Proactive policies will prevent more social unrest in the SAR

Updated: 2015-09-08 09:10

By Ho Lok-Sang(HK Edition)

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News that some "localists" were to organize another protest against parallel traders in Sheung Shui on Sunday came as a shock. Hong Kong is already experiencing depressed retail sales and a number of retail premises are already empty. "To Let" signs can now be seen in Causeway Bay, Mong Kok and elsewhere. Retail sector rents are falling; the prospect of future layoffs in the restaurant, hotel, and retail industries cannot be dismissed. Fang Kang, leader of the Liberal Party, appealed last Saturday on radio to demonstrators to stop their actions. He also pleaded to the government to get tough with people violating the law. The Chairman of the Hong Kong Tourism Board Lam Kin-ngok asked the protesters to consider other people, and refrain from "obtaining happiness from the sorrow of others". He noted that the number of visitors to Hong Kong had fallen by 8.4 percent in July, while overnight visitors had fallen by 9.8 percent. Overnight visitors from the mainland had dropped a whopping 14.7 percent. These visitors are known to be the biggest spenders among tourists.

It is unfortunate that hatred for mainlanders is developing among many young people in Hong Kong. They harbor the strange idea that somehow severing ties with the mainland will be good for Hong Kong. But this really is not an option. The cost would be unbearable. Hong Kong would quickly degenerate into social unrest and economic gloom. Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China and can only prosper as such. Given Hong Kong's history, Beijing has given the city a unique status under the "One Country, Two Systems" framework. The city has just earned the top global ranking in the Human Freedom Index, according to a report from Fraser Institute and other think tanks. The best strategy is to find out what we can do to further the interests of Hong Kong and the country within this framework.

Unfortunately, both the SAR government and the tourist industry have been too greedy for too long. They kept thinking how they could increase the "hardware" such as hotels and other attractions. They have overlooked the discontent brewing as a result of the sheer number of mainland tourists flooding into Hong Kong's busy areas. Many Hong Kong people were also disgruntled that some shops gave local people the cold shoulder in favor of mainland tourists. Because of this, a few radicals were able to mobilize some support and harass Hong Kong's visitors. They were not just against parallel traders. They harbored ill feelings toward both immigrants from the mainland and mainland tourists. They are well organized and persistent in their demands. It is too late to try to convince them that severing ties with the mainland will not do Hong Kong any good. The best we can hope for now is that their numbers do not increase. But if the government had addressed their concerns early enough the situation might well have been different.

The "Recover Sheung Shui Station" movement started their rally against parallel traders for the first time back in September 2012. Their complaint was that the parallel traders had occupied the thoroughfares near Sheung Shui Station doing packing and unpacking in connection with their trade. Their rallies prompted the government to introduce a series of policies aimed at hitting back at the parallel traders' illegal activities. A good question is why must the government wait until the matter gets out of hand before taking action? A more proactive approach, one that anticipates people's concerns and addresses them before the problem becomes too difficult to manage, would be much better for Hong Kong.

Lam's plea for people to consider the situation facing others is great advice. It should be remembered by anyone who claims he or she loves Hong Kong. The parallel traders should certainly realize that occupying public places causes other people much inconvenience. This could become unbearable if they do not limit their activities. The demonstrators certainly would realize that their actions could damage the livelihoods of others; shops could close down; their employees could be laid off. The government should realize that if the activities of parallel traders and the rapidly growing numbers of tourists are not contained and managed, the quality of life for many Hong Kong residents will suffer. People running luxury shops should also realize that Hong Kong people will feel resentful of mainland shoppers if they themselves feel they are being discriminated against.

The government and officials must nurture an attitude of anticipating peoples' reactions and addressing them before it is too late. The government, of course, cannot please everybody. But being proactive in addressing these growing concerns will always be the best way to win popular support.

(HK Edition 09/08/2015 page8)