Hong Kong's Parents Turn to Obama Over Baby Formula Shortage

Hong Kong residents, frustrated by a shortage of powdered baby formula caused by mainland Chinese smugglers making a run on the city's stocks, have launched a petition seeking help from the White House.

The petition, launched on January 29, has collected more than 22,000 signatures so far and sparked international media interest, with outlets such as Reuters and the Strait Times covering the story.

Demand from mainland Chinese customers, who are wary of their own milk industry ever since melamine-tainted milk sold by China's largest producer killed three babies and sickened thousands in 2008, have turned Hong Kong into an entrepôt of foreign milk powder for China, which places heavy taxes on imported brands. Smugglers buy large quantities of the powdered baby formula tins in Hong Kong and carry the load over the border into mainland China several times a day to be sold there.

Infant-formular milk powders are transported out of the city through "professional" travelers. Image from Badcanto. Non-commercial use.

Powdered infant formula is transported out of the city through “professional” travelers. Image from Badcanto. Non-commercial use.

For Hong Kong parents, it is difficult to afford the formula with such an organized smuggling network buying up stock and driving up prices, according to the petition:

Local parents in Hong Kong can hardly buy baby formula milk powder in drugstores and supermarkets, as smugglers from mainland China storm to this tiny city to buy milk powder and resell for huge profits in China. Many retailers stockpiled milk powder and are reluctant to sell to local parents as the shops can sell their stocks in big cartons to mainland smuggler for huge profits. Countries like Germany, the Netherlands, Australia, and New Zealand exercise rationed sale to tourist buyers from China for milk powder but the Hong Kong government simply frame the situation as a matter of free trade and refuse to exercise law which is already there to stop cross-border smuggling. We request for international support and assistance as babies in Hong Kong will face malnutrition very soon.

Two Facebook campaign pages (in Chinese and English) have launched to promote the petition. The goal is to collect 100,000 signature by February 28 so that the President Obama is forced to respond to the demand.

Public resentment of the shortage in Hong Kong is fierce; the Dictionary of Politically Incorrect Hong Kong Cantonese blog has translated some social media discussions reflecting that. The blogger highlighted a quote from online opinion leader Chin Wan's Facebook commenting on the government's earlier proposal of setting up a network distribution system among local residents:

Hong Kong has officially fallen to the enemy’s hand. Baby food has to be on ration. The Hong Kong Communist government, who came up with this suggestion shamelessly, doesn’t know that implementation of food rationing is a humiliation to the local people. Is this the period when Hong Kong was occupied by the Japanese military? Why don’t they restrict smugglers from buying infant formula?” Why don’t they arrest smugglers? Instead, the government deal with Hong Kong legal residents by requiring them to register with the rationing system. This is because Hong Kong is ruled by the Chinese colonist government, and its behavior is like WW2 Japanese military government. The status of Mainland Chinese is like Japanese during the time of Japanese occupation, and they enjoy the privileges of colonists. All Hong Kong compatriots, from the behavior of the Hong Kong Communist government, Hongkongers have fallen to become second-class slaves.

Though the Chinese government is certainly not happy about such move, mainland Chinese netizens are quite sympathetic toward the petition. In the comment section [zh] of Caijing magazine's report on the petition, many blame the Chinese government for failing to control its own food industry:


We have warships and spaceships, while we don't have good enough quality milk for the future of the country. Such as strange country.

别国都说中国人口太多,没一个国家能为中国应供足够奶品了, 抢到别人喊救命了还骂别人为啥不给抢,为啥国人就是不肯改善自己的产品?连基本道德问题都处理不了谈什么强国?走出国别人只会说中国人连婴儿也要毒害,海外华人的脸都给你们丢光了!怪不得有钱的都要外逃不想做中国人了!

Other countries said China's population is too huge and they can't produce enough milk product to meet our demand. Now they call for help and we condemn them for restricting our purchase. Why don't we improve our own product? We can't be a strong country without addressing the fundamental moral question. If we enter the global market like this, people would say that we are poisoning their babies. Now overseas the Chinese are humiliated by all of your behavior. No wonder the rich want to escape the country and give up their Chinese nationality.


In principle, we should support Chinese brands. However, if you see how cows are bred in foreign countries and in China, I bet you wouldn't dare give your kids Chinese milk powder.


New national humiliation


The U.S.A and Obama must feel very tired.


So satirical. This is behavioral art performance.


Mainland Chinese should also make their appeal to Obama to solve the milk powder problem.

Two days after the petition was launched, the Hong Kong government responded to the crisis with a hotline that parents could call to order powdered infant formula from suppliers. It also passed a new regulation limiting visitors to carrying no more than two tins of milk powder over the border per day. The policy has calmed public outrage for the moment.

However, with issues stemming from Hong Kong's border control (such as the issuing of visas with multiple entries), the free trade agreement between Hong Kong and mainland China, as well as cross-border development projects the two countries have undertaken, the complicated and at times problematic trade relationship between Hong Kong and communist mainland China will continue to be just that.

Oiwan Lam contributed to this article.

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