Though patently averse to mass protests, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has heeded the public anger over the influx of Chinese tourists and parallel-goods traders into the city.
He said on Tuesday he will not seek to expand the Individual Travel Scheme beyond the 49 mainland cities where it is currently implemented, and instead consider ways to tighten arrivals.
The matter will be discussed in next month’s meeting of the National People’s Congress.
It seems the Hong Kong leader has the capacity to listen to the people after angry protests were launched against mainland visitors in the past weeks.
But experience has taught us that his words should always be taken with a grain of salt.
It may be that CY Leung is just trying to boost his public approval rating.
In the latest survey by the public opinion program of the University of Hong Kong, Leung’s support rating stands at 40.7, still below the so-called alert level of 45 marks. His approval rate stands at 22 percent and disapproval rate at 64 percent, giving him a net popularity of negative 42 percentage points.
An analysis of the survey results shows that those aged between 18 and 29 are most critical of CY Leung as chief executive, as more than 80 percent of the respondents in this age bracket oppose him, significantly higher than in the other age groups where those who oppose him account for 53 to 65 percent.
Since the start of the year, youngsters as well as members of political organizations have staged protests, sometimes violent, against parallel-goods traders in Sheung Shui, Sha Tin and Tsuen Wan, and are planning to hold another one in Yuen Long this Sunday.
Leung is an unlikely advocate of the move to revise the Individual Travel Scheme, which Beijing launched in 2002 as part of its package of policies to support the Hong Kong economy and hasten its integration with the mainland.
Last year, he criticized those asking that the number of mainland visitors to the city be limited, saying that Hong Kong people shouldn’t be arrogant and that many countries want to have such a large number of Chinese tourists to boost their economies.
So why the U-turn on the Individual Travel Scheme?
A more truthful version of the Hong Kong government’s stand on the issue was given by the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Greg So.
So stressed that it’s Beijing that will determine the number of mainland tourists permitted to travel to Hong Kong individually.
He also acknowledged that it’s “not an easy balancing act” to allow mainland tourists to have an enjoyable experience in Hong Kong without unduly affecting local residents’ lives.
So was speaking the truth about the matter, which Leung would not admit in public, namely, that it’s up to the central leadership to decide whether to put a limit to the influx of mainland tourists.
What Leung can do is to raise the issue to the central authorities, who will make the decision.
Also, as the city’s leader, he needs to strike a balance between addressing the public clamor and taking the interest of the local tourism industry.
Professor Haiyan Song, associate dean of the School of Hotel and Tourism Management at the Polytechnic University, pointed out that the problem concerns the growing parallel-goods trade and that’s what needs to be resolved. Restricting mainland tourists is clearly not the solution.
The crux of the issue is that the current Individual Travel Scheme is no longer just an arrangement to facilitate the entry of mainland tourists into the territory.
A large proportion of the mainland visitors to Hong Kong are Shenzhen residents who hold multiple entry visas to the territory. Such a visa enables them to travel to the city without limit, and this has led to the growth of parallel-goods trading across the border.
Mainlanders make huge purchases of daily necessities in Hong Kong retail stores and resell them in China for profit.
That’s the major complaint of local residents and consumers: Hong Kong stores no longer serve the local community because many of them now operate for the sake of the mainland parallel-goods traders.
But Leung appears to be ignoring the problem and consequently allowing tensions to escalate.
The government should strictly enforce the law against parallel-goods trading within our territory and at the border.
Hong Kong’s customs authorities should take proactive measures to stop such illegal activities. Leung shouldn’t mix up the core problems and blame the Individual Travel Scheme for the people’s anger at parallel-goods trading.
Leung’s sudden change of stand on the issue could be a strategy to bolster his popularity and pave the way for him to run for a second term.
However, he needs more than empty words but real action to ease the brewing tension between mainland visitors and the Hong Kong people.
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