16 November 2018
MTR chairman Frederick Ma warns the Express Rail Link could burn HK$80 million a day if there was no co-location arrangement in place when it starts commercial operation in 2018. Photo: HKEJ
MTR chairman Frederick Ma warns the Express Rail Link could burn HK$80 million a day if there was no co-location arrangement in place when it starts commercial operation in 2018. Photo: HKEJ

Opposition must tap civil society to fight co-location plan

The government appears to be having a hard time winning over the public a week after it announced the co-location arrangement for the Express Rail Link.

Officials obviously underestimated the public’s anger to its proposal to cede part of the West Kowloon terminus to mainland control, which would allow the central government to enforce national laws on the station platforms and trains.

The government, along with the pro-establishment media, accused the opposition of politicizing the co-location plan and focused instead on the cross-border railway system’s economic benefits to lure public support.

Meanwhile, several civic organizations took to the streets and social media to disseminate the “facts” about the arrangement, which they insist would hurt Hong Kong’s autonomy.

Student activist Yuen Kin-yan said he and his friends set up a counter in Wan Chai on Sunday to tell the public about the dangers of the government’s co-location proposal.

They have come up with small hand bills explaining how the government is misleading the public in the co-location debate.

With just eight people manning the counter, Yuen’s team might not be able to reach a lot of people, but they seem enthusiastic in carrying out their mission, which is to educate the public about the insidious implications of the co-location plan.

An old man came to the counter and told the team: “It’s no use. If shouting slogans work, then the Communist Party should have fallen a long time ago.”

The old man’s words ring true as many Hong Kong people are getting tired of fighting government policies that damage the city’s uniqueness; the government pursues those policies despite the widespread opposition.

But it is important for Hong Kong’s youth to voice out their concerns about issues that affect their city and their future. If Scholarism did not stand up and fight against the patriotic education curriculum, our educational system would be producing an army of uncritical and brainwashed citizens.

Hong Kong people, of course, don’t believe that everything is bad about the Express Rail Link project, but they want their government to be sincere and straightforward about everything about the hugely expensive project.

For example, the government, in promoting the benefits of the cross-border rail express on social media, said it would only take 48 minutes to travel from the West Kowloon terminus to the Guangzhou South station.

This is almost magical in speed, when compared to the travel time by means of airplane, through-train or cross-border bus, which would take from 60 to 210 minutes.

But the 48-minute journey, as the government admits in its social media post, will only happen if the train is “non-stop”.

The post drew more than 200 “angry” emoticons from netizens who accused the government of misleading the public about the journey time.

One netizen pointed out that Guanzhou South is not exactly the city center, which is 17 kilometers away.

Others said flights to Guangzhou are mainly for transit passengers and therefore should not be compared to the travel time using the Express Rail Link.

Some even threatened to file a complaint against the government to the customs department for violating the Trade Description Ordinance.

All in all, the government’s “marketing” campaign has failed to win over critics of the high-speed rail system.  And if the government insists on the 48-minute journey pitch, it may soon find itself facing a public relations crisis.

But the government and its allies are keen on stopping all negative comments about the Express Rail Link in a bid to facilitate the public’s acceptance of the co-location arrangement.

Unfortunately, MTR Corp. chairman Frederick Ma poured gasoline on fire when he warned over the weekend that the Express Rail Link could burn HK$80 million a day if there was no co-location arrangement in place when the train service starts commercial operation in September next year.

Ma’s warning only gave an opening for the opposition camp to further attack the project. They said the project had been over the budget and the projected return on investment was as low as 4 percent.

They estimated that the government would be wasting over HK$100 billion on a project with such a low return rate. So that’s where Ma’s warning about wastage came from.

The government is obviously playing the numbers game to convince the public to accept the co-location arrangement, calling it the “fastest link” to Guangzhou South and warning about the loss of HK$80 million a day if there is no such arrangement.

After keeping herself scarce to the media recently, our Chief Executive Carrie Lam joined the co-location debate on Sunday and asked the opposition camp not to “demonize” and politicize the Express Rail Link and the co-location arrangement.

She even said people who do not approve of the arrangement can simply avoid using the service by traveling to the mainland by other means.

Or they may decided not to go to the mainland at all, she added.

The opposition camp should work closely with the civic community to educate the public about the Express Rail Link and co-location arrangement.

In the discussions and debates, they should stress the real impact of the project on Hong Kong, which is the loss of its autonomy to protect its own border under the framework of the Basic Law.

While government is trying to shift the debate to the “numbers game”, the opposition should bring it back to the basic issue, which is the need to preserve the rule of law and protect our city’s uniqueness.

– Contact us at [email protected]


EJ Insight writer

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