The government is working aggressively to mobilize public opinion in favor of the so-called co-location arrangement for the cross-border high-speed rail link.
There is talk that the administration could announce details of the arrangements by the end of this month for the plan that would result in co-location of customs and immigration facilities at the Hong Kong terminal of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link.
Ahead of that, authorities, along with MTR Corporation, are mounting a massive publicity campaign to pitch to the public the merits and benefits of the express rail link through TV, radio and online commercials in order to rally public support for the co-location arrangement.
In face of the intense skepticism from the pan-democrats, the administration is aware that the key to ensuring that the bill will pass Legco according to schedule is to win the public opinion war.
Meanwhile, members of the pro-establishment camp are rallying behind the government and putting forward different proposals over the co-location arrangement in an apparent effort to build up hype and swing public opinion their way.
For example, Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung, a lawmaker and Executive Councillor representing the Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong, has recently suggested that the railway platform as well as the departure concourse of the Hong Kong terminal of the express rail link be designated a restricted area in which mainland authorities can exercise their jurisdiction over travelers.
In other words, once travelers have passed the mainland immigration counters at the departure concourse, they will automatically fall within mainland jurisdiction and have to obey its law.
According to government sources, Jeffrey Lam’s suggestion is quite similar to the final proposal the administration is going to announce at the end of this month.
However, there is talk that Beijing is also studying the feasibility of redrawing the boundaries of Hong Kong and “annexing” the immigration and inspection area inside the Hong Kong terminal in order to avoid violating Article 18 of the Basic Law, which stipulates that “national laws shall not be applied in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region except for those listed in Annex III.”
Even though the idea of “ceding” a small piece of Hong Kong territory to the mainland might sound a bit outrageous, some pan-democratic lawmakers have actually expressed in private that they think it is actually a “lesser evil” that is more acceptable than distorting Article 18 of the Basic Law.
One of the major reasons why the co-location arrangement is so controversial and sensitive is because it allows mainland law enforcement officers to exercise their jurisdiction within Hong Kong’s territory.
To address this grave concern in society, sources said there are likely to be special arrangements for mainland immigration and customs officers stationed in the Hong Kong terminal.
The officers will only be allowed to work in the restricted area while on duty. Once they go off duty they will return to the mainland immediately, and there will be no accommodation facilities for mainland officers at the terminal, according to the sources.
Besides, as the mainland immigration service has been downsizing in recent years, it has no intention of sending a huge force for stationing in Hong Kong, the sources added.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 13
Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting
[Chinese version 中文版]
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