Leung Chun-ying's visa victory may be pyrrhic
For an unpopular leader, Leung Chun-ying has proved to be the perfect populist.
Our chief executive can now add to his political résumé the new restriction on the numbers of visits by Shenzhen residents to Hong Kong. This comes after limiting outbound travellers from carrying no more than two tins of baby milk powder and barring mainland mothers from giving birth in Hong Kong hospitals.
Without meaning to, and having bent over backwards not to offend honchos across the border, Leung has become the most anti-mainland leader we have ever had, in deeds if not in words.
The latest visa restriction has been a long and hard struggle against the objections of Shenzhen officials, but the victory may be pyrrhic. It's unlikely to resolve the parallel-trading problem, though it may help ease anti-mainland sentiments.
More than one in two parallel traders is from the Hong Kong side, so the new limit will just help pass on more business to local traders. In any case, the effect will be moderate. Those in Shenzhen who already have permits for multiple entries to Hong Kong can continue to do so. Only new ones will be restricted to one visit per week.
Leung has blamed anti-parallel-trading protests for delaying the implementation of the latest restriction. I rather doubt it. The real delay has to do with the outright opposition from Shenzhen authorities, who have argued, not unreasonably, that the limit is unfair and discriminatory to their residents. That has led to calls from the mainland's side to reciprocate by restricting the number of mainland visits available to Hong Kong holders of multiple-entry permits. But this is unlikely to happen.
The question of fairness aside, to solve the problem of parallel trading, Shenzhen officials would have to crack down on traders from Hong Kong as well. But this is precisely what Shenzhen does not want to do. Officials there are happy to use Hong Kong as a convenient source for its residents to buy what they consider safe and superior quality goods, especially food and drugs.
For his latest populist gesture, Leung has had to ruffle quite a few feathers on the mainland. It remains to be seen whether he will get any credit in Hong Kong for doing it.