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  • Dec 19, 2014
  • Updated: 5:54pm
PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 October, 2012, 7:40am

Hong Kong's fear of 'mainlandisation' stems from everyday frustration

Michael Chugani says the backlash at mainlanders is the result of daily frustrations, and should not be dismissed as being churlish


Michael Chugani is a Hong Kong-born American citizen who has worked for many years as a journalist in Hong Kong, the USA and London. Aside from being a South China Morning Post columnist he also hosts ATV’s Newsline show, a radio show and writes for two Chinese-language publications. He has published a number of books on politics which contain English and Chinese versions.

Imagine that the entire US population of 314 million can suddenly reach Manhattan in an hour or so by train, ferry or bus. They start streaming in by the millions with minimum immigration controls. The visitors - with different habits and a different dialect from the locals - buy up everything, from property and iPhones to daily necessities. They overwhelm the city's transport system, shops, streets and even campsites. Some shopping districts are virtually colonised. Squeezed out of their own city, the locals fight back.

Anyone who sees the Hong Kong backlash against the flood of mainlanders in any other way is missing the point. Nearly 300 million mainlanders now qualify for easy entry to Hong Kong. The backlash you're seeing - the mocking of mainlanders as locusts, the waving of British flags, and the fury over parallel goods traders - stems not from jealousy or loathing of mainlanders. It's an overdue eruption of fear and frustration that has festered for too long.

Don't confuse a fear of "mainlandisation" with a yearning for "de-Sinofication" or colonial days. That fear came to the fore when Beijing liaison official Li Gang overshadowed Leung Chun-ying at a hospital after the ferry tragedy. Why else would Hongkongers wonder who was really in charge here?

Quality of life suffers when an overcrowded city with an overstretched infrastructure has to, with no preparation, accommodate a "floating" population of extra millions. Ordinary people suffer when mainlanders buy up almost a quarter of Hong Kong homes. Resentment builds when property tycoons give the visitors priority and when even HSBC switches to simplified characters in some branches. This all breeds frustration, which leads to anger, which then explodes at times. Anyone who can't see this or sees it as "de-Sinofication" must have a poor grasp of the public mood.

Frankly, I am surprised at how many minds are muddled. Even Leung seems to have missed the point in his National Day speech. Of course it is essential and inevitable for Hong Kong to integrate with the mainland as he stressed. Hongkongers know that. But do you integrate by sending over a flood as happened in Tibet? Or do you do it in a sustainable and orderly way?

We need to look at the big picture but also see the little things, like tripping over the trolleys of parallel goods traders who rush to cross the Lo Wu checkpoint, missing MTR trains because mainland visitors block escalators with oversized luggage, having to wait for three trains before being able to board, and the mainland unnecessarily sending salvage boats to aid in the ferry collision rescue.

None of this is a big deal on its own, but it adds up to a ticking time bomb. Every Hongkonger I've asked has expressed frustration. They shake their heads when I ask if they want "de-Sinofication". They just see their city being changed too fast to something they fear. Don't forget most Hongkongers find the mainland system totally at odds with their own core values. We can acknowledge we have a potentially explosive situation or we can fool ourselves that it's just the growing pains of integration.

Michael Chugani is a columnist and TV show host. mickchug@gmail.com


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What about a daily quote for mainland visitors getting into HK?
it's still 35 years to go, you don't want to integrate too quick, don't you?
Also integrate to what?
A more civilized, cultivated and open society?
Poor Hongkongers...
The analogy of ordinary Americans invading New York is a good one, one it's not far fetched. That's exactly what happened to New York in the late 1990s. Wealthy suburbanites took over a once unique city. It's not an uncommon story. Here is the reality: Mainlanders have been the crutch for Hong Kong's economy since the Asian financial crisis in 1997. Hong Kong's manufacturing sector is long gone. Without mainland visitors Hong Kong's economy is in big trouble. Without Hong Kong, mainlanders are doing just fine.
I do not think the problem is with the mainlander "bona-fide" tourists or business people. As the number of cities with 自由行 and other tourist permits allowing them to come to visit Hong Kong as tourists, the quality of tourist coming here have declined. Hong Kong shall control it's borders better to only enable the bona-fide visitors. Perhaps , like the US immigrations, asked how much cash you are bringing with you? or which hotel you are staying? etc and have the right to refuse entry to those with little or no funds with them. This is only natural and would be the case if they visit other countries. Why not implement this for Hong Kong.
i think bona-file tourists and business visitors are good for HK but if they are here to camp our in HK parks and to do little or no spendings , or sleep and use public toilets, it would not be consider "bona-fide" visitors
SCMP, why don't you do your job and write something about Chu Hoi-****, Icarus Wong, Bobo Yip-Lam etc.'s conviction ? That's good food for thought for a unbiased reflection on the state of Hong Kong's judiciary !
There is one all-encompassing solution to Hong Kong's problem: end the HKD peg and let the currency appreciate. Something which Hong Kong's incompetent government will not do as it hits the wealthy asset owners more. Go figure.
One should not bite the hand that feeds it. Hong Kong is being re-priced.
Mainlanders have upped the ante by competing for locally available and trusted high quality goods, driving up the cost of living for Hong Kongers ranging from property to babies nappies. Property developers and shop landlords have been the biggest beneficiaries as the street-scape adapts to mainlander tastes. The middle-class apartment owners use property speculation as one way to cushion against this trend while food inflation edges up, driving expenses climb and school fees soar to keep up with the Chans. I feel dismay for the lower income earners and their families who do not live in public housing caught up in this daily scrum.
For the the hapless rail commuters, local shoppers ignored by customer service staff who enthuse for mainland big-spenders and kids on school buses being converted to tourist coaches, these are the teething problems of integration. There is no gain without pain.
What ever happened to that "can-do" attitude of Hong Kongers? One adult generation survived a merciless Japanese occupation while the following stoically coped with the upheavals of the 1960s & 1970s economic transformation living in spartan accommodation & hillsides. Many Hong Kongers have been in a comfort zone for so long.
It's time to stop whinging and protesting, display our grit, build up our resilience and get out and compete with our mainland cousins. This kitchen's hot but we've got a better wok.
Can do what? Change Hong Kong to Shenzhen in ten years? Is that what we are supposed to be working on? Hk is a different place tom China. We have different values, ethics, culture, language, way of life. You want to give all of that up in the name of what? If you live in HK then you are foolish.
Chugani writes: "Imagine that the entire US population of 314 million can suddenly reach Manhattan in an hour or so by train, ferry or bus. They start streaming in by the millions with minimum immigration controls." That's exactly the point! There are no immigration controls to enter NYC because the USA is one country, where entry to NYC for tourism or even residence and employment is barrier free. And rightly so! It would be illegal, even unconstitutional, for NYC to discriminate against USA citizens from other places. Nor is such discrimination lawful in Canada, where one province is not permitted to exclude Canadians residing in other parts of the country. And within the European Union, efforts are ongoing to reduce barriers to mobility for citizens of Member States. The HKSAR enjoys autonomy by virtue of the 1997 Basic Law which is ordinary legislation of the National People's Congress. There are many practical reasons to maintain border controls between the HKSAR and the Mainland. But, those temporary border controls are nothing of which to be particularly proud. Nor do they point to HK's inevitable long-term future as a fully-integrated Chinese metropolis. In terms of political assurances, or embodied in treaty or legislation, has there ever been a PRC commitment to keep border controls beyond the 2047 expiry of the Basic Law? Far better to implement programs for gradual integration than to stubbornly laud discrimination against Chinese citizens from the Mainland.
Why is that? If it works better separately, why does it need to be integrated. You are forgetting so many unresolved issues of property rights, law, freedoms of speak and religion….all of these are different than on the Mainland…what are you going to do about it? Will the people with $200 million dollar houses on the peak have to give them to the Central government and rent them back for 50 years? Will contracts and legal obligations continue to be enforced? I figure around 2030 these issues are going to start affecting HK's economy. What happens after 2047 is anybody's guess…but leaving HK alone is probably the better option. Its a tiny place with a tiny population…..is it worth making a mess out of it. Keep n mind the only reason its a separate SAR now is because there was no other workable solution at the time the Joint Declaration was negotiated.
This frustration is made worse by the irony that Hong Kong's economy also depends on these Mainland visitors - it's the feeling of being caught between a rock and a hard place that makes many HK-ers a sense of despair.




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