Hong Kong Journalists Hit Out at Secretive Ceding of Station Territory to China

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Lin Ji (L) and Frank Chan Fan (R) host a ceremony to mark the commissioning of the Mainland Port Area at the West Kowloon Station in Hong Kong, Sept. 3, 2018.
Lin Ji (L) and Frank Chan Fan (R) host a ceremony to mark the commissioning of the Mainland Port Area at the West Kowloon Station in Hong Kong, Sept. 3, 2018.
Photo courtesy of the Hong Kong Government Information Office

Journalists in Hong Kong have hit out at its government for carrying out a ceremony to hand over control of part of a high-speed railway station to China without informing the media.

The Hong Kong Journalists' Association (HKJA) said the government had carried out the ceremony late at night "without giving prior notification to the public nor inviting the media to cover the event."

"We condemn such arrangement, which is inappropriate," the group said in a statement on its website on Tuesday.

Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam sought to dismiss criticisms on Tuesday, denying there was "a ceremony as such," but a government press release issued in the early hours of Tuesday did describe it as such.

"The Secretary for Transport and Housing, Mr. Frank Chan Fan, and the Deputy Secretary General of the People's Government of Guangdong Province, Mr Lin Ji, jointly hosted a ceremony to mark the commissioning of the Mainland Port Area at the West Kowloon Station to commemorate the moment," the government said in a statement on its official website.

Officials from mainland China, a separate legal jurisdiction from Hong Kong, will begin working in the terminus building "to make final preparations" for the inauguration of a new high-speed rail service connecting the former British colony to the rest of China.

Lawyers and pro-democracy politicians have said there is no constitutional basis for the government to cede parts of its jurisdiction to the mainland, but a spate of judicial reviews hasn't succeeded in halting implementation of a new law allowing Chinese law enforcement to operate in Hong Kong.

The city's lawyers say the Hong Kong immigration department, not the mainland Chinese border police, should be in charge of entry and exit control checks for passengers entering and leaving the city, citing its mini-constitution, the Basic Law.

Hong Kong's status as a separate legal jurisdiction had until recent years protected its residents and visitors from arbitrary prosecutions carried out for political reasons.

But student protesters, pro-democracy lawmakers, and "localist" politicians who want a greater degree of separation from mainland China have been jailed, disqualified, and stripped of office in recent years as Beijing's National People's Congress standing committee has staged a string of high-profile interventions in the city's political life.

Rights groups have warned that peaceful dissidents could now also face the threat of arbitrary detention by Chinese law enforcement in the station, within Hong Kong city limits.

The HKJA said the public is "highly concerned" about the arrangement, which cedes control over part of the city's territory to China.

"The commissioning of the Mainland Port Area and the stationing of mainland officers at the terminus will bring about profound impacts in Hong Kong," the group said.

Government broadcaster RTHK quoted Lam as saying that some of the officers will be on overnight shifts at the station, but they won't be allowed to leave the mainland-controlled area and will head back across the internal border once their shifts are over.

Legislative Council (LegCo) member and barrister Tanya Chan accused the Hong Kong government of giving "cagey" responses to media questions about the details of the new arrangement, which was billed as a convenient way to speed high-speed rail passengers through immigration controls.

"The general public was under the impression that no mainland law enforcement personnel would remain in the mainland port area of the terminus outside of train running times, and that they would come back the next day; that was the original plan," Chan said. "

But the investigative news agency FactWire published a photo of a sign that read "Entry and Exit Bureau security staff dormitory," suggesting overnight sleeping arrangements were likely.

Secret floor

Chan also hit out at revelations of a hitherto entirely secret B5 basement floor by the HK01 news website that hadn't been in published plans of the station.

Station operators the MTR Corporation said the B5 floor was for "emergency" use, and wasn't under mainland Chinese control.

Chan called on the Hong Kong government to make public the documentation related to the newly revealed B5 basement floor, the existence of which was until Tuesday only known to a "small circle" of people, according to HK01.

"The MTR claims that this is an escape route, but I think this is a bit paradoxical," Chan said. "If it's an emergency escape route, then why do only a few people know about it? Surely the whole point of an escape route is that a lot of people know about it?"

Meanwhile, Hong Kong's Ming Pao newspaper reported that the MTR would foot the bill for feeding 700 mainland staff at the station, at a cost of around U.S. $12 million a year.

The MTR said in a news release on Tuesday that around 20,000 visitors had turned up to look at the terminus on its open day event over the weekend.

"Impressed by the magnificent design of the station, visitors grasped the opportunity to familiarize themselves with station facilities," the corporation said.

High-speed "bullet trains" will start operating between Hong Kong and the mainland Chinese high-speed network on Sept. 23, it said.

Under the terms of the 1997 handover to China, Hong Kong was promised a "high degree of autonomy" and the maintenance of existing freedoms of speech, publication and association, as well as a separate legal jurisdiction, for at least 50 years.

But recent interventions by Beijing in the political and cultural life of the city, including edicts from the National People's Congress that resulted in the disqualification of democratically elected lawmakers and potential election candidates, have led many to conclude that those freedoms are likely a thing of the past.

Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.





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