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Strange bedfellows: on mainland tourists, CY and localists appear to be on the same page

With elections looming, Hong Kong’s chief executive is unlikely to open the floodgates to more mainlanders visiting the city

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 May, 2016, 11:33pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 May, 2016, 8:36pm

Leaked private conversations among politicians usually put them in a bad light. That’s because they are caught saying things they would never have said in public.

But the latest leak from Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying about letting in more mainland visitors may have pointed to the opposite. Put in context, he is implying that the resumption of the multiple-entry scheme for mainlanders and adding more Chinese cities to the individual visitor scheme will not happen anytime soon. That should keep the most hardcore localists happy.

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The chat was one he had with Travel Agent Owners’ Association president Yip Hing-ning. Yip reportedly wanted Leung to approach the central government to allow both schemes to restart.

Leung supposedly agreed with Yip, but only if Hong Kong could reach a consensus “not to kick tourists’ luggage and other insulting actions”.

Given the highly divisive issues involved, no such consensus will be forthcoming. Far from agreeing with Yip, as Leung’s distractors seek to portray the chat, it looks like Leung was politely telling him off.

It was Leung who asked Beijing to halt the multiple-entry scheme after heightened local tensions and hostilities against mainland visitors, especially parallel traders.

The government is also putting off allowing more mainland cities to join the individual visitor scheme despite heavy pressure to do so from mainland tourism officials and establishment figures, such as Leung’s one-time election rival Henry Tang Ying-yen.

The backdrop to Leung’s meeting with Yip is the plunge in tourism figures. Hong Kong is expected to experience one of its worst Labour Day “golden week” national holidays as the number of mainland tour groups will likely halve from last year.

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The concerns led to a rally of about 100 tourism and retail representatives outside the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai at the weekend.

Tourism and its related services make up 5 per cent of Hong Kong’s GDP but employ roughly a quarter of a million people. So the issue is not just about greedy landlords and tycoon-controlled retail and hotel businesses but jobs for grass-roots workers.

Leung is caught in the middle. But given the approaching Legislative Council and chief executive elections, he will want to avoid more conflicts and tensions. So he is unlikely to reopen the mainland tourist floodgates for the time being.