Waves of visitors inflame tensions between Hong Kong, mainland Chinese citizens

By Jinghzi Li || Contributing Writer

With reporting by Steven Viera || Senior Editor

Rather than warning of a plague of insects, “Locusts” is how many citizens of Hong Kong describe people from mainland China. In recent years, the relationship between Hong Kong and the mainland has deteriorated owing to political tensions, a growth in the number of visas issued to mainlanders, and an increase in the number of so-called anchor-babies born in Hong Kong.

A British territory until 1997, Hong Kong today is a part of the People’s Republic of China and designated as a Special Administrative Region (SAR), granting it several freedoms and privileges not enjoyed by other areas under Chinese jurisdiction. A key restriction, however, is on the extent of democracy allowed in Hong Kong: Beijing has imposed limits on exactly how far Hong Kong can democratize and plays a large role in determining which candidates are allowed to run in local elections, which, in 2014, triggered mass protests known as the Umbrella Revolution.

Tensions run deeper than simply political fault lines. Hong Kongers are distinct from their mainland compatriots on multiple levels, as the city is a melting pot of races and cultures, and Hong Kong residents speak Cantonese as opposed to the primarily Mandarin-speaking mainland.

But these differences don’t stop mainlanders from making the trip to Hong Kong, especially if there is money to be made. In the past 10 years, parallel trading– a practice in which mainlanders come to Hong Kong to buy cheap, tax-free goods, then carry them back to the mainland to sell at a profit– has increased exponentially. As noted by this article in the South China Morning Post, milk powder is a common target of parallel traders, although other consumer and household goods are desirable as well. And these traders are driving down the quantity of these goods while driving up the price for Hong Kongers: In fact, according to the South China Morning Post article, the price of milk powder rose by 33 percent and was unavailable in 90 percent of stores in certain areas of Hong Kong in 2014 because of parallel trading activity.

Parallel trading is due, in part, to a proliferation of visas enabling travel between the mainland and Hong Kong. According to this article by the BBC, the number of annual travelers from the mainland to Hong Kong increased from 2.3 million in 1997 to 54 million in 2013. And many of these visas are multiple-entry, meaning that travelers can re-enter Hong Kong multiple times within a set time period without having to apply for a new visa or travel permit.

Yet another point of contention is the issue of anchor babies born in Hong Kong, a phenomenon that occurs when mainland Chinese women come to Hong Kong to give birth in order to secure the right to live in Hong Kong and raise their child. This article in Hong Kong’s The Standard notes that 31,000 anchor babies were born in Hong Kong in
2012 alone.

While Chinese visitors to Hong Kong point out that it is not illegal to secure a visa, Hong Kongers complain that their home is being overrun by these “locusts,” who place a great strain on their resources, infrastructure, and goods available in stores. To address the rising tensions, government officials have proposed stricter limitations and quotas on the number of visitors allowed– although this may not heal all the damage.

According to this article from CNN, Hong Kongers display greater tension and resentment toward Chinese visitors, with displays of anger ranging from pejorative comments to massive, organized protests.

First-year Jinghzi Li is a contributing writer. Her email is jli3@fandm.edu.

Senior Steven Viera is a senior editor. His email is sviera@fandm.edu.

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