This picture taken in Hong Kong on June 23, 2022 shows commuters catching the light rail in the Tin Shui Wai district that’s close to the mainland city of Shenzhen. (ISAAC LAWRENCE / AFP)

HONG KONG/SHENZHEN – The central government has agreed to a gradual and orderly resumption of normal travel between the Chinese mainland and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region by the middle of next month, Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu said on Saturday on his return to the SAR after a four-day duty visit to Beijing – his first to the capital since taking office.

The HKSAR government will immediately contact the relevant authorities, including the National Health Commission of the People’s Republic of China, the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, the Guangdong provincial government and the Shenzhen municipal government, to seek a consensus on a specific plan to resume normal travel.  

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The plan will be submitted to the central government for approval and will be implemented before mid-January. The process should be progressive, orderly and comprehensive, Lee said. The SAR government and the Guangdong and Shenzhen authorities will decide on the daily quota for travelers, as well as the first checkpoint ports to reopen, to ensure that the arrangements will be safe and regulated. 

"We’ve to do it in a way that will not go wrong,” he said.

The chief executive said he will chair a high-level meeting of secretaries and bureau heads to discuss the work that needs to be done

Lee thanked the central government for making the reopening possible to help get Hong Kong’s business and tourism, as well as the city’s economy, back on track, bringing a prosperous new year for the city, he said.

The chief executive said he will chair a high-level meeting of secretaries and bureau heads to discuss the work that needs to be done. The SAR government will set up a task force comprising members of 15 policy bureaus and chaired by Chief Secretary for Administration Eric Chan Kwok-ki to iron out the plan with the mainland authorities as soon as possible. The task force will take into consideration the pandemic situations and risk managements of Hong Kong and the mainland in formulating the details.  

Lee also said he believes the central government will decide on his request for an interpretation on Hong Kong’s National Security Law to clarify whether overseas lawyers, who generally don’t practice in the city, can handle cases involving the national security law.

Lee said he earnestly expects a decision soon as the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office and central government institutions based in the SAR have expressed support for his decision. 

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Lee submitted the request on Nov 28 after the city’s courts allowed media tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying to hire British King’s Counsel Tim Owen as his defense lawyer in a national security case. The case was subsequently postponed to September next year after the possible interpretation by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress – the nation’s top legislature.