Will China use tourism card to puncture the HK movement?

August 26, 2019 14:30
Tear gas is deployed by riot police during a protest in Hong Kong on Aug 11. If the chaos continues, it will have far-reaching implications for the territory’s economy, observers warn. Photo: Bloomberg

On Saturday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor met with a number of prominent figures to listen to their views on setting up a dialogue platform to resolve the crisis sparked by her now-suspended extradition bill.

While it remains to be seen whether the initiative can alleviate the current tense social atmosphere, building a dialogue platform is still better than doing nothing, given that the administration had been reluctant to respond to the five demands put forward by protesters.

Earlier, lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun, who is a deputy to the National People’s Congress (NPC), revealed in a radio program that he has learnt that the central government had set early September as a “deadline” for ending the Hong Kong unrest, as Beijing apparently wants order and peace before it celebrates of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic on October 1.

On Sunday, Tien once again said on a Now News television program that if there are no more violent scenes in the city during the coming two weeks or so, he is optimistic that there could be a "surprising" response from the government to some of the five demands of the protesters.

Although NPC standing committee member Tam Yiu-chung and former Basic Law Committee deputy director Elsie Leung Oi-sie said they had never heard of such a “deadline”, Tien has told us that he has been informed by sources about the Beijing instruction.

If the chaos in Hong Kong continues, it will not only have far-reaching implications for the city politically, it will also take a heavy toll on the economy and people's livelihood, Tien noted.

In particular, Tien warned that a sharp decline in the number of mainland visitors traveling here under the Individual Visit Scheme (IVS) could deal a shattering blow to Hong Kong's retail sector. The lawmaker pointed out that some shopping malls that were catering to mainland tourists have already seen their sales volumes plunge a whopping 60 percent.

Commerce Secretary Edward Yau Tang-wah said during an inter-departmental press conference last Friday that the number of inbound tourists was down 50 percent during Aug. 15-20 compared to the same period last year.

Meanwhile, Liu Kezhi, a senior official at China's Ministry of Culture and Tourism, also said last Friday in Beijing that the recent demonstrations and violent activities in Hong Kong have prompted a lot of mainland citizens into abandoning their Hong Kong travel plans.

Even though Liu didn’t say whether Beijing will stop, for the time being, mainland holidaymakers from traveling to Hong Kong, there has been chatter in political circles that Chinese authorities may have suspended the issuance of IVS visas.

Meanwhile, there is also talk that the main reason why the number of mainland visitors is down so dramatically is not because Beijing has halted approvals of IVS visas, but because many mainlanders are unwilling to come to Hong Kong out of fear or anger after the incident at the Hong Kong airport earlier this month, when a mainlander reporter was assaulted by protesters.

Some Hong Kong citizens might be welcoming the plunge in mainland tourists, taking the view that at last they can “reclaim” their living space.

However, the problem is, without the support of the mainland tourists’ spending, the jobs and livelihood of many Hong Kong workers could come under serious threat in the long run.

Some people, as a matter of fact, speculate that the tourism element could be part of Beijing’s plan to erode public support in Hong Kong for the protesters, by letting the people of Hong Kong feel the pinch of an economic downturn.

Trying to stop violence and end chaos in the city by economic means is likely to be a long and painful process, particularly as authorities are refusing to concede to the five demands of the public.

A pro-establishment figure, however, says he is not that pessimistic about the outlook for Hong Kong.

As some top Beijing officials in charge of Hong Kong affairs recently held a gathering in Shenzhen and sought feedback on the Hong Kong situation, it is not entirely impossible that authorities won't respond to the five demands of the Hong Kong public, the person said.

However, concessions may only come up for discussion if the violent protests come to an end and peace and calm returns to Hong Kong society, the source added.

This is an updated version of an article that appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug 24 

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal.