Hong Kong inaugurates high-speed rail link with China

Hong Kong inaugurates high-speed rail link with China

A costly project

On September 22, hundreds of passengers embarked on the newly-launched high-speed train at Hong Kong's West Kowloon terminus. The rail link, which connects Hong Kong to China's manufacturing hub Guangdong province, cost the authorities over $10 billion (€8.5 billion) and took more than 8 years to build. The first train left for the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen on Saturday morning.

Hong Kong inaugurates high-speed rail link with China

Faster connection

The train takes just 14 minutes to reach Shenzhen across the border in China – down from about one hour currently – and to Guangdong's capital Guangzhou in just over half an hour – about 90 minutes faster than current service. The new system aims to transport more than 80,000 passengers on a daily basis.

Hong Kong inaugurates high-speed rail link with China

Convenient but expensive

Once across the border, passengers from Hong Kong can link up with a vast railway network that connects Shenzhen and Guangzhou to more than 44 destinations, including Shanghai, Beijing and the western city of Xi'an. "This is definitely convenient in terms of time," one passenger told AFP news agency, adding the tickets were expensive and the purchasing system was not very efficient.

Hong Kong inaugurates high-speed rail link with China

Violation of city's separate status?

But critics say the new Hong Kong-China rail link compromises the city's semi-independent status and gives away part of its territory to an increasingly assertive China. Hong Kong passengers have to pass through Chinese immigration at the newly-constructed West Kowloon terminus. Opposition lawmakers say the move is a violation of Hong Kong's Basic Law.

Hong Kong inaugurates high-speed rail link with China

Special rules for new rail link

Hong Kong's mini-constitution, the Basic Law, guarantees the city its own legal system and civil liberties after it reverted from British to Chinese rule in 1997. The West Kowloon rail terminus, which is part of a new "special port area," is subject to mainland China's laws.

Hong Kong inaugurates high-speed rail link with China

China's growing assertiveness

Pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong are concerned over China's increasing interference in their city's governance and politics. The high-speed rail link is viewed by many as a part of Beijing's hegemonic ambitions. "It is almost like an imperialist attitude on the part of Beijing," pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo told AFP.

Hong Kong inaugurates high-speed rail link with China

Hong Kong authorities defend project

Beijing-backed Chief Executive Carrie Lam defended the new rail link, saying it will promote speed and convenience. There are also concerns about the passenger safety in the mainland zones. But Mr. Chan, a passenger, told AFP he was not "worried about the (mainland security) issue." What matters more to him is faster connectivity. shs/jm (AFP, AP)

Critics say the newly-opened high-speed rail link will give away part of the city's territory to mainland China. Pro-democracy forces complain of China's increasing interference and assertiveness in Hong Kong.