PLC Paper No. CB(2)263
(These minutes have been seen
by the Administration and cleared
with the Chairman)
Ref : CB2/PL/SE/1

LegCo Panel on Security

Minutes of Special Meeting
held on Friday, 20 June 1997 at 11:30 am
in Conference Room B of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

    Hon James TO Kun-sun (Chairman)
    Hon Mrs Selina CHOW, OBE, JP (Deputy Chairman)
    Hon CHEUNG Man-kwong
    Hon Emily LAU Wai-hing, JP
    Dr Hon Philip WONG Yu-hong
    Hon Zachary WONG Wai-yin
    Hon Andrew CHENG Kar-foo
    Hon CHEUNG Hon-chung
    Hon TSANG Kin-shing
    Hon Lawrence YUM Sin-ling

Members absent :

    Hon Fred LI Wah-ming
    Hon Howard YOUNG, JP
    Hon Albert HO Chun-yan
    Hon IP Kwok-him
    Dr Hon LAW Cheung-kwok
    Hon Bruce LIU Sing-lee
    Hon LO Suk-ching
    Hon Margaret NG

Members attending :

    Hon Albert CHAN Wai-yip
    Hon Michael HO Man-ka
    Hon SIN Chung-kai

Public Officers attending:

Mrs Carrie YAU
Deputy Secretary for Security 1
Mr James CHAN
Assistant Secretary for Security (A)1
Mr Raymond LI
Acting Commissioner of Customs and Excise
Mr Himly LI
Chief Superintendent, Control Points Command
Mr Spencer FOO
Assistant Commissioner of Police (Operations)
Royal Hong Kong Police Force
Assistant Director of Immigration

Clerk in Attendance :

Mrs Sharon TONG
Chief Assistant Secretary (2) 1

Staff in Attendance :

Mr Paul WOO
Senior Assistant Secretary (2) 5

Issues concerning a reported recent incident involving members of advance troops of the People’s Liberation Army and officers of the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department at the control point and the Administration’s stand in matters involving PLA garrison in Hong Kong

The Chairman welcomed representatives of the Administration to the meeting. He informed members that the purpose of the meeting was to seek the Administration’s clarification on a reported recent incident involving members of the advance troops of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and officers of the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department (C&ED) at the control point and its stand in matters involving PLA garrison in Hong Kong.

2. Members noted a draft record of relevant discussions on the subject at the Governor’s Question Time on 19 June 1997 tabled at the meeting.

The incident

3. At the invitation of the Chairman, Deputy Secretary for Security 1 (DSS1) and Acting Commissioner of Customs and Excise (CC&E(Ag)) gave an account of the incident as follows -

  1. On 27 May 1997, a vehicle carrying some members of the PLA advance troops was stopped by a Customs and Excise Officer at the Lok Ma Chau control point for routine checks. A misunderstanding arose possibly due to language barrier and the driver crossing the border for the first time. The Customs and Excise Officer requested, in his limited Putonghua, the driver to show the "¸T°Ï¯È", the Cantonese expression for "closed road permit"(CRP), of the vehicle. Being unaware that "¸T°Ï¯È" referred to "«Ê³¬¹D¸ô³i³q¦æÃÒ", the driver did not produce the requested document. The Customs and Excise Officer therefore sought assistance from his supervisor. After inspecting documents proving that the people inside the vehicle belonged to PLA, and knowing that CRPs had been issued to all PLA vehicles crossing the border and that all necessary immigration procedures had been cleared with the Immigration Department, the supervisor allowed the vehicle to pass through the control point.
  2. The PLA subsequently sought clarification, at a defence experts meeting, on why the identification documents had to be checked twice at the border control point. Explanation was given, after investigation, to the Chinese side and it was concluded that the matter only involved a misunderstanding arising from language barrier.

4. In response to members, DSS1 stated that no complaint had been made directly by PLA to C&ED. The issue was only raised at an experts meeting.

5. As regards the Deputy Chairman’s question concerning some press reports that the PLA disregarded the instructions of C&ED officers and forced their way through the control point, CC&E(Ag) clarified that the PLA officers concerned followed all the instructions given by C&E officers and stopped the vehicle at one side for checking of documents. There was no question of any PLA officer or vehicle forcing their way through the control point.

6. Mr Michael HO pointed out that the Governor had stated, at the Governor’s Question Time on 19 June 1997, that the Chinese side had made a protest on the issue at an experts meeting. He enquired what the contents of the "protest" were. DSS1 responded that, to her knowledge, there was a request for clarification on why the identification documents had to be checked again after inspection by the Immigration Department at the border control point. Whether it was considered a complaint, protest or an enquiry was a matter of individual interpretation.

7. In response to Mr CHEUNG Hon-chung’s question on whether pressure within C&ED had led to one of its staff expressing his grievance through the press, CC&E(Ag) said that channels were in place in C&ED for staff members to express grievances and make complaints. Complaints could also be made through the respective associations of civil servants. There was no question of any pressure within C&ED to restrict the lodging of internal complaints.

General procedures at border control points

8. CC&E (Ag) informed members that around 16 000 vehicles passed through the Lok Ma Chau control point each day and an average of 400 vehicles were searched. While there was a list of "high-risk vehicles" requiring particular attention, there was no list of vehicles exempted from any procedures. While a list of 29 vehicles belonging to PLA advance troops had been issued to staff of C&ED at border control points after the incident, it was intended for facilitating the identification of PLA vehicles issued with CRPs.

9. DSS1 stressed that PLA garrison in Hong Kong did not request for or receive any special treatment. They had to abide by the laws of Hong Kong and follow the usual immigration and customs procedures at the border control points. The PLA garrison had applied for and been issued with all necessary documents, including CRPs, for all its vehicles crossing the border.

10. Some members were concerned that the issuance of a list of 29 PLA vehicles to C&ED staff might create special treatment and therefore privileges for PLA. Miss Emily LAU commented that, instead of issuing a list of PLA vehicles to its staff, C&ED should explain the general procedures to the PLA. She added that the Administration should have disclosed the incident to the public before it was uncovered by the press. DSS1 responded that, after the incident, the PLA had briefed their drivers on the general procedures at control points. The Administration would also review its procedures and consider whether there was a need to set out its procedures in the law.

Closed road permits

11. On the question of whether CRPs had to be inspected both by the Immigration Department and C&ED, CC&E(Ag) explained that this was the practice. What had been carried out by C&ED was mainly for record purpose and checking against the list of "high-risk vehicles". While there had not been any vehicle passing the control point without a CRP in the past, it was not mandatory for C&ED to check the CRPs of vehicles, as all the necessary documents should have been checked by the Immigration Department. The inspection of CRPs by the C&ED was to facilitate input of registration numbers into the computer system.

12. As regards Mr Michael HO’s question on whether there was a requirement for displaying CRPs on the windscreen, Assistant Director of Immigration said that CRP for border control points were issued by the Immigration Department under the authority of the Transport Department. As printed at the back of the CRP, it should be displayed at a location of the windscreen close to the vehicle licence.

13. In response to members’ questions on whether the PLA vehicle concerned and other PLA vehicles had CRPs displayed on their windscreens, CC&E(Ag) stated that the PLA vehicle concerned did not have a CRP displayed on the windscreen. He was not sure whether other PLA vehicles had the CRP displayed on the windscreen. On the question of whether the CRP of the PLA vehicle concerned had been shown to the immigration officials, Assistant Director of Immigration said that the immigration officer on duty during that time could not recall anything unusual. All necessary documents of the vehicles passing the control point at that time should therefore have been inspected.

Language barrier

14. Mr TSANG Kin-shing doubted whether the incident involved only misunderstanding arising from language barrier. He commented that all the staff of C&ED at border control points should have been adequately trained in Putonghua because there were a number of other Putonghua-speaking people crossing the border besides PLA. Mr Lawrence YUM added that as the Hong Kong-China border had been opened for many years, the Administration should take steps to ensure that officers working at the border control points were adequately trained in Putonghua. CC&E(Ag) responded that the C&E Officer concerned, who had not undergone any training in Putonghua, admitted making his request for a "¸T°Ï¯È", instead of "«Ê³¬¹D¸ô³i³q¦æÃÒ", in Putonghua at that time and he was not adequately fluent in the language. There were more than 4 000 staff in C&ED, while the entire civil service had a staff strength of over one hundred thousand people. The training of such a huge number of staff in Putonghua would inevitably take a long period of time. Nevertheless, the Administration would look into the issue.


Arrangements after the Garrison Law came into force

15. On the Chairman’s question as to whether CRPs were still required for PLA vehicles after the Garrison Law came into force on 1 July 1997, DSS1 advised that the issue would be considered by the legal experts of Chinese and Hong Kong governments. The Chairman commented that the issues of whether CRPs were required for PLA vehicles, and the documents required for PLA officers crossing the border after the Garrison Law was in force on 1 July 1997 should be resolved as soon as possible. Clear instructions for new arrangements should also be given to the front line staff working at border control points to avoid any misunderstanding.

16. Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong commented that, on the positive side, the incident reaffirmed the overriding status of the rules of law in Hong Kong.


17. CC&E(Ag) stated that, since both sides of the JLG considered that the incident merely involved misunderstanding arising from language barrier, the list of PLA vehicles was no longer needed and therefore would be withdrawn. General procedures at the control points had been explained to the advance troops of the PLA during their recent visit to the border. Communication channels had also been established with the PLA garrison.

18. DSS1 assured members that the staff of C&ED would continue to discharge their duties in their usual professional way and in accordance with the laws of Hong Kong. Based on their professional knowledge and judgment, they would make the decision on vehicles that should be stopped for inspection.

19. The meeting ended at 12:35 pm.

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
9 September 1997

Last Updated on 21 August 1998