Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said the government will not overturn the controversial joint checkpoint arrangement for the HK$84.4 billion Express Rail Link project.

The arrangement involves leasing land to the mainland to allow for a Chinese checkpoint within the West Kowloon terminus, instead of on the mainland, to enable faster travel.

But the pro-democracy camp and some legal scholars have raised concerns over its legality, and fear Hong Kong’s jurisdiction will be sacrificed if more and more land is leased to China.

Carrie Lam. Photo: GovHK.

Ahead of her first trip to Beijing after commencing her role as chief executive, Lam said the issue may be about trust in society, adding that all sides have to take an open and tolerant attitude.

“We came up with the arrangement after years of study about its legal foundation, and we will not overturn it. But if some residents are concerned… under the proviso it will not cause any violation to the arrangement, I am willing to reflect their views.”

Hong Kong will seek authorisation from the National People’s Congress (NPC) to allow the government to declare the leased area no longer part of the city. Article 18 of the Basic Law states that mainland laws cannot be implemented in Hong Kong, except for six national laws on topics such as the national anthem and flag.

The government had said the move will be based on Article 20 of the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s de facto constitution, which states the NPC can grant power to Hong Kong that it does not have.

West Kowloon Terminus of Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link. Photo: GovHK.

Executive Councillor Ronny Tong suggested on Saturday that a clause should be added to the NPC resolution to guarantee the plan would be a “once and for all” arrangement. Such an addition may ease Hong Kong people’s concerns, he said.

But Lam dismissed the suggestion: “[The process] is a legal task. We cannot arbitrarily insert some phrases or clauses that are not very legal into such legal documents.”

Lam visited the China Railway Corporation on Monday. Lu Dongfu, general manager of firm, said the  link is an important component of the medium and long-term high speed railway plan for the country.

“It is an important project whereby Hong Kong and the mainland connect, build, and operate large-scale infrastructure together,” Lu said. “It will reduce travel distance and time by a large scale, and promote the long-term stability and prosperity of Hong Kong.”

Carrie Lam and Lu Dongfu. Photo: GovHK.

Lam said Hong Kong will join “the big family of the country’s railway network” when the rail project begins its operations in the third quarter of next year.

“I am confident that, over the next two, three months, following detailed explanations to Hong Kong society, Hong Kong residents will welcome the joint checkpoint arrangement,” she 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.