Hate campaigners on the wrong track

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 February, 2012, 12:00am


Construction has begun on the bridge to Macau and Zhuhai, which is costing Hong Kong at least HK$48.5 billion. If the bridge is to pay off in terms of integration with the mainland without prohibitive toll charges, it has to be used by as much traffic as possible. Under the current cross-border vehicle licensing arrangement, however, the Transport and Housing Bureau estimates that the bridge could be used at only half its capacity 20 years after it opens. A pilot scheme to increase cross-border traffic before it opens therefore seems a sensible idea. Sadly, it has triggered another xenophobic outburst towards mainlanders. We may take pride in China's rise; mainland tourists have given our economy a boost. But a reported plan by the Hong Kong and Guangdong governments to allow an additional 350 mainland drivers on our roads has been co-opted by a hate campaign against mainlanders that is being waged in a war of words on the internet.

Critics claim 350 mainlanders are enough to clog our congested roads and add to pollution, and they are concerned about mainlanders driving on the other side of the road and having a reputation for recklessness. Thus, before more mainlanders have even taken to the roads, they have been caught in the crossfire. In this case it is the xenophobes who should step on the brakes. The next phase of the cross-border driving scheme is modest and incremental, with 50 mainland-registered vehicles a day being allowed into Hong Kong for up to seven days - a maximum of 350 vehicles at any one time.

The existing licensing scheme already allows 2,000 mainlanders to drive between Hong Kong and Guangdong. It is, after all, a pilot scheme to test a host of issues, from driver safety to vehicle road worthiness, fuel quality, emission controls and so on. At the end of the day, it will be a licensing issue under the control of our authorities. Parking facilities at the Hong Kong end of the crossing, linked to public transport, could defuse a lot of the concerns.