Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam firm on joint checkpoint plan for future high-speed terminus

Carrie Lam delivers a speech during an exhibition opening at the Arts House, Aug 2, 2017. PHOTO: EPA

A controversy over a plan to station mainland border staff in Hong Kong continues to dog Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam even as she arrives in Singapore on Wednesday for her first official overseas trip since taking office on July 1.

At a press conference on Wednesday (Aug 3) evening, Mrs Lam was peppered with questions over the planned move that would allow mainland border staff control of a special immigration zone at a future West Kowloon station.

Slated for opening next year (2018), the West Kowloon station will be the terminus of a rail link that connects the city with the mainland's high-speed rail network.

Mrs Lam said that her government will continue to explain to people of Hong Kong, the concern groups and the academics about the legal basis of the so-called co-location arrangement at the West Kowloon terminus.

"I just don't see any alternative to doing this co-location in order to reap the huge economic and social benefits arising from our 26 kilometres of the Hong Kong section of the high-speed rail connecting to this massive high-speed train network in the mainland," she told Singapore and Hong Kong media at The Arts House.

At an earlier event to launch a photo exhibition to mark the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong's return to China, Mrs Lam highlighted the importance of the high-speed rail link to the city's economic prospects.

She said that Hong Kong is poised for a new growth spurt.

"Massive cross-boundary infrastructure projects - including a huge bridge linking Hong Kong with the western part of Guangdong and an Express Rail Link that will connect Hong Kong with Mainland China's high-speed rail network - will be completed within the next two years, creating new opportunities for progress," she said.

The row erupted last week after the Hong Kong government on July 25 approved the plan to lease to mainland authorities a quarter of the West Kowloon­terminus.

Critics say that it is illegal for mainland law enforcers to operate on Hong Kong soil under the city's mini-Constitution, the Basic Law.

Mrs Lam has said that the new checkpoint arrangement is not a breach of the Basic Law and was designed to cut travel time.

The joint checkpoint plan still needs to be approved by the city's legislature.

Mrs Lam has expressed confidence that the Legislative Council would approve related legislation before the HK$84.4 billion rail link opened in the third quarter of next year, according to South China Morning Post.

The co-location of customs, immigration and quarantine (CIQ) facilities at the West Kowloon terminus would see passengers complete clearance procedures of Hong Kong and mainland authorities both prior to boarding and after disembarking the train.

While such joint immigration areas were common around the world, there are growing fears about Beijing's reach into the city, especially after the alleged abductions of a city bookseller and a Chinese businessman.

Veteran lawyer and democracy advocate Martin Lee, who helped draft the Basic Law, said creating an exception within Hong Kong where mainland Chinese laws are enforced would set a "dangerous precedent".

It would put at risk the semi-autonomous "one country, two systems" set-up guaranteed when Britain handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997, he told AFP.

Speaking on a Commerical Radio programme on July 30, Mrs Lam urged residents not to consider the plan from a "politicised" perspective.

She said if people were indeed worried about their personal safety at the West Kowloon terminus, they could choose to stay away from it and go to the mainland by other means.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.