Hong Kong opens high-speed rail link with mainland China

Ma Xingrui, governor of Guangdong Province, front row left, and Carrie Lam, Hong Kong's chief executive, front row second left, stand next to a Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XRL) Vibrant Express train bound for Guangzhou Nan Station waits in the Mainland Port Area at West Kowloon Station, which houses the terminal for the XRL in Hong Kong, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. (Giulia Marchi/Pool Photo via AP)
A woman waves a British flag outside the Western Kowloon Station during a protest against the opening ceremony of the Hong Kong Express Rail Link in Hong Kong, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. Hong Kong has opened a new high-speed rail link to inland China that will vastly decrease travel times but which also raises concerns about Beijing's creeping influence over the semi-autonomous Chinese region. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
Frank Chan, Hong Kong's transport and housing secretary, front row right, Carrie Lam, Hong Kong's chief executive, front row third right, Ma Xingrui, governor of Guangdong Province, front row fourth right, Frederick Ma, chairman of MTR Corp., front row fourth left, and guests arrive to the borderline into China during a tour in the Hong Kong Port Area at West Kowloon Station, which houses the terminal for the XRL in Hong Kong, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. (Giulia Marchi/Pool Photo via AP)
A woman waves a British flag outside the Western Kowloon Station during a protest against the opening ceremony of the Hong Kong Express Rail Link in Hong Kong, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. Hong Kong has opened a new high-speed rail link to inland China that will vastly decrease travel times but which also raises concerns about Beijing's creeping influence over the semi-autonomous Chinese region. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
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) in Hong Kong, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. (Giulia Marchi/Pool Photo via AP)
A protester removes a banner after a protest outside the Western Kowloon Station against the opening ceremony of the Hong Kong Express Rail Link in Hong Kong, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. Hong Kong has opened a new high-speed rail link to inland China that will vastly decrease travel times but which also raises concerns about Beijing's creeping influence over the semi-autonomous Chinese region. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
A man uses an automated immigration clearance machine for departing passengers in the Hong Kong Port Area at West Kowloon Station, which houses the terminal for the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XRL) in Hong Kong, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. (Giulia Marchi/Pool Photo via AP)
Carrie Lam, Hong Kong's chief executive, center right, and Ma Xingrui, governor of Guangdong Province, center left, walk during a tour in the Hong Kong Port Area at West Kowloon Station, which houses the terminal for the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XRL) in Hong Kong, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. (Giulia Marchi/Pool Photo via AP)
A Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XRL) Vibrant Express train bound for Guangzhou Nan Station waits in the Mainland Port Area at West Kowloon Station, which houses the terminal for the XRL in Hong Kong, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. (Giulia Marchi/Pool Photo via AP)
A woman shouts slogans during a protest outside the Western Kowloon Station against the opening ceremony of the Hong Kong Express Rail Link in Hong Kong, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. Hong Kong has opened a new high-speed rail link to inland China that will vastly decrease travel times but which also raises concerns about Beijing's creeping influence over the semi-autonomous Chinese region. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
Police officers stand guard outside the Western Kowloon Station during a protest against the opening ceremony of the Hong Kong Express Rail Link in Hong Kong, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. Hong Kong has opened a new high-speed rail link to inland China that will vastly decrease travel times but which also raises concerns about Beijing's creeping influence over the semi-autonomous Chinese region. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
Carrie Lam, Hong Kong's chief executive, listens in front of automated immigration clearance machines for departing passengers during a tour in the Hong Kong Port Area at West Kowloon Station which houses the terminal for the XRL in Hong Kong, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. (Giulia Marchi/Pool Photo via AP)
An attendant, right, stands next to an entrance of a Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XRL) Vibrant Express train bound for Guangzhou Nan Station in the Mainland Port Area at West Kowloon Station, which houses the terminal for the XRL in Hong Kong, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. (Giulia Marchi/Pool Photo via AP)
Officers stand under a Health Quarantine sign in the Mainland Port Area at West Kowloon Station, which houses the terminal for the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XRL) at West Kowloon Station, which houses the terminal for the XRL in Hong Kong, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. (Giulia Marchi/Pool Photo via AP)
Police officers stand guard outside the Western Kowloon Station during a protest against the opening ceremony of the Hong Kong Express Rail Link in Hong Kong, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. Hong Kong has opened a new high-speed rail link to inland China that will vastly decrease travel times but which also raises concerns about Beijing's creeping influence over the semi-autonomous Chinese region. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
Protesters dress as People's Liberation Army (PLA) during a protest outside the Western Kowloon Station against the opening ceremony of the Hong Kong Express Rail Link in Hong Kong, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. Hong Kong has opened a new high-speed rail link to inland China that will vastly decrease travel times but which also raises concerns about Beijing's creeping influence over the semi-autonomous Chinese region. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
A protester dresses as People's Liberation Army (PLA) during a protest outside the Western Kowloon Station against the opening ceremony of the Hong Kong Express Rail Link in Hong Kong, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. Hong Kong has opened a new high-speed rail link to inland China that will vastly decrease travel times but which also raises concerns about Beijing's creeping influence over the semi-autonomous Chinese region. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

HONG KONG — Hong Kong on Saturday opened a new high-speed rail link to inland China that will vastly decrease travel times but also raises concerns about Beijing's creeping influence over the semi-autonomous Chinese region.

Costing upward of $10 billion and taking more than eight years to build, the system aims to transport more than 80,000 passengers daily between the Asian financial center of 7 million people and the neighboring manufacturing hub of Guangdong province.

The train travels the 26 kilometers (16 miles) through Hong Kong to Shenzhen across the border in China in just 14 minutes, down from about 1 hour currently. The through-train to Guangdong's capital Guangzhou will take just over half an hour, about 90 minutes faster than current service.

Once across the border, passengers can link up with Chinese sprawling nationwide high-speed rail network serving more than 44 destinations, including Shanghai, Beijing and the western city of Xi'an.

Passengers will clear Chinese immigration at the line's newly built West Kowloon terminus, the source of major legal controversy when it was revealed that mainland Chinese law would apply within roughly one-quarter of the station's area.

Some opposition lawmakers argued the move would be a violation of the Basic Law, Hong Kong's mini-constitution under which it retained its own legal system and civil liberties after reverting from British to Chinese rule in 1997. That guarantees Hong Kong the right to maintain rights such as freedom of speech and assembly — which are routinely violated on the mainland — until 2047. Legal matters related to defense, foreign affairs and national security fall under Beijing purview.

However, Beijing's tight control over the city's politics and a continuing crackdown on politicians calling for greater economy and democratic reforms have spurred worries about an erosion of Hong Kong's remaining autonomy.

The Hong Kong legislature's passage in June of the plan to allow Chinese law to apply at the railway terminus was a significant moment for the opposition, coming four years after mass street protests demanding reforms fizzled out amid Beijing's intransigence. Pro-democracy legislators have been expelled and charges brought against more than 100 protesters.

Supporters of the provision, including the territory's Beijing-backed Chief Executive Carrie Lam, defended it as promoting speed and convenience.

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