Chief executive-elect Leung Chun-ying's declared intention to ban pregnant mainlanders from giving birth in Hong Kong has provoked outrage and defiance north of the border, with agencies who arrange cross-border births advising their clients to disregard his warning.
'Don't listen to him [Leung]. There's no actual regulation by the Hong Kong government that bars mainlanders from giving birth in Hong Kong's private hospitals,' said a staff member at HKSBB, an agency in Shenzhen that helps mainland mothers-to-be give birth outside the mainland.
'It's still easy to book a bed in a Hong Kong private hospital if you are not more than six weeks' pregnant. But you must pre-book as soon as possible. If booking late, it will be harder,' she said.
'If Hong Kong finally bars you from giving birth there, we can help you deliver in the United States or other countries.'
She said many couples had called yesterday and were concerned about Leung's statement but she had advised them that 'Leung is Leung and Hong Kong is Hong Kong', and that he did not have the authority to change the law overnight.
She nevertheless believed that the number of mainland mothers wanting to have their babies delivered in the US would rise after Leung's speech.
'Obtaining a visa overseas is a priority for mainland couples. Why not turn to the US? Hong Kong is not the only choice.'
Fees for arranging pregnant mainlanders to give birth in Hong Kong have risen dramatically in the past year, with Shenzhen-based agencies charging around 200,000 yuan (HK$245,000) for services that include helping clients to clear customs, arranging accommodation, receiving care and obtaining proper birth documents.
Some mainland parents feared that Leung's stance would increase discrimination against mainlanders born in Hong Kong.
'None of us can believe what we heard. How can Leung make such an arbitrary statement? He's not even officially Hong Kong's chief executive yet,' said William Zhou, a founder of hkbbclub.com, a forum representing mainlanders who have had or plan to have children in Hong Kong. Set up in 2010, it now has almost 20,000 members.
'We sense from what Leung said that Hong Kong will no longer be a society that places rule of law at the top of its priorities,' Zhou said.
'It took years, between 1999 and 2002, for Hong Kong authorities to decide that mainland babies who were born in Hong Kong had the right of abode, regardless of the parents' immigration status.
'Now, overnight, Leung has made a final decision on a controversial issue, without consulting parents, the Hong Kong people or the Court of Final Appeal. It's total one-party rule, as imposed by mainland authorities, with no democracy, no human rights.'
Zhou said that, unlike a decade or two ago when most pregnant mainlanders coming to Hong Kong were illegal immigrants looking for a better life and social benefits, most of those today were from the affluent middle class and were attracted by the city's top-class medical facilities and the prospect of a Hong Kong passport for their child.
Li Quan, a Shenzhen housewife who sent her child to study in Hong Kong, said she feared Leung's statement would only encourage more of the prejudice she claimed was directed at her seven-year-old daughter at school in Hong Kong.
'Her classmate once sneered at her, saying she 'was not Miss Hong Kong'. I'm afraid that, after yesterday, more Hong Kong children will be tempted to pay such insults to my daughter. That would be very hurtful to a young child.'