Saturday, February 11, 2012
Tensions Rise Between Hong Kong and Mainland China
Hong Kong residents are growing wary of the increasing numbers of mainland Chinese some of whom are travelling to the island for tourism, and some to take advantage of Hong Kong’s social programs. The number of mainland Chinese travelling to Hong Kong peaked at twenty-eight million in 2011—an amount four times the Hong Kong population of seven million—and anti-Chinese sentiment has culminated in a group of Hong Kong residents raising money to publish a full-page color advertisement in a Hong Kong paper depicting Chinese tourists as a locust overlooking the Hong Kong skyline. Moreover, the number of Hong Kong residents identifying themselves as Chinese fell to 16.6% in 2011—a twelve-year low—down from 38.6% in 2009.
Hong Kong passed from British colonial rule to Chinese control in 1997, and has been operated under a “one country, two systems” policy. Under this policy, Hong Kong is free to determine its own internal affairs, but Beijing controls Hong Kong’s foreign and defense policies. In 1997, Hong Kong residents mostly welcomed the transition as it ended 150 years of British rule and rescued Hong Kong’s struggling economy by opening its borders for increased trade with China. While Hong Kong still generally benefits from trade with China, travel to Hong Kong—primarily from some of mainland China’s wealthiest residents—has increased tension between the mainlanders and Hong Kong residents, as well as the Hong Kong government and Beijing.
Many mainlanders go to Hong Kong to shop for luxury goods because there is no sales tax. In many of Hong Kong’s shopping districts, the mainland Mandarin dialect is heard more often than the local Cantonese dialect, and Hong Kong residents are becoming resentful of seeing the conspicuous consumption of mainlanders who thirty years ago Hong Kong residents viewed as country folk. In January, this resentment came to a head when Hong Kong residents protested and forced a luxury store (Dolce & Gabanna) to close after hearing it permitted mainland tourists to take pictures in front of the store but not local residents.
This relatively minor episode highlights Hong Kong residents’ concerns that mainland Chinese are getting special treatment in Hong Kong in more important ways. Increased wealth, coupled with China’s one-child policy (which is not in effect in Hong Kong), has led a surge in birth tourism (mainland Chinese traveling to Hong Kong to give birth). If a child is born in Hong Kong, the child automatically receives the right to live and work in Hong Kong, carry a Hong Kong passport that eases international travel, access Hong Kong’s health-care system, and twelve years of free education. Over the past ten years, the number of newborns of mainland parents has risen from about 700 in 2000 to over 34,000 in 2011, or 38% of the newborns in the city.
Hong Kong residents complain that mainland Chinese are able to take advantage of the social programs that Hong Kong residents have built through hard work, without contributing to the funding of the social programs themselves. The Hong Kong government worries about access to schools and hospitals, and has already taken action to reduce the quota of hospital beds allocated to non-local mothers to 34,000 annually. In response, Chinese officials in Beijing have assured Hong Kong residents that it will ramp up its efforts to curb mothers travelling to Hong Kong to give birth by imposing heavy fines on those who skirt China’s one-child policy by travelling to Hong Kong.
These ongoing tensions between Hong Kong and Beijing will become more important in the coming years as Hong Kong braces for its first democratic election in 2017. If Hong Kong residents remain resentful of mainland China, it could boost a political party hostile to Beijing’s interests into power and threaten relations between Hong Kong and Beijing.