it should be able to manage security risks robustly so as to prevent security loopholes.”
The station has five floors: lobby on the ground floor, ticket hall on the first, arrivals on the second, departures on the third and the platform on the fourth. Passengers buy tickets at the ticket hall, then head to the third floor for arrival and departure clearance, and take the train on the fourth floor. If they arrive at the West Kowloon station, they go to the second floor for arrival and departure clearance.
Five departments from the mainland will represented in the leased area at West Kowloon station – immigration, customs, food inspection, People’s Government Port Office and Chinese police.
Yuen insisted that it’s not the central government’s order to implement the “co-location arrangements” and reminded everyone not to politicise such logistical issues.
The Hong Kong government is expected to table a bill for setting up the new mainland area in the Legislative Council in October. It is hoped that the bill will be passed early next year.