Hong Kong police fear prostitute influx after Dongguan vice crackdown

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 February, 2014, 4:46am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 February, 2014, 3:42pm

Hong Kong's sex trade - and the criminal syndicates that control it - are set to become public enemy No1 as fears grow that the city will fill the vice vacuum left after a huge crackdown on prostitution in Dongguan .

Some 50 billion yuan (HK$63.5 billion) is estimated to be at stake in lost revenue after 6,000 police raided nearly 2,000 entertainment venues last week in Dongguan and detained more than 900 people - with 10 senior police officers suspended from duty or penalised in the process - Xinhua said.

Yesterday, Commissioner of Police Andy Tsang Wai-hung said as a result of the raids, police in Hong Kong would be increasing operations against vice establishments. "To prevent [the sex trade] from proliferating [in Hong Kong], we have stepped up our operations against the sex trade recently," he said after a radio interview.

Tsang added that the police would continue to work with the authorities in Guangdong as they continue their crackdown in Dongguan, a city of 8.2 million people between Shenzhen and Guangzhou.

A senior Hong Kong police officer said Tsang's directive was warranted given the established links between Hong Kong and its neighbours across the border.

"There is definitely potential for the sex trade to suddenly grow quickly here but it won't just be confined to a rise in prostitution," the officer said. "It will bring with it all the usual vice that goes with it: narcotics, money laundering, triad protection."

The officer added: "Many working girls from Shenzhen will come across the border via Lo Wu MTR station and do business until around midnight before taking the train back."

Economists have calculated that as much as 10 per cent of Dongguan's economic activity will be affected by the crackdown.

The raids in Dongguan were prompted by provincial authorities after China Central Television aired an expose labelling it as a "sex capital" with a thriving industry that served many clients from Hong Kong.

Watch: CCTV news report on sex trade in Dongguan

Dongguan, less than an hour away by train from Hung Hom, has long been a favoured destination for Hongkongers, with many heading across the border on a Friday night and returning after dinner on Sunday.

Two decades ago, when copycats of Hong Kong's nightclubs burgeoned in Dongguan, Hong Kong businessmen were among the first patrons, the weekly Chinese-language newspaper Economic Observer reported yesterday.

"Because labour cost was low on the mainland, plus HK$100 converted to 120 yuan, Hongkongers liked going north to spend money," an anonymous businessman from Huangjiang township of Dongguan was quoted as saying.

In 2012, Hong Kong signed a tripartite agreement with Macau and Guangdong to tackle cross-border crimes, with the sex trade a key part of the collaboration.

Police would not release figures on the number of sex workers they have arrested in recent years or the number of vice establishments that have been raided or shut down.

Prostitution is not an offence in Hong Kong. Instead, police charge sex workers with a range of related offences such as breach of immigration conditions if visitors work as a prostitute, publicly soliciting for sex work, living off the earnings of prostitution or employing a sex worker.

The number of sex workers in Hong Kong is estimated to be at least 20,000, according to sex worker rights group Ziteng.

The sex industry in Dongguan, home to more than 200,000 sex workers, made it to the silver screen in 2012 with a movie called Due West: My Sex Journey, a screen adaptation of an online erotic novel about a young Hong Kong man's adventures in seeking sex services in Dongguan.