On Tuesday the government finally unveiled details of the arrangement for co-location of customs and immigration facilities at the Hong Kong terminal of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link.
Under the plan, the Hong Kong government will rent out a designated area within the West Kowloon terminal to mainland authorities where they will be allowed to exercise their jurisdiction.
In other words, in the future, once a traveler has passed the mainland immigration counter and set foot in the “Mainland Port Area” inside the terminal, he or she will be considered having entered Chinese soil and be subject to mainland laws.
Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen said the administration will adopt a “3-step” approach to implementing the co-location arrangement: 1. The Hong Kong SAR government will conclude an agreement with the central authorities; 2. The National People’s Congress Standing Committee will scrutinize and approve the agreement, and; 3. The SAR administration will table the bill to Legco.
Secretary Yuen reiterated that there is absolutely no question of “ceding land” to the mainland, and that the co-location arrangement is a bilateral agreement between Hong Kong and the mainland that would create a win-win situation, and that it is not a political order forced upon our city by Beijing.
The idea of leasing a part of Hong Kong’s territory to the mainland indefinitely might sound outrageous or even humiliating to some people, and could make a good rallying point for the pan-democrats to mobilize public opinion against the entire proposal.
However, the truth is, Hong Kong has never been given any unfair shake by Beijing when it comes to territory. People whining about “loss of territory” to the mainland are either being fussy or forgetful.
It is because, compared to the 41 hectares of land ceded by Shenzhen to Hong Kong in order to establish our immigration control areas at the Shenzhen Bay Port 10 years ago as well as another 87 hectares ceded by Shenzhen at the Lok Ma Chau Loop, the tiny indoor area within the West Kowloon terminal which Beijing has “annexed” is just peanuts.
As everyone should know, the controversy surrounding the entire co-location arrangement stems not from any concern about territorial integrity, but rather, the fear that Hong Kong citizens might fall victim to potential abuse of the powers of arrest by mainland law enforcement within the terminal in the future.
Therefore, at the end of the day, what is truly standing in the way of the co-location arrangement is the confidence issue rather than legal or economic concerns.
As expected, the co-location arrangement has immediately drawn intense fire from the pan-democrats, who have strongly criticized the government for compromising “one country, two systems”.
Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun said the proposal “couldn’t be more ridiculous”, suggesting that the pan-democrats would fight against the bill with all their means.
It is because, on one hand, the lawmaker said, Legco has no constitutional power to pass any law that would allow mainland law enforcement to exercise their jurisdiction within Hong Kong since it constitutes a direct violation of Article 18 of the Basic Law.
And on the other, he said, there are widespread concerns among people that under the co-location arrangement, it is likely that in the future, any Hong Kong citizen who travels by the rail link may run the risk of being arrested and detained by mainland law enforcement either within the West Kowloon terminal or inside the train compartment for actions that would otherwise be deemed totally legal in our city such as chanting the “Charter 08″ drafted by Liu Xiaobo.
As we can see, as far as the government’s “3-step” approach is concerned, the last step, i.e. pushing the bill on co-location through Legco, may prove the hardest, as the opposition will certainly go to great lengths to try to block it.
Even Chief Executive Carrie Lam has admitted that she didn’t expect the task to be easy, and said that all she can do is to try her best to allay public concerns by reasoning with them.
True, the key to the successful implementation of the co-location arrangement is definitely enhancing public confidence in the proposal. In order to do that, the government not only has to go head to head with the pan-democrats in the legislature, it also has to win the public opinion war simultaneously.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 26
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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