It was a relief for many newly mobilised baby formula traders when Shenzhen customs officers said on Thursday they would not crack down on "moonlighting smugglers”.
While recognising that more travellers are making fast money buying milk powder tins in Hong Kong before trading them at higher prices in Shenzhen, mainland officials said law enforcement was difficult because these people were abiding by the two-tin limit. It would also be difficult to tell whether they intended to sell them for a profit, they said.
“It’s not just about the money”, commented ‘amateur’ traders and bloggers on Weibo after the official response, “We do it for China’s babies.”
“I will join them [formula traders] from now on simply to protest Hong Kong’s stupid law,” wrote another blogger.
These are definitely untraditional parallel traders compared with the pre-two-tin-limit era.
Newly joined are professional-looking young men and women, middle-aged housewives, and veteran day-trippers, many of whom are Hong Kong citizens, said media reports.
By trading in two tins of infant formula in the mainland side of Lo Wu border checkpoint, they make an easy HK$60 to HK$80 per trip - considered decent pocket money by many.
“Anyone who travels to Hong Kong should buy two tins on your way back,” wrote blogger Shi Liqin on Weibo, “This good deed will benefit China’s babies.”
Some others disagreed and said they were worried it would harm China's milk powder industry and consumers in the long-term.
“When will China ever produce its own high-quality baby formula milk?” wrote a blogger.
The topic continues to stir controversy in Hong Kong, while local readers posted different opinions online.
“Have you ever thought of Hong Kong babies who are short of formula milk because of your actions?” wrote a Hong Kong blogger surnamed Chiu on the Apple Daily’s website, ”I will never do it.”
“There has never been a shortage in Hong Kong,” retorted another blogger, surnamed Chan. “Hong Kong has survived and prospered because of free trade, and I will join them to carry on that spirit.”
“You are a Hong Kong traitor,” another blogger quickly fired back. This comment was “liked” 19 times by other bloggers.
Mei Chunlai, a lawyer in Shenzhen, said in an interview with the Southern Metropolis Daily that travellers were not breaking China’s laws as long as the goods they carried into China were worth less than 5000 yuan.