Prior to the official announcement of Beijing’s proposal to set up a Chinese immigration checkpoint at the West Kowloon terminus of the Express Rail Link, the Hong Kong government had stepped up its public relations work to try to convince the public that there is no harm in enforcing Chinese law in Hong Kong, citing the economic benefits of the link.
But our officials failed to touch on the core of the controversy — that Hong Kong people lack trust in their sovereign.
On Sunday, former transport and housing minister Cheung Bing-leung told a radio program that the controversy over the Chinese immigration checkpoint has more to do with trust than legality, while acknowledging that there is conflict and tension between the Hong Kong and Chinese systems.
This is especially so since the arrangement contravenes Article 22 of the Basic Law, which prohibits Chinese national laws from being enforced on Hong Kong soil.
The former official played down the controversy, saying the matter was an issue of trust, and urged Hong Kong people to accept the fact that co-location is essential in bringing convenience to people and maximizing the efficiency of the rail link.
The economic benefits may be important in integrating Hong Kong into the Chinese economy but that doesn’t mean Beijing can do as it pleases to achieve its goals.
Pro-Beijing news website hk01.com broke the story that all Chinese officers working in the West Kowloon terminus in the future will be armed when on duty.
The report stated that the terminus will have four basement floors. The Chinese government will occupy two of them as well as the departure platform for immigration use via a leasing agreement with Hong Kong.
These areas will be restricted which will enable Chinese officials to enforce Chinese laws. At the request of the Chinese authorities, the restricted area will have a number of detention rooms and equipment rooms to store weapons, police batons, handcuffs and other police paraphernalia.
One of the most controversial issues is that Chinese officials will be allowed to carry arms in the restricted area. The report said the Hong Kong SAR government did show concern regarding the matter but the two sides finally agreed in the interests of security, including averting potential terrorist attacks.
In addition, the trains will also be considered to be in Chinese territory even if they are on the Hong Kong side. Passengers will be under Chinese legal jurisdiction rather than Hong Kong’s once they enter the restricted area of the terminus.
From a national security perspective, it’s appropriate for Chinese officials to be armed in the terminus when performing their duties, but under the “one country, two systems” principle, it is a complicated political issue.
First, it could raise doubts about how Beijing can uphold “one country, two systems” given that the Basic Law clearly states that no Chinese authorities and officials can enforce Chinese law in Hong Kong.
The co-location arrangement no doubt violates the Basic Law and would face legal challenges. It is expected that Beijing will interpret the Basic Law to allow specific Chinese officials to enforce Chinese law in Hong Kong as well as on the trains in he name of national security.
That said, Hong Kong’s courts can do nothing but follow Beijing’s interpretation. It has the makings of the events that led to the disqualification of six lawmakers from the Legislative Council for improper oath-taking.
Now Hong Kong people are worried that existing laws may be changed or interpreted by Beijing to fit its objectives, be they political or economic. That’s also the reason Hong Kong people have no trust in Beijing after several examples of its behavior including that involving the missing Hong Kong booksellers.
The new arrangement opens the door for Beijing to take action against anyone in the West Kowloon Terminus’ restricted area.
Pro-Beijing lawmakers and the media have said that co-location arrangements are quite normal overseas such as at the border of the United States and Canada and at the checkpoint of Eurostar cross-border transit between the United Kingdom and France.
But that is comparing apples with oranges. Beijing contravenes the Basic Law, not having amended it before making the co-location arrangement. It did not not consult Hong Kong people regarding the decision and it can resort to an interpretation of the basic Law if push comes to shove.
If Hong Kong people had been consulted on the matter, it is possible that there would be less resistance to the idea.
On a larger scale, Hong Kong people worry that their uniqueness will be taken away bit by bit by Beijing’s intervention in local affairs. They are concerned that in the end, the Basic Law can be interpreted according to Beijing’s own interests.
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