Hong Kong has entered its one-year countdown towards the inauguration of the local section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong express rail, and the government has waged a full-blown PR campaign canvassing public support for the so called “co-location” arrangement, a plan to cede a large chunk of the West Kowloon terminus where mainland laws will be observed.
The crux of the issue is that the mainland port area will not be part of Hong Kong from a legal point of view.
The SAR government should have devised better ways that can both ensure ease and convenience for passengers and allay the public’s consternation as well.
Unfortunately, our officials have been weaseling in their response to Hongkongers’ pervasive misgiving about having mainland agents stationed at the heart of the city, while cooking the books on the economic benefits of the express link.
For instance, the precedents they cite, the Eurostar express link between France and the United Kingdom and the United States border preclearance, are all a bit of a stretch. Unlike the mainland port area inside the West Kowloon terminus where Hong Kong’s rightful jurisdiction will be relinquished, in none of the two cases is one party’s area of jurisdiction ceded or rented out to the other side.
Malaysia and Singapore’s deal concerning customs, immigration and quarantine for the 350-kilometer Kuala Lumpur–Singapore High Speed Rail, slated to be up and running in 2026, is perhaps a more pertinent example.
Just like West Kowloon, there will be a key terminus in Singapore, while multiple stations along the Malaysia section on top of the Kuala Lumpur terminus will help boost ridership. So, is there a similar co-location plan at Singapore’s Jurong East terminus?
To some extent, yes. Like West Kowloon, passengers clear all exit and arrival procedures under one roof at Jurong East, but such co-location is only intended for north-bound passengers heading across the border to Malaysia.
Indeed, there are two more co-location points inside Malaysia — at Kuala Lumpur terminus and Iskandar Puteri station, which is in Johor Bahru separated by a narrow waterway off Singapore.
Having gone through exit and arrival checks at Kuala Lumpur terminus, all Singapore-bound passengers will board a non-stop train direct to the destination. Passengers departing from other parts of Malaysia will have to disembark at Iskandar Puteri station for immigration clearance and then continue with their journey on feeder trains or buses that ferry them to Singapore.
The merit of this deal is that Malaysian agents won’t have to be deployed at Jurong East, thus avoiding all the complexities of cross-border law enforcement. The downside is that those starting their trip from places other than Kuala Lumpur and Johor Bahru will have to change to another train.
But the truth is that the bulk of passengers to the Lion City are indeed from Kuala Lumpur and Johor Bahru.
Likewise, the bulk of mainland passengers to Hong Kong are from Shenzhen and other first tier cities like Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing, with Shenzhen alone accounting for about 60 percent of such cross-border riders, according to government estimates.
One proof is that in terms of air traffic, out of the 100 plus daily flights from Hong Kong to mainland cities, about 40 are to Shanghai and more than 20 are to Beijing.
Moving all the co-location facilities from West Kowloon to Shenzhen’s Futian station, as well as rail terminuses in Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing won’t cause too much hassle to the majority of riders, let alone all the terminuses in these key cities. These were all built in recent years with ample space to house mainland and Hong Kong port areas to serve passengers before they board non-stop trains to West Kowloon.
Passengers from other parts of the mainland, who make up just a small portion of the total, can get off the train and go through joint immigration and customs checks at Shenzhen’s Futian station.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug. 12
Translation by Frank Chen
[Chinese version 中文版]
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