It has been heralded as a vision of the future. A $10.75 billion infrastructure investment connecting Hong Kong with China’s high-speed rail network.
The West Kowloon Station, which is set to open today, will serve as an underground terminus for an expected 80,100 passengers daily, with the rail link promising to cut the two-hour journey time between Hong Kong and the Chinese city of Guangzhou to a mere 47 minutes.
But the glittering, wave-shaped development has proven to be controversial. A future some in Hong Kong neither wanted nor asked for.
Critics have lambasted the approximately 400,000 square-meter station and the Hong Kong section of the Express Rail Link, questioning the cost of the project which is 30% over the estimated budget, and pointing out that the city already has regular rail links with mainland China.
But a bigger and more contentious flashpoint has been its joint-immigration checkpoints.
Although it is part of China, Hong Kong is separated by a fixed border and governed under a separate legal framework that grants it political and legal freedoms not available on the mainland.
This “Trojan train,” as one political commentator put it, will cut straight into the heart of the city, where mainland immigration officers stationed at the terminus will be able to enforce Chinese law on Hong Kong soil for the first time.
Concerns surrounding the Chinese government’s ability to operate with impunity within the city have increased in recent years, following the alleged “involuntary removal” of a Hong Kong bookseller to mainland China in 2015.
As of Sunday, a part of the new station, as well as compartments of the trains traveling to and from mainland China, will come under the jurisdiction of Beijing.
“I think it’s unprecedented and violates the ‘one country, two systems’ principle,” said Hong Kong politician Lam Cheuk-Ting, referring to the city’s unique political arrangement with Beijing.
“It will threaten the autonomy of Hong Kong,” added Lam.
In the past, the development of major infrastructure projects in Hong Kong had coincided with periods of unrest in mainland China, providing a veneer of comparative stability.
The Kowloon-Canton Railway, completed in 1912, and the first cross-harbor tunnel finished in the early 1970s, are two such examples, according to Cole Roskam, an associate professor of architectural theory and history at the University of Hong Kong.
The former was constructed as the Qing Dynasty in China was being overthrown, while the latter was completed during the Cultural Revolution.
Whereas earlier colonial-era projects “helped to reassure the public regarding Hong Kong’s future, these recent projects seem to have stoked more anxiety,” said Roskam in an e-mail, referring to both the station and another new project, the world’s longest sea-crossing bridge connecting Hong Kong, Macau and mainland China.
“I think it has to do with fear, resentment, and anxiety over China and perceptions of Hong Kong’s diminished standing vis-a-vis China,” said Roskam.
The Hong Kong government, however, views the station as a more “convenient means of cross-boundary transport” and, more importantly, as a tool to boost the city’s economic opportuniti