The stink of a failed government policy

Michael Chugani says the peeing-toddler fracas only points to the bigger problem we must deal with - a failed policy on mainland visitors

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 May, 2014, 4:49pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 May, 2014, 12:01pm

Once again, we've lost the larger plot. Everyone is focusing on the mainland toddler peeing in a Mong Kok street. Commerce Secretary Greg So Kam-leung urged tolerance of mainland habits. Health Secretary Ko Wing-man cautioned that public peeing is illegal. Commentators offered advice ranging from spare nappies to making babies pee into bottles and poop into bags.

Wake up and smell the real stink. The peeing uproar was only a symptomatic whiff of a larger stink. Follow your nose. It'll lead you to the very heart of our governance. That's where it's coming from.

Are Hongkongers really so intolerant as to raise hell over a toddler who couldn't wait to go? Would locals have bothered filming the boy peeing if he hadn't been a mainlander? Why did such a minor incident get so blown out of proportion? All these questions should be put to our policymakers who make policies without factoring in the consequences.

The peeing toddler only provided an excuse for locals to vent fury. The real trigger was a government policy gone awry.

If we didn't have over 40 million mainland visitors every year, overcrowded MTR trains, long lines at Ocean Park, mainlanders buying up all the baby milk powder, and shopping malls catering to the needs of mainlanders rather than locals, no one would have paid much attention to a mainland toddler peeing in public. But we do have over 40 million mainland visitors a year and this is expected to almost double in three years. That is why every incident involving mainlanders becomes an explosive spark.

There is no guarantee a good policy will last forever. It can backfire over time. That is exactly what has happened to the government's policy of opening our doors to mainland tourists to revive our economy after the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome. It worked wonders, but instead of regulating the flow, the government turned the tap full blast without paying any heed to the subsequent flood.

There is now such hostility to mainlanders that even mention of closer integration between Hong Kong and the motherland invariably breeds fears of erosion to our way of life. The recent outcry over the Mandarin Hotel's use of simplified characters is but one example of that.

We have seen many mini-explosions, the peeing toddler being the latest. But, with each one, our policymakers shut their eyes tighter to reality. Their mantra has become numbing: we need mainland visitors, our retail sector depends on them, their tourist dollars create jobs, we should be more tolerant of their culture, and no other place shuts the door to tourists.

Regulating the flow is not the same as shutting the door. No other place shuts the door but they regulate the flow through visa control. In our case, we have over 300 million mainlanders living within an hour's train or ferry ride from us. Many come several times a day to trade in parallel goods. The policy of "the more, the merrier" has soured to a point where animosity has replaced the red carpet. Please wake up and smell the stink, policymakers.

Michael Chugani is a columnist and TV show host.