19 October 2018
Hong Kong activists chant slogans and carry banners bearing messages such as "no locusts" in a recent protest against mainland shoppers and parallel-goods traders.
Hong Kong activists chant slogans and carry banners bearing messages such as "no locusts" in a recent protest against mainland shoppers and parallel-goods traders.

HK visitor woes: Beijing finally seems to pay attention

In recent days, there has been a spike in antagonistic messages and posts on social networking platforms on the mainland with regard to Hong Kong.

Criticizing the city for its alleged bad treatment of cross-border visitors, some netizens have urged Chinese authorities to retaliate by taking drastic measures such as halting water, electricity and food supply to Hong Kong.

Mainland censors, normally quick to clamp down on offensive messages, have this time around chosen to sit aside and let the messages be shared and reposted on online forums.

This constitutes another assault on Hong Kong and will make the ideological gap between Hongkongers and mainlanders turn into a chasm.

One should bear in mind that the still unfolding protests to purge northern New Territories of “locusts” – mainland shoppers and parallel good traders that descend upon the territory – are a direct response to the problems that China has exported to Hong Kong.

The Individual Visit Scheme that brings tens of millions of mainlanders every year was originally meant to boost Hong Kong’s retailing sector and the overall economy in the aftermath of a SARS crisis that first broke out in the mainland and quickly spread across the border into Hong Kong in 2003.

But a notorious contaminated milk and infant formula scandal in China in 2008 pushed mainlanders to turn to Hong Kong for safe products, giving birth to rampant parallel trading and smuggling, something that Principal Magistrate Bernadette Woo Huey-fang described as “a national shame” when she presided over smuggling cases by mainlanders.

The Hong Kong government’s response toward all these problems has been mild and slack, likely due to fear of offending the Beijing mandarins. Pan-democrats’ pressure tactics on the government have also been fruitless.

So the old way of petition and verbal protests have been superseded by a new, more drastic and forcible approach by the public. Fed up with all the inconveniences, Hongkongers have opted for a showdown-like confrontation with their mainland cousins.

Marches to “recover” malls and streets occupied by mainland shoppers and traders, which often led to physical scuffles, have finally pushed Beijing to review the Individual Visit Scheme.

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said recently that he will discuss the issue with the central authorities this month.

Now, here is some food for thought: If social movements expand and evolve in a valiant and straight-forward manner like what we have seen recently, with participants willing to pay the price (like brutal treatment by police or political suppression), Beijing won’t be able to turn a deaf ear for long.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 2.

Translation by Frank Chen

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Former full-time member of the Hong Kong Government’s Central Policy Unit, former editor-in-chief of the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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