It’s no surprise that the new Hong Kong travel curb for Shenzhen residents has evoked a lot of resentment among mainlanders.
With people now allowed just one visit a week, against unlimited travel previously, the view across the border is that the interests of the Chinese people have been sacrificed to placate a few in Hong Kong.
Online forums in the mainland have lit up with criticism of the new visa policy, and some activists are calling for similar restrictions on Hong Kong people visiting China.
Hong Kong’s chief executive Leung Chun-ying, who may be feeling happy that Beijing has responded to the recent protests against parallel-goods traders, has also come in for sharp rebuke.
Liu Simin, a Beijing-based tourism industry veteran, said Leung has shown that he lacked the wisdom to handle the Chinese visitor issue properly, causing a dent in the friendship between Shenzhen and Hong Kong.
“The SAR government, including the chief executive, implemented some foolish measures previously. When they talked to the media, they did not clearly separate the parallel traders and normal visitors from China,” Liu said in a media interview.
Leung’s confusion over the two types of visitors, and the protests against parallel traders and Chinese visitors in Hong Kong, has led to a “negative impact on the relationship between Hong Kong and China,” said Liu, who is deputy secretary-general of the Beijing Tourism Association.
As Liu’s organization is directly under the Beijing municipal government, his comments on Hong Kong and Leung could be taken as representing the views of the Beijing local government to some extent.
Last year, about 47 million mainland Chinese visitors streamed into Hong Kong, more than six times the territory’s own population.
The visitor influx, as well as the frequent trips of the parallel traders — who buy goods in Hong Kong to sell at profit in the mainland — has fueled discontent and protests in Hong Kong. Local blame the visitors for rising rents, shortage of essential items, overcrowded public transport and much else.
The public anger has caught the attention of the central government, prompting it to impose limits of the number of visits by Shenzhen people.
But critics say the new policy causes inconvenience to genuine travelers, though it is purportedly aimed at parallel goods traders.
And it is here that Leung comes in for flak.
Critics point out that when he was in Beijing last month during the plenary session of the National People’s Congress, Leung did not clearly define which type of Chinese visitors should require limits with regard to Hong Kong travel.
The sudden change in visa arrangement has now angered Shenzhen people, who had developed a habit of coming to Hong Kong frequently to do their shopping in the border districts.
Unfettered travel had led people to believe that Hong Kong and Shenzhen were practically one city without any boundary.
Now, the new rule has come as a rude awakening for the Shenzhen residents and prompting calls that they are being discriminated against.
“We are all Chinese, and Hong Kong shouldn’t look down on Shenzhen,” a Shenzhen person told a Hong Kong newspaper.
Leung, despite being a Beijing loyalist, has ironically contributed to increased tensions between China and Hong Kong in the past three years.
After he was elected chief executive, Leung quickly announced a ban on mainland women from giving birth in Hong Kong public hospitals. Later, he introduced export regulation on infant formula to prevent bulk purchases by Chinese visitors and parallel traders.
The policies were aimed at addressing the concerns of Hong Kong locals, but Leung failed to explain the situation properly to the mainlanders. This fueled a sense of discrimination among the Chinese people.
The mainlanders nurture a grievance that despite the economic goodies — such as Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA) and the individual visit scheme — being showered by China, Hong Kong has a condescending and disdainful attitude toward people from across the border.
Under the one country, two systems policy, Hong Kong needs to maintain its uniqueness compared to other Chinese cities. It can set its own tourism development plan, rather than follow the diktats of Beijing.
But what the special administrative region mustn’t forget is that it needs to strike the right balance in addressing the concerns of the locals and the visitors and explaining the issues properly.
The task is not easy, but Leung should ponder whether he could have done a better job.
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