"Twenty-four hour border crossing is like a brand new start to me. It seems as if an entirely new economic relationship has emerged between the Hong Kong SAR and the mainland," Zhou Qi, a Shenzhen Special Economic Zone resident said Monday.
Zhou, moving unhurriedly with his fishing net and sports bag, was one of the first few of the approximately 2,200 people crossing the Lok Ma Chau/Huanggang border checkpoint into Shenzhen within the first two hours after the implementation of the 24-hourpassenger clearance operation there on Monday. The operation was jointly implemented by the HKSAR government and the Shenzhen municipal government.
Asked about how he was convenienced by the new operation, Zhou,working in the tourism profession, told reporters how he still managed to return to his Shenzhen home, even though he had forgotten that time did fly with his revelry of fishing and barbecuing with friends.
"Tonight, I was late for the train to cross the border at Lowu (checkpoint) and would have had to stay overnight in the HKSAR, had it not been for the new arrangement. But tonight, I've saved about 400 Hong Kong dollars (51.2 US dollars) on accommodation," Zhou said.
He also said he will visit the HKSAR more often from now on, stressing that the new arrangement will also enable tours to operate more freely without any time constraint.
A HKSAR resident Ms Lau, who resides in Shek Wai Kok in the New Territories, told reporters that she was trying out the new arrangement by returning to her second residence in Shenzhen after midnight and found the new arrangement very satisfactory. "Crossing the border has been exceptionally smooth, much more so than previously. It only took me about 20 minutes or so," she saidas she stopped to talk to reporters before moving on leisurely.
A Ms Tse, also a HKSAR resident, said had it not been for the overnight operation, she would have to miss an appointment with a HKSAR government physician for her heart problem Monday morning. "Thanks to the new arrangement, I'm going to Shenzhen to deal with an urgent matter and can still come back to the HKSAR in time to see the doctor later in the morning.
The new arrangement involves round-the-clock operation of 10 immigration counters - five inbound and five outbound, as well and two vehicular passenger traffic lanes, manned by the HKSAR Immigration Department, with compatible manpower and facilities to cope with the flows on the Shenzhen side at what was reported to be China's busiest vehicular land traffic border checkpoint. Priorto the new arrangement, the Lok Ma Chau/Huanggang checkpoint had allowed only goods vehicles to travel through around-the-clock, since 1994, not passenger vehicles.
Miriam Lau Kin Yee, a HKSAR Legislative Councilor for the Transport Functional Constituency told Xinhua in an exclusive interview Monday, after inspecting the new operation with other councilors, that she was satisfied with the smooth initial operation that enables the HKSAR to integrate with the Pearl River Delta without hindrance.
"The psychological barrier between the two sides has been removed, as has the physical barrier.... I believe many people in the HKSAR will be traveling into the mainland, just as many mainland residents will be traveling into the HKSAR.
"This is how a mutually beneficial business and trade relationship should be. I hope in the days to come, the integration will be smooth. After all, the HKSAR is a part of the Pearl River Delta. We are only a region, and a region's development should not be thwarted by any barrier," she said.
The new arrangement is an obvious measure to forge closer economic cooperation with the Chinese mainland, as outlined in the latest policy address delivered by HKSAR Chief Executive Tung CheeHwa on Jan 8. Tung has stressed that the positive effects of China's accession to the WTO have already begun to merge, and four years from now, the mainland will become more fully aligned with the rest of the world in trade and economic matters.
Echoing Tung's blueprint for HKSAR's need to elevate itself to a major hub connecting the mainland and the international market, HKSAR Secretary for Security Regina Ip told reporters in a media briefing Monday, after touring the new passenger clearance operation, that it marked another milestone achievement in further enhancing cross-boundary facilities.
"To people who frequently commute between the HKSAR and the mainland, the new arrangement will bring greater convenience and ease passenger flows," she said.
She also thanked the Central People's government and the relevant mainland authorities for making the 24-hour passenger clearance operation possible before the Lunar New Year, which will see massive two-way cross-border passenger flows.
(People's Daily January 27, 2003)