If you want to know what mainlanders feel about Hong Kong nowadays, there is no better place to go than social networking platforms such as WeChat and Weibo.
Last week, the two sites buzzed with angry denunciations and calls for a boycott of Hong Kong as the Chinese took umbrage at a string of anti-mainlander protests in the territory.
Previously, popular topics among mainland vacationers were trips to Hong Kong for shopping and sightseeing. But these days, the discussion is more on news and rumors pertaining to harassment of mainland tourists across the border and protests against the so-called parallel traders.
One photo showing a mainland tourist raising hands in a gesture of surrender while his wife was crouching and clasping her arms around his waist when besieged by protesters in Sha Tin’s New Town Plaza mall got more than two million online shares. Netizens deemed the picture as offering a vivid portrayal of the raging hostility and prejudice in Hong Kong.
Meanwhile, there has also been consternation over the latest rally against mainland shoppers in Yuen Long over the weekend which turned nasty and forced the police to use pepper spray to control the crowd and make several arrests.
But the Chinese should note that not all Hongkongers endorse radical, indiscriminate attitude against mainlanders in a metropolis that is generally known for its openness and hospitality towards guests, observers say.
The recent incidents are merely fresh skirmishes caused by old problems.
Locals are concerned that the influx of parallel-goods traders from across the border has been affecting residents in northern New Territories. While the retail boom may be benefiting the big cats, ordinary people have to put up with the negative side-effects such as soaring rents, shortage of some daily necessities and congestion at malls and eateries.
Not many people in the mainland who share pictures of the anti-Chinese protests know about the cause of the tension and Hongkongers’ deep grievances. They merely pass judgments with comments such as “if it were not for mainland shoppers, Hong Kong’s economy would have been in deep recession”.
Comments from a civil servant in his 30s who lives in a mainland coastal city are very typical.
He told EJ Insight that just like the failed Occupy movement, the recent anti-mainland incidents have all been “stirred up by overseas forces” and that Hong Kong people “are all being manipulated”.
He stressed that Hong Kong is “no longer attractive” and that Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen will “give Hong Kong a hard lesson”.
But he failed to have an explanation when asked why mainlanders are still flocking to Hong Kong and many are also seeking the right of abode in the territory, if the place has really become unattractive.
On WeChat, there has been a popular petition that calls on Chinese authorities to stop supplying water, electricity, gas and food to Hong Kong. The petition carries a sensational headline — “If you are Chinese, don’t shop in Hong Kong” — and like always, the document offers the conclusion that “without China, Hong Kong will be dead”.
A tendency to regard fair and mutually beneficial business deals as concession and magnanimity from one party to another still prevails among many mainland netizens.
Not many know that Hong Kong pays higher unit price for water from Dongjiang River in Guangdong compared with similar water supply deals between Singapore and Malaysia. The same applies to gas, electricity and food from the mainland.
Looking at things, one can argue that it is the mainlanders who should feel grateful to Hong Kong. Also, without safe infant formula supplies from Hong Kong, many mainland mothers would have struggled to feed their babies.
Some critics of mainland tourists and parallel traders have questioned why the Hong Kong authorities are yet to amend immigration and visa application procedures to cap the visitor numbers.
It is true that Hong Kong government has been slack in responding to locals’ mounting rancor, but the truth is that multi-entry visas for Shenzhen residents are issued by Guangdong provincial public security department.
Imposition of any extra limitations will entail complex legal issues and Hong Kong will need to discuss with the mainland new arrangements. Such process will take time.
It remains to be seen how the issue will play out in the coming months. Both sides, meanwhile, will need to develop better understanding of each other and accept the current realities.
A netizen perhaps got it right when he described the tussle as akin to two kids getting into mischief in which one cries “I don’t want you in my home” and the other hits back saying “I won’t play with you any more”.
Another online post argues that although being a free port and a major global tourism hub, Hong Kong has limited capacity to receive visitors and that its retail sector was not meant to serve the daily demand of the mainlanders, with their 1.3 billion population, in the first place.
Rather than spreading angry, biased messages on WeChat that most Hong Kong people are unable to read, mainlanders should direct their energy to putting pressure on Chinese leaders to improve the product quality and food safety at home, the person pointed out.
Now, who can argue with that?
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