• Tue
  • Sep 23, 2014
  • Updated: 2:39pm
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 February, 2013, 2:57am

Hong Kong must manage mainland visitor flood before a bust-up occurs

Michael Chugani says we must find more sensible ways to cope with the flood of mainland visitors before a bust-up does us real harm

BIO

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.
 

Another fire has been put out. We have to pay a heavy price every time we do that. This time, the price was particularly high. We had to become the only society worldwide that restricts outbound travellers to two tins of baby milk powder. It's almost comical. We're taking about milk powder, for goodness' sake, not gold bars or cash-stuffed suitcases.

This self-inflicted stab into our free market principle was not the only price we paid. Train passengers now face even tighter restrictions on the size and weight of what they take on board. We had to pacify local mothers furious with parallel goods traders for draining our supply of baby milk powder to sell on the mainland for huge profits.

Before this, we had to put out the fire of rich mainlanders paying big bucks to buy property here, making homes unaffordable for locals. Then, too, we had to interfere with the free market with tough measures to cool property prices.

And don't forget the fury of local mothers who had to compete for hospital beds with mainland pregnant women giving birth here so their babies could qualify for Hong Kong residency. Hundreds of thousands of such babies were born before Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying blocked mainland women from giving birth here.

But thousands of Hong Kong-born mainland children have now reached school age and are competing with local kids for scarce places at border town schools. Local parents demand priority for their children. Each of the fires we have had further inflamed anti-mainland sentiments.

I have long banged my head against the wall warning that we need to move beyond political sensitivities and admit we have a ticking time bomb. We've had tensions with mainlanders over hospital beds, high property prices, parallel goods traders, baby milk powder, inflation and school places. What next? Crowded roads, MTR seats, or more shopping areas being "colonised" by them? It doesn't sound all that far-fetched if we remember the flare-ups over such minor things as mainlanders eating in MTR trains and restaurants changing their menus to simplified Chinese.

Policymakers have so far succumbed to political correctness by pretending that sticking band-aids on every flare-up will defuse the bomb. But it just delays the explosion. If estimates are correct, mainland visitors to Hong Kong will rise from the current 35 million to 50 million a year by 2015, or about four million a month. Is there a band-aid big enough to hide the tensions this will most likely spark?

Everything has a breaking point. Do we kid ourselves that we'll never reach that point, or dare we ask the tough questions that need to be asked? How many more mainland tourists can we handle or actually need? Should we slow the flow until we can handle more? Who benefits from the influx aside from retailers? Is it worth trading our way of life - and quality of life - to boost tourist dollars? Does integration simply mean being swamped by mainland visitors? Surely, these are sensible, rather than xenophobic, questions?

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

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This article is now closed to comments

likingming
Learn from Macau where it is one-fifth the size and one-tenth the population of HK. And still it could cope with 1.4billions chinese properly.
scmpbeijing2
this is why taiwan will never voluntarily agree to "return to the motherland". Hong Kong is the guinea pig of what happens when the mainland takes over. Everything from then on is a continual erosion of rights and quality of life.
pgrath1
I am sure Hong Kong people can figure out how to import more milk-powder to sell to mainlanders.
ssslmcs01
My question is, who is benefiting from these Chinese visitors?
Retailers? Though sales may have gone up for some retailers, who is benefiting. The workers are busier than ever dealing with some of the rudest people you can imagine. But the salaries sure haven't kept up with the cost of living. $28-$30 per hour doesn't go very far these days. Then the actual retailers are paying more for less when it comes to retail space.
Then there is the rest of us who pay more for food, housing, transportation and everything else. So who have these visitors benefited? The 1% and a few government officials who have won some brownie points with the communists.
It is time to reset the quota to family visitors and groups and about 5000 individual travelers a day. Hong Kong people want an affordable place for Hong Kong people and we don't want to be the corrupt official money laundering machine for China.
aplucky1
why is everyone commenting seems to have lost their logic cells in their brains
these are NOT TOURISTS
99% are financial vultures
from property to smuggling goods accross the border
this is a tiny terrritory under siege by over a billion greedy nose pickers from the north
chaz_hen
Chugani supporting free markets in this rant despite his rent continually going up, forcing him to move into a cave somewhere on an uninhabited island between HK and 蛇口?
whymak
Good! You and Mr. Chugani are discussing just two or three symptoms. But the correct diagnosis of our ailment is not easy, let alone finding the right dosage of a toxic medication that won't harm us. Of course, the correct treatment will make the symptoms disappear in time.
Now read the opinions of the other commentators - hateful whiners - here. Their uniform deranged symptom is quite different from ours. It's a shrill nonstop scream, "Them against us, Them against us." They have come into an emergency room abusing doctors and nurses, demanding exorcism of this phantom Them but not medical treatment. Maybe only Cardinal Zen is up to this task.
Indeed, they need to take a detour to Marquis de Sade Hospital, where they would be straitjacketed and recharged daily with a brainwashing diet to energize their self-hate chants. Staff there is well trained by the University of Yellow Journalism, Church of Democratic Catholicism and Conscience of Hong Kong Institute.
To be sure, their disease is incurable. But the treatment prescribed here will make them feel better.
PS This note is inspired by the Chinese character for rabid, but not 狂人日記.
ykbc
Hong Kong people have every right to want their city not to be turned into a tourist destination swamped by tourists, whether they come from communist China, hegemonic America or wherever. Clashes between mainland tourists and local people have more than one cause, though a deep distrust of communism is a prominent one.
anson
All countries have the same opportunities to attract short term visitors from other parts of the country as tourists. But it is only in Hong Kong that they are treated as some type of foreign invasion. Look beyond Hong Kong and you will see week-end breaks to London, Paris or Washington advertised to their own citizens. Stop thinking of Hong Kong as a stand-alone city separate from the country and fourmulate real plans for accepting and profiting from our attractions.
It is ironic that it is only because China is considered to be Communist country that our freedom loving Hong Kongers could consider proposing greater restrictions on movement. Could you honestly imagine the outcry should the US restrict the number of visitors to New York or if London was to say only a certain number of people from the North of England were to be allowed to visit at one time? How's about Beijing set up a quota for the number of Hong Kong people allowed to visit the mainland at any one time?
Our city and its leaders, as did numerous other cities throughout the world, promoted internal tourism as a means of boosting a flagging economy. The fault for this chaos lies not with visitors from other parts of China, but from successive HK Governments who have just uttered the invitation but not provided the necessary tourist infrastructure.
My hope for the New Year of the Snake is that those, such as aplucky1, who constantly display xenophobia towards other Chinese would leave or stay silent.
whymak
"Could you honestly imagine the outcry should the US restrict the number of visitors to New York or if London was to say only a certain number of people from the North of England were to be allowed to visit at one time? " Yes, yes, yes, but without the part about the outcry. This is the wonder of democracy. If enough people agree, then it must be the TRUTH.
Right this moment the Obama administration is looking for some legal justification to assassinate its own citizens who are alleged terrorists with drones and other means. What about the massive killings -- hundreds of thousands, destruction of power plants, hospitals based on alleged, but nonexistent, weapons of mass destruction by the two most democratic countries, the US and the UK? Do I hear any outcry?
What if Beijing were doing the same with Hong Kong subversives? Aren't we making mountains out of molehills with the territorial disputes in Yellow Sea and South China Sea?
Let us put Hong Kong problems in the proper perspective.

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