In the face of a big influx of mainland visitors into Tung Chung via the newly-opened cross-border sea bridge, three bureau chiefs of the Hong Kong government met the media last Friday in a high-profile manner and announced some emergency measures aimed at easing the tourist congestion.
However, as it turns out, the measures were not so effective, as Tung Chung remained swamped by a huge number of tourists, with 90,000 and 80,000 mainland tourists entering and leaving Hong Kong using the mega bridge on Saturday and Sunday respectively.
Knowing that the overcrowding problem in Tung Chung cannot be resolved quickly, the government has boosted police presence in the area as a short-term measure in order to: 1. manage the crowd and avoid chaos arising from queue jumping; 2. prevent clashes between localist and pro-Beijing protesters, and 3. handle complaints referred to the authorities by the local tourism sector about mainland tourist groups suspected of operating illegally.
However, so far the police haven’t made any arrests or pressed any charges, because, sources said, further clarifications are needed over whether the law enforcement officers have jurisdiction over mainland tour groups moving in Hong Kong under the existing Travel Agents Ordinance.
Meanwhile, the government is also well aware that deploying more police officers to Tung Chung can at best serve as a quick fix, because given the town’s proximity to the sea bridge, it is very difficult to stop mainland visitors from flocking to shop there.
Besides, even if some mainland tour groups are operating illegally in Hong Kong, it would prove very difficult for the police to crack down on them since many of the mainland travel tours would immediately disperse into “individual visitors” or “travelling families” once they have crossed the border checkpoints into Tung Chung.
In the meantime, there is growing concern that if the overcrowding problem in Tung Chung continues to deteriorate, mounting public grievances against the nuisance caused by mainland tourists may give rise to a new wave of radical “reclaim movements” from protesters, like the one that took the Sheung Shui MTR station by storm several years ago.
The Hong Kong government cannot afford to ignore the potential protests that could draw criticisms similar to those seen several years ago.
In my opinion, the only way to truly resolve the issue is for the government to divert mainland visitors from Tung Chung into other parts of Hong Kong.
If that is not done, the tension between local Tung Chung residents and mainland visitors would only continue to escalate, no matter how many more police officers are deployed to the area.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov 12
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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