• Sun
  • Sep 21, 2014
  • Updated: 10:09pm
CommentInsight & Opinion

Hong Kong must see beyond the worry of a mainland influx

Bernard Chan says historic forces are at work that we shouldn't ignore

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 June, 2013, 2:50am

Friction between Hong Kong people and mainlanders continues. We hear complaints about the effects of the influx of mainland tourists, especially about crowding and high rents driving local businesses off our streets. There were reports a couple of weeks ago of local young people raising money to publish an ad demanding fewer mainland students at our universities.

This newspaper recently published an article by a mainlander about the discrimination she faced when studying here in the 1990s. For example, if something went missing in the student dormitories, her Hong Kong counterparts assumed that she had stolen it. The arrogance she encountered made her quite hostile to the local culture.

Whatever 'nativists' think, the Hong Kong economy would not exist without the mainland

As part of China but not part of the mainland, Hong Kong is inevitably on the front line of China's emergence in the world. We were the first economy to lose its manufacturing base to the mainland, the first to find big opportunities there as an export location, and the first to see China's new consumer power as mainland shoppers poured in. China's arrival as a big player - economically, politically and socially - is ongoing, and we are part of it.

But let's put this in context. This is not a unique phenomenon. Our grandparents saw it happen with the post-war United States, as the new superpower started sending goods, popular culture and "ugly Americans" around the globe. I can remember the impact of Japanese shoppers here in Hong Kong in the 1980s and 1990s, and the fears of corporate Japan taking over the world.

We even hear some of the same stories. Fifty years ago, American tourists had a reputation for being loud and behaving badly; today, a Chinese hits the headlines for defacing an ancient Egyptian monument. In the 1990s, thieves in Europe targeted Japanese; today, it's the same story with Chinese.

American industry and capitalism seemed unstoppable, and then it lost competitiveness and ended up as a rust belt. Japanese inventiveness and productivity seemed invincible in the field of electronics, but the Finns, then the South Koreans, came along.

Nothing is fixed or assured. The US - not to mention Japan - faces a nightmarish fiscal situation. And much poorer China has to integrate several hundred million workers into urban housing and welfare systems just as a serious demographic imbalance creates a rapidly ageing population. Nobody has an easy ride ahead.

Where does Hong Kong fit in? We are not in a bad position. Our close ties with the mainland give us unique opportunities. At the same time, our autonomy as a special administrative region insulates us from some of the social challenges the mainland faces. But - whatever "nativists" and others think - the Hong Kong economy would not exist without the mainland.

There are nearly 9,000 mainlanders currently at our universities, many at postgraduate level. Many are the cream of a huge pool, so it is easy to see why locals see them as a threat for grades and jobs. At the same time, an international city like Hong Kong cannot be self-sufficient in talent. We should welcome those who can make contributions to our economy.

The influx of tourists is a problem. Ideally, we would curb the numbers to give other sectors back some space to breathe. Indeed, a reduction in economic diversity and opportunity is probably encouraging the protectionist feelings among local students. If local residents' quality of life and economic opportunities are being damaged, there can be no question about it: the government has a duty to act.

However, we should keep this in perspective. The world presents us with unknown future challenges and probably great opportunities. Mainlanders in Hong Kong are a relatively small side-effect of large-scale and historic changes.

Bernard Chan is a member of the Executive Council

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This article is now closed to comments

RMY
I agree with Mr. Bernard Chan's excerpt that Hong Kong must see beyond worry of a mainland influx. Well written and good point of view on all facets.
bolshoi
Complacency and small-mindedness... These are the things Hong Kong can do better without.
iamkityan
" the Hong Kong economy would not exist without the mainland"
I disagree. HK economy would still exist, it just would not be the same as the one today. And there is no way to tell whether that is better or not.
lucifer
"Hong Kong is inevitably on the front line of China's emergence in the world"
Oh yeah...and what if that fails and falls apart...what will happen to Hong Kong?
jandajel
If Hong Kongers are worried about what will happen after 2047, they should be more welcoming to more Mainlanders now.
I had a couple of Mainland educated Ph.D. scientists working for me a couple of years ago, and when I visited them in Chengdu a few months ago I realized how their experiences in Hong Kong really affected them and shaped their outlooks. We went to Qingcheng (sp?) mountain for sightseeing and I was shocked by the 80RMB entrance fee. When I made a comment regarding how I thought this was very expensive and would likely keep out the average local citizen, their response was to the effect that "We love Hong Kong, in Hong Kong the mountains are free, the Chinese government only knows how to take money from the people". Perhaps this is a very simple example of how Hong Kong and Hong Kongers can make China a better place for all of us in the future.
david.schneider.9638
Hong Kong does not welcome talent. It has an undercurrent of protectionism that will make it take a backseat to the Mainland if the "Associations"that engage in protectionism do not change their mindset and welcome foreign talent. In banking, Food and Beverage, Medical, Education areas just ask a foreigner how they are regarded and treated by local Associations or professionals.
lucifer
What a short sighted dweeb. Hong Kong cannot even find enough jobs for its talented graduates and many go looking for jobs in the Mainland. Hong Kong has an expatriate community in the hundreds of thoiusands, all living and working in Hong Kong. Hong Kong works fine without relying on more imported Mainland wortrkers, who bring with them corrputed values, poor educational backgrounds (yes Beida and Tqinghua are second rate) and lack of moral conscience and integrity. Government policies on many economic issues have to change so Hong Kong's own talen can flourish. We do not need more Mainlanders. That serves no purpose.
shouken
I am not even sure this "jpinst" guy was born and raised in Hong Kong or that his parents were native Hongkongers. No need for Mainlanders? You said it buddy!
bolshoi
Your comment is very narrow-minded generalisation of the mainlanders. Frankly, it's bigotry. You and your types are the very reason that Hong Kong is in the state it is in now. Complacency will get you nowhere. Go to Shenzhen you will see what I mean.
 
 
 
 
 

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