The individual visit scheme for mainlanders was hailed as an effective measure to boost the recovery of Hong Kong's economy after the severe acute respiratory syndrome crisis in 2003. However, the rapid rise in the number of mainland visitors in recent years has fuelled conflict.
The scheme undoubtedly contributes to our economic development, so it's vital for the government to resolve what is causing this antagonism.
The large number of mainland shoppers has disrupted the daily life of Hong Kong citizens. Prices have gone up, essentials are sometimes out of stock or reserved for mainland visitors, and locals are slighted by some shops that cater to the big spenders from the north. Shopping areas have become more crowded while the behaviour of visitors is not always in line with the norms here.
Some economists say the government should develop the districts closest to the border to cater to the mainland demand for shopping malls and related facilities. That way, mainland visitors could shop in less congested areas, thus alleviating pressure on downtown space. Consequently, the chances of direct conflict would be reduced, while jobs would be created for those living in the border areas.
Part of the conflict also arises from differences in social manners and customs. This relates to forbearance.
Problems can be dealt with by showing the visitors our social norms while persuading Hongkongers to be more accommodating. However, the government has done little, if anything, in this area.
Most visitors are willing to abide by the customs of a place they are visiting. The local authorities of Tokushima prefecture in Japan, for example, issues a guide for foreign residents that visitors would also find useful. The guide, available in simplified Chinese, has been well received. This approach helps visitors understand and respect the host nation, leading to smoother integration.
Apart from helping our visitors, we should also examine what we can do to avoid conflict. For example, the government could publish on its website guidelines to show people how to be more accommodating.
There's certainly room for improvement in our own behaviour in public places; we could refrain from talking loudly on mobile phones and give up seats for the elderly and pregnant women. By the same token, we should encourage Hongkongers to be hospitable and accommodate any cultural differences.
The government needs a publicity campaign to target these issues. This will help cultivate good behaviour in the community, to set an example for our visitors, so they can integrate more harmoniously.
Lau Pak Chuen is a researcher at SD Advocates, an independent think tank with no political affiliation. firstname.lastname@example.org