Asia Minute: Hong Kong’s High Speed Rail Opens with Controversy

Sep 25, 2018

Map of the Guangzhou-Hong Kong Express Rail Link
Credit Altt311 / Wikimedia Commons

There’s news this week concerning a train project that has been long-delayed and whose costs have soared way past the original budget. It’s not the Honolulu rail project. This rail is more than 5,000 miles from O’ahu – connecting Hong Kong and southern China.

The trip from Hong Kong to southern China has never been faster.

A bullet train now takes about 20 minutes to cross the Chinese border to Shenzhen, and less than an hour to travel up to Guangzhou — nearly half the time of a regular train.

The rail link opened this weekend after 8 years of construction – three years behind schedule and at a cost of close to 11-billion dollars.

Apart from some relatively minor issues with some malfunctioning ticket machines, the first day went smoothly. A week earlier, officials reported only minor leaks in the station roof during the season’s most powerful typhoon.

The governor of China’s Guangdong province says the new rail link “will open up businesses, tourism, and visitations to families and friends.”

But it’s also causing some uneasiness in Hong Kong.

That’s because of the Chinese border guards who are now staffing facilities at the West Kowloon rail station in the heart of Hong Kong — the first time such Chinese security officials have been stationed in the city.

West Kowloon Rail Station Exit H
Credit N509FZ / Wikimedia Commons

The rail link means a portion of the West Kowloon rail station is now a “special port area” — and subject to the laws of the Chinese mainland. It is no longer covered by Hong Kong’s “basic law” guaranteeing rights such as freedom of speech and assembly.

Human rights activists say that represents another erosion of Hong Kong’s civil liberties.