The latest episode of Hong Kong’s tense relations with mainland China comes in the form of street protests against mainland visitors in the New Territories. Last Sunday was the fourth such protest in five weeks, and saw one hundred HK protesters harassed visitors and clashed with police. The anger was directed against mainland visitors who flood the New Territories, which borders China, to buy things like milk powder, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.
The problem is that these mainland visitors are not tourists, but parallel traders who buy things in bulk in HK and resell these items in the mainland for profit. The demand in the mainland for what may seem like ordinary things is a result of the proliferation of unsafe or fake items in China.
Many of these parallel traders (mainland sources claim that most or half of them are HKers) make repeat trips daily or weekly, since they are from Shenzhen, the mainland city across the border, and usually have multiple-entry HK permits. These people make up the majority of the 47 million mainlanders who visited HK last year, and their shopping excursions result in raised prices, scarcities, and the increase in shop rents by landlords, not to mention the crowding of streets and buses by these traders and their suitcases. In addition, there are more stores catering to them across the New Territories which crowds out regular small businesses that do not sell those kinds of items.
Now, all of this are reasonable causes to be angered at the visitors. HK really needs to curb the numbers of mainland visitors and restricting parallel traders is an obvious step.
But, protesters in this recent spate of street protests are taking things too far, clashing with police and directly confronting mainland visitors.
The latest protest last Sunday saw two very unsavory incidents. An old man was pulling a trolley when suddenly a HK protester ran up and kicked the trolley to the ground. The old man was a Hong Konger. In another incident, a mainland woman with a young child was accosted by several HKers who accused her of being a parallel trader. They argued before the woman, whose child was crying, opened her bag to show she was carrying books and not milk powder or other things traders usually get. Besides the old man, at least one other HK person was mistaken for a mainlander and confronted.
As a result of these ugly incidents, many HK politicians, media and public figures criticized the protesters and rightfully so. Even some of the protesters involved admitted things went too far. Disappointingly, it seems that Western media outlets are not covering these anti-mainlander protests and perhaps it is because it goes against the sympathetic stance they have towards HKers due to last year’s Umbrella Movement. It is not surprising as the idea of HKers openly calling for democracy and squaring off against an authoritarian overlord is admirable and inspiring. But the actions of these recent HK protesters does not bode well for Hong Kong and if HK wants to consider itself a truly open, democratic society, it needs to be able to curb these kinds of prejudices as well.
Online, a nasty war has broken out between HK and mainland netizens with angry posts and insults being spread on social media. On the mainland side, I’ve seen a WeChat post by an acquaintance which called on the mainland to block water, electricity and food transfers to HK in response if HK restricts mainland individual travelers from going to HK. This is a very extreme sentiment and somewhat flawed since HK apparently pays a higher rate for its water, but it is not surprising when one considers what some HKers have been saying and doing, as in these protests.
I feel very strongly about this dark turn that HK protesters are taking which I wrote about recently. I wrote an article for Global Times, and another for a mainland website affiliated with state body. My GT article stresses that HKers are right to be angry at the tremendous amount of mainland parallel traders, but not in harassing and physically confronting them. Also, this behavior is not new but a continuation of some rather ugly incidents since a few years ago, when some HKers openly called mainland tourists “locusts,” which still happens now.
My other article also says that the recent protests are taking things too far, and that restrictions should be implemented on the mainland multiple-entry permits used by parallel traders, but not on mainland visitors using regular individual-travel permits who are often tourists.
HKers like these protesters are starting to lose the moral ground and risk obscuring their legitimate grievances about the excessive numbers of mainland visitors.
I held back on calling the HK protesters extremists or radicals, but in truth, some of them really did act like radical hoodlums. They really need to take things down a notch otherwise it will not be inaccurate to label them as such.