Before 1997, it was not often that we would bump into a Mandarin-speaking person in Hong Kong. But now, it’s hard to take a few steps in the city without hearing the mainland Chinese official language.
An inflow of visitors and migrants has led to the ubiquitous presence of mainlanders in the city, prompting concerns among the locals.
Political and cultural differences have led to tensions and deep-rooted bitterness between Hong Kong people and those from across the border.
Following the 2003 SARS crisis, Hong Kong had sought mainland tourists in a bid to shore up the city’s troubled economy.
The visitor influx was welcomed in the beginning but when it gathered pace in later years and created various problems, locals began to resent the mainland cousins.
It was felt that the mainlanders were overstaying their welcome.
As Hong Kong was already a crowded place even before the influx of mainlanders, it didn’t help matters.
The city was hosting more than double its actual population at one time, and statistics showed that public infrastructure facilities as well as general services were running well above their capacity.
The Hong Kong government’s “look north” strategy worsened the situation. For the sake of tourism and trade, the quality of life of Hong Kong people had been sacrificed.
Public transportation became overcrowded, public and entertainment venues were taken over and property prices went up.
Hongkongers were also put off by the mainlanders’ hoarding mentality as they snapped up items like milk powder, creating shortages for local residents.
Among other problems, there was pressure on hospital maternity wards and school admission places.
Parallel trading, where mainlanders buy up goods in bulk in Hong Kong to sell at a profit back home, was another thing that Hongkongers disliked very much.
Apart from these, there were other complaints like uncouth behavior of the visitors, such as talking loudly, eating and sleeping on public transport, and even urinating and defecating in public places.
As Hong Kong and Beijing authorities did almost nothing to allay the public’s concerns, Hongkongers’ insecurity gradually morphed into anger and resentment, fueling some protests.
The schism between Hongkongers and mainlanders has only grown wider as grievances went unresolved.
This has created the perfect environment for localist sentiments and self-determination ideas to take root.
Students who had in the past appeared to be indifferent to social issues suddenly rose up and emerged as one of the formidable forces of Hong Kong politics for the first time.
The Umbrella Movement of 2014 was just a reflection of their new-found aspirations for the city.
However, sometimes things go too far as some localists tend to blame the mainland for almost everything that is wrong in Hong Kong.
Unnecessary frictions between locals and mainlanders may have a negative impact on Hong Kong itself.
After all, Hong Kong needs the tourists and business opportunities coming from the North.
We must bear in mind that Hong Kong is a services-oriented economy and that its small and medium-sized enterprises depend on partnerships with mainland businesses.
Hong Kong’s stock market and retail sectors, meanwhile, are heavily reliant on capital from China.
A worsening relationship with China and its people will definitely do no good to Hong Kong.
My advice regarding mutual relations is this: though you may not like each other, you should avoid escalating the conflicts between the two sides.
Be patient and wise.
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