Hong Kong and Macau will propose a review of the Individual Visit Scheme under which millions of mainlanders are currently able to visit the two cities multiple times in an individual capacity.
The move comes in the wake of growing resentment among locals about problems caused by an influx of mainland tourists and parallel goods traders.
Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said on Tuesday that he will propose to central government officials next month that the Individual Visit Scheme policy be tightened in view of the city’s limited capacity to serve a large amount of mainland tourists.
In a media briefing, Leung said he will put forward the recommendation when China’s parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC), gathers for an annual meeting in March.
The Individual Visit Scheme was launched by Beijing in July 2003 as parts of efforts to shore up the tourism sectors and the broader economies of Hong Kong and Macau.
An outbreak of SARS in Hong Kong, which severely cut tourist inflows to the city in the first half of 2003, served as a trigger for the new policy.
Prior to the scheme, mainland residents could only visit Hong Kong and Macau on business visas or as part of tour groups.
The eased travel rules brought forth a surge in visitors from across the border but they also led to increased smuggling and parallel goods trading activities.
With mainlanders snapping up items such as milk powder in Hong Kong shops, locals have complained about shortages of essential goods and rising prices. Apart from that, the tourists were also blamed for causing traffic congestion and other problems.
The resentment has triggered several demonstrations against mainland visitors, prompting authorities to sit up and take notice.
Leung said on Tuesday that he will not support an expansion of the Individual Visit Scheme, contrary to some media reports. He also pointed out that the scheme was not expanded in the last two years.
Henry Tang, a former chief secretary, also said it is time to review the Individual Visit Scheme, including the multiple-entry permit system which may have encouraged parallel trading activities.
Meanwhile in Macau, a top government official also said that Macau hopes Beijing will review and optimize the existing Individual Visit Scheme as the city does not have enough facilities to serve all the incoming mainland tourists.
Alexis Tam Chon-Weng, Macau’s Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture, said it will be good to direct mainland tourists from peak season to the low season, according to the Jornal do Cidadão newspaper.
Coming back to Hong Kong, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong and the Liberal Party also said they will propose an agenda during Beijing’s “two sessions” next month for a review of the Individual Visit Scheme.
The two sessions refer to the annual meetings of China’s top legislative and consultative bodies, the NPC and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).
The calls for review of the mainland visitor policy came after hundreds of protesters rallied in Tuen Mun on Feb. 8 and Sha Tin on Feb. 15, calling on mainland tourists and parallel traders to leave the local shopping malls.
Police were forced to use batons and pepper spray to disperse the protesters.
Some activists have now called for a fresh demonstration in Yuen Long on March 1.
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