The new West Kowloon railroad station in Hong Kong was the scene of a Monday night ceremony denounced as a “sneaky” compromise of Hong Kong’s autonomy, a “secret underground ritual” at which part of the rail station was ceded to Chinese control.
The new railroad from Hong Kong to Guangzhou in mainland China was established under a controversial arrangement that treats the China departure section of the Hong Kong station as fully subject to Chinese laws, effectively a little chunk of mainland Chinese territory transported to the semi-autonomous city of Hong Kong.
Proponents of this arrangement say it was purely intended to make travel on the high-speed rail line more convenient. Travelers in Hong Kong are able to complete immigration procedures in the West Kowloon terminus instead of stopping to address those details after their trains pass into mainland Chinese territory.
Critics of the arrangement describe it as a violation of Hong Kong’s territorial integrity, a transgression against the “Basic Law” that provides the former British colony with a measure of autonomy. There are fears citizens who commit offenses within the China-controlled areas of the station would be arrested by Chinese police and subjected to much harsher punishments than Hong Kong’s criminal code allows.
Reuters reports Hong Kong and Chinese officials conducted a dedication ceremony inside the new train station on Monday night without notifying the media:
“There was no such thing as a sneaky opening,” said Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam, without explaining why the media wasn’t invited.
The Hong Kong Journalists’ Association condemned the government for its secrecy.
“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 statement said.
“The government only chose to issue a press release at five minutes after midnight. We condemn such arrangement, which is inappropriate.”
One prominent Hong Kong blog, the Big Lychee, dubbed it a “secret underground ritual” for “essentially a handover of territory from Hong Kong to the mainland.”
Opposition lawmakers denounced the loss of autonomy and promised to challenge the “co-location” agreement in Hong Kong court:
Tanya Chan, a pro-democracy lawmaker who leads a “co-location concern group”, said Hong Kong had now lost legal oversight over one million square feet in the heart of the city.
“This arrangement is illegal and unconstitutional. This is the darkest day for our judicial independence and the rule of law,” Chan told reporters.
Several legal challenges, including a judicial review seeking to bar the project, are pending, despite the station’s planned public opening on Sept. 23.
The UK Guardian reported the secretive early-morning ceremony was attended by Hong Kong’s transport secretary and a top Chinese Communist Party official from Guangdong. Local lawmakers were excluded in addition to the press.
The South China Morning Post said the ceremony lasted about 15 minutes and noted that while Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam insisted it was not really a formal ceremony at all, her transport minister referred to it as such. Lam said a public ceremony officiated by herself and the governor of Guangdong would be held on September 22.