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Hong Kong Rethinks its Relationship with Mainland China

Categories: China, Hong Kong (China), Citizen Media, Development, Economics & Business, Migration & Immigration, Politics

2012 will see the 15th anniversary of the return of Hong Kong to mainland China. But Hong Kongers have little mood for celebration. A survey [1] conducted by the University of Hong Kong in December 2011, found that the number of respondents who view themselves as Hong Kongers is more than double the number who view themselves as Chinese.

Over the years, it has been a received wisdom that blessing from the mainland underpins the development of Hong Kong. This is most apparent when China’s support helped Hong Kong endure the 2003 SARS epidemic crisis and the 2009 global financial meltdown. However, after recent social and cultural clashes with the mainland, the Hong Kong public is now questioning that wisdom.


Comical presentation of Professor Kong Qingdong, by Hong Kong cartoonist Cuson Lo

In January 2012, hundreds of Hong Kongers protested outside luxury store Dolce & Gabbana [3], which allowed mainland Chinese tourists but not local residents to take photos in front of the store. In a separate incident, disputes broke out between Hong Kong passengers and mainland tourists who ate on a train. It turned into a public fury when Peking University professor Kong Qingdong added fuel by saying that Hong Kong people are “running dogs [4]”.

In fact, in recent months, news headlines in Hong Kong are all about how mainlanders ‘invade’ the city. Local hospitals are stretched to the limits [5] as pregnant women from the mainland crossed the border to give birth with the hope of securing a Hong Kong passport for their offspring. Mainland buyers exhausted the Hong Kong baby milk powder market [6] amid food scandals in China. And as millions of Chinese tourists visit the city every year, it seems that all local residents could feel is their disregard of civic values and rule of law.

Last year, Hong Kong netizens made a popular music video named Locust World, which described mainland Chinese as “locusts” who like to “jump queues, spit in public”, “shout in restaurants, hotels and shops” and would use up the city’s resources. A version with English subtitle could be found here:

A view which is very common among mainlanders is that “without China’s economic support, Hong Kong would have been dead long ago.” But many Hong Kongers now think that the “mainland invasion” has done more harm than good to Hong Kong. Certain sectors, like retail, finance and real estate, have benefited greatly from mainlanders, but the inflation and housing bubbles created make the rest suffer. Furthermore, Hong Kong’s public system is yet to be prepared for a large influx of mainlanders. There is also a fear of the erosion of traditional Hong Kong values like the rule of law.

These views are now prevalent among Hong Kong bloggers and social critics. It is a complex challenge facing Hong Kong, one interlaced with local vs. mainland and poor vs. rich conflicts.

At Asia Sentinel, Alice Poon, a former real estate professional and author of Land and the Ruling Class in Hong Kong [7], explores [8] the value gap between mainland and Hong Kong, and the fact that only a narrow range of sectors could benefit from closer relationship with the mainland:

The unbridgeable gap seems to be between (Hong Kongers’) acceptance and (most mainlanders’) rejection of or aversion to universal values like rule of law, democracy, equality and liberty. It is not through the latter’s fault that they find these values alien; it’s just because they have been living under a political system that has infiltrated them with the idea that those are not Chinese values and therefore no good for them. The system has taught people that all they need worry about is the economy and how to make money and practically nothing else. Morals aren’t important. Corruption can be tolerated. There is of course no lack of intellectuals in China who have refused to be brainwashed and who truly embrace universal values, but most of them unfortunately are rewarded with either political exile or incarceration.

It goes without saying that the only Hong Kong people who welcome mainland tourists, immigrants and shoppers are developers and their cronies (real estate agents, contractors etc.), especially those who are large shopping mall landlords. Even for retailers, whether or not they can benefit from the influx depends on whether the products they sell are mainlanders’ favorites. As for the rest of Hong Kongers, all they can feel towards the swamping inflow is resentment.

Meanwhile, however, the influx of Chinese capitals and tourists could have some damaging long-term effects on Hong Kong’s economy. Stanley5’s Blog explains [9]:

正正是因為「自由行」、中資企業來港上市,以及給境外人士投資地產 ,搞到香港白白失去產業轉型的機會。現在香港只有金融、地產與旅遊服務業,大量人才與資金被吸過去,地價租金又被推高,以至製造業消亡,其他產業也一蹶不振,就連我最愛的港產片也快要消失了。我經常說:論出口品牌,韓國有SAMSUNG,台灣有 HTC,新加坡也有CREATIVE,香港有什麼?山寨機?莎莎?屈臣氏?米蘭站?

It is because of Hong Kong’s dependence on mainland tourists, the listing of Chinese enterprises in Hong Kong, and Chinese investments in real estate that it loses the opportunity to transform itself. Today, Hong Kong can only boost its finance, real estate and tourism services industries, which suck in a large amount of resources and talents. The real estate bubble leads to the death of the manufacturing industry. Other industries and products, like my favourite Hong Kong films, are also dying. I always say: in terms of export brands, South Korea has Samsung, Taiwan has HTC, even Singapore has Creative. What does Hong Kong have? Copycat phones? Sa Sa? Watson’s? Milan Station? [Note: The latter three are Hong Kong retailers.]

但令我討厭的是,現在不少來自大陸的所謂「遊客」,其實並非來旅遊,也非欣賞香港,而是為了「辦貨」、帶水貨,賺兩地貨幣的匯率差價,還有不少人是挪用公款、洗黑錢 (例如 D&G 要保護的人)。但最難頂的是他們部分人的惡劣舉止與財大氣粗。你叫我要包容,我告訴你,他們很多人根本就沒有「自由行」的資格!

But what annoys me is that many of the so-called “tourists” from mainland come here not to tour, but to buy products only to resell them for a profit in the mainland. And a large number of them do this with black money (like those under Dolce & Gabbana’s protection). And what is most disgusting is their rude behavior. If you tell me to be tolerant, I would say that many of them do not qualify to be “tourists”!

Profile image of @leungmantao

If the abundance of natural resources is an economic curse for some countries, the closeness to Chinese spending power is another form of curse for Hong Kong. Hong Kong has one of the highest levels of income inequality in the world. This is where you can find the world’s third-most expensive shopping strip [11], while over 100,000 people have to live in 6ft by 2ft “cage homes [12]”. As Hong Kong has gotten more and more wealthy, many local residents are left behind. Prominent social critic Leung Man To draws our attention [13] to the decline of Venice as an ominous warning for Hong Kong:


After its decline, Venice could only depend on tourism for income; but as visitors become numerous, prices of commodities and real estates skyrocketed. This drove away the local residents. Today, only 60,000 residents remain in this glorious city which once dominated the Mediterranean for a thousand years. I can see Hong Kong following the path of Venice, at least from its restaurants. It is increasingly difficult to find “value for money” eating out places, but it’s not hard to find places which are expensive but so-so. Of course, you still have many choices if you are willing to pay. As the piece of meat in the “meat-egg noodles” you get in restaurant becomes thinner, and more and more people around you migrate to the mainland, how can we not feel angry? How can we not feel perilous?

That being said, while Hong Kong could blame the mainland for all the social issues, it might have more to do with the policy failures of the Hong Kong government. In the opinion [14] of blogger Grey Reporter:


As a prosperous city, Hong Kong has shockingly high inequality. The grassroots population lacks basic security, and the middle class is not much better. Justice, diversity, city planning, environmental protection, culture and innovation…… in all these regards, Hong Kong lacks behind other cities which can justly call themselves rich. All these have nothing to do with the mainlanders.


The government has no long-term planning to encourage minority groups or immigrants from mainland to integrate into the Hong Kong society. It also lacks a comprehensive and long-term approach to tackle the lack of resources in health care, housing and education. It views them in bits and pieces. In the end, when cracks appear in the public system, populist opinion directs their anger at the “outsiders” who steal away their fair share. But what we should criticize is the government’s failure to plan for the long-term.

In the end, he hopes that ordinary Hong Kong people could realize the fact that they, like most mainlanders, live in an unjust political system under which the rich and the powerful collude. They share the same destiny, that is, to end this injustice:


Actually, Hong Kongers and mainlanders share the same destiny – to end the authoritarian rule of the Chinese Communist Party and the collusion between the rich and the powerful. Relatively speaking, the “uncivilized” behaviors of some mainlanders do not matter much. After all, if Hong Kong calls itself an inclusive society, it should be more tolerant and patient. Thirty or forty years ago, Hong Kong was not much better (and not all Hong Kongers now are civilized). We have gone through the same path.