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Hong Kong lawmakers pass contentious rail checkpoint plan

Chinese laws to be enforced in the territory for faster access to mainland

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam attends a ceremony for the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link in Hong Kong in March.   © AP

TOKYO -- Chinese officials have been given full legal authority in a leased area around and including a train station in central Hong Kong, as the city's legislators passed a controversial government plan to set up a joint immigration checkpoint with the mainland in the financial hub.

Late Thursday evening, lawmakers passed the bill 40 to 20 in the third reading after days of chaotic Legislative Council sessions during which police officers were called in and several lawmakers were kicked out for disrupting the vote. 

Many fear that this latest move would further erode the city's autonomy under the "one country, two systems" principle that guaranteed an independent judiciary. Hong Kong's Basic Law, that came into effect after the British returned the city to Chinese rule in 1997, also states that mainland laws shall not be applied in the special administrative region, except for a few specific rules. There are now worries that China can essentially wield its national power in the heart of Hong Kong. 

With the so-called "co-location" arrangement, passengers will be able to complete custom clearance procedures in the city's West Kowloon terminus instead of going through a separate check at the border of Shenzhen, as mainland officials will be clearing passengers in the same building as their Hong Kong counterparts.

Some local officials and pro-Beijing lawmakers claimed the joint checkpoint is crucial for maximizing the full potential of the a multi-billion high-speed rail project, that would link the SAR to China's national network of more than 20,000km. The Hong Kong section of the rail link is due to launch in the third quarter this year.

Earlier this year, Hong Kong government secured endorsement from National People's Congress Standing Committee, China's top parliamentary body.

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