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Laborers work in front of West Kowloon Terminus, under construction for the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, in Hong Kong, China July 21, 2017. REUTERS/Bobby Yip(reuters_tickers)
By Venus Wu
HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong announced on Tuesday a controversial plan to allow mainland officials to enforce Chinese laws inside a Hong Kong train station, an immigration set-up critics say will encroach on the city's autonomy and put existing freedoms in danger.
Hong Kong's Basic Law mini-constitution states that with a few exceptions Chinese national laws are not applicable in the city and no Chinese departments can interfere in its affairs.
The Mainland Port Areas where the train station will be located will be legally regarded as outside the territorial boundary of Hong Kong, so Basic Law articles do not apply, said the Hong Kong government.
A former British colony, Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 and enjoys wide-ranging freedoms not granted in mainland China and an independent judiciary under a so-called "one country, two systems" formula.
But the abduction by mainland agents of Hong Kong booksellers in 2015 who had published critical books on China, and Beijing's efforts to disqualify democratically elected, opposition lawmakers in the local legislature, have rattled confidence in that arrangement.
About a quarter of the planned train station for high-speed trains that connect Hong Kong to the mainland will fall under mainland Chinese jurisdiction, said the government.
These areas include two immigration halls at the West Kowloon station where Chinese officials will clear passengers' departure to and arrival from China, platform areas and even inside the train before it leaves Hong Kong.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam, in her first month in office, said on Tuesday the arrangement will not violate the city's mini-constitution, the Basic Law.
"We have found a solution....which will be in full compliance with the principle of 'one country, two systems' and provisions in the Basic Law, so there is no question of that sort of concern and worry that we are compromising on the rule of law, on 'one country, two systems', in order to get the convenience of the high-speed rail," Lam said.
The plan was approved by Lam's top advisory body, the Executive Council.
The government is expected to formally reach a co-operation arrangement with Beijing, which will be approved by China's top parliamentary body. A relevant bill is expected to go to the city's legislature at a later stage.
It will be implemented when the station opens in autumn next year.
(Reporting by Venus Wu; Editing by Michael Perry)