• Tue
  • Dec 23, 2014
  • Updated: 10:22am
PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 February, 2014, 12:11pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 February, 2014, 2:05am

Anti-mainlander protest shouts out an ugly truth

Michael Chugani says the anti-mainlander protest, while ugly, forces us to admit the real problems associated with the flood of visitors

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.
 

What happened in Canton Road last Sunday was repugnant. There are more civil ways to express fear over the city being swamped than taunting mainlanders as "locusts" to their face. But I am going to stick my neck out and say that what happened needed to happen.

Let's admit it, without the repugnance, would we all be talking about the protest? Decent people were shocked but the incident did more than anything so far to force onto us an inconvenient truth - that there is genuine public frustration about the city being overwhelmed by visitors.

Top officials, from the chief executive down, lined up to condemn the behaviour of the protesters as totally un-Hong Kong. It was, of course, politically correct for them to do so. But the mainlanders who suffered the indignity of being called "locusts" were more the victims of the failed policies of these officials than of the protesters, who used ugly tactics to highlight what policymakers pretend doesn't exist - a growing public resentment against mainlanders.

Saying what happened last Sunday needed to happen doesn't mean I condone the actions of the protesters. It just means we need to replace political correctness with honesty.

If you did that, would you not admit the protest, distasteful as it was, represented your inner feelings? Did it not remind you of how you resent having to wait for four MTR trains before you are able to board, or how you can no longer ride the Peak Tram because of the long lines? Did it not make you hope that our policymakers would wake up? I asked this of four Hongkongers and they all replied in the affirmative.

Sometimes you need a fist between the eyes to wake you up. Last Sunday's ugliness was that fist. Did it wake up our policymakers? The answer is no. What else did they do after expressing moral outrage? They repeated the same mantra about Hong Kong's survival being dependent on an ever rising tide of tourists instead of admitting we have a problem that needed fixing.

We can feel disgusted by what happened last Sunday but that doesn't mean we should feel moral guilt in saying Hong Kong simply cannot cope with the projected flood of visitors in the coming years. The government's condemnation of the protest doesn't mean we should keep our mouths shut about a pressing problem just to be politically correct.

We all know the numbers - 70 million visitors a year by 2017, rising up to 100 million by 2023. No country, let alone a city, has that many tourists. Two days after the protest, the Tourism Board announced that our visitor numbers jumped 12 per cent to 54 million last year, 41 million of them from the mainland. We can expect 59 million visitors this year.

And how do our policymakers plan to deal with the flood that they say our survival depends on? Build more hotels, giant shopping malls at the border, and new infrastructure. Let's ask ourselves which of these wonderful solutions would be ready to deal with the extra 5 million visitors this year. Which of these would be ready in three years when we will have 70 million visitors? Would we have doubled our hotels, Peak Tram and MTR lines and built giant border malls by 2023 when tourist numbers will double? Giant malls? We can't even get our landfills extended.

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

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This article is now closed to comments

321manu
Well said, Mr. Chugani. People should separate the message from the messenger. The messenger (the nature and method of the protest) was deplorable and should be denounced. But the message (the subject of the protest) should not be lost amongst the noise.
However, based on the HK government's grandstanding so far, it seems they haven't gotten the message.
John Adams
Mr Chugani: You have correctly stated what is a "very inconvenient truth".
.
I have nothing against Mainlanders per se, whether tourists or not. Indeed many of my best friends are Mainlanders who often come to HK on business and private visits.
Nor do I hold any resentment about Mainland tourists in popular places ( nor tourists from any other country : tourists are tourists regardless of where they come from) .
.
But the simple fact is that tiny HK with its even tinier developed areas and even tinier / tinier popular tourist spots simply CANNOT accommodate an unlimited number of tourists.
FACT !
.
Unless the govt and leading ministers like Greg So wake up to this fact we will very soon have a major social crisis on our hands, far worse than the highly objectionable demonstration last Sunday .
.
It's like Global Warming : "A Very Inconvenient Truth"
Very inconvenient indeed - but very true..
.
CY and Team - WAKE UP !
don67
Couldn't agree more Mike!
jgmoreno
Excellent column and analysis.
Mr. Alex Lo has a long way to go before he truly comprehends the real issues behind these repugnant protests. Sometimes I wonder if he even lives in this city.
keithkklau@gmail.com
Fully agree. What is shameful to our government official of denying HK's incapability to accommodate the flood of mainland tourists. Sometimes, we need to ask why people turn to more violent action other than peaceful move; it is clear to me one reason is our government turns a deaf ear to those mild and moderate opinion until you turn to be hostile. The growing discontent is very likely another driving force to get record - high demonstrators back to the street on forthcoming July 1st.
whoaman
Well said!
One problem with our government officials is that they don't have to venture into the regular streets and malls in Hong Kong, and as usual are out of touch with the man on the street. They are not representative of the typical HKer, except of course Mr. John 'middle class' Tsang, who 'really' understands us. All they see is dollar signs. And the reality is that a high percentage of these 'tourists' are only single day visitors that overwhelm the malls along the KCR/MTR and the Tung Chung outlet mall.
Artie
Mr Chugani , it is correct that HK is over crowded and this was the case as far as anyone can remember ... HK has had to invest heavily in infrastructure for many years so that there is no gridlock. The message is that this needs to continue and haven't really kept up since 2008. Yes I have stood waiting for 4 MTR trains before I can get on ... these are usually peak hour times and not really tourist related. I have also queue at Christmas time for the peak tram and waited for 2 hours with friends. My thoughts were not anti tourist but that improvements needs to be made and also a 2 hour wait is quite common in tourist attractions in other countries.
I don't know where the numbers come from but I don't think HK has truly 54 million visitors. Projected 75 million and 100 million is truly scary ... How many of these are double/ triple counting of parallel traders? The whole of US only had 67 million visitors in 2012 (International Business Times)
Everyone knows HK is the size of a postage stamp. Currently, 75% of HK is countryside and about 45% country parks. The message is that HK needs proper planning and compromises.
The Govt's proposal to raise the density of HK by increasing plot ratios is just going to raise more frustration. HK Govt needs to stop governing us by piece meal action that suits the theme at the time and provide leadership.
gracetodd
Agree! And so precisely said...but there is one point you got wrong - yes, we can't expand the landfill but the government and the district councils will move heaven and earth to build mega shopping malls (well, they just need to get rid of the country parks). They only see the dollar sign and that's what matters to them!
pslhk
“what happened needed to happen”?
Only a defeatist would think so
I refuse to consider the hurt feelings of mainlander visitors
and decent citizens who happened to be at the scene
collateral damage
-
“to replace political correctness with honesty”?
political correctness and honesty are not necessarily in conflict
not everyone in the world is a hypocrite
skin deep MC has revealed his true colors
-
“you need a fist between the eyes to wake you up”?
MC is foolish to presume we’re living in a world of fools
and egotistic to advocate misdemeanor
as the sole means to attract attention
and a legitimate way to resolve a social issue
HK-Lover
Fully agree with Michael. The government has to wake up and admit that HK's infrastructure is utterly overloaded with the masses of tourist.
To make the responsible government officials and legislators wake up and start to move quickly in the right diction (this includes controlling the number of people (incl. mainlanders) coming), we should declare their homes and places of work as tourist attractions. That way they can experience daily the excitement having these masses and their idling buses blocking the entrances of their homes and offices .

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