New mainland visitor plan must benefit all
Hong Kong can temporarily heave a sigh of relief after the mainland authorities put on hold their plans to relax travel restrictions to the city. The change of plans stopped a would-be influx of millions of visitors from Shenzhen and other cities.
It is reassuring to see that both sides will set up a mechanism to first assess Hong Kong's capacity to handle the visitors and the impact on people's livelihoods here. Until then, the plan allowing non-permanent residents to apply for multiple-entry permits in the city they live in, instead of applying back in their home province, has been effectively shelved. This eases pressure on our already stretched tourism facilities, and helps cool growing anti-mainland sentiment among the local people.
The fiasco could have been avoided had Hong Kong been better engaged in the process. It is troubling to see that the government was apparently surprised by the unilateral announcement by mainland authorities to relax the travel restrictions in late August. The chief executive swiftly moved to diffuse the tension by taking up the issue with Beijing. The prompt action is to be commended. The quick decision to shelve the plan also shows mainland officials are sensitive and receptive to the sentiments in Hong Kong.
At present, the government does not have any control over the number of mainland visitors. Although growing integration is an irreversible trend after reunification, the controversy underlines the need for more liaison. In the longer term, it is to be hoped that the government will have a bigger role to play in ensuring that any further relaxation is mutually beneficial.
The delay gives officials the opportunity to asses the impact on our prices, transport and other facilities, all of which affect people's livelihoods. But we should avoid shutting out mainland visitors. Our tourism industry thrives on hospitality and openness. It would be wrong if we prided ourselves on being a wonderful place to visit, but turned away travellers from across the border.