Hong Kong’s express rail link opponents risk derailing city’s link to the future

With its express rail link, Hong Kong is finally about to join the expanding club of modern cities served by modern inter-city rail.

However, instead of cheering the social and economic benefits, not to mention the convenience and comfort, that the link will bring, legal and political opposition is trying to derail it on the grounds that the proposed co-location arrangement would violate the Basic Law, and put Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms at risk.

With any constitution, intent is always up to interpretation. The opposition will always try to find endless technical “reasons” why something cannot be done. They should come up with not just “problems” but also, much more importantly, possible solutions. As the vast majority in Hong Kong supports co-location, we need to find a way to make it happen.

Our mini-constitution has served us well for the past 20 years, and I do not expect this to change. What does bother me, however, is that our special status at times seems to be an excuse to reject any effort to enhance relations with the mainland and also to throw common sense out of the window.

The whole point of co-location in West Kowloon is convenience and comfort. Requiring passengers to disembark to clear immigration and customs formalities at the border would be ludicrous. I look forward to being able to hop on the train in Kowloon and arriving in Guangzhou in less than an hour without interruption or hassle, and the same goes for other cities.

Common sense and pragmatism have prevailed in overcoming co-location issues between sovereign states in Europe and North America. Do we want to become the laughing stock of the world for not being able to put such an arrangement in place within the same sovereign country, between Hong Kong and Guangdong?

No doubt the government will need some time to address any public concerns. But to blow up these concerns with the goal of derailing the arrangement will hurt Hong Kong and its people.

I can recall the sensational headlines and challenges that the British government faced before the Eurotunnel opened.

That engineering wonder was also mired in delays, disputes and soaring costs. British Francophobia was fanned by predictions of everything from rabies-infected animals passing through the tunnel, to an armed invasion being imminent.

Those predictions, taken very seriously before the tunnel opened and making headlines around the world, now seem absurd.

I am sure once our express rail link is up and running, passengers will still be complaining, but more likely about why we did not open the line much earlier.

Stephen Ng is chairman of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce


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