It’s bad enough that on any given day, our immigration checkpoints are overwhelmed by visitors from the mainland and our government is hard pressed to do anything about the situation.
But when we hear that the influx is not about tourism and cross-border exchanges but a raid on goods by parallel traders, we begin to wonder whether Hong Kong is not just another supermarket for mainlanders.
On Sunday, dozens of people took to the streets to send a message that these parallel traders can no longer be tolerated.
Hong Kong people have had enough of mainlanders taking away basic supplies and profiting from them by selling them across the border.
The protest, led by Civic Passion and Hong Kong Indigenous, took place outside a shopping mall in Tuen Mun and quickly spread inside. Police used pepper spray to disperse the protesters.
What comes to mind when Chinese parallel traders are mentioned is overcrowding and chaos.
Then you have ordinary Hong Kong consumers being edged out as the visitors rampage through shops, grabbing anything they can get their hands on.
None of this would happen if there was no demand in the mainland.
Mainlanders don’t trust products made by domestic manufacturers — from milk formula to canned food and toilet paper.
In Hong Kong, these are cheaper and of higher quality.
The problem is that supply is not big enough to serve these traders, let alone the Chinese market, resulting in frequent shortages and higher prices in Hong Kong.
This problem underlies growing cross-border tensions, with mainlanders an increasingly unwelcome sight in Hong Kong.
Last week, tens of thousands of mainland shoppers crossed the border ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday. Most were parallel traders, according to reports.
Official Chinese media did its part in boosting arrivals by publishing a list of shops for the best bargains at the highest quality.
Interestingly, the government did nothing to stem the influx other than announce measures to speed the flow at immigration counters.
Mainlanders were allowed to use e-channels reserved for Hong Kong residents, sparking complaints by locals about overcrowding and delays of up to twice the normal wait.
To be fair, Leung Chun-ying’s government can do little to cap cross-border arrivals. A proposal to do just that is neither off nor on, a victim of vested business interests.
They argue that such a move will kill Hong Kong’s retail and tourism business.
In what amounted to a token gesture, the Hong Kong government began imposing limits on the number of goods a mainlander can bring back across the border.
For instance, they are not allowed to bring more than two cans of powdered milk.
But smugglers in the mainland have been skirting the quota by offering money to those willing to come to Hong Kong to buy the goods for them.
The solution lies with the Chinese authorities.
Unless they limit a visa scheme that allows mainlanders to come to Hong Kong as individuals rather than as part of a group, the problem will only worsen.
The scheme, introduced in 2003 to buffer the Hong Kong economy from SARS, has outlived its purpose.
Instead, it has created a situation in which Hong Kong people have to fight for housing, school places, public transport and necessities they have normally enjoyed in abundance.
Even livelihoods are at stake, with mainlanders helping drive up commercial rental prices.
A judge has described the situation as “out of control”.
But these issues, apparently, are less important than the political considerations behind them.
These visits are part of a larger effort by Beijing to promote political integration and assert its sovereignty over Hong Kong, especially in light of issues over “one country, two systems” and recent signs some Hong Kong people are keen to open a debate about self-determination.
It’s up to Leung to reflect the concerns of Hong Kong people to Beijing.
But will he do it?
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