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Hong Kong & Mainland China Tensions: Mothers, Tourists, Cars

Mainland China vs. Hong Kong mothers.

Mainland China vs. Hong Kong mothers.

Mainland mothers. Mainland tourists. Mainland politics. The tensions between Hong Kong and China have never been GREATER. What are the reasons behind this current spate of hate? And what solutions, if any, do we have left?

By Shirley Zhao and Time Out staff
Illustration by escape.hk

The most surprising thing about Hong Kong today is that so little has changed in the public’s view of China since the Handover 15 years ago. Just like in 1997, the citizens of Hong Kong are worried about a ‘red government’ spreading its ‘white terror’. There are rumblings that local tycoons might leave with all their money, and that new tycoons from up north will step in with their ‘red capital’ to collude with the new administration. ‘Hong Kong has reached a tipping point’ is the phrase of the day with our media commentators. And almost everyone believes that Hong Kong will ‘tip’, for better or worse. But at a time when the shift of power is changing both here and in Beijing, people are panicked. And our dark, deep-seated psychological fears are once again coming out to play.

Only one thing is certain: Hong Kong’s future is tied to China’s future. Over these past 15 years, the borders have opened, the rail tracks interlinked and the bridges built to form a seamless superhighway with the Pearl River Delta. But curiously, although convenient cross-border transport has brought about better communication, the much ballyhooed ‘integration’ of Hong Kong and Mainland China has failed to materialise. Physically, Hong Kong is closer than ever to China; psychologically, we are chasms apart.

On February 1, a group of Hongkongers sponsored a full-page advertisement in the popularist Apple Daily newspaper, vehemently protesting against Mainland mothers who cross the border to give birth here, and requesting Mainland tourists to ‘respect local cultures’. ‘Hong Kong people have had enough!’ ran the tagline. The sensational advert also showed a giant locust looming over the HK skyline. As we all know, Hong Kong citizens have been calling Mainland resource-drainers ‘locusts’ for a long while. But this time the plague seems to be a very definite reality.

The shocking locust advertisement brought the integration row back to a scorching boil, along with heated quarrels and nationalistic finger pointing. Behind the chaos, however, it was obvious that Hong Kong was feeling ever more insecure and anxious about the ‘one country, two systems’ set-up. Indeed, the very fabric of Hong Kong’s culture now feels at stake. People’s helplessness, even powerlessness, is palpable everywhere.

 
Of course, Hong Kong jealously guards its key values – the rule of law, the free market, the importance of freedom of speech and the pursuit of universal suffrage. But the Mainland’s way of doing things, in Hong Kong’s eyes, goes against everything we believe to be self-evident. Many of the Hong Kong’s older generation are early immigrants, fleeing the Communist Party rule to make a new home on the fragrant harbour. The younger generation, under the influence of these elders, still has fresh memories of Tiananmen Square. These are the foundation blocks of our modern thinking, and it is an unspoken fact that Hong Kong simply doesn’t trust the Mainland government, and that the Politburo is to be feared and hated.

To ease the uncertainty about the Handover, the central government promised Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy, independent judicial and economic systems, and a way of life that ‘shall remain unchanged for 50 years’. With cautious expectation, the city reunited with their Mainland cousins. People thought they would have the power to decide their own future but, from where the city stands today, Beijing’s influence is stronger than ever before and the promise of universal suffrage appears more like a dream than a reality.

Economically, Hong Kong has been more and more dependent on the Mainland since 1997. When Hong Kong was suffering during the downturn in 2003, a free trade agreement allowed HK goods free access to the Mainland’s growing market, and various Mainland industries also opened up to our city. Growing tourism from the Mainland has been energising many local industries ever since, and more Mainland companies are listed on Hong Kong’s stock market. Today, we are no longer independent from China. That dream, as we said, is over. But has a new nightmare begun?

 
Look at our commercial situation. With no law to regulate the property market monopoly, the development of local small and medium-sized businesses is highly limited. An unequal distribution of wealth further widens the gap between the rich and the poor, causing serious social problems. These problems have become especially unbearable when an overwhelming tide of Mainland lower and middle-class people rush in and compete for our already limited resources and overcrowded social welfare. And all the while, the Hong Kong government has strangely (and suspiciously) remained inactive. Naturally, Hong Kong people are infuriated.

The major concern, of course, is the ‘delay’ in universal suffrage. Our common Hong Kong people, facing inflation and a widening wealth gap every year, had hoped they could one day elect their own Chief Executive to form an administration for the people, so that the citizens of Hong Kong could decide their own future. Not a chance of it. The ‘intangible hand’ of Beijing manipulated last month’s result, and even though the media reported that the Liaison Office of the central government called the election committee members asking them to vote for one candidate, the hoplessness of the situation has now deepened to uncharted depths.

 
So how does all this fear and paranoia and loathing and hopelessness manifest itself on a social level? Simple – we need to lash out. We need someone to blame. Step forward the Mainland individual, specifically the Mainland mother-to-be. She’s the one to blame. But really, any Mainlander will do.

Just look at them – cutting lines, speaking loudly, spitting, shouting, letting their kiddies shit in the street, crowding the MTR, acting rudely. How uncouth, how uncivilised they are. This is what many Hongkongers are saying today. You, dear reader, may be thinking the same thing. You may feel disrespected in your own home, your own city. You may feel outraged when the government tries to push the Putonghua language on our TV shows, on our radio and in our schools. Do we feel we have had enough? Or is there an element of over-reaction to it all? Let’s start by taking a look at those dastardly mothers-to-be…

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Pregnant Chinese mother in a hospital waiting room.

Attack of the Mainland Mothers

An examination of the ‘plague’ on our public health system.

By Shirley Zhao

According to media reports, they are rude, unreasonable and uncivilised. They buy or lie or cheat their way into our hospital beds just to make sure that Hong Kong’s taxpayers tend to their children for the rest of their lives. They are parasites. They are invading our beautiful city and they need to be stopped.

Meet the Mainland mothers-to-be: scourge of Hong Kong, enemies of the SAR.

According to statistics from the Hospital Authority, last year there were 41,846 babies born to Mainland mothers here, almost 44 percent of all newborns in Hong Kong, and over four times more than in 2003. Over 85 percent of the babies were born to Mainland couples (17 times more than in 2003), the rest were Mainland mothers with Hong Kong husbands. A 2001 case in the Court of Final Appeal affirmed that Chinese citizens born in Hong Kong enjoy the right of abode regardless of the Hong Kong immigration status of their parents. Since a 2003 Hong Kong-Mainland agreement enabled free trade and individual Mainland tourists to visit Hong Kong, the number of Mainland mothers rushing into the SAR has been growing so fast, and in such a short time, that the government, known to be frugal on public spending, has been left bewildered and unprepared. It could be argued that the government’s inability to address the situation has further deepened an already sensitive social problem on the city’s collective conscious.

But what has been the real impact of Mainland mothers in Hong Kong? How have they stretched our so-called ‘fragile system’? Why do they come here in the first place? And what will be their children’s, and Hong Kong’s, future?

The Pressured Public Hospital System

In 2011, over 10,000 babies born to Mainland mothers were delivered in our public hospitals, or 32 percent of the public hospital total. Around 4,000 were born to Mainland couples. According to Anthony Wu Ting-yuk, chairman of the Hospital Authority, the public hospital system can generally handle around 45,000 childbirth cases each year. The capacity should have been enough for the 42,000 babies born in the system last year, if all Mainland mothers had followed a proper booking-to-birth-giving procedure. Yet when public hospitals stopped accepting booking applications by Mainland mothers from last April through the rest of the year, it prompted many Mainland mothers to rush into public emergency wards just as they were about to give birth. Last year, there were 1,657 Mainland mothers giving birth in emergency wards – 75 percent did so without booking – twice more than in 2010. Meanwhile, immigration officials also successfully blocked 1,930 Mainland mothers without booking from crossing the border.

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Hong Kong’s public emergency wards are known for their staff shortages, and non-urgent patients usually need to wait over 90 minutes to get treated. Without a booking, Mainland women who have been pregnant for 28 weeks or longer are not allowed to cross the border to Hong Kong. But some of those who managed to get through came under a tourist visa when their pregnancy was still not visibly obvious, normally a few months before their pregnancy due date. They took accommodation in small hotels here, overstayed till the due day, then rushed into the emergency wards. Others drastically chose to go to the border and cry for help as their labour pains set in, thereby forcing immigration officials to send them to the nearest hospital.

North District Hospital, a public hospital without departments of obstetrics and gynaecology, paediatrics and neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), saw 180 cases of Mainland mothers attempting to use its emergency ward to give birth, solely for the fact that the hospital is close to the border.

Kitchell Abdul Karim Bin, manager of the emergency department of North District Hospital, says they try to transfer most cases to the nearby public Prince of Wales Hospital, but in urgent cases they have to take the Mainlanders themselves, which not only soaks up staff numbers and time, but is dangerous to both mother and baby as well. “These mothers are risking their lives,” Bin says, “but it’s also unfair to other patients waiting in the emergency ward. If a mother comes in the evening, we could employ up to 40 percent of staff in our department to help her give birth.”

Most Mainland mothers who choose to give birth in emergency wards have never had a prenatal examination, thus adding many unknown dangers of childbirth, and many of their newborns often suffer from various health problems and need to be tended to in public hospitals’ NICUs, which have a total of only 100 beds. At the same time, private hospitals also keep transferring babies to public hospitals’ NICUs (there were 354 in 2010). According to Anthony Wu Ting-yuk, the public hospitals’ NICUs have been consistently overloaded. Currently, the charge for using emergency wards to give birth is $48,000 per woman. In order to reduce such cases, the government is considering raising the price to at least $70,000.

Who Gets The Profits?

Last year, over 90 percent of babies born to Mainland parents were delivered in private hospitals, where the quota for Mainland mothers was 31,000. With public hospitals fully booked, richer Mainland parents had no problem choosing private ones that charge much more, ranging from tens of thousands of dollars to hundreds of thousands; and private hospitals, eyeing huge profits, were more than happy to provide their beds.

According to a report released in December last year by Hong Kong Consumer Council, in 2011, 90 percent of private hospitals raised the prices of their ‘delivery service sets’. Precious Blood Hospital raised theirs nearly 50 percent, the highest of all. Meanwhile, complaints about the private hospitals’ delivery services also increased from three cases in 2010 to 26 in the first 11 months of last year. Most of these complaints were about additional and unexplained charging. The Consumer Council believes the huge demand from Mainland couples pushed up the prices.

Ambrose Ho Pui-him, vice-chairman of the Consumer Council, urges all the private hospitals in Hong Kong to list out the prices of every service included in the service packages. “It’s their responsibility to be more transparent to the public, so that it’ll be easier to supervise and cause fewer arguments,” says Ho.

However Alan Lau Kwok-lam, chairman of the Hong Kong Private Hospitals Association, says the delivery process is complicated and unpredictable. “The prices of the sets can only cover the basics,” says Lau. “Any additional services provided during delivery will be charged independently.” The increasing profits in the private market also attract experienced gynaecologists and nurses from the public hospitals to cross sides. Since 2007, the public hospitals have been losing about five percent of staff related to childbirth each year.

Destination Hong Kong

Why are so many Mainland couples willing to spend so much money, and so much risk, to have their babies born in Hong Kong? For the middle classes living in neighbouring Guangdong province, giving their children Hong Kong’s permanent residency could mean free and better education, government-subsidised medication, and better social welfare. For the nouveau riche coming from Shanghai, Beijing or even Dalian, permanent residency and its related benefits may not be as important as being able to have a second child.

Waiting outside the maternity ward in the public Tuen Mun Hospital, Mr Wang tells Time Out that he and his wife have travelled between Shanghai and Hong Kong four times, after they decided to give their second child a Hong Kong identity. “We’ve spent about $80,000 on this,” says Wang, who would not give his full name. “Because I’m still in Hong Kong, you know how intense the situation is these days.”

The couple already has a girl, but Wang says his mother wants to have a grandson. “Based on my income, having a second child in Shanghai would mean a fine of almost 300,000 yuan,” says Wang. And if the Shanghai government find out they have a second child, they will certainly be fined. “Of course I’m nervous about being found out,” he says, “but what can I do? My mum’s not in good health. I want to do something to please her.”

Wang also worries about the costs of raising a ‘foreign child’ in Shanghai. “Indeed, my child will have rights to all social welfare in Hong Kong, but he’s got to live in Shanghai, at least before college. We can only send him to private or international schools there, which requires a lot of tuition fees.” Wang wants his children to go to college and then work in Hong Kong. “I have very good impressions of this city,” he says. “Everything is effective, convenient and in order. People are more civilised, although sometimes I do feel the city is too small.”

Living in Lo Wu, Shenzhen, Xuan Lidan gave birth to her son in the private Hong Kong Baptist Hospital in 2009. “I want him [her son] to have schooling in Hong Kong,” says Xuan. “Hong Kong’s education is better than in the Mainland. He will have a better future. And we live close to the border so it’ll be convenient for him to cross the border for school.”

Last year, Xuan took her son to a public hospital in Hong Kong three times. “The medical service in Hong Kong is also better,” she says. “Every time I went to the hospital, I always found some parents around me speaking in Putonghua, and some were quite rude. Although we Mainland mothers feel for each other, we don’t like those [other mothers] who behave badly either.”

Speaking of Hong Kong citizens’ general disapproval of Mainland mothers, Xuan looks uneasy. “As a parent, I don’t think it wrong to want to give my son a better future,” she says finally. “I didn’t go to give birth illegally. I went because the government allowed me.”

Mainland Baby Boom statistics from 2001 to 2011.

Mainlanders’ Hong Kong children

Although not every Mainland mother’s Hong Kong child is currently enjoying the city’s social welfare services, the numbers have been steadily increasing, which is what worries local parents.

According to research conducted by the Hospital Authority, between January 6 to January 19 this year, a total of 1,624 children were transferred from emergency wards to paediatrics departments in 12 local public hospitals with these two departments. Among them were 104 with Mainland parents, and over 200 were with Hong Kong-Mainland parents. In other words, Mainland mothers’ children accounted for approximately 20 percent. The authority says when their Hong Kong children suffer from serious problems, Mainland parents tend to have them treated in local public hospitals. These children further challenge the already troubled local public hospital system, where staff and resources are shorted and unequally distributed. The authority estimates that the system needs at least 39 more paediatricians to maintain the current standard of services.

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Chan Hin-biu, chief in service of the public United Christian Hospital’s paediatrics department, believes the Hong Kong government has not taken these children into consideration, nor are they prepared for the challenges. “We [the public hospital system] only got one more paediatrics surgeon over the past decade,” says Chan, “and there will be two paediatricians retiring soon. Our workload has doubled.”

For many schools in the New Territories, cross-border students counteracted the problem of under-enrolment, because of Hong Kong’s low local birth rate. Now, they have too many students waiting to be enrolled.

Too Siu-fung, principal of Sheung Shui Pui Yau Kindergarten, tells Time Out that about 80 percent of the kindergarten’s students are from Hong Kong-Mainland families, and another 15 percent are from Mainland families. “I remember when I first came to this kindergarten in 2001, there were only 40 students,” says Too. “It was on the edge of being closed down. To survive, we needed to actively recruit more cross-border students.”

According to the Education Bureau, there were 12,865 cross-border students in 2011/12, almost three times more than in 2006/07. The quota of Primary 1 students for schools in North District is 2,616 in 2012/13, but there are 3,700 applications, meaning there could be 1,084 students forced to go to schools in other districts relatively far from home – which is bad news for both local and Mainland parents.

“I think it’s unfair to us,” says Liu Wai-king, whose daughter is one of the applicants. “We live here. We work here. How come our children need to compete with the children of those who don’t [live and work here] for school vacancies?”

Vilas Chiu Ching-wai, the Education Bureau’s senior school development officer for North District, says the government is planning to increase the quota for primary schools in this district, but it may take a longer time because the bureau needs to discuss changing the approved use of land with the Lands Department.

Yet Cheung Shuk-kuen, chairman of the Federation of Parent-Teacher Associations of the Northern District, says that the government departments are constantly ‘passing the bucket’ to each other. “The government has been ignoring this issue for years,” she says. “If they [the government] had been more active, problems would have been solved a long time ago.”

The Lucrative ‘Grey Zone’

In February, a Mainland ‘intermediary’ who helped Mainland mothers, with or without booking, to give birth in Hong Kong was convicted in Sha Tin Magistracy for breaching the conditions of stay (doing business under a tourist visa) and lying to an investigating official, and sentenced to 10 months in prison. Last month, another woman was convicted of the same charge and sentenced to nine weeks in prison.

According to the Immigration Department, the department is investigating a further 58 similar Mainland intermediaries and agencies, as well as 20 local fixers.

In the Mainland, the business of making arrangements for mothers to give birth in Hong Kong is booming. There are agencies set up in many first tier cities in the Mainland providing an arrangement of services, including booking hospitals, transportation, prenatal examinations, accommodation, delivery services, postnatal care, birth registering and retrieving different certificates and visas. Some of the agencies even provide ‘illegal help’ to mothers without booking to get through the border.

So far this year, all local hospitals have no vacancies for Mainland mothers until October, but one agency in Shenzhen, Hong Kong Maternity Services Limited, tells Time Out that it can still arrange to help mothers with due dates before September. “Bring along $150,000 to $250,000 to Hong Kong, and our staff there will get you in hospital,” says a consultant of the agency over the phone. “But you will need to get through the border yourself. The check is becoming more and more strict, both here in Shenzhen and in Hong Kong.”

According to the consultant, normally the prices of their delivery-travel-sets range from $60,000 to $140,000, but in urgent cases where mothers need to give birth without booking, the prices will be higher.

Unwilling to give her real name, Ah Ping, an intermediary in Guangdong province, tells Time Out why her business is worth the risk. “The standard commission for us is $15,000 per person. For me doing this alone, two to three mothers a month is already a good profit,” she says. “But the hospitals, the doctors and nurses in Hong Kong are earning much more from this. What we get is just the leftovers.” Ping claims that she has never helped anyone to cross the border without a prior booking, and has now halted her business after the two court cases.

The Immediate Future

Hong Kong would not have the problem of Mainland mothers – Mainland couples, to be more exact – if the law had not allowed their babies born in the city to have permanent residency. So why is it allowed in the first place?

ARTICLE 24

Permanent residents of Hong Kong shall be:

  1. Chinese citizens born in Hong Kong before or after the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region;
  2. Chinese citizens who have ordinarily resided in Hong Kong for a continuous period of not less than seven years before or after the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region;
  3. Persons of Chinese nationality born outside Hong Kong of those residents listed in categories (1) and (2);

MORE DETAIL: The above-mentioned residents shall have the right of abode in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and shall be qualified to obtain, in accordance with the laws of the Region, permanent identity cards which state their right of abode.

Pro-democracy lawyer Martin Lee Chu-ming was a member of the Basic Law Drafting Committee from 1985 to 1989, when many Hong Kong people, fearing the handover, emigrated overseas. Lee tells Time Out that back then Hong Kong, facing the loss of large amounts of talent, needed to attract those who moved away to come back. Hence Article 24 was included in the Basic Law, stating that all Chinese citizens born in Hong Kong before or after the handover, and their children born overseas, have the right of abode in Hong Kong. In other words, the article was meant for emigrants’ children born overseas.

“At that time the central government promised it would strictly control the number of people allowed to come to Hong Kong,” Lee recalls. “Who would have thought Hong Kong would open to individual Mainland tourists in the future?”

Currently there are four popular suggestions to solve the Mainland mother problem:

  1. Administrative means;
  2. Seeking reinterpretation of the Article 24 by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress;
  3. Amending the Basic Law; and
  4. Letting the Court of Final Appeal overrule its 2001 decision.

Lee rules out the last three suggestions immediately. He says the reinterpretation will harm Hong Kong’s judicial independence; it will be nearly impossible to amend the Basic Law because no government would like to admit its fundamental law is wrong, and the process of amending the Basic Law is long and complicated; and, likewise, no highest court would like to admit its ruling is wrong.

The administrative route is preferred by Lee. “The government has cut the quota for public hospitals sharply this year, and promised it will prioritise local mothers’ demand,” he says. “And the immigration officials have also successfully blocked many Mainland mothers. As long as the government keeps actively enforcing the regulations, Hong Kong citizens’ benefits will be well protected.”

The quota of Mainland mothers for public and private hospitals this year is 34,400, a 20 percent cut from last year, while the quota for public hospitals has been cut over 65 percent from 9,800 last year down to 3,400 this year. But the quota is for Mainland couples as well as Mainland mothers with a Hong Kong husband, which has stirred protests among Hong Kong-Mainland families.

“This is such an unfair system,” says Chan Waihung, a social worker at the Mainland-Hong Kong Families Association. “Hong Kong mothers with Mainland husbands are treated as local mothers and prioritised, but Mainland mothers with Hong Kong husbands are not. This is ridiculous!”

According to government estimates, by 2030, a quarter of Hong Kong’s population is expected to reach age 65 and older. Another government research shows that around 60 percent of Mainland mothers’ children could come back to study or work before the age of 21.

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If they come, when will they come? What will be their levels of education? Will they need public housing or social security? What influence will they have on this ageing society? Perhaps it is these uncertainties that make Hongkongers stigmatise Mainland mothers.

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Luxury brand shopper with Chanel and Gucci bags.

The Great Shop Forward

The massive mainland tourism trade is having significant side-effects on Hong Kong

By Shirley Zhao

When it opened up to individual Mainland tourists in 2003, Hong Kong, stricken by SARS and in the midst of an economic crisis, chose the quickest and most direct way to recovery. And it worked too. Millions of Mainland tourists rushed through the borders, instantly reviving various tourism-related industries and helping to propel the flailing economy back into the fast lane. Barely a decade on, however, and the policy has become hugely controversial and highly unpopular with Hong Kong citizens.

According to statistics from the Census and Statistics Department and the Hong Kong Tourism Board, more than 28 million Mainland tourists visited Hong Kong in 2011, of which 60 percent were individual tourists, almost 26 times more than in 2003. This year, in February alone, Hong Kong saw an influx of around 2.3 million Mainland tourists, 65 percent of which were individual travellers – an 18 percent increase on February last year.

On the back of this Mainland tourist and shopper boom, the HK tourism industry now accounts for three percent of the city’s GDP, compared to 1.7 percent back in 2003. While many Mainlanders come to our tax haven to buy luxuries (free of the 17 percent value-added tax and other consumption levies in the Mainland), many others find Hong Kong the most convenient place to buy quality daily goods such as baby formulas, medicine, cosmetics and toiletries. According to a survey by the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, prices for luxury goods in China are 45 percent higher than in Hong Kong, and not surprisingly, the retail sector has become one of the biggest winners. Last year, retail sales enjoyed a whopping year-on-year growth of 25 percent.

Other related industries like hotels and transport have also been securing large profits. Take Leung Hung’s situation. He bought a floor of a building in Mong Kok in 2001 for $1.2 million, and turned it into a seven-room business hotel. Now the hotel has a full occupancy rate all year round, mostly by Mainland tourists. “The business here is going well,” says Leung modestly. “Although I don’t like the overcrowded streets of Mong Kok, I do benefit from the increasing Mainland travellers. For me, it’s always a good thing.”

Despite their contribution to the Hong Kong economy, there is growing resentment towards Mainland tourists flooding Hong Kong’s shopping streets, malls and tourist attractions. Many blame the Mainland boom for the knock-on effect of rising property prices and limiting resources.

According to research conducted by Ming Pao newspaper early this year, only 16 percent of 613 interviewees thought they had benefitted from the surge in Mainland tourism, while 73 percent thought there were no benefits at all.

“I used to live in a neighbourhood in Mong Kok with small stores selling various goods,” says 42-year-old Cheung Wing-cheung, a technician.

“Now they are replaced by a large shopping mall. I don’t want to go to Tsim Sha Tsui nowadays because it’s full of Mainland people, and everywhere you go, you hear Putonghua. Sometimes I don’t know if the city still belongs to us.”

Yu Chi-shing, who used to run a small snack store in Causeway Bay, had to move his store to North Point in 2009, because he could not afford the rent when he tried to renew the contract. “The rent was almost three times higher than before,” says Yu. “And I don’t think the landlord had the intention to renew the contract at all, even if I agreed to pay him the amount he required. He had probably made a deal with a big buyer already.”

Francis Lui Ting-ming, professor of economics at the University of Science and Technology, sees potential solutions in amending the government’s land policy. “The key to solving the problem is for the government to increase land supply for commercial use,” he says. “There is only four sq km of land approved for commercial use in Hong Kong,” Lui explains. “It certainly cannot deal with so many Mainland buyers. With nowhere else to build more shopping malls, the landlords can only raise the rents. That will either force smaller stores out or force them to raise the retail prices to cover the rising rents. Thus even though Mainland tourists are spending money here, common Hong Kong people don’t gain anything from it. Most of the money goes to a few people like the landlords.”

Lui also says Mainland tourists are not the ones to blame. “Countries across the world want to attract more tourists. Now that we have so many, why should we chase them away?”

Lui suggests that the government can approve areas of land in New Territories North and Tung Chung for commercial use, so that developers can build what he calls ‘super shopping malls’, where Mainland buyers can head directly for shopping, and downtown districts can be less crowded. “It’ll be easier to manage and more convenient for both Mainland shoppers and Hong Kong citizens.”

Whether large numbers of Mainland consumers and investors will keep coming to Hong Kong remains uncertain, as there are growing expectations that the central government could substantially cut taxes on consumption and luxury goods, after recent comments from former deputy commerce minister Wei Jianguo and Finance Minister of China Xie Xuren.

“This comes at a time the [Hong Kong] government is building everything from new bridges to high speed rail links to whisk ever more Mainland tourists into town,” says commentator Craig Stephen in a Wall Street Journal column. “Hong Kong had better hope it will still be able to offer bargains.” Or not, depending on your point of view.

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Macau Hong Kong Chinese license plate.

The Cars That Ate Hong Kong?

By Ysabelle Cheung

The roads between Guangdong and Hong Kong are becoming clogged with the wrong kind of traffic – and Hongkongers aren’t happy about it. Thanks to the Hong Kong Mainland China Driving Scheme, cars will be able to travel freely between the two regions. It will operate in two phases. The first, which began on March 30, allows SAR cars into the borders of China. No arguments there. Phase two allows Mainland registered cars into Hong Kong in ad hoc quotas, starting with 50 per day. As you can expect, this part is causing concern. Upon hearing of the proposal back in February, green groups and citizens ignited with fury over what they cited as a blatant ploy to allow more Mainland cars into the SAR. Two weeks after the announcement of the trial scheme, more than 1,500 protestors turned out to vent their fury. They predicted that Mainlanders would pollute the city (strange, given that Hong Kong is already polluted to death), clog up the roads (ditto) and bring dangerous driving to our streets (ditto again). They urged Hong Kong motorists to avoid applying for the rights to travel up north in a bid to unofficially reject the scheme in unified team spirit. That didn’t quite work out.

Many detractors have also pointed to the differences between southern and northern driving patterns and drivers. Although each registered Mainland driver will be required to pass a series of tests before crossing the border (familiarity with Hong Kong driving rules among them), many Hong Kong citizens fear that their streets will become infiltrated with right-lane drivers who share no concern for Hong Kong’s left-driving road rules. It’s a rather ridiculous argument, but it also ties in with congestion worries, with various HK citizens voicing their discontent about losing time in gridlock with this new influx of Mainland cars. Aren’t we already losing time to gridlock?

Through scores of press releases, Hong Kong and Guangdong authorities have attempted to quell these fears and point out the fairly normal figures of Mainlander crash rates on Hong Kong roads. “The general response of the public was positive,” stated a representative from the Transport and Housing bureau of Hong Kong. “Mainland drivers must comply with local traffic ordinances and regulations while driving in Hong Kong.” Shocka.

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