17 July 2019
Lawmakers and top government officials inspect the West Kowloon terminus of the Express Rail Link on Tuesday to learn more about how the co-location arrangement will be implemented. Photo: ISD
Lawmakers and top government officials inspect the West Kowloon terminus of the Express Rail Link on Tuesday to learn more about how the co-location arrangement will be implemented. Photo: ISD

Democrats voice concerns over XRL terminus after on-site visit

To hardly anybody’s surprise, opposition lawmakers did not like what they saw when they joined an on-site visit to the West Kowloon terminus of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XRL) on Tuesday.

The pan-democrats, who have been opposing the co-location arrangement at the terminus for lacking legal basis and undermining the city’s high degree of autonomy, expressed concerns about the design of the facility, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

They were among the 27 lawmakers from different parties who joined Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah, Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan and Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu in inspecting the terminus.

Playing the role of XRL passengers, they spent about an hour buying their tickets and going through the required immigration and customs procedures for leaving and entering Hong Kong.

Pro-establishment lawmakers in the party observed that the boundary between the mainland and Hong Kong at the terminus is clearly designated, but the democrats criticized many aspects of its design.

Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan Suk-chong, who called the time allocated for the visit too short, said she was aware of some “secret passages” that are not indicated on the building plans and connect different facilities at the border.

Chan, who is also convenor of the “Co-location” Concern Group, said such passages, whose number is uncertain, seem to lack proper access control. She urged the government to arrange for another inspection trip after the March 11 Legislative Council by-elections and invite lawmakers to join.

Security chief John Lee explained the passages in question, if they do exist, will definitely be locked and equipped with security alarms and closed-circuit television cameras.

Echoing Chan’s remarks, opposition lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick said those passages make the border inside the terminus probably the most complicated one in the world.

He said they may be used by mainland agents for the purpose of arresting Hong Kong passengers, and therefore present a security loophole.

Under the co-location arrangement, customs, immigration and quarantine facilities of Hong Kong and mainland China will be jointly located at the West Kowloon terminus, which is scheduled to open in the third quarter this year.

The plan allows mainland border control officers to operate and implement mainland laws on Hong Kong soil.

Chu demanded that the government present a complete blueprint of the terminus, noting that the inspection tour on Tuesday only allowed participating lawmakers to see less than one percent of the entire complex.

Transport chief Frank Chan told media after the inspection that the co-location arrangement will not allow the paths traveled by visitors or local citizens to get out of control.

He said it was hard for him to explain everything in detail to the lawmakers during the trip as the place was very large, crowded and noisy, but he would be happy to do so in the Legco meetings.

Asked whether more visits to the terminus are being planned, Chan said he does not rule out the possibility, although it depends on actual needs.

Lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun, chairman of the Legco subcommittee on matters relating to railways, said he wants to ensure that access to the internet will remain unrestricted at the XRL and terminus so passengers can surf Facebook and other websites that are banned on the mainland without any restrictions when traveling on the high-speed trains.

New People’s Party chairwoman Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, who chairs Legco’s committee on XRL bill, said she will arrange for at least 16 meetings and public hearings to discuss the co-location arrangement.

She also expressed satisfaction with the progress of the XRL construction.

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