Benefits message carries rail weight

Editorial | 1 Aug 2017

Brickbats have been flying for a week over the co-location immigration clearance arrangement at the West Kowloon terminus of the Express Rail Link, with the government leading in the public opinion battle.

Contrary to the opposition's strategy to dwell on the legal aspects, the administration's tactics have been two pronged: emphasize the convenience to commuters as the primary message, and supplement it with legal justification for the proposed arrangement.

It's so far, so good for Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.

Unlike what had happened with the previous regime, where officials and political figures seldom ventured out of their offices to defend policies, top officials and political heavyweights have been making daily public appearances to talk up the plan for West Kowloon.

This at least gives the impression the government is now more united than before.

It's a smart approach. If the economic benefits involve too many billions of dollars to be readily understood by the local yokels, that commuters can put all immigration hassles behind them once they get cleared in West Kowloon is simple and direct enough for the message to hit home.

However, messages like MTR Corp Limited chairman Frederick Ma Si- hang's warning that such and such an amount of money would be wasted if the terminus can't open as planned were foolish, as numbers don't necessarily work well in this case, and can instead blur the focus.

Meanwhile, the opposition has been trying to be proactive, but its message based on legal arguments is similarly far too sophisticated for the ordinary folks to grasp. Most people would find it difficult to follow their logic, although it may be fine for trained legal minds.

Perhaps it's because of this that pan- democratic barristers Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee and Martin Lee Chu-ming were forced to paint very extreme scenarios to try to get the public's attention - however far fetched.

Ng played up fears over the Causeway Bay bookstore incident, saying it would be dangerous even to get near West Kowloon. This was in reference to a suggestion the co-location deal could make it easy for mainland authorities to spirit wanted people to the north from Hong Kong.

The 2015 incident, in which local employees were abducted to face interrogation in the mainland, is a gravely serious concern that will continue to haunt Hongkongers, and must not be allowed to ever occur again.

But it would be a gross exaggeration to link the high-speed railway to the incident, as they're totally unrelated issues.

In another example, Lee warned the Central district could be leased to the mainland the next time Occupy Central occurs, so that Chinese public security officials could crack down on protesters here. That argument simply doesn't wash either.

I wonder if the two pan-democratic lawyers would have conjured up the scenarios if they had found stronger legal grounds to dispute the proposal. If they had, would they have resorted to such scare tactics?

The public opinion war is bound to carry on. Will Lam be wise enough to sustain the good start that has already been made?

Sit tight and keep watching.



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