The controversial co-location plan for the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link is just one step away from materializing after its approval by China’s legislature, although Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor does not see the process will be easy.
The arrangement, which allows part of the West Kowloon terminus for the Express Rail Link to be under the jurisdiction of mainland border control officials, has been opposed by pan-democrats as it is said to violate the Basic Law and cede Hong Kong land to China.
The cross-border rail link is expected to start operations in the third quarter next year.
The government has devised a “three-step process” to make it happen, including reaching a cooperation arrangement between Hong Kong and Beijing, which has been completed, getting approval and endorsement from the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC), and legislating the plan in Hong Kong.
On Wednesday, the NPCSC, with 158 votes for and none against, gave the green light to the plan after confirming that it complied with both the Chinese constitution and the Basic Law, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
In its resolution, the Chinese legislature said authorities stationed by the mainland will carry out their duties only in the Mainland Port Area at the West Kowloon Station in relation to immigration inspection, customs, inspection and quarantine, integrated port administration and railway police.
Lam said that setting up the Mainland Port Area at the West Kowloon Station does not alter the administrative division of Hong Kong and does not undermine the rights and freedoms enjoyed by the residents of Hong Kong in accordance with the law.
As such, there will be no contravention of Article 18 of the Basic Law, which states that national laws shall not be applied in Hong Kong, and any change of the ways by which it is implemented must be approved by the State Council, the NPCSC said.
Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung said applying national laws in the designated area of the terminus only is totally different from what Article 18 means and therefore is not against it.
Li Fei, chairman of the Basic Law Committee and deputy secretary-general of the NPCSC, told a press conference after the approval that the NPCSC’s decision had the constitutional status and the “highest legal effects” and its words carry utmost weight.
Li pointed out that Hong Kong people can still choose other control points to cross the border and enter the mainland without having to take the high-speed rail link if they have any concern and the co-location will not apply to them as a result.
Asked if Beijing has any backup plan should the co-location scheme fail to be passed by the Legislative Council, Li said public polls had shown that most Hongkongers support it, adding that failure to do so could be described as “out of one’s mind”.
The government on Wednesday also made public the cooperation arrangement it signed with Guangdong province on Nov. 18, saying any control point that enforces mainland laws is “part of the mainland”.
Calling co-location a great thing, Lam told media that a draft of a related bill will be submitted to the Legco by February next year at the latest and hopefully it can be passed by the summer before the express rail begins operations later that year as scheduled.
That said, Lam admitted she does not underestimate the difficulty that will be met during the local legislation process, calling on lawmakers to be rational and pragmatic when deliberating.
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