Shenzhen visas move should be welcomed

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 April, 2009, 12:00am

Restrictions on entry to Hong Kong have meant that freedom of movement between the city and the mainland has been largely one-way traffic - going north - since the handover. It is inconceivable that it could remain that way until the city ceases to be a special administrative region of China in 2047. Greater integration with the mainland is inevitable. But the barriers to entering Hong Kong cannot be pulled down overnight. It makes sense to lower them gradually to ensure that integration proceeds smoothly to the benefit of both sides. The relaxation of entry rules for Shenzhen residents introduced yesterday is a step in that direction.

Queues that formed at exit-entry permit windows in Shenzhen comprised people from among more than 2 million with residency permits who can now apply for year-round multiple-entry permits to visit Hong Kong for up to seven days at a time. In a month, a further 7 million people without residency will be able to apply for permits under the individual visit scheme.

The relaxation is part of a package of initiatives negotiated with Guangdong, including provision for Hong Kong companies to settle trade deals with Guangdong in yuan. While our tourism and retail sectors will welcome the reciprocal flow of business with Shenzhen that the travel relaxation will bring, it is the greater freedom of movement that is most important to integration with the mainland. Hong Kong's future is linked to the economic and social development of the Pearl River Delta region. Our city remains set apart from the mainland by our separate system, including cherished freedoms and the rule of law. Such differences, however, need not prevent Hong Kong and Shenzhen working together and capitalising on greater numbers and diversity. More liberal travel rules that increase the exposure of Shenzhen people to our way of life can be seen as giving them equal treatment, which can only be good for genuine integration leading to growth and prosperity.

Hopefully, in the years to come wider freedom of movement will further enhance integration with Guangdong.