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

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 February, 2014, 12:11pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 February, 2014, 2:05am

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.