With the end of the Occupy Central movement, Hong Kong’s delicate socio-political spotlight has turned back onto the growing tension between factions of Hong Kong citizens and the informal cross-border trade known as parallel trading (in Chinese ‘水客’).
Parallel trading involves both Hong Kong citizens and mainland Chinese shopping in the vast malls and shopping centres of Hong Kong, and bulk-buying basic essentials such as baby formula. Prices for many items have risen substantially – baby formula in particular following the contamination scandals across China – as demand has risen.
This has caused problems for locals once already-limited supplies have run out, and their frustration has only been enhanced by the all-too-common sight of mainland Chinese carrying their looted goods from Hong Kong by train back across the border.
The issue emerged from the Hong Kong government’s short-term attempt to inject much need money into the economy. In short, they effectively invited more mainland ‘tourists’ to visit and spend money in Hong Kong. The unintended consequence was that most of the mainland parallel traders visited multiple times by taking advantage of a multiple entry visa policy.
This has allowed the traders to import goods back into the mainland China almost unchecked, fueling the rise of anti-mainland sentiment across Government planning hasn’t helped either in quelling the growing socio-political tension, which has reignited the ‘Hong Kong vs China’ debate not seen since the years immediately prior to the handover in 1997.
The conflict between residents in Hong Kong and the mainland across parts of Hong Kong is growing. However it is also government planning which has failed leading to much sociopolitical tension that has reignited the cultural
These tensions stem from the latter period and end of the British colonial era where Hong Kongers developed a strong sense of indigenous identity to the “one country, two systems” constitutional principle. Protests and violence targeting mainlanders on ‘shopping visits’ to Hong Kong have noticeably increased since 2012. Incidents such as well the well publicised poor behaviour of mainlanders eating and smoking on trains as well as obstructing footpaths particularly at Sheung Shui have led to their growing ire.
Large crowds of protesters attempt to ‘occupy’ a shopping mall in ShaTin in protest against mainlanders and parallel traders.
The governments on both sides of the border crossing are now attempting to take measures to alleviate the situation although previous attempts to curb the issue have proven largely ineffective. Authorities in Guangdong have proposed a new restriction limiting the number of visits from the mainland to two daily.
Hong Kong authorities have already tightened their screening and baggage inspections of outgoing travelers to the mainland. Despite the 1.8kg individual allowance of baby formula imposed on each traveler departing Hong Kong, many continue to allude border controls.
As a result of the multiple-entry permits which are largely unpopular among Hong Kongers, the governments in Guangdong, Hong Kong and the central authority in Beijing have recently stepped up their efforts to dilute the problem, but the success of the latest cross-border policy changes are yet to see much real difference on the already overcrowded shopping areas of northern Hong Kong.
In a further step to counter parallel trading the city of Shenzhen which is directly across the border from Hong Kong announced in early April would soon restrict its residents to one visit to Hong Kong per week instead of permissing an unlimited number of daily trips.
Sheung Shui is a popular destination for parallel traders as it is only a short train journey from the Chinese border crossing.