18 November 2018
Protests against parallel trading, such as the one staged in Yuen Long on Sunday, are in danger of spinning out of control. Photo: SocRec
Protests against parallel trading, such as the one staged in Yuen Long on Sunday, are in danger of spinning out of control. Photo: SocRec

Protests fail to help local communities regain normal lives

Protests against parallel traders in the New Territories have escalated, and are in danger of spinning out of control.

Organizers should maintain the focus of the mass actions, which is to seek a limit to the influx of mainland visitors to Hong Kong in order to curb parallel trading activities. 

Those participating in the protests should not allow themselves to be carried away by emotions and turn the demonstrations into a display of their anti-mainland sentiments or their discontent over the territory’s return to Chinese sovereignty.

The protests started out as a legitimate cry for the “return of normal life to local residents”, who are being overwhelmed by the surge of mainland parallel traders and tourists into their communities.

But soon the protests have been transformed into occasions for the release of anti-mainland emotions, and ordinary residents, who were initially supportive of their cause, are beginning to realize that these rowdy demonstrators are pursuing their own agenda.

On Sunday police arrested 33 people aged 13 to 75 during a protest march in Yuen Long organized by two radical groups, Civic Passion and Frontline Democracy. Police said the mass action was disrupting traffic and they had to use batons and pepper spray to restore order.

Clashes between police and protesters took place in similar demonstrations in Sha Tin and Tuen Mun in the past few weeks.

Some observers have noted that the protests clearly have other agenda than opposing the disruptions caused by parallel trading activities. Some protesters were even provoking the police to arrest them or turn violent against them in order to promote their political agenda as television cameras record the ensuing chaos.

Soon enough, the rallies turned into a battleground between the protesters and pro-Beijing activists, requiring police intervention.

This may be the reason why mainstream pan-democrats distance themselves from such protests, even though they support calls to limit the number of mainland tourists coming to Hong Kong.

Protest organizers rightly blame the haphazard implementation of the individual visit scheme for the sharp rise in parallel trading activities in Hong Kong, noting that the program has allowed traders to make as many trips to the territory as they want.

But they are taking an inappropriate approach to oppose the issue, which in turn is creating a negative impact on the whole opposition camp. People are angry at the uncontrolled influx of mainland visitors into the city but they also abhor the use of violence by those who protesting against parallel trading activities.

More than anything else, ordinary people want to be left alone to lead normal lives.

In fact, the series of high-profile protests against parallel traders has successfully drawn the attention of the Hong Kong government and central authorities to the issue. Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has pledged to bring up the matter during his meeting with Beijing officials this week.

Protesters should now allow the government to devise ways to remedy the situation, and avoid escalating their mass actions until the authorities announce their new plans on visa arrangements.

Security Bureau chief Lai Tung-kwok also said the government is doing its utmost in cracking down on parallel trading. But he stressed that it is a problem that cannot be resolved overnight.

Lai pointed out that the mainland authorities are the ones granting visas to qualified mainlanders to visit Hong Kong individually. They determine how may single-entry or multiple-entry visas will be granted to mainland visitors.

Sadly, the Hong Kong government hardly has any authority to bar such visa holders from visiting the city. And that’s the main reason for the surge in mainland visitors to the city in the past decade.

Right now, some 1.5 million Shenzhen residents hold multiple-entry visas that allow them to make unlimited trips to Hong Kong. In order to curb parallel trading, Beijing and Hong Kong officials are thinking of limiting the number of trips that they can make.

One possibility is that about 10,000 Shenzhen visa holders will be limited to 100 visits to the city every year. That could help reduce parallel trading activities across the border.

Hong Kong people have continued to enjoy freedom of expression and assembly despite the city’s return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. But with freedom comes responsibility.

Organizers of the protests against parallel trading should see to it that those who join the demonstrations do not abuse their freedom. 

They should try their best not to alienate the local communities, whose support they need to pursue their cause.

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EJ Insight writer

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