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By Donny Kwok
HONG KONG (Reuters) 

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 harbourfront station were full of praise for a service that reaches mainland China in less than 20 minutes.

 

Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link's West Kowloon Terminus Opening Ceremony
An attendant stands next to an entrance of a Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XRL) Vibrant Express train bound for Guangzhou Nan Station on a platform in the Mainland Port Area at West Kowloon Station, which houses the terminal for the XRL, developed by MTR Corp., in Hong Kong, China, September 22, 2018. Giulia Marchi/Pool via REUTERS

 

“Out of 10 points, I give it nine,” said 10-year-old Ng Kwan-lap, who was travelling 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 kilometres per hour.”

 

Chinese flags are seen outside a train during the first day of service of the Hong Kong Section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, in Shenzhen
Chinese flags are seen outside a train during the first day of service of the Hong Kong Section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, in Shenzhen, China September 23, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

 

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.

 

A Chinese policeman patrols a train during the first day of service of the Hong Kong Section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, in Hong Kong
A Chinese policeman patrols a train during the first day of service of the Hong Kong Section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, in Hong Kong, China September 23, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

 

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.

 

Train attendants walk at the at West Kowloon Terminus at the first day of service of the Hong Kong Section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, in Hong Kong
Train attendants walk at the at West Kowloon Terminus at the first day of service of the Hong Kong Section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, in Hong Kong, China September 23, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

 

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.

 

A boy poses beside a Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail train at West Kowloon Terminus on the first day of service of the Hong Kong Section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, in Hong Kong
A boy poses beside a Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail train at West Kowloon Terminus on the first day of service of the Hong Kong Section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, in Hong Kong, China September 23, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

 

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 realise how convenient it is, sooner or later they will.”

 

(Additional reporting by Holly Chik and Trista Shi in HONG KONG and Sue-Lin Wong in Shenzhen; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Nick Macfie)

 

Passengers walk inside West Kowloon Terminus on the first day of service of the Hong Kong Section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, in Hong Kong
Passengers walk inside West Kowloon Terminus on the first day of service of the Hong Kong Section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, in Hong Kong, China September 23, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

 

A Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail train is seen at West Kowloon Terminus at the first day of service of the Hong Kong Section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, in Hong Kong
A Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail train is seen at West Kowloon Terminus at the first day of service of the Hong Kong Section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, in Hong Kong, China September 23, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

 

A passenger poses with train schedules during the first day of service of the Hong Kong Section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, in Hong Kong
A passenger poses with train schedules during the first day of service of the Hong Kong Section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, in Hong Kong, China September 23, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

 

Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link's West Kowloon Terminus Opening Ceremony
A sign reading “China Immigration Inspection” is displayed on the ground in the Mainland Port Area at West Kowloon Station, which houses the terminal for the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XRL), developed by MTR Corp., in Hong Kong, China, September 22, 2018. Giulia Marchi/Pool via REUTERS

 

Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link's West Kowloon Terminus Opening Ceremony
A Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XRL) Vibrant Express train bound for Guangzhou Nan Station leaves West Kowloon Station, which houses the terminal for the XRL, developed by MTR Corp., in Hong Kong, China, September 22, 2018. Giulia Marchi/Pool via REUTERS

 

Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link's West Kowloon Terminus Opening Ceremony
Immigration officers stand in formation in the Mainland Port Area at West Kowloon Station, which houses the terminal for the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XRL), developed by MTR Corp., in Hong Kong, China, September 22, 2018. Giulia Marchi/Pool via REUTERS

 

Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link's West Kowloon Terminus Opening Ceremony
Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, steps over the border line into China during a tour at West Kowloon Station, which houses the terminal for the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XRL), developed by MTR Corp., in Hong Kong, China, September 22, 2018. Giulia Marchi/Pool via REUTERS

 

 

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