Fear and fanfare as Hong Kong launches China rail link

A passenger takes a selfie next to the first train of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Linkas after it arrived in Shenzhen on September 23, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 23 September 2018
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Fear and fanfare as Hong Kong launches China rail link

  • Critics say the railway is a symbol of continuing Chinese assimilation of Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with guarantees of widespread autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland, including an independent legal system

HONG KONG: Hong Kong’s controversial bullet train got off to a smooth start on Sunday, as hundreds of passengers whistled north across the border at speeds of up to 200 kph (125 mph), deepening integration of the former British colony with mainland China.
While the $11 billion rail project has raised fears for some over Beijing’s encroachment on the Chinese-ruled city’s cherished freedoms, passengers at the sleek harborfront station were full of praise for a service that reaches mainland China in less than 20 minutes.
“Out of 10 points, I give it nine,” said 10-year-old Ng Kwan-lap, who was traveling with his parents on the first train leaving for Shenzhen at 7 a.m.
“The train is great. It’s very smooth when it hits speeds of 200 kilometers per hour.”
Mainland Chinese immigration officers are stationed in one part of the modernist station that is subject to Chinese law, an unprecedented move that some critics say further erodes the city’s autonomy.
The project is part of a broader effort by Beijing to fuse the city into a vast hinterland of the Pearl River Delta including nine Chinese cities dubbed the Greater Bay Area.
Beijing wants the Greater Bay Area, home to some 68 million people with a combined GDP of $1.5 trillion, to foster economic integration and better meld people, goods and sectors across the region.
Critics say the railway is a symbol of continuing Chinese assimilation of Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with guarantees of widespread autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland, including an independent legal system.
But at a ceremony on Saturday ahead of the public opening, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam praised the so-called “co-location” arrangement with Beijing which the government has said is necessary to streamline immigration.
Scores of excited passengers straddled a yellow strip across black tiles that highlighted the demarcation line between Hong Kong and mainland China, while others passed through turnstiles surrounded by red, orange and white balloons.
“I’m excited to experience the high-speed train, even more excited than when I take a plane,” said a 71-year-old retiree surnamed Leung.
While there have been questions over whether Hong Kong residents would be able to access foreign social media, largely banned in mainland China, in zones subject to Chinese law, some passengers arriving in Shenzhen, on the mainland side, were able to bypass China’s so-called Great Firewall.
The rail link provides direct access to China’s massive 25,000-km national high-speed rail network and authorities on both sides have hailed it as a breakthrough that will bring economic benefits, including increased tourism.
“No matter what you think about the new line, high-speed rail is extremely convenient,” said Feng Yan, assistant professor at the Communication University of China in Beijing who took the bullet train from Shenzhen to Hong Kong.
“Even if it takes some time for people to realize how convenient it is, sooner or later they will.”


Honduras and Guatemala act to stop migrants after Trump threats

Honduran migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the US, get off a truck during a new leg of their travel in Chiquimula, Guatemala on Tuesday, October 16, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 8 min 33 sec ago
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Honduras and Guatemala act to stop migrants after Trump threats

  • US Vice President Mike Pence drove home the point, saying he spoke to Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez and Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales warning them to help protect US borders and adding “no more aid if it’s not stopped!“

WASHINGTON/ESQUIPULAS, Guatemala: The organizer of a migrant caravan from Honduras was detained on Tuesday in Guatemala as the US government threatened to withdraw aid from both countries if the flow of migrants north to the United States was not stopped.
Up to 3,000 migrants, according to organizers’ estimates, crossed from Honduras into Guatemala on a trek northward, after a standoff on Monday with police in riot gear.
The Honduran Foreign Ministry called on its citizens not to join the group. The government “urges the Hondurans taking part in this irregular mobilization not to be used by a movement that is clearly political,” it said.
Over the border, Guatemalan police officers detained Bartolo Fuentes, a former Honduran lawmaker, from the middle of the large crowd that he and three other organizers had led from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, since Saturday.
The moves followed comments by US President Donald Trump that indicated his administration would halt aid if the Central American governments did not act, his latest effort to demonstrate his tough stance on immigration.
The Honduran security ministry said Fuentes had been detained because he “did not comply with Guatemalan immigration rules” and would be deported back to Honduras in the coming hours.
Security officials at the Honduran border with Guatemala in Agua Caliente blocked the road to prevent another much smaller group getting through, television images from the border showed.
“We can’t attend to people en masse. People are going through one by one,” said police spokesman Alex Madrid, in a radio interview.
Guatemala’s government said it did not have official figures for how many migrants from the caravan had already crossed the border.
Adult citizens of the countries of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua need only present national identity cards to cross each others’ borders. That rule does not apply when they reach Mexico.
“NO MORE MONEY“
Trump took to Twitter on Tuesday to express his annoyance at the caravan, which follows a similar event in May that ultimately led to hundreds of migrants either seeking asylum in the United States or remaining in Mexico.
“The United States has strongly informed the President of Honduras that if the large Caravan of people heading to the US is not stopped and brought back to Honduras, no more money or aid will be given to Honduras, effective immediately!” Trump wrote.
US Vice President Mike Pence drove home the point, saying he spoke to Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez and Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales warning them to help protect US borders and adding “no more aid if it’s not stopped!“
The strong words could encourage Honduras to move closer to China, amid intensified efforts by Beijing to win recognition from Central American countries aligned with Taiwan.
Honduras is one of a dwindling number of countries that still have formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, an island nation off the Chinese coast that Beijing views as a renegade province.
Hernandez said last month that cuts in US support for Central America would only hinder the country’s ability to stem illegal immigration. He welcomed China’s growing diplomatic presence in the region as an “opportunity.”
Last week, Pence told Central American countries the United States was willing to help with economic development and investment if they did more to tackle mass migration, corruption and gang violence.

GROWING GROUP
The migrants in the group making its way north plan to seek refugee status in Mexico or pass through to the United States, saying they are fleeing poverty and violence.
“What Trump says doesn’t interest us,” organizer Fuentes said in an interview shortly before his arrest. “These people are fleeing. These people are not tourists.”
Widespread violence and poverty prompt thousands of Central Americans, mainly from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, to make the arduous journey north toward Mexico and the United States in search of a better life.
Trump ran for president in 2016 on promises to toughen US immigration policies and build a wall along the 2,000-mile(3,220-km) border with Mexico.
Illegal immigration is likely to be a top issue in Nov. 6 US congressional elections, when Democrats are seen as having a good chance of gaining control of the House of Representatives from Trump’s fellow Republicans.