Parallel trading

Hong Kong protesters admit some went too far at rally against cross-border traders

But they claim the government's failure to tackle disruption from cross-border traders makes ugly scenes like Sunday's inevitable

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 March, 2015, 12:17am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 March, 2015, 5:46pm

Some of those who joined Sunday's protest against cross-border traders lost their cool and went too far, other participants in the demonstration admit.

But they put the blame not only on their fellow protesters but also on the government, for failing to tackle problems brought by so-called parallel traders, who buy goods in Hong Kong for resale across the border.

Ugly scenes caught on camera - including protesters yelling at and hectoring a mother even after her young daughter started crying - sparked a chorus of criticism from politicians of different camps and the security minister, who condemned them "in the strongest terms".

"Some protesters were very irrational, scolding passers-by who were not even parallel traders," said 18-year-old Figo Chan Ho-wun, whose film of the clash with the mother went viral online.

Sunday's protest began in Sheung Shui before moving on to Tuen Mun and Tsim Sha Tsui. It was the latest in a series of protests that have seen police use pepper spray and make multiple arrests.

In Chan's video, several protesters are seen shouting abuse at the mother, who was carrying a suitcase through Tuen Mun. The mother, speaking Cantonese, is seen opening her case to show that she is carrying only children's books. She accuses the protesters of bullying, but they continue to hector her as her daughter cries loudly.

Watch: Mother and daughter confronted by Hong Kong anti-parallel trading protesters

The video has been shared some 3,200 times on Facebook.

"Sometimes I am also on the front line of protests. I had also scolded the police when they tried to take away protesters at previous rallies. But what was the purpose of insulting people who were not even parallel traders?" Chan asked. "But the government should also be partly responsible for not solving the problems brought by the trade."

The North District Parallel Imports Concern Group has been protesting against traders - who are accused of clogging up streets and public transport, and changing the retail landscape by edging out stores that cater for local needs - since 2012. Spokesman Leung Kam-shing acknowledged that the recent protests had taken a more radical turn.

"But I think that some confrontations, initiated by just a small group of people, have been magnified by the public," he said.

Both Leung and Chan said that, from their observations, the radical protesters did not appear to belong to any group.

In fact, Sunday's protest was not organised by a group. It was initiated by an unknown person using a Facebook event page.

Cheng Chung-tai, a member of the group Civic Passion, which did not join Sunday's protest, said Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok was wrong to brand the protesters "rioters". But he said his group did not advocate violence.

"The residents' concern is that every day they are hit by suitcases ... I think we have to be fair. Do not measure ordinary residents on the moral standards for sages," Cheng said. Describing the city as "sick", Cheng said protests were vital to put Hong Kong back on track.

Tuen Mun resident Wong Yee-ha said her 18-year-old friend was arrested in Tsim Sha Tsui on Sunday even though the pair were just watching, not participating in the rally.

Wong set up a "Love Tuen Mun" Facebook page and organised a rally in the town last month, but said she was only an observer on Sunday. She accused the police of provocation.

"Demonstrating peacefully clearly doesn't work. The whole atmosphere has changed because the police will arrest us for nothing. What's the point of staying peaceful?" she said. "The government doesn't care about what we have to say. I think a riot is inevitable, it's just a matter of time."

Seven people have been arrested, among them five secondary school pupils and university students.

Two 16-year-old boys appeared in Tuen Mun Court yesterday, each facing one count of assaulting a police officer. A student, 21, also appeared, charged with resisting a police officer. The three, who have not yet entered pleas, claimed they were assaulted by police.

Acting Principal Magistrate Li Wai-chi said there was "a rising trend of activity that is becoming increasingly serious", adding: "Many Hongkongers travel abroad. They don't want this kind of treatment either."

Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim said the scenes on Sunday "were unacceptable".