Shenzhen authorities probably think they are doing Hong Kong a favour by allowing 4.1 million of its non-permanent residents to visit our city on multiple-entry permits. But their shock announcement last week came as a complete surprise. Effectively, it means almost every Shenzhen resident can now visit Hong Kong frequently. We should welcome our mainland brethren, but we should not pretend that a sudden influx of millions of new visitors in this unplanned way will not pose any problems.
It does not appear Shenzhen's decision was made after any consultation with the Hong Kong government. Our city officials acted as surprised as everyone else. They are probably too timid to register their displeasure, but they should. There should have been extensive consultation and agreement. Shenzhen's unilateral announcement displays an alarming lack of respect and professionalism. Hong Kong needs to be more assertive in its dealings with mainland authorities when our interests are at stake.
The new visitors will strain local infrastructure and public resources if left unchecked. That was what prompted Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's pledge yesterday to control their numbers. Shenzhen can let as many of its residents visit our city as it wants, but Hong Kong has every right to restrict their access.
Leung said several months ago that mainland visitors have added to the city's inflation and disrupted the livelihoods of some residents. He also said Beijing made the right decision in not expanding the individual visit scheme over the past five years. However, what Leung didn't say but was surely on everyone's mind is that relationships between Hongkongers and mainland visitors have become highly sensitive. Rich mainlanders have been accused of bidding up property prices. Mainland visitors have helped restructure the local shopping culture with their sheer spending power, making some locals feel like second-class citizens in their own city.
The reality is that the border between Hong Kong and Shenzhen will gradually fade away as we become more and more integrated. That is all the more reason for officials on both sides to co-ordinate and work together - and for the rest of us to learn to live with each other.