KUALA LUMPUR: If Malaysia and Singapore, which have a history of trust issues, can come together to build a cross-border metro line, why can’t Beijing and Hong Kong do likewise, The Standard of Hong Kong asks.
In an editorial, Hong Kong’s biggest circulation English daily newspaper says Malaysia and Singapore are showing that cross-border projects are possible with goodwill.
The Standard was referring to the inking on Tuesday of a legally binding agreement by Singapore and Malaysia to build a 4km cross-border mass rail transport line that will let commuters travel seamlessly between Woodlands North and Johor Baru. Construction of the Rapid Transit System (RTS) link is to begin next year, with Dec 31, 2024, as the opening date.
In 2016, the two nations had signed an agreement to build the 350km Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high-speed rail line.
The Standard notes that the Johor Baru-Singapore RTS link will be similar to Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway, although it will cross the narrow strait separating Singapore and Johor on a bridge rather than through a tunnel.
It notes that like Hongkongers crossing the border to the north, it is a daily ritual for many Malaysians and Singaporeans to travel to their neighbouring country for work, business and leisure.
The capacity to transport the commuters back and forth will be greatly enhanced after completion of the link in 2024.
Picking up on Prime Minister Najib Razak’s remark that the link was “technically complicated”, The Standard wonders “if there can really be something on earth that can be more complicated than the delicate relationship between the two countries, which share a history of upheavals in their relationship.
“The rail deal would have been impossible had there been a lack of goodwill on either side.”
It says while technical challenges can be overcome by science, goodwill must be cultivated.
“So, does the Malaysia-Singapore example give us some food for thought as Hong Kong continues debating the legality of the co-location border clearance for the Express Rail Link in West Kowloon?”
It notes that the RTS link envisages the system to carry up to 10,000 passengers an hour in each direction and that customs, immigration and quarantine co-clearance facilities will be put in place at the point of departure. This means, passengers need not go through immigration checks again at the arrival point.
The editorial says: “If two countries sharing a history of distrust can overcome all the odds to arrive at an agreement that is also intended as part of the effort to develop parcels of common interests, then why can’t the SAR (Special Administrative Region, under China) get rid of all the controversies over the co-location arrangement in West Kowloon?
“Najib said something that could be food for further thought.
“Commenting on the possibility of a change in government that’s common for democratic countries, he said the agreement is legally binding, and successor administrations on either side of the straits are expected to honour the original deal.
“In other words, had there been no trust between Najib and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, there would have been nothing for their successors to inherit.”
The Standard concludes by saying mutual trust is fundamental to everything, adding: “While trust is a two-way street, obviously greater efforts are needed here and in Beijing to build a foundation among all stakeholders.”
Last July, The Standard reported that the local Express Rail Link, scheduled to be operational in the third quarter of 2018, faced problems over co-location of immigration clearance.