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Hong Kong is to allow Chinese police and immigration officers to enforce the law at a new high-speed rail station in the heart of the city, in what critics said was the latest encroachment on the territory’s autonomy and legal independence. The government revealed the plans on Tuesday, ahead of the expected launch of an $11bn rail link next year that will plug Hong Kong directly into China’s high-speed rail network, the world’s biggest. The government said it was necessary to host Chinese customs and immigration officials at the West Kowloon terminus to ensure a smooth flow of passengers from Hong Kong, which has a separate immigration system, into the rest of China. Officials have compared the arrangements with those used for the Eurostar train in London, where French officials conduct passport checks at St Pancras station. But opposition politicians say the arrangements are a violation of Hong Kong’s mini constitution, called the Basic Law, which stipulates that its legal system should be independent and mainland laws should not be enforced.
Relations between Hong Kong and Beijing have fallen to their lowest ebb since the handover of the former British colony in 1997, with the Chinese government intensifying its interventions in the city, from kidnapping critical booksellers to ousting elected lawmakers deemed disloyal. Tanya Chan, a barrister and pro-democracy member of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, said that the presence of Chinese law enforcement officials in the city was a breach of the Basic Law that would further undermine Hong Kongers’ trust in Beijing. She argued that the move presaged further interventions in Hong Kong’s autonomy and that there was a “very serious concern” that the new arrangements would make it easier for Chinese agents to abduct Hong Kong residents, as happened to the booksellers and Chinese billionaire Xiao Jianhua.
Sidings at Shek Kong in Hong Kong, part of the $11bn project
The government said that the co-location of immigration would be “instrumental” in unleashing the “full transport, social and economic benefits” of the project. Priscilla Leung, a pro-Beijing legislative councillor, said that opposition to the immigration arrangements was driven by an “emotional fear” of closer ties with China. She argued that Hong Kong would fall behind other Chinese cities unless it is seamlessly connected to the high-speed rail network. Once outbound passengers have passed Hong Kong and Chinese immigration in West Kowloon, Chinese officials will enforce the law within a 10-hectare “mainland port area” (MPA) in the station, as well as on trains. Similarly, on incoming trains, they will be responsible for law enforcement until passengers leave the MPA at the new underground terminus in West Kowloon.
This article first appeared on www.ft.com
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