Mainland officers will be taking up law enforcement duties in Hong Kong when the budget-busting cross-border railway linking Kowloon with Guangzhou opens in 2018, Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung has confirmed, in a move likely to fuel what is already a simmering controversy.
The news, announced in Beijing, met with swift opposition back home. Civic Party leader Alan Leong Kah-kit called it "an affront to the principle of 'one country, two systems'" and demanded an explanation in the Legislative Council.
It has always been the official plan to have both mainland and Hong Kong checkpoints set up at the Kowloon terminus to save time for travellers.
Yesterday was, however, the first time Yuen had made a definitive statement that mainland law-enforcement officers would be based in a jurisdiction over which they had no authority, contradicting earlier suggestions from lawmakers that Hong Kong officers could be deployed.
"In order to deal with co-location, inevitably mainland officers will be allowed to enforce laws in the future West Kowloon terminus," he said after talks attended by Secretary for Transport and Housing Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung and Huang Liuquan, director general of the law department at the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office.
Leong called Yuen's remarks "most inappropriate". The former Bar Association chairman asked: "What makes [Yuen and Cheung] think they can treat it as a matter of course that mainland law-enforcement agencies can come to Hong Kong? … I would warn them to immediately stop making further statements before they explain fully in Legco."
Fellow senior counsel Ronny Tong Ka-wah wondered what would happen if a traveller crossed the mainland checkpoint in Kowloon, boarded a train and committed a mainland offence that was not criminal in Hong Kong while the train was still within the city's territory.
Earlier, Cheung said mainland officers would be implementing customs, immigration and quarantine regulations within the future mainland border area in Kowloon.
Under the Basic Law, Hong Kong does not apply national laws except for those listed in Annex III, making the rail issue "more complicated" - according to Yuen - than travel arrangements between the US and Canada or between France and Britain regarding the Eurostar service.