Hong Kong’s security minister has confirmed that mainland Chinese checkpoint officers and technicians have arrived in the city to prepare for the opening of a cross-border high-speed rail link.
But John Lee Ka-chiu on Wednesday stressed that none of the personnel would exercise any duties or enforce mainland Chinese law as the port area in the West Kowloon terminus would not be open until late September.
The 26km Hong Kong section of the HK$84.4 billion (US$10.7 billion) Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link has been mired in controversy over the joint checkpoint, under which mainland Chinese officials will exercise almost full jurisdiction in their designated zone.
“For testing and system installation [in the terminus], they need to submit an application to the Hong Kong authorities and will be allowed to work only after receiving our approval,” Lee said.
The Security Bureau said that as of early June, the Immigration Department had approved more than 500 working visas to allow mainland Chinese personnel to conduct preparation work in the terminus. About 80 per cent were engineers, while the remainder were from mainland agencies that would be stationed in the port area.
“[Officers from] the immigration inspection authority, customs authority, inspection and quarantine authority, integrated port administration authority and railway police authority need to come to Hong Kong before the mainland port area is open,” the bureau said.
“Before the opening, they will need to obtain visas to work in Hong Kong.”
They need time in Hong Kong to familiarise themselves and rehearse
Frank Chan Fan, transport minister
Transport minister Frank Chan Fan had said in May that mainland personnel would arrive at the terminus before the port area opened for business.
“They need time in Hong Kong to familiarise themselves and rehearse,” Chan said, adding the government would work to shorten the preparatory stage.
The immigration counters on the terminus’ departures level, the platforms and compartments on moving trains in Hong Kong all fall under mainland Chinese jurisdiction, according to a co-location bill that was passed in the Legislative Council and then gazetted in June.
Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan said Lee should make public more details of the tasks performed by mainland personnel.
“Most importantly, there cannot be cross-border law enforcement involved,” she said, adding that lawmakers had not been able to inspect areas and facilities deeper into the 105,000-square-metre port area.
Former security chief Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said any allegations that mainland personnel were enforcing laws in Hong Kong would be “oversensitive”.
Ip, who is New People’s Party’s chairwoman, said tasks described by Lee amounted to “operational work”, not law enforcement.
“The mainland officers must be here before the express rail opens to make sure all systems are ready to go,” Ip said. “This is not only appropriate but necessary.”