Hong Kong remains an international city, a free economy and an open society - cornerstones of our way of life under the one country, two systems concept. The city is open for business, and pleasure, to all comers, subject to any jurisdiction's right to determine who can enter and how long they can stay. So many mainlanders have been allowed to come that a proposed expansion of the multiple-entry permit scheme was recently put on hold to meet concerns about the city's ability to absorb more visitors.
That move reflects a venting of simmering negative sentiment towards mainland visitors, who are blamed for a range of social ills from soaring property prices and rents to packed maternity wards. This issue has fallen into the lap of new chief executive Leung Chun-ying. Ironically, as a previous government's emissary to Beijing, he was instrumental in prising open the door to more mainland tourists to help the city's economy recover from the Sars downturn. Now he is trying to keep the welcome mat in the doorway.
In an exclusive interview with the Post, he said that if mainlanders no longer felt welcome the city would suffer a serious blow. It would certainly not be consistent with our best interests. Increasing integration with the Pearl River Delta region is key to Hong Kong's future development. But the rising profile of mainlanders in our daily lives tests the city's renowned spirit of tolerance and independence. How we meet this challenge is important to our future success.
Leung says we should be mindful of how the mainland views Hong Kong in the light of actions at demonstrations such as displaying the British and old colonial flags. In the context of Hong Kong's robust pluralism, some would see this as political mockery that is not to be taken too seriously. But a country ultra sensitive about territorial sovereignty may not see it that way, nor many patriots. A flag, after all, is a symbol of sovereignty and allegiance. If it symbolised anything else in this case it is the legacy of core values that underpin a free economy and a vibrant civil society. This may reflect a more worrying concern - that the line between the two systems is becoming increasingly blurred. If our values are to be upheld, Leung is right to say the government needs to manage the relationship with the mainland and communicate with Hong Kong people to ease their concerns. That will be the underlying challenge of dealing with livelihood issues.