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PLA border row: Mainland officials had ‘different understanding’ of the Hong Kong boundary, says Carrie Lam

The Shenzhen government was under the belief that a border area near Sha Tau Kok river belonged to the mainland – but the Hong Kong government disagreed, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Wednesday.

Lam told the Legislative Council that her administration met with its Shenzhen counterpart on Tuesday to discuss the disputed tract of land.

carrie lam

Carrie Lam. Photo: inmediahk.net.

Factwire first reported on Monday that Chinese border guards had turned a site on the Hong Kong side of the border into a “green garden.” The land tract measured 21,000 sq ft and was adjacent to the Sha Tau Kok river.

Lam told lawmakers that the Hong Kong and Shenzhen governments “had a different understanding of the boundary along the Sha Tau Kok river.”

The Hong Kong government followed the version set out in an Order of the State Council dated 1997, which defined the border as running along the centre line of the Sha Tau Kok river.

“From this understanding, and through reviewing the past aerial photographs and on-site inspections… the location of the Sha Tau Kok river has not changed, so the area in question should be part of Hong Kong territory,” Lam said.

People's Liberation Army Shenzhen Hong Kong

Hong Kong land occupied by the mainland. Photo: FactWire.

However, the Shenzhen government claimed it diverted the course of the river in 2013 for flood prevention, which led it to believe the boundary line of Hong Kong also shifted, she said.

“I want to stress that the Hong Kong government had no knowledge of the 2013 diversion of the Sha Tau Kok river, and we cannot confirm now that it happened. Up to now, we still believe that the relevant area is Hong Kong territory,” Lam added.

Lam said that both governments will continue to study the area and seek legal advice if necessary.

“No matter what, before a consensus is reached, to address the public’s concern – because there are some people speculating about cross-border law enforcement and other things – the Shenzhen government said that mainland officials will stop using the relevant area,” she said.

People's Liberation Army Shenzhen Hong Kong

A Chinese border guard walks across the bridge and enters Hong Kong’s border area. Photo: FactWire.

‘Hole in the border’

Deputy Chair of the Legislative Council Panel on Security James To had said on Tuesday that he was worried about smuggling activities taking place through the “hole in the border.”

Factwire reported seeing soldiers dressed in fatigues moving trash bins across a bridge that connects the “green garden” to the mainland.

“That area is not an immigration checkpoint so, of course, there are no customs officials,” To said.

“That means [the border guards] can come and go as they please. They can transport trash, weapons, money, drugs… anything they like,” he added.

Tanya Chan Legco

Tanya Chan asking Chief Executive Carrie Lam about Sha Tau Kok. Photo: inmediahk.net.

Lawmaker Eddie Chu said on Wednesday that the Hong Kong government had known about the 2013 river diversion, contrary to Lam’s account.

Citing aerial photographs taken by the Lands Department, Chu said there were inconsistencies in the 2017 and 2018 versions and that the government had already been alerted to the illicit land use.

Lawmaker Tanya Chan added that she was “very surprised” by Lam’s explanation, asking how it was possible for the river diversion to be unnoticed by police officers patrolling the border for five years.

PLA border row: Mainland officials had 'different understanding' of the Hong Kong boundary, says Carrie Lam