The government has said mainland laws will be implemented in train cabins of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link while they are in Hong Kong – suggesting passengers may not able to access websites censored in China whilst aboard the train.

Areas of the site are to be leased to the Beijing government as part of the joint checkpoint arrangement, so that Chinese authorities can enforce mainland laws in parts of the West Kowloon Terminus. The areas will be legally regarded as outside the territorial boundaries of Hong Kong, according to the government’s proposal.

A train of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link. Photo: MTR.

On Tuesday, Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen said he did not know the answer, when a reporter asked if passengers will be able to access websites blocked in mainland China – such as Facebook – on the platform, which will be part of the mainland port area.

“I think I would like to find out the answer to that later myself,” Yuen said.

But hours after Yuen’s response, the government’s official Facebook page gave an answer to a related question.

Posted by 政府新聞網 on Tuesday, 25 July 2017

The page posted several questions and answers about the joint checkpoint arrangement.

One question asked: “If, in the future, Hong Kong people used their phones to access Facebook in train cabins of the Express Rail Link, will it be necessary to cross the [‘great firewall’] and will they be pursued for criminal responsibility? Will there be risk of triggering the ‘crime of picking quarrels and provoking troubles’?”

The government page answered that the train cabins running in Hong Kong will also be part of the designated mainland port area, according to the arrangement.

“Except for specific items, mainland laws will be applied,” it read.

People in the mainland can only access sites such as Facebook using tools such as Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to jump the so-called Great Firewall of China.

“It will be handled in accordance with mainland laws, as to whether passengers’ actions in train cabins of the Express Rail Link in the Hong Kong section will constitute a criminal offence under mainland laws.”

Frank Chan. File Photo: GovHK.

On a Commercial Radio programme on Wednesday, Yuen said the transport bureau will follow up on with the issue.

Transport secretary Frank Chan said Hong Kong passengers can access Facebook on the mainland using local Hong Kong sim cards.

“You don’t have to worry too much, just use our Hong Kong [sim cards], it should be fine,” he said.

He was asked if jumping the firewall will be legal: “Some [VPNs] are legal… I have to use VPNs to do Hong Kong government work when working on the mainland as well.”

Lam Cheuk-ting. File Photo: Democratic Party.

Lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting of the Democratic Party has said that he was very worried that the public will mistakenly violate mainland laws on trains.

“You can imagine that when a north-bound train has yet to leave Hong Kong, Hong Kong residents can still access local information, such as Liu Xiaobo’s article ‘I do not have enemies.’ They read it and share it – [but] sorry, according to the country’s law, you may have violated subversion laws, and you can be arrested,” he said.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.