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CommentInsight & Opinion

Hong Kong must have zero tolerance for anti-mainlander hate campaigns

John Young says there is no place in Hong Kong for the racial hatred seen during anti-mainlander protests, and we must amend our laws now to offer better protection or risk souring relations

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 March, 2014, 11:28am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 March, 2014, 2:58am

Last month's protests against mainland visitors in Tsim Sha Tsui cast a shadow over Hong Kong's reputation as a world city and international tourist destination. Anti-mainland protesters targeted Chinese visitors in an extraordinary display of hatred and contempt opposite the shops on Canton Road.

The protesters derided the mainland visitors as Shina - a derogatory term akin to "Chink" that originated from Japanese use during the second world war. Protesters reviled the visitors as "locusts", likening their presence in Hong Kong to an insect plague. In a media-savvy touch, the protesters symbolically "exterminated" the visitors by spraying them with bottles labelled "locust insecticide". The "insecticide" later proved to be water but the toxic message was clear.

Eventually, some of the protesters resorted to pushing and shoving visitors outside the shops. Several shops closed their doors for fear of damage by the protesters, forcing many of the tourists to seek safety in the shops that remained open. None of this was brought on by anything any individual mainland visitor had said or done that day.

Tourism is an essential component of Hong Kong's economy. Last year, the city played host to more than 50 million tourists, over 70 per cent of whom came from the mainland. But the loss of tourist dollars is not the greatest danger presented by the wave of anti-mainland protests. The real danger is the polarisation of Hong Kong society and the transformation of the cultural and political dialogue between Hong Kong and the mainland from one of co-operation, competition and accommodation to one of contempt, conflict and annihilation.

Hong Kong-mainland relations are complex. Expanded tourism from the mainland was instrumental in lifting Hong Kong's economy out of the doldrums following the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome epidemic but many of the jobs created are in relatively low-paying retail and service areas. There is also the question of tourism's impact on commercial rents and the loss of neighbourhood businesses.

The divisive cultural environment makes rational discussion of these issues unlikely, and encourages a bigoted response to mainland visitors. The danger posed by these self-appointed guardians of "Hong Kong identity" is their ability to influence the tone of discussion of issues relating to mainland-Hong Kong relations, to shift the agenda from a discussion of accommodation and benefit to one of zero-sum cultural chauvinism and hatred.

Hate can transform societies. Civilised peoples commit otherwise unimaginable cruelties under its spell. Awareness of the danger posed by racial and religious hatred has led many nations to enact laws against "hate crimes" and "hate speech".

Hate crimes are criminal acts against an individual or group of individuals because of their race, colour, religion, ancestry, national origin, sexual orientation, gender or disability. In the US, hate crime statutes exist in both federal law and at state level. For example, California's criminal code prohibits interfering with another person's exercise of civil rights because of that person's national origin.

The exercise of civil rights includes such ordinary activities as walking on a public street and shopping. Thus, protesters' intimidation of mainland tourists would arguably be a crime had it taken place in California, and the perpetrators could be fined US$5,000 or jailed for up to a year.

Hong Kong prides itself as a city based on the rule of law and it makes sense to look to the law as an avenue for dealing with the rising tide of anti-mainland hatred and violence.

The closest thing that Hong Kong has to hate crime laws are the provisions of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and the Race Discrimination Ordinance.

The ordinance prohibits racial "vilification" and "harassment". Vilification is defined as activity "to incite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of, another person or members of a class of persons on the ground of the race of the person or members of the class of persons", while harassment is defined as engaging "in unwelcome conduct … in circumstances in which a reasonable person … would have anticipated that the other person would be offended, humiliated or intimidated by that conduct".

The ordinance defines "race" as "the race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin of the person". The protesters vilified and harassed visitors from the mainland when they subjected them to severe ridicule and contempt and incited hatred against the mainland "locusts" based solely upon their national origin.

The ordinance thus presents itself as an ideal means for protecting mainland visitors and residents from hate attacks, but for the fact that the attackers and victims legally share the same Chinese nationality. The ordinance contains no language explicitly requiring the perpetrator of discriminatory actions to be of a different race than the victims of the action, but some legal observers have expressed the view that its protections do not apply to discrimination against a national group by people of the same nationality.

During the drafting and adoption of the ordinance, the Home Affairs Bureau chose not to include "new arrivals" from the mainland within the groups explicitly covered in the law.

It is unclear if this omission would prohibit the Equal Opportunities Commission from taking action against the Tsim Sha Tsui protesters for harassment and vilification. However, the commission's chairman, Dr York Chow Yat-ngok, said recently it was possible to amend race hate laws to cover discrimination against members of the same ethnic group.

Hong Kong must say no to the dissemination of hatred and bigotry. The anti-mainland protesters' localism and intolerance are reminiscent of the hate campaigns that preceded the massacre of half a million Chinese in Indonesia in the 1960s or, indeed, of the rhetoric of hate and blame that dominated 1930s Germany. This rhetoric has no place in modern-day Hong Kong.

This is not to deny that contentious issues exist surrounding Hong Kong's relationship with the mainland. But it is precisely because these questions require intelligent and open debate that Hong Kong's political environment must continue to be based on the free and intelligent exchange of ideas rather than becoming mired in an environment tainted by hatred, bigotry and ignorance.

The government should immediately take action to extend the Race Discrimination Ordinance's protections to Chinese from the mainland. Hong Kong's survival as a place of tolerance and diversity may well depend on it.

John Young, a civil rights attorney, is the former associate director of the Journalism and Media Studies Centre at University of Hong Kong

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This article is now closed to comments

Eorthisio
Not only Mainland Chinese tourists and immigrants succeeded to light the wick of hate against themselves among Hongkers, but they also admirably achieved the same wonder among Thais, Malaysians, Filipinos, Koreans, Japaneses, Singaporeans, Indonesians, Vietnamese, Aussies, Kiwis, Canadians, and so on.
Now there is a time to cry racism and play the bullied, and there is a time to question our own behavior (especially when abroad) before more serious problems happen.
Don't say you haven't been warned.
kwgoh1@gmail.com
May I share that most people have enemies within and without and if anyone could keep his/her enemy-within at bay the devil might keep she/him at arm's length because the devil controls enemies within through our anger (ape),pride (pig) and (envy (elephant)-Genesis 1:26!
whymak
Mr. Young,
Effectively my “comment” below is a well disguised survey question: "Are Hong Kong mainlander bashers self-hate people without POSITIVE meanings in life?"
Your comments and mine here elicit eager responses from folks with negative knee-jerk reactions on China.
Most profoundly, my comment has killed two birds with one stone. Obviously, exposing people’s derangement provokes a Pavlov like defense mechanism, a reiteration – at times vitriolic – of the same hate China theme. More important, I confirm one of the few media techniques in creating manufactured consent.
Some readers need confirmation from one another no different from revivalists in the common need to reinforce their beliefs – the existence of China demon or Satan. Without which Democracy or God becomes meaningless. Uncontrollable anger and foul language in street demonstrations, freaking out in a trance, speaking in tongue are all cooperative behavior. This is the energy driver of a positive feedback loop that amplifies resentment, anomalous and violent mob behavior.
Frequent SCMP reader surveys fall into the category of manufactured consent in most democracies. Why the publication persists in so doing can only be explained by a purely commercial motive.
Sugelanren
Sorry John, did I miss something here. Did I miss of march of 10,000 people protesting about Mainlanders? You seem to know of many people who share their views otherwise you would not be asking for a change in the Law.
Ok - it was only 100 people. Some might suggest you are over-reacting or have another agenda. Which is it?
Now I read today that a Mainland official thinks we might have too many tourists coming to Hong Kong. Destroying HK's way of life. Message received by China but not by Hong Kong Government.
alvinkinglong
Wow, I've never seen anyone so eager to start a witch-hunt as much as you do.
Once again, like many officials and ill-informed public did, you made your case solely on the symptoms of recent events presented by biased media rather than addressing the root of the problem.
Before I go any further, I will made it clear where I stand on what went down on that fateful day:
Were the protestors profane? Very. Were they hostile towards the tourists nearby? Certainly. Do I wholeheartedly agree of their action? Not really. Were they so out of line to such extend for you to portray them as home-grown Neo-Nazi?
I don't think so.
First of all, let's have a look in the economic aspect on the situation. As you stated, 70% of our current tourist population are from Mainland under the Freedom Walker Scheme. However, the financial contribution it had only amount to 3% of Hong Kong's GDP. Granted, the actual sum of money here remains a sizable ball of cash. The social burden it brought along with it is much larger than its worth.
[to be con't at 2]
meoii
No comment about the article, i just want to settle a few misconceptions about tourism contributing only around 3% of HK's GDP.
-
Most people think it's a small number, but many loose sight of the bigger picture and its ripple effect. JP Morgan quoted the iphone 5 roughly adds 0.5% GDP to America, but look at the ripple effect felt around the globe. In HK, HK owned factories are raking in millions just supplying the volume button, on/off switch, the frame, flash LED etc. In tandem, those same factories employ thousands of workers on the mainland.
-
The 3% GDP from tourism is just the kicker, with the main benefactors being HK's unskilled labour work force which is keeping the government safe. A large mob of unskilled workers rallying for jobs far out weighs the complications from citizens complaining about milk powder and sore trampled feet. However, the flip side as many have found, the ripple goes on to cause inflation.
alvinkinglong
[...con't from 1...]
The Freedom Walkers of Mainland actually are an unique bunch to Hong Kong and the rest the world. It is certain that they now hold a purchasing power which everyone is taken notice. Thus, they also earned themselves much notoriety in lacking basic etiquette: Public display of urination or defecation; defacing public and historic monuments; hogging commodities from luxury goods to basic essentials... all these were well documented. I could continue on, but I am listing some of these only because you failed to address them in your article when you were too busy mud-slinging the protestors.
As you mentioned, Hong Kong is an internationally known metropolitan. If you stand by this as I do, then we have a very twisted situation here. With such a huge portion of Freedom Walkers entering this city on a daily basis, the result is an overwhelming attendance where the resources of our tourism became so one-sided tourists from other parts of the world will be deprive of their chance to enjoy their visit here.
Another by-product of the situation is the retail environment had developed into. As a city known as a shopping haven with its high entrepreneurial spirits, many retailers now got on the bandwagon and saturate the streets with shops that only seems to cater the needs of Freedom Walkers to the point that residents of Hong Kong now have a difficult time to find shops in their neighborhood that provide to their living essentials and errands.
alvinkinglong
[...Continue from 2...]
And don't even get me started to talk about SARS. Remember who tried their damnedest to keep it under the lid before it became an international epidemic?
Shouldn't there be an equilibrium between quality and quantity when it comes to our tourism? Is the city so desperate that we can't do without those 3% in our GDP and sacrificed both the tourists from other countries and the daily lives of 7 million local population?
Now that I provided SOME of the things that wasn't in your article. Maybe it's time to talk about something that was: the protestors, whom you put on the pedestal of “Defenders of Hong Kong's Identity” I highly doubted that they were there for such “glory”, what they were, was in fact felt flabbergasted by countless pleads to reach out to proper channels on the issue fell on deaf ears. Softer and more civil intervention were practiced on many previous occasions, but apparently the results were futile and often backfired on most good Samaritans (you could find these results on youtube or social network) When all these add up, one couldn't help but think there is a cultural cleansing underway in turning Hong Kong into an “Overpopulated, generic city belongs China” An attempt so despicable that should be taken as serious as treason to this city.
alvinkinglong
[....Continue from 3...]
The MOST fatal flaw of your article is your accusation on what actually took place on that day. According to reliable eyewitnesses' account, NONE OF THE PROTESTORS USED ANY CANISTERS OF ANY KIND TO SPRAY ON ANY TOURIST AND THERE WEREN'T ANY SCHUFFLES TOOK PLACE AT ANYTIME OF THIS INCIDENT. The only physical violence took place was a man was punched at the back of his head after the demonstration and the man got attacked was actually a protestor. As someone who works in the legal field, wasn't evidence vital when you make your case?
Last but not least, although the existing laws on discrimination in Hong Kong is far from perfect, your suggestion in tightening the laws in wording usage is downright silly if not a form of persecution of its own Reich. Calling someone “lo cust” is a description with contempt at its worst. It is no more derogatory than calling someone “pig”, “dog,”, or “a.ss” which I am sure you must have heard before.
sjfore
Eat shi t and die. Chinese people are Chinese people

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