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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.

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

giggsy72
What is this constant line about "Tourism" being essential to the economy of Hong Kong? As if it's the Goose that lays the Golden Egg and must be protected at all costs. Else Hong Kong whithers and dies or, God forbid ends up behind Singapore in some spurious ranking. We're told that only around 4% of GDP is attributable to tourism. Why are we being forced to put up with such congested conditions, for such a small contribution?
There were approximately 50 million visitors to Hong Kong last year. Of these 50 million, 70% (or 35 million) were from the mainland. "Visitors" does not automatically mean "Tourists". I would wager, a large proportion of the mainlanders crossing the border into Hong Kong, are parallel traders, dragging their little wheeled suitcases behind them. It's time the Hong Kong administration woke up and found a resolution. The border entry fee is not a bad idea, but needs a slight twist. How about the fee is waived for any stay of greater than 2 days? So, paralllel traders are specifically targeted and a large percentage of genuine tourists are not penalised. Hey, it's not a perfect solution, but at least it's a start!
nmp_inc
This account of what occurred is hyperbolic, inaccurate, and biased on various points – just like much of the reporting on this incident that has been done by SCMP, The Standard, RTHK, the China Daily, and the Global Times. Many of these stories seemingly uncritically reiterate local and central government statements/press releases-even when the evidence blatantly contradicts their claims, like damage to HK's reputation.
I was there watching the rally and short procession. The only spray bottles present were on those depicted on the placards of the pro-government counter-protesters – several of which had infiltrated into the crowds to provoke some of the anti-mainlander protesters. The pro-government counter-protesters were as, if not more, aggressive in shoving and pushing the protesters and making provocative statements – frequently calling the anti-mainlander protesters traitors as well as suggesting that they were race-traitors – labels no less hateful or transgressive than those that you attribute to the anti-mainland protesters. Yet, this opinion journalism above provides no acknowledgement of that.
There has been a lot of very problematic reporting and opinion pieces on this incident and its causes. I suggest you read an opposing view such as in the University of Nottingham's China Policy Institute blog, Framing the Radicals: Panic on Canton Road (I)
****blogs.nottingham.ac.uk/chinapolicyinstitute/2014/02/26/framing-the-radicals-panic-on-canton-road-i/
Dai Muff
Nonsensical to call this racial hatred, particularly when we turn a blind eye to so many REAL examples of racism in our midst. And the issue is not one of being anti a particular group but being anti the lack of controls over how they affect our own living conditions.
Camel
a few? How many took part in the protest? 100? How many shouted "l oc. usts"? How many "ch. in a." How many were insulting Mainlanders? how many march followed and marched with the Colonial Flag? if it only 20 then it makes already 20%. Your trying to whitewash the incident failed from the beginning till end. I can say, that the majority of HKners do care about the Mainland and welcome tourists whether from Mainland or elsewhere. It's only "a few" of whole HK who thinks their voice counts.
ssslmcs01
John,
Aside from a few individuals shouting the Japanese profanity that has been mentioned in past articles, I cannot see any hate. People are expressing their opinions about the large numbers of visitors coming to Hong Kong from China. Greg So has stated that he wants to increase the number of visitors to 70000000 in the next 3 years, people here have had enough.
I'm not sure of the exact wording of the ordinance but as the protesters were shouting their slogans to all Chinese visitors it can't be racial as Chinese visitors to Hong Kong are made up of all 56 of the races of China, there was no mention of race whatsoever.
kongshan2047
The Race Discrimination Ordinance ought to have included protection for Mainland Chinese or new immigrants right from the beginning. In the UK for example, the court in the past has ruled that an Englishman could "racially discriminate" a Scottish person. This is on the ground that historically, England and Scotland used to be separate country (same like HK and Mainland), therefore, their cultural background and values are diverse.
chaz_hen
People, people...can we not all agree on a 7 year consultation study that'll lead to a toothless law that won't be enforced by police?
Problem settled!
whymak
Mr. Young,
Take the demon away from deranged folks who live by hate, you deprive them the meaning of life. If you insist there is no such thing as Satan, you pose an existential threat to God of Abraham and His faithful.
A few readers here have just confirmed this hypothesis.
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]

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