Row over cross-border parallel traders in Hong Kong sparks online debate
Protests by residents in North District to drive mainland parallel traders away have triggered heated debate on the internet.
Cultural critic and academic Chin Wan urged support for a Sheung Shui group that last week staged several protests at the area's MTR station against the cross-border carriers. Scuffles broke out when protesters chanted anti-mainlander slogans.
Social movement activist Bobo Yip Po-lam disagreed, saying such actions were too radical and might distract people from the core issue, which stemmed from a loophole in government policy.
But both agreed that the events were a result of long-hidden conflict between Hongkongers and mainland travellers which the government could no longer ignore.
They said the government should draw up policies to curb an influx by tightening immigration laws, charge the traders with obstructing public places or restrict them from carrying bulky items on the MTR.
"It is understandable that residents in Sheung Shui feel harassed by the influx of these parallel traders, but I do not agree that protests should be launched against these individuals," Yip said. "The actions were emotional and could easily turn into violence. It is not constructive."
She said all anger should be directed at the government, which was responsible for implementing policy to guarantee the quality of life of residents.
Chin said the actions "are actually rather mild" and it was government inaction that prompted the protests.
"The problem has been there for so long and the government is not dealing with it properly, so Hongkongers took it into their own hands to protect their homeland and hope it will force the authorities to do their job."
Chin said if it was not handled properly it could turn into another political crisis for Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.
The parallel traders carry products over the border to sell on the mainland, evading tax in the process. They are most active in Sheung Shui as it is only one MTR station from the Lo Wu border crossing.
Scandals over toxic food and unsafe products on the mainland have created demand for products sold in Hong Kong. Each day the traders buy large quantities of goods in North District shops, including food, infant formula, shampoo, electronic devices and tissue paper, and take them to mainland markets that specialise in Hong Kong products.
Residents say they have caused shortages and their stock often obstructs public transport.