Shoot first, ask questions later

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 January, 2012, 12:00am

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Trust an incident involving shopping, luxury fashion and taking pictures to spark an impromptu political protest in Hong Kong. What has turned into the political storm of the week - specifically for Italian fashion label Dolce & Gabbana, the target of this protest - was instigated by a guard at the store telling off a local photographer.

According to Apple Daily, security staff at the Harbour City shop tried to stop its photographers taking shots there, and told them mainland tourists were allowed to take photos but locals could not. Spurred on by news reports and social media, more than 1,000 people gathered outside the store on Sunday, demanding an apology.

The incident has now been reported internationally, creating unwanted attention for the label, which was not long ago embroiled in a tax controversy in Italy.

Some say the incident and its aftermath has revealed a double standard by Dolce & Gabbana towards the haves and have-nots of society and taps into a deep insecurity among Hongkongers about the social inequality that exists here. We are a society obsessed with high luxury and fashion but where only about 20 per cent of the population earns enough to pay tax.

Professor Chung Kim-wah, director of Polytechnic University's Centre for Social Policies Studies, has reportedly linked this to Hong Kong people's feelings of insecurity about being 'taken over by mainlanders' since they are the 'backbone of our economy'. These are pressing issues, but the facts of what was said remain fuzzy, and one can't help feel that we're making a mountain out of a molehill.

Some reports have evoked the basic freedoms and rights of the Hong Kong public, given that the photographers were not actually in the store but on the street. But there have been more sinister suggestions of racism. Apple Daily, the Chinese-language newspaper that broke the story, alleged the store and the mall had a racist attitude, and suggested there was a rising anti-mainland sentiment amongst locals surrounding the matter.

Dolce & Gabbana's statement, released on Monday, said: 'Controversial statements reported in the Hong Kong press have not been made by Dolce & Gabbana nor its staff, and we strongly reject any racist or derogatory comments. It is regrettable that Dolce & Gabbana has been brought into this matter, but we wish to underline that our company has not taken part in any action aiming at offending the Hong Kong public.'

Falling short of an apology, this has failed to dampen the zeal of some protesters, who have called for another rally outside the store this Sunday. The local blogosphere is awash with comments decrying the brand, with some calling for a boycott or urging it to leave Hong Kong. Others have even vented their own views about 'communist mainlanders' and 'gweilos'.

What is most needed is a sense of perspective. There are plenty more serious social inequalities to deal with ahead of this - a good place to start would be the dire treatment of minorities in the city. It's unlikely the label's Milan head office had anything to do with policies about who may or may not photograph the store. It was most likely a careless, idiotic comment made by one person. We're all watching curiously to see how this plays out.