China officials considered Hong Kong travel alert over mainland visitor protests

Anti-mainlander protests prompted officials to confer with Exco member

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 March, 2014, 3:59am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 March, 2014, 5:17pm

It crossed the minds of mainland officials to issue a travel alert against Hong Kong in the wake of local protests that targeted visitors from across the border, a Beijing loyalist revealed yesterday.

Executive councillor Cheng Yiu-tong said officials had once sought his opinion on whether the National Tourism Administration should warn mainlanders travelling to Hong Kong of a growing anti-mainland sentiment in the city.

"I told them never to do this to Hong Kong," Cheng, a veteran Hong Kong delegate to the National People's Congress, told a Commercial Radio programme.

"Not only would the retail and hotel industries suffer, but the entire working class would, too." He hinted that the officials who contacted him were not high ranking, but said it was possible that relevant mainland bureaus, or even the central leadership, shared the same thought.

Antagonism towards mainlanders has flared up this year, after the government in mid-January predicted 70 million arrivals in 2017. Of the roughly 54.3 million visitors last year, 70 per cent were from the mainland.

The news stoked fears resources would be overwhelmed. The more radical protesters told Putonghua-speaking shoppers in Tsim Sha Tsui to leave the city, attracting condemnation from top officials, including Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.

But despite Cheng's revelation, the mainland tourism office's weibo account, a channel for official announcements, showed no sign of disappointment in the city's hospitality.

Cheng's pro-establishment allies, including Ip Kwok-him of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said they had not heard of such an idea.

Liberal Party leader and legislator James Tien Pei-chun called it "absurd". "The central government has not even sanctioned places such as Xinjiang or Tibet ," Tien said, referring to ethnically restive regions.

Hong Thai Travel Services director Jason Wong Chun-tat, who sits on a number of government advisory boards, said he believed Beijing remained supportive of the city's tourism industry.