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Greater Bay Area

Jazz up sleepy street on Hong Kong-Shenzhen border into bustling shopping and tourism hub, think tank says

But first, authorities from both sides should give visitors easier access to Chung Ying Street in Sha Tau Kok

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 January, 2018, 9:04pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 January, 2018, 11:33pm

A sleepy street in Hong Kong that borders Shenzhen in mainland China should be returned to its former glory as a bustling shopping and tourist hub, as part of Beijing’s Greater Bay Area vision, a pro-establishment think-tank said on Tuesday.

But to do this, both governments would need to allow for easier access to Chung Ying Street in Sha Tau Kok, the Hong Kong-based One Country Two Systems Research Institute said.

The area around the 250-metre (820ft) long street has been sealed off by authorities on both sides since the 1950s to prevent illegal immigrants. Hongkongers and mainlanders now need permits to access the area.

In a report, the institute, whose name reflects the model by which Beijing governs Hong Kong, said Chung Ying Street could become the third joint development zone under the plan to unite Hong Kong, Macau and nine mainland cities including Shenzhen into an economic powerhouse. The other two are the Qianhai special economic zone and the Lok Ma Chau Loop technology innovation hub.

Institute director Cheung Chi-kong said: “Chung Ying Street ... used to be famous for vibrant commercial activities in its prime. Without proper development, it will die in gradual decay.

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“Yet our plan will not only revitalise it into a border shopping and tourism centre, but also help reduce the pressure brought to urban areas – especially districts along the East Rail Line – by mainland visitors.”

In the 1980s and 1990s, Chung Ying Street at Sha Tau Kok, in the northeastern New Territories, was a bustling shopping area. It was the only place in Hong Kong where mainlanders could buy goods that were not available or in short supply.

But now that it is easier for them to cross the border – though they still need a permit to do so – the areas of Mong Kok and Causeway Bay have become hotspots, while Chung Ying Street, as Cheung described it, has been “fading and falling”.

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The report conceived that some 200 existing shops along the street – about 60 on the Hong Kong side and 136 on the Shenzhen side – could be renovated and expanded into a mall with a total floor size of over 1 million sq ft, as large as Festival Walk in Kowloon Tong.

Cheung said the mall could sell good quality and affordable Hong Kong goods while the old houses, temples and Hakka villages in the area should be conserved for historical and cultural tours.

He said he expected 20,000 to 30,000 visitors – mostly from the mainland – to set foot in the two-hectare (five acres) area around the street daily if both sides agreed to make it easier for them to do so.

Currently, those who want a permit to enter the border town of Sha Tau Kok, where Chung Ying Street is, either have to get a permit from Sheung Shui Police Station or the Shenzhen public security authority.

The institute called on the Hong Kong government to explore a “tour group policy” for its residents to visit the street through qualified travel agencies.

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The Shenzhen government, it continued, could simplify the permit system and extend the closing time of customs clearance from 6pm daily to at least 10pm.

The report also proposed that the Shenzhen authority allow mainlanders to buy more goods in the area – making goods worth up to 8,000 yuan (US$1,250) tax-free. Today, a one-time entry permit holder returning to the mainland can only enjoy tax exemption for goods worth up to 3,000 yuan and cash of no more than 6,000 yuan or US$1,000.

In recent years, pro-establishment lawmakers in the city had called for Sha Tau Kok to be fully open to mainlanders but the security authority cited the lack of checkpoint facilities and the danger of illegal immigrants as major concerns.

Sha Tau Kok shops plan would take pressure off other border areas, local councillors argue

Cheung said the institute did not recommend doing away with permits as “we would like to minimise the obstacle from changing policies as well as the potential disruption on local residents’ life.”

Kenneth Lau Ip-keung, a lawmaker representing rural communities, welcomed the proposal.

Lau said: “Sha Tau Kok has good potential to become a town with special attractions. And in general the rural areas could develop not only shopping centres, but also facilities for education, tourism and elderly care services.”

Shiu Ka-fai, a legislator representing the wholesale and retail industry, said he believed that the Chung Ying Street shopping centre could help reduce parallel trading in other parts of the northern New Territories.

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Hongkongers have long protested against mainland traders, whom they accuse of causing overcrowding in towns close to the border, leaving locals short of supplies and changing the character of the area as shops serving traders edge out those used by residents.

“I don’t see anything bad in it if our economy can be boosted by more mainland shoppers [attracted to the street] while the daily life of residents nearby are not affected,” Shiu said.

The Security Bureau has not replied to the Post’s request for comment.