Cause of resentment between Hongkongers & mainlanders

Updated: 2012-09-26 06:01

By Alex Liu Chun Chiu(HK Edition)

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Some Hong Kong residents are now carrying on a popular campaign against the activities of cross-border couriers and the disruption of the traders in local people's daily lives. The movement is called "Sheung Shui Retrocession". At the height of the campaign, a few thousand local residents rallied outside the Sheung Shui MTR station, which is the closest to Lo Wu on the boundary with Shenzhen early last week. Some of the placards they carried bore the words "Chinese go back to China", which presumably fueled emotional ire between Hong Kong and mainland residents that was first ignited by the notorious "D&G discrimination fiasco" in January this year.

After a series of protests, which even paralyzed the MTR station for a short while, Hong Kong Customs raided a number of storage facilities the parallel traders use on Sept 19. At least 100 people were arrested while their parallel goods, ranging from baby formula to packaged lemon tea, were confiscated. The cross-border traders are mainly Shenzhen residents, holding multi-entry permits to Hong Kong. These individuals who have been conducting business in violation of their tourist status have been penalized with an entry permit revocation for two years.

It seems that angry Hong Kong residents won this round of "one-upmanship" with the parallel traders from the mainland. The problem however, is not yet resolved and may flare up again in the future.

People from the mainland may regard the locals' resentment as a show of discrimination, born of arrogance or denial, while some observers in Hong Kong have pointed out that, as the city and the mainland develop closer economic ties, the consumer market here changes in stride. Neither side is solely responsible for triggering the conflict, but rather both are to blame.

Take a look at the recent drama in Sheung Shui. The place was a relatively quiet village before cross-border parallel trade turned it into a bustling hub. Referred to as new towns, Sheung Shui and Fanling are zoned as one district out of 18 in Hong Kong. The area had a population of 304,134 in 2011, which means it had the third lowest population density in the city. About 70 percent of its population lives in public housing estates in Fanling-Sheung Shui new towns, while some 40,000 villagers live around them and in the two rural towns of Sha Tau Kok and Ta Kwu Ling.

Thanks to its proximity to Shenzhen, Sheung Shui became the favorite shopping destination of Shenzhen residents. These are people who have lost confidence in mainland food products in recent years, in the wake of numerous news reports about substandard quality and even poisonous foods. Mainland consumers have turned to imported goods sold in Hong Kong, making parallel trading a popular occupation.

When mainland residents started to come here to buy daily necessities instead of souvenirs, the local market soon proved too small for them. The soaring demand has pushed prices to outrageous highs throughout the city but especially in Sheung Shui. There were reports about many new mothers finding themselves unable to buy milk powder for their children in the district because not only are prices too high but the products are always in short supply. That's one of the reasons why some Hong Kong residents "detest" mainlanders, despite the considerable contribution of mainlanders to the local economy.

Hong Kong residents' resentment of their mainland neighbors may have something to do with the chaos mainlanders bring to the market, but it's not enough to explain why things got out of hand and developed into violent conflicts. Based on my observation, some mainlanders' poor manners could be another catalyst. A view has become quite popular among many mainlanders that "without our support Hong Kong's prosperity could have ended by now." It naturally makes many locals angry and gives them a ready excuse to blame mainlanders for any conflict with them, despite the fact that parallel trade is not illegal until one violates the law in some other respect while pursuing it.

When both sides believe they are right and the other side is wrong, clashes tend to be the only way to go. It is fair to say the controversy finds both sides "guilty" one way or another, but mainly because of misunderstanding between them. In the short term, governments on both sides of the boundary have to crack down on illegal parallel trade to ease rising tension between the residents. In the long term, communications with emphasis on mutual understanding and respect are the best way to prevent such unpleasant episodes from happening again.

The author is a current affairs commentator.

(HK Edition 09/26/2012 page3)