Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen has said that he cannot promise the controversial joint checkpoint mechanism will be “one time only” arrangement, since he cannot speak for future administrations.
The proposal for the West Kowloon terminus of the Express Rail Link will involve “leasing” land to China and effectively giving up Hong Kong jurisdiction across a quarter of the terminus for faster immigration procedures by mainland law enforcement agents. Pro-democracy groups have raised concerns over ceding territory to the mainland and potential violations of the Basic Law.
At a joint committee meeting at the Legislative Council on Wednesday, Yuen said the government was not “blindly believing” in the arrangement.
“From an objective angle or practical need, and considering the convenience of passengers or Hong Kong’s long term’s development, implementing the joint checkpoint arrangement at the West Kowloon terminus is the most ideal and necessary immigration arrangement,” he said.
Yuen said the proposal was not perfect, but he and officials have tried their best: “I have no regrets.”
Asked if he can promise this is an one-time arrangement, he said: “I cannot make promises on behalf of future administrations – I do not have that power, this is not something a responsible official will do.”
Yuen also refused to promise that there would be a public consultation.
In his opening speech, Yuen rejected a proposal to set up immigration control points in mainland stations, which would make it unnecessary to lease Hong Kong land to the mainland. Yuen said the government must obtain China’s cooperation.
“Passengers will be limited to handling immigration procedures at stations with control points,” he said. “In fact, not every single mainland station that Hong Kong passengers can reach have the suitable conditions to set up control points… this is impractical.”
Yuen said the government and Beijing studied whether it would be possible to set up a joint checkpoint at the Shenzhen North station or the Futian station for South-bound passengers, who could leave the train there for immigration.
He rejected this idea saying that it will cause inconvenience to “elderly passengers and passengers with large baggage,” adding extra travel time.
“Moreover, since Shenzhen North station and Futian station have been in use for a while, if reconstruction work is need to include relevant immigration facilities, it must first obtain approval from the relevant mainland authorities, and will cause a significant effect on the planning, design and operation of stations along Shenzhen’s rail services,” he said.
Democratic Party lawmaker Andrew Wan demanded detailed figures over why control points cannot be set up at Futian station.
Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan also said it was impractical to ask the mainland to reconstruct the station.
Yuen and Chan both refused to answer when the government decided to give up on setting up a checkpoint on the mainland.
Yuen also refused to answer questions from Civic Party lawmakers Dennis Kwok and Alvin Yeung over whether Hongkongers will lose protections granted by the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s de facto constitution, in the leased mainland area.
“The secretary is telling Hong Kong people to be ready to give up their rights in Hong Kong,” Yeung said.
Democratic Party leader Wu Chi-wai said he was disappointed by Yuen’s statements and criticised Yuen for not laying out the negative effects of the arrangement.
“A responsible official should not push forward the current joint checkpoint arrangement. Now, he will not even promise this won’t happen again in the future – obviously after a precedent is set this time, national laws will be implemented in Hong Kong more and more,” he said.