LCQ5: Co-location arrangements at XRL Hong Kong Section

Hong Kong (HKSAR) -      Following is a question by the Hon Alvin Yeung and a reply by the Secretary for Transport and Housing, Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, in the Legislative Council today (January 11):

     The Hong Kong section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XRL), the construction of which commenced in 2010, is expected to be commissioned in the third quarter of 2018. The Government plans to conduct border checks for XRL passengers at the XRL West Kowloon Terminus (WKT) under the arrangements for "co-location of boundary control" (the co-location arrangements). As such arrangements involve complicated legal and constitutional issues, the Government has all along been conducting discussions with the relevant Mainland departments for a number of years.

The Under Secretary for Transport and Housing indicated on the 10th of last month that the relevant discussions had reached the final stage. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) whether it is still the target of the Government to implement the co-location arrangements at WKT upon the commissioning of XRL in 2018; if so, how much time the Government will set aside for the public to discuss the concrete proposal on the implementation of the co-location arrangements; according to the current plan, what approach the Government will adopt for conducting border checks for XRL passengers under the scenario that the co-location arrangements cannot be implemented upon the commissioning of XRL;
(2) of the latest progress of the discussions on the implementation of the co-location arrangements conducted between the Government and the relevant Mainland departments, including the details of the consensus reached so far by both sides, as well as the schedule of and roadmap for the implementation of such arrangements; if it cannot provide such information, of the reasons for that; and
(3) whether the discussions conducted between the Government and the relevant Mainland departments include an interpretation of the articles of the Basic Law by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress so as to facilitate the implementation of the co-location arrangements; if so, of the articles involved; and whether it has any plan to solve the legal problems associated with the co-location arrangements by way of local legislation?
     The Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link is a 140 km high-speed rail link connecting Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Guangzhou, the Hong Kong section of which is 26 km.  Upon commissioning, the Hong Kong section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XRL) will connect with the national high-speed rail network, which is now over 20 000 km long, and will greatly reduce the journey time between Hong Kong and major cities in the Mainland.  The XRL will boost connections with the Mainland in various aspects, enhance exchange between people in Hong Kong and the Mainland, foster the development of trade, tourism and professional services, and bring enormous economic and social benefits.  Therefore, not only does the XRL have important strategic significance and value to Hong Kong's external traffic and transport, but it can also raise Hong Kong's overall competitiveness and consolidate Hong Kong's status as a regional hub.
     The Government and MTRCL are pressing ahead in full speed with the works on the XRL, the progress of which is reported to the Subcommittee on Matters Relating to Railways of the Legislative Council (LegCo) quarterly.  Currently, the works are over 85 per cent complete.  The relatively critical works contracts at present include the construction of the West Kowloon Terminus (WKT) (North), and the electrical and mechanical systems works currently being carried out in the WKT and tunnels.  We expect to commence testing, commissioning and trial operation of the XRL in phases from the second quarter of 2017.  At the same time, we are preparing for the operation of the XRL, with a view to commissioning the XRL by the third quarter of next year (i.e. 2018) as scheduled.
     High speed is the XRL's most special feature, and convenient customs, immigration and quarantine (CIQ) procedures are instrumental to realising the high speed of the XRL's cross-boundary service.  Therefore, when the XRL project was established in early 2010, the Government stated its target to implement co-location of CIQ facilities, and has been actively examining how it can be implemented at the WKT.  Under this arrangement, passengers travelling on the XRL from Hong Kong to the Mainland can go through the CIQ procedures of both Hong Kong and the Mainland successively at WKT before boarding the train, and then travel to Mainland cities on the national high-speed rail network direct without going through CIQ procedures again.  On the other hand, passengers can travel by XRL from any cities on the national high-speed rail network to Hong Kong direct and only go through CIQ procedures of both places at WKT.  Passengers going in either direction can go through CIQ procedures of Hong Kong and the Mainland at WKT, and do not have to get off the train midway to go through boundary control, thereby fully realising the convenience and time-saving benefit of travelling by the XRL.
     There are overseas examples of implementation of co-location of CIQ facilities of two jurisdictions, including the arrangement between the United Kingdom and France and that between the United States and Canada.  The most crucial issue in relation to the implementation of co-location of CIQ facilities of Hong Kong and the Mainland is how Mainland officials are to be allowed to implement Mainland CIQ-related rules at the WKT in compliance with the Basic Law and the principle of "One Country, Two Systems".  The Department of Justice, the Transport and Housing Bureau, the Security Bureau and the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau have been discussing this with the relevant Mainland authorities.  Both sides agree that the target should be to implement a co-location arrangement at the WKT that complies with both the Basic Law and the principle of "One Country, Two Systems" when the XRL commences operation by the third quarter of next year.  Since this involves many complicated constitutional, legal and operational issues, the two sides have been discussing and studying in depth on how such issues should be handled. 
     We appreciate that time is running short.  When both sides have reached a consensus regarding the aforementioned arrangements for the XRL, we will report to the LegCo and the public as soon as possible, allow all walks of society a chance to express their views and the government to answer any queries.  We will then proceed with the local legislative work, in accordance with our target date for commissioning of the XRL.  As I mentioned before, implementing co-location of CIQ facilities at WKT is key to realising the maximum benefits of the XRL.  Therefore, the foremost and obvious objective of the Government is to try to implement co-location arrangement at the commissioning of the XRL.
     President, despite co-location being a complicated issue, it is not without precedents.  There is experience in implementing co-location, no matter in other countries or in the Shenzhen Bay Control Point.  We are therefore confident that through making reference to such examples and active discussion with the relevant Mainland authorities, we can implement co-location at WKT in compliance with the Basic Law and the principle of "One Country, Two Systems".  The Government understands the public's concern about the co-location arrangement, especially when the XRL is an important investment on Hong Kong's future.  Therefore, the Government will allow ample opportunities to listen to the views of the public after the proposal for implementing co-location of CIQ facilities is announced.  We hope that we can, based on open and rational discussion, finalise the co-location arrangements as soon as possible, before the XRL commences operation, so that the XRL can realise the maximum benefits it can bring to the public.

Published on: 2017-01-11

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