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PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 September, 2012, 7:14am

HK must keep an open mind on a more open border

Peter Kammerer says opening our door wider to mainland visitors is to be welcomed, once we look past the bigoted claims

Call Hong Kong an international city? The small-town mentality of some people is so Lilliputian that there are times when I have my doubts. As with the relaxing of entry permits for non-residents of six mainland cities, Shenzhen among them. The cry from the narrow-minded among us is spine-chilling: Our wonderful, special city is about to be despoiled and made unliveable by millions of second- or even third-rate no-hopers.

Dare I say that I have heard the same scaremongering as long as I have lived here. Back in the 1980s, the description applied to anyone living north of the Shenzhen River. Mainlanders were our poor cousins and backward to boot; if allowed to come to Hong Kong, they were likely to work illegally, deceive and steal. Whenever I went to Guangdong and beyond, I certainly found a less glitzy world, but its people were friendly, decent and honest.

Move forward two-and-a-half decades and mainland Chinese cannot be looked down on. Their spending power is the reason our economy is healthy. If we hadn't started opening our doors wide to them in the wake of the Sars outbreak in 2003, Hong Kong would be struggling for direction and in danger of decline. Yet, the voices of derision continue, criticising values, cleanliness, politeness and even fashion sense.

Now, if all that wasn't enough, the detractors say an even worse class of locust is about to descend. The new rules taking effect this month allow Shenzhen's 4.1 million non-permanent residents to get multi-entry permits without having to go to their home provinces to apply. About 16 million more in Guangzhou, Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing and Tianjin will be eligible for single-entry permits. What sets them apart from present mainland tourists is they are likely to be factory workers and less well-heeled - and, in the eyes of objectors, prone to work illegally, deceive and steal.

To make matters worse, they will want to do their everyday shopping here, which will affect the price and availability of daily necessities. Our public transport will be jam-packed and streets made unsanitary. It's all so familiar - this is what was said when mainlanders first began arriving in numbers.

I wonder how aware the people making these claims are that Hong Kong allows visa-free entry for lengthy periods to visitors from far less wealthy places. Entry of up to three months is given to tourists from Gambia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and Zimbabwe, which have per capita incomes far below the mainland's. If those so worried are to be believed, there is surely a greater risk of citizens from these countries causing trouble. Yet there are no calls for quota or monitoring systems.

Those so fearful of mainland hordes seem to believe that Hong Kong is a nirvana, a place so special that it has to be protected. I hate to break it to them, but beyond our public transport system, country parks and compactness, it doesn't offer much that can't be found elsewhere. Globalisation means the world also has a wide range and choice. Not only that, criminals aside, it is not in our interests to keep out anyone wanting to spend money or do business. That's what being an international city is about.

Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post


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This article is now closed to comments

Kevin Lau
In the past few years, the number of visitors from mainland is surging. The vast of mainland visitors is a two side blade for Hong Kong. As we known, the visitors bring extensive economic benefit to local business sectors, such as retail, catering and jewelry sector. It is not doubt, the influx of visitors have been boosting and stabilizing Hong Kong’s economy among the global financial turmoil.
However, some side effects have been arising from the influx of visitors. As we known, the mainland visitors have huge demand for commodities, jewelries and luxury goods. Definitely, they bring significant profit to the businessmen. On the contrary, they bring plague to the locals. It is due to their huge demand of commodities, jewelries and luxury goods have triggered a rising inflation to the locals. The rising inflation is the main factor for undermining the living standard of locals. Moreover, the influx of visitor has stretched Hong Kong's infrastructure and resources. The locals have to vie with the mainland visitors for infrastructures and resources. For instance, the local residents of Sheung Shui have to vie with the visitors for commodities and transport. Inevitably, the locals deem the mainland visitors as competitors, even worse as invaders.
Undoubtedly, our city needs the mainland visitors to boost economy. However, our government has to strike a balance between economic benefit and the locals’ living. HongKongers need to keep an open eye on a more open border.
i dont want to dispute the fact that we have some resources issues. my Mom was not well and had to get medical attention immediately. her docter told her that all private hospitals on the HK island were full. he told us to go to QM. so she did spend a few days at QM, which was cheap. I pass by Causeway Bay a few times a day and it is always crowded. Having said that, I think we have to have an open mind on mainland tourists. For a reference, London has 30 million visitors a year, HK has 42 milion, of which 28 million are from Mainland [2011 stat].
Mr. Krammerer. You probably live in the mid-levels or somewhere where you have plenty of space to walk in nearby vicinity with cleaner air to breathe.
Most of us middle class Hong Kongers are now subject to living in over crowded areas where we have to wait 30 minutes in line at a local supermarket. We DO NOT deny that the Chinese spending power has helped our economy. But there has to be a balance. Now our limits are just being crossed. I have resided here for 31 years, and I have personally witnessed the decline in the quality of life. I cannot afford to buy a home and I am an investment banking professional. Something is really wrong here.
Mr Kammerer: Hong Kong is indeed a special place. Other than Macau, it is the only PRC district where open dissent is tolerated. This means misguided policies in education and taxation (remember Henry Tang's attempt at introducing a GST?) can be stopped by public protests. Try that in Shenzhen.
Also, the PRC govt has proven ineffective at regulating safety in basic food-products such as milk powder. This has created a skewed cross-border economy which has had a negative effect on Hong Kong's public transport and immigration infrastructure.
Comparing the mainland residents of today with those you met in the 1980s is a straw-man argument. Much of China has changed drastically since then, especially in the areas of wealth and consumerism.
Your argument does not hold up to critical analysis, but more to the point, I suggest you speak with some residents of Sheng Shui about what they witness on a daily basis, how it affects their lives, and how they feel about the HK govt's (now scrapped) scheme on Shenzhen's 4.1 million non-permanent residents being allowed multi-entry permits to the HKSAR.
absolutely spot on
I think the author has missed the point. Think of Hong Kong as the house you live in. Would you keep an "open mind" if 6 guys from the countryside suddenly moved in with you? Hong Kong is international for many, but for the majority... It's "local"... It's "HOME".
Let it sink in before writing another article of absolute drivel.
I guess if this house is a sub-divided flat and is occupied by a "phoenix", then having an open mind would be pretty good for business, so good that medical attention would be needed. And also, we'd be the "phoenix"...
Peter, the reason why *they* the mainlanders from nearby Guangdong has to be kept at bay in regulated numbers is because of the "cultural similarities" yet extreme "quality disparity" between the two locations: Hong Kong and nearby mainland. Hong Kong welcomes educated mainlanders of quality from other provinces but not these unregulated from nearby that swarm in in millions.Hong Kong's unique culture and system is being infiltrated and worn down by the *mass* numbers of nearby province mainland tourists, and they come in MASSES, i don't mind if they come and are polite but they are obnoxious (and brainwashed by mainland censorship), alot of strain on the old ways of Hong Kong that are already heavily eroded.
Hong Kong is an international city, you are right, not an *intra-national* city. We should get more international tourists to come, now it's like 80% of the tourists are from mainlands and only 20% are from international. Just compare the customer demographs of TST's Louis Vuitton shop 10 years ago and today: see the change? Same scenario as for our education's international students demographs, counts almost 90% of foreign students are students from China, only a minor is really from "the outside world", compare this to Singapore and South Korea, our education system and our city is like going the wrong direction:
Hong Kong has become China's new top internal "intra-national" city rather than the world's *international city* like the old days.
I feel very puzzled to the terms "international" and"intra-national", and someone prefers International visitors more than those from mainlands. It smells like racism, against Mainlander.
Most of HK citizens would be very glad to have more International visitors spending money here and create more job opportunities. However, we have to face the reality - any particular attractions in HK for International tourists (who have a lot of choices)?
I hate to put "ideology" ahead of "reality". We have to develop and build on solid grounds, which must be real.
If you think Hong Kong has boomed since 2003 because we allow a few people to come on the train, you have no understanding of Hong Kong's economy, our role in promoting the PRC economic recovery since 1979 nor or our economic history. Clappity clappity clap trap
Poorly thought out article; clearly those from the African countries mentioned have to spend north of US$1000 to get here whereas for those from Shenzhen it is a US$4 train ticket.
That factor alone is a sift to remove some of those that should not be entering.
The main thing is HK is already excessively crowded and this will not help. Being born and raised in this wonderful city, it has gone from crowded to now TOO crowded.
While I agreed mostly with the writer's comment, I wish to point out that HK citizens' reaction is not without reasons. The main issue is that HK citizens has to compete with the money-spending visitors for limited resources and spaces. HK Government should have built adequate large shopping malls, rails, hospitals, offices, points of attractions, etc to accommodate the anticipated huge demand years ago. It simply does not make sense to cope with the new demand with existing spaces and facilities. New areas in New Territories should have developed to provide services to the visitors. This could also provide jobs for people in the area, and alleviate traffic jam in Central and Kowloon.
Visitors from Gambia, Kenya, and Zimbabwe simply don't empty shelves of milk-powders plus other daily necessities like the mainlanders on such a systematic scale ( check it out yourself ).
Our over-reliance on the Chinese visitors also stops us from innovating the way out of retail and tourism. Hong Kong doesn't have a healthy composition of GDP and more traffic is only going to worsen that.
I am sorry for some recalcitrant hongkongers who think that mainlanders should not visit Hong Kong but Hongkoners can enter China at any time and in the same conditions that mainlanders, in taxes, use of public education for their children and so on.
Hong KOng kids cannot enter schools in the mainland without paying, even if they were born their. Because they have their parents HKID status, they must pay for all services received in the mainland.
"I hate to break it to them, but beyond our public transport system, country parks and compactness, it doesn't offer much that can't be found elsewhere."
Mr Kammerer, I think the rest of what we can offer, as you say, public transport system and country parks, will no longer be available to local people. Have you been prevented from alighting from the MTR train because a gaggle of Mainland tourists rush in before the passengers inside the cart can step out? Have you, for instance, seen Mainland mothers telling their children to pee in the flowerbed in the Statute Square? Have you been turned away from government camping sites on Lantau Island and Sai Kung because they are fully booked by some Mainland tourists who choose not to stay in a hotel during their visit?
It's not about whether the potential Mainland visitors are wealthy to sprinkle money on brand name bags. It is more about what they do to our city and disrupt our lives.
There are 7 million people that live in HK.
There are now 4.1 million people that have permits to visit HK with very little controls.
That's 58% more people that will actually *be* in HK. In a month. Can you do a little math? I believe that's taught in schools, National Education notwithstanding?
Mr. Kammerer, I hope that you're aware of the distance and the money required to travel from "far less wealthy" countries such as Gambia, Kenya etc. Comparing tourists from those countries and mainland tourists is like comparing apples to jay birds. Also, I am sure you frequent places like Sheung Shui and Yuen Long. Are you aware, then, of the frequent shortages of baby formula and other daily necessities at local pharmacies in those areas, making it very difficult for local mothers to meet basic needs of their family? And let's not talk about the price increase in the last five years. You must be lying to yourself if you think there's not much offered other than our public transport, parks and "compactness". Cleanliness? Safety? Consumer protection? One of the least corrupt government in Asia? Genuine products? Less spits in our public transport? Less snot flying about? Considerate, sensible, and civilized general public? Oh and what else... Freedom of speech? No arbitrary detention? Freedom of assembly? Are you on crack?
Close to 70 per cent of tourists to Hong Kong now come from the mainland, and they are just crowding out tourists from other places because the only direction for room rates now is up and up. How many more tourists from the mainland can this city really accommodate? A good mix of tourists from everywhere was an invaluable attraction in itself, which has long gone. What a pity!
Besides the one-sided declaration of opening up the 4.1 million non SZ residents to visit HK, we also need to be mindful of the free traffic flow initiative pushed through by D. Tsang's Gov't. In addition to congestion and so called driving mannerism differences, has the Gov't, EPA or Traffic Department examined the potentially hazardous air pollution from different (lower?) grades of gasoline from China.
Open mind doesn't mean total open border. I think the missing point here is the focus on the control. Indeed locals outcry this sudden announcement.
We do have to think about how the pseudo melting of Mainland chinese and HK chinese have to be done.
In the current situation, birth by Mainlanders is quickly reaching the 40-50% of HK total births. This not only outpace the current clinical system but create a chain reaction in the education, local services, etc.
And just allowing any Shenzhen non permanent resident to pass will only the statistic to increase.
What I have noticed in few trip to Guangzhou in comparison to Shenzhen is that there are way more "locals" meaning people who are GZ-people and you feel quite good as mentioned.
And the difference with Shenzhen is there are lot of "non local" people coming from different places and considering Shenzhen as US during the gold rush period. No need to explain how Hong-Kong looks to their eyes and it will, if not already is, their City of Gold.
That was for the people most HKese look down, but let's do not forget about the wealthier one who indeed help the economy. I think their benefit is going directly to the government and private companies (Property and bank industries among others) and people anger comes from the fact we don't see the benefits they brought and can only see that few enjoy it. That's where the biggest part of HK population is claiming public housing and so on.
Too bad these comments are limited ..
Hong Kong provincialism is another Hong Kong shame!
very informative.
Peter is entitled to express his view just as other Hongkongers are entitled to express our views.
-Firstly I fail to see how people expressing our concerns is taking away from us being an international city.
-If you look at the complaints that Hong Kong people have against large numbers of Chinese visitors flooding our city, they are all legit and verified.
-Stating that "they" are honest, seems very extreme. My wife is from China, after we first got married and she came to Hong Kong on a 90 day permit, we required three chops for a new permit, each chop comes with a price, no money and you will get excuses like come back next week the senior officer is on vacation, etc, etc.
-And as for the "mainlanders" spending money in Hong Kong to save us from the danger of decline. I beg to differ. Much of the money coming here is from questionable origin. For those who are using Hong Kong to get their money of questionable origin out of China, price is no object. That is why the cost of housing has gone beyond the reach of the average Hongkonger, not to mention the cost of everything else. But the ones serving these visitors get paid as low as $28 per hour. Sounds like they really benefited us doesn't it?
-Lastly, the comparison of length of stay for visitors from other countries. How many visitors arrive in Hong Kong every day from Kenya, Tanzania or any of the other countries Peter mentioned? How many arrive from China already, even before this new visa scheme?
So by any chance your wife dumped you once she reached to HK for "dishonest" reason?
I have met plenty of poor dirty Chinese farmers who are VERY HONEST, they are so honest I do feel sorry for them that they have to be bullied and push around whether in not as civilized Mainland China & in this so called "international" city which claims to be much better than the North and equipped with what the North is lacking a Civilized society. I consider them much more than say the cold calling that I received from HK's financial institutions trying to convince me to borrow money when I don't need to, or our ridiculous property developments.
"Beyond our public transport system, country parks and compactness, it doesn't offer much that can't be found elsewhere". You have lived in Hong Kong since the 1980s and you cannot see anything else but this ? You've been wasting your time !
Really it seems you haven't comprehended the issue beyond the idealogical/ethical/moral high ground. It's easy to blame the outcry on descrimination from your position, just criticize and walk away. Have you ever looked at the issue from an urban planning perspective, population management perspective? It's the city planning officials that have to deal with the huge influx of visitors, not blog commentators. Lets face it, this city's infrastructure can only hold so many people. Streets and transport are already over crowded, inflation is sky high, hospitals are packed with mainland mothers, and low-average income citizens are being marginalized. Those are the real reasons the Leung government is also against increasing the quota. The government can't fix most of these issues overnight, IMO they could build special districts in New Territories to accommodate all the tourists, but that would take years to complete. Hong Kong is a unique city where land is scarce and many mainlanders want to come down to visit/live. No where in the world is the situation more unique. Don't blame it on the people, we are just human beings that have to deal with one of the most crowded cities in the world. It's time to take a look at the real issues.
Last Sunday, TVB Pearl News, just minutes apart, did show two reports. One dealing with the mainland problem and the postponement of the single-entry permit for Shenzhen residents without Hukou, the second one about efforts by Hong Kong's tourist association to attract more visitors from Muslim countries. At the end of the second report came a nice graphic, why they are so welcome: They spend much more money while they are here, compared to the mainland tourists, even more than tourists from Europe.
I have lived equally long in Hong Kong and in China in the last 29 years, I consider myself to be a little bit knowledgeable. The attitude towards people from across the border hasn't changed much in that time in Hong Kong, I regret to say. When I lived in North Point in 1997/ 1998 I witnessed repeatedly, that visitors from the mainland were not served in restaurants when they wanted to pay with RMB. I myself was refused service as well, in addition to be verbally abused, after I changed money with an elderly couple who only spoke Mandarin and couldn't understand what they were yelled at in Cantonese. In the 15 years which have passed since then, not much has changed, unfortunately.
You, sir, are even more narrow-minded than the victims of your slandering. Who are you to judge the Hong Kong people without even trying to comprehend the full picture first?
It's never about how wealthy these people are, therefore your argument based on "far less wealthy tourists" is completely useless. It's more about their behavior, their complete oblivion of people around them, it's their habit of abusing public systems, ESPECIALLY those wealthy ones who think their money can buy them everything, it's all of those things that make us feel ashamed of being Chinese ourselves.
I am fully aware that I am guilty of making a generalization here, but when the vast majority of a population is like that, there is no alternative to generalize unless you can come up with a good, effective, and practical system to weed out the bad from the good.
If you, my good sir, are so open-minded and receptive, why don't you persuade the great government of your place of origin to open up your borders to the billion and let them pass freely?
"Who are you to judge the Hong Kong people without even trying to comprehend the full picture first?"
Who are you to judge the all Mainland people without even trying to comprehend the full picture first? Granted a lot of them don't follow rules but I personally have known many who are law abiding and people of integrity.
The issue shouldn't be about the open border but about how to control population and resources and that would apply to visitors from all countries not just from Shenzhen.
"It's never about how wealthy these people are"
Back in 1996 when I was still in middle school, the complaint was they (Mainlanders) will come and take all of our money because they are poor, not because of their bad habits/attitude. Their country pumpkin habits was used as a joke more than as a reason to reject them, the main reason have always been because they were poor until recently some coming from the North is not Filthy poor but Filthy rich. Never?
Perhaps Ironically some of the bad habits Mainlander's have right now can be traced back to how some HK, Taiwanese & Singaporean people behave in Mainland when it was just open and dirt poor, eg flaunting wealth in public. Now unfortunately they learned and took it to an whole other level.
great article! I couldn't agree more. been here 17 years and all I ever and still hear among hongkongers, whether at work, malls, streets, mtr, restaurants etc is constant complaining, and most dissatisfaction towards mainlanders. and unfortunately, it's the vast majority who feels this way. I believe underachievers behave this way. so sorry, so sad.
The Stranger
There are obvious problems associated with having so many mainland tourists crossing the border. I crossed the Lohu border 4 weeks ago, coming back to HK - middle of a weekday - when I thought there would not be too many people. OMG, the lines were probably half a km long! Luckily the line for foreigners was much shorter, but it still took an hour to cross. But it got worse. the cheapest hotels available (other than brothels and Chunk King Mansions was US$235 a night. That was 30 mins from central. They did not even have bottled water in the tiny room! I won't even bother with the huge problem of land prices being driven up, and the working poor/unemployed/old (the vast majority of HKers) being unable to afford to rent even a shid-hole in the NT.
I have lived in Shanghai and Hong Kong for long period of time as well as being born in Hong Kong. It is sad the racist attitude that is underlying in some of the comments. Tourism beside banking is our top industry segment. Like it or hate it, this a fact. The opening up of the border as pointed out did help our economy after SARS.
I do agree that we need to build up the infrastructure which is what the government trying to do (although in a slower pace than I would like). If we are to be a international city we need to welcome visitors but figure out a way how to handle it.


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