LCQ3: Co-location arrangements at XRL Hong Kong Section
The Hong Kong section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XRL) is expected to be commissioned by the third quarter of next year. The Special Administrative Region (SAR) Government has all along been planning to conduct boundary checks for XRL passengers at the West Kowloon Terminus (WKT) under the arrangements for "co-location of boundary control" (co-location arrangements) upon the commissioning of XRL. On the 14th of this month, the Secretary for Justice (SJ) and the Secretary for Transport and Housing went to Beijing to discuss with Mainland officials issues relating to the implementation of the co-location arrangements. SJ advised after the meeting that the current-term Government would explain to society the "broad direction" for the co-location arrangements at considerable time before the end of its term. On the other hand, the Under Secretary for Transport and Housing (USTH), when attending a subcommittee meeting of this Council held on the 10th of last month, advised that the current-term Government would put forward a "proposal" for implementing the co-location arrangements before the end of its term. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the essential differences and similarities between the "broad direction" indicated by SJ and the "proposal" mentioned by USTH, as well as their respective specific meanings; in relation to the implementation of the co-location arrangements, of the work to be carried out by the current-term Government and the relevant timetable, as well as the work to be carried out by the next-term Government from its inauguration onwards until the commissioning of XRL and the relevant timetable;
(2) as it has been reported that recently some Mainland officials have been insisting on the adoption of a proposal under which Mainland personnel will be authorised to fully enforce the relevant Mainland laws within the Mainland port area at WKT, whether the SAR Government will agree to such proposal if certain conditions are met; if so, of the details; if not, whether the SAR Government will consider arrangements for boundary checks other than the co-location arrangements; and
(3) if the SAR Government has so far sought any independent legal advice to ascertain whether, in order to enable Mainland personnel to partially or fully enforce Mainland laws in the Mainland port area, it is necessary to amend the relevant articles in the Basic Law, or to add the national laws concerned to Annex III to the Basic Law for application in SAR, or to have an interpretation of the Basic Law by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress; if so, of the details of the advice received; if not, the reasons for that; of the current stance of the SAR Government on whether an amendment to or an interpretation of the Basic Law should be sought for the implementation of the co-location arrangements?
The Government and the MTR Corporation Limited (MTRCL) are pressing ahead in full speed with the works on the Hong Kong section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XRL), and the overall progress as at end-February this year is 88.7 per cent. We are also taking forward various pre-commissioning preparation works, including the commencement of testing and commissioning as well as trial operation from the second quarter of this year as scheduled, with a view to commissioning the Hong Kong section of XRL by the third quarter next year.
The 26-km long Hong Kong section of XRL will connect Hong Kong to the continuously expanding national high-speed rail network, substantially reducing the rail journey time between Hong Kong and various major Mainland cities. For example, the travelling time between Guangzhou and Hong Kong will be shortened from 100 minutes in the existing intercity through train service to 48 minutes in future. XRL will not only foster interactions at the community level and economic ties by facilitating exchanges in various aspects such as commercial and professional fields, but also strengthen Hong Kong's role as a regional transportation hub and strengthen our overall competitiveness.
The Government has all along stated in public that it is the common goal of the Mainland authorities and us to implement co-location of customs, immigration and quarantine (CIQ) facilities at the West Kowloon Terminus (WKT) upon the commissioning of the Hong Kong section of XRL in order to maximise its transportation, social and economic benefits. Under the co-location arrangement, passengers will go through the CIQ procedures of both Hong Kong and the Mainland successively at WKT. Thereafter they may freely step aboard or alight the trains at any station along the route, reaching any Mainland city on the national high-speed rail network without having to get off the train midway to go through boundary control; the same applies to the reverse direction, in which passengers who get on Hong Kong-bound XRL trains from any city on the national high-speed rail network can go through CIQ procedures of the Mainland and Hong Kong after arriving at WKT in Hong Kong. This arrangement will save time and bring maximum convenience to XRL passengers, and is an instrumental measure to realise the features of high-speed and convenience of XRL.
As a matter of fact, there have been precedents for co-location or similar arrangements in the international arena (e.g. between Britain and France, as well as between United States and Canada). Hong Kong and the Mainland have also adopted the co-location arrangement in the Shenzhen Bay Port since 2007. The experience has been positive, and has been recognised by many travellers.
To implement the co-location arrangement at WKT of XRL, it would be essential to conduct requisite Mainland CIQ procedures in a designated Mainland Port Area therein. In this connection, we have reserved space at WKT for the relevant CIQ facilities. We are also conducting the construction works of CIQ facilities in full swing while discussing the legal arrangement for implementing the co-location arrangement to tie in with the target commissioning date of the third quarter of 2018. The quarterly reports submitted by the Government and the MTRCL to the Subcommittee on Matters Relating to Railways of the Legislative Council (LegCo) on the construction progress of the Hong Kong section of XRL also cover the construction progress of the Mainland Port Area at WKT.
Our target is to give an account to the public on a recommendation or proposal for implementing the co-location arrangement before the end of this term of the Government. Whether it is the "broad direction" indicated by the Secretary for Justice to the media on March 14 after he and I met with relevant officials of the central authorities in Beijing, or the "proposal" mentioned by my Under Secretary during his earlier attendance at a meeting of the LegCo Subcommittee on Matters Relating to Railways on February 10, both are referring to the overall arrangement in implementing co-location at WKT of XRL.
The relevant arrangement involves many complicated constitutional, legal and operational issues. Since it must be in compliance with the policy of "One Country, Two Systems" and the Basic Law, as well as being operationally feasible, the Government needs to engage in lengthy, repeated and thorough studies and discussions with the relevant Mainland authorities. When it is mutually agreed between the Mainland side and us that there are feasible recommendations for the relevant arrangements, we will make an announcement to the public setting out the relevant principles and legal basis as early as practicable, as well as listening to the views from different sectors of society in order to form a basis for subsequent local legislative process.
At this juncture, it would be inappropriate for the Government to disclose more details on the co-location arrangement, or comment on the views or proposals from any individual or group on the co-location arrangement as well as any speculations on the related issue. Needless to say, we have been paying attention to the different comments and concerns in society. The Government fully understands that LegCo and the community wish to know about the final co-location arrangement of XRL as early as possible. In this connection, the Department of Justice, the Transport and Housing Bureau, the Security Bureau and the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau have been pressing ahead the discussion with the relevant Mainland authorities at different levels with a view to reaching consensus on various issues including a proper legal arrangement as early as possible. At the same time, we have been conducting preparation works for the commissioning and operation of the Hong Kong section of XRL in order to meet the target commissioning date of the third quarter of 2018.
Ends/Wednesday, March 29, 2017
Issued at HKT 14:09
Issued at HKT 14:09