China's Vice-Premier Wang Yang in May 2013 acknowledged that "uncivilised behaviour" by its citizens abroad was harming the country's image. He cited "talking loudly in public places, jaywalking, spitting and wilfully carving characters on items in scenic zones". Destination countries have been easing visa restrictions to attract more tourists from China, but reports have emerged of complaints about etiquette.
Protests targeting mainland Chinese visitors put Hong Kong to shame
Yet another demonstration against mainlanders has ended in scuffles. Unlike the protests targeting parallel-goods traders in Sheung Shui last year, mainland tourists at high-end shops were the victims this time. The participants in Sunday's protest hurled abuse at Putonghua-speaking shoppers on Canton Road in Tsim Sha Tsui and clashed with activists who countered with a campaign of welcome for the visitors. Such uncivilised behaviour is to be condemned. Not only does it deviate from Hong Kong's culture of peaceful demonstration, it also adds to cross-border tension, undermines business and tarnishes the city's image.
The protesters were upset by the government's claim that the city could cope with an annual 100 million visitors, the majority of them mainlanders, by 2030. While their frustration is probably shared by many locals who feel the city is already overrun by visitors, few would condone taking things to such extremes. The protesters insulted the shoppers as locusts from Shina - a word with Sanskrit roots that has gained a derogatory meaning due to its usage during Japan's aggression in the second world war.
Such hate speech would be considered unlawful elsewhere. Unfortunately, this is not the case in Hong Kong. Although discrimination on the grounds of race is already outlawed here, such remarks might not count, because the locals and mainlanders are both Chinese. This is not to suggest the government should go further to tighten the law. The protesters are in the minority. The strong response from different sectors shows the protest is not endorsed by the community. It was also denounced by three government ministers yesterday.
That said, the incident speaks volumes for the negative feelings some locals have towards mainlanders. It would be dangerous if the tension continues to grow. The protesters vowed to stage more campaigns if the government fails to tackle the problems arising from an influx of mainland tourists.
Clearly, the public remains unconvinced about the city's capacity to take in more tourists. Some politicians went further, demanding a border-arrival tax - an ill-conceived idea that serves no purpose other than to appease the masses. It is difficult to administer and goes against the city's image as a welcoming place for visitors. Tourists will go elsewhere if they are not happy with their travelling experience. The government must ensure the city has the facilities to cope with the demand.