More than 40 percent of Hongkongers support the government’s co-location arrangement for the Express Rail Link, according to the results of a survey released earlier this week.
If that is the case, the pro-Beijing camp should not waste its time in campaigns to gather support for the proposal.
Rather, it should face the issues raised by the opposition camp regarding the proposal’s legality and practicality.
On Tuesday, five pro-establishment legislators and around 20 lawyers and academics led by Business and Professional Alliance lawmaker Priscilla Leung formed a group in support of the co-located border clearance checkpoint at the West Kowloon rail terminus.
The Coalition of Legal Professionals and Academics Concerning Co-location Arrangement believes the co-location plan is the best option for the operation of the high-speed, cross-border rail system.
They insist that the one-stop customs and immigration process will be of great convenience to the public, particularly the business sector, and will not violate the Basic Law.
The coalition is actually the second group established by the pro-Beijing camp to back the co-location arrangement. On Monday, over 20 business and professional groups formed the Co-location Arrangement Concern Alliance.
The group, instead of facing the legal issues raised by the opposition camp, has focused instead on the practical benefits of the express rail system, particularly to the local economy.
However, the pro-democracy camp believes that the legal issue arising from the co-location arrangment cannot be set aside since it affects Hong Kong’s autonomy and its unique status as a special administrative region.
Writing on his social media page, Civic Party chairman Alan Leong said legislator Priscilla Leung has accepted his party’s invitation for a public debate on the issue.
The opposition camp is expected to attack the co-location arrangement by arguing that the proposal will cede parts of Hong Kong territory to mainland control.
Can Leung convince the public to accept the government proposal, even if means giving up the territory’s autonomy, even if it violates the “one country, two systems” principle?
Or would she just continue to insist that the co-location arrangement is necessary to operate the express rail link?
In fact, the controversy over the government proposal has provided a fact-checking opportunity to test whether the government’s claims about the Express Rail Link are true and accurate.
Civic Party lawmaker Jeremy Tam, for example, made his own calculations on the journey time from West Kowloon to Guangzhou East via the high-speed train and the traditional through train.
His tests showed that a high-speed train passenger would take 110 minutes to travel from Shenzhen Futian to Guangzhou East. The journey includes the transit from Guangzhou South terminus to Guangzhou Metro, but not the 14-minute trip from West Kowloon to Futian.
However, the tests also found that passengers using the through train would only take 78 minutes to travel from Lo Wu to Guangzhou East.
That said, existing train services could be a better choice for Hong Kong people traveling to Guangzhou than the Express Rail Link in terms of journey time.
Also, Express Rail Link passengers would need more time to buy the tickets, go through customs and immigration checks, and transit from the high-speed train to the local metro system.
It’s fine for the government to promote the rail link service by saying that it would only take 48 minutes to travel from West Kowloon to Guangzhou South. In fact, that’s the only selling point of the entire system and infrastructure.
But the government should also admit that 48 minutes of travel time only include the trip from one station to the next, and not the minutes to be consumed for other matters in order to proceed with the journey and reach the destination.
Hongkongers should continue to fact-check the government’s figures and claims about the Express Rail Link.
But if the government’s claims about fast travel and convenience, let alone its legal justifications, are debunked, then how can it convince the public to continue supporting the proposal?
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