Bigotry that should be made a crime

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 February, 2012, 12:00am


Nothing good ever comes from one group of people dehumanising another by referring to them as animals. At the least, dislike is created and in extreme cases it leads to genocide, as in Nazi Germany and Rwanda. The campaign against mainlanders who come to Hong Kong has moved to a new level with the placement of an advertisement in a newspaper depicting them as locusts. It is therefore time for the government to treat the matter seriously. This is bordering on inciting racial hatred.

Chinese people are intrinsically linked through ethnicity and culture, yet some Hongkongers look down on their mainland cousins, seeing them as backward and uncouth. The growing spending power of visitors from across the border has been watched with increasing jealousy. Objections have also risen about the wave of women arriving to give birth, their babies getting automatic permanent residency. And residents are upset at being priced out of the property market by cross-border speculators. Protests last month over a shortage of services for local mothers-to-be, and picket lines outside a branch of the Dolce & Gabbana store in Tsim Sha Tsui after locals were allegedly banned from taking photographs, were perhaps inevitable.

But the widely circulated video of a row between MTR passengers and mainlanders after a child violated rules by eating on a train put a new complexion on matters. It showed for millions of viewers on both sides of the border just how deep the dislike runs. Peking University professor Kong Qingdong raised tensions by saying many Hong Kong people were 'bastards, dogs and thieves' and 'the running dogs of the British'. That outburst spawned another much viewed video in which mainlanders were portrayed as locusts, swarming on our city and picking it bare while being rude and unsanitary.

Hong Kong's Racial Discrimination Ordinance, which makes racial discrimination, harassment and vilification unlawful, does not cover people from the mainland. Authorities noted during drafting that mainlanders 'sometimes face discrimination by Hong Kong's Chinese majority', but argued that this was social, not racial, and should therefore not be covered. While videos and ads may incite hatred, there is nothing illegal about them being shown. But Hong Kong is a signatory to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racism, which defines racial discrimination as being based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin. To exclude mainland people from laws against discrimination on technical grounds was wrong.

There is a danger of circumstances spinning out of control. The government cannot sit by and do nothing. While espousing tolerance, it has to take steps to ensure inciting hatred is a punishable crime.