One Country, Two Systems? Not Really.

With the recent argument between mainland tourists and Hong Kong locals on the subway and Professor Kong Qingdong’s comments in a TV interview, tensions seem to be rising between Hong Kong and the mainland. As China’s economy has risen in the past few years, Hong Kong residents have been less than welcoming to Chinese tourists and investors. The New York Times reports:

The local pastime of “Spot the Mainlander” has long been an amusing diversion in Hong Kong, although it often smacks of arrogance or chauvinism. Everyone seems to have a story — almost certainly apocryphal by now — about a mainland mother holding her naked child by the wrists over a trash can to make toilet. These stories are often set in one of Hong Kong’s marbled, gleaming and obsessively clean shopping malls.

And there are other giveaways, according to Hong Kongers: The mainlanders smoke furiously, talk too loud, ignore traffic lights at crosswalks and roughly elbow their way through Hong Kong’s orderly queues. The women wear too much makeup. And the men sit funny, back on their haunches, like rural peasants. And so the profiling goes.

As China’s economy has soared in recent years, visitors from the north are now arriving with billions of dollars to spend each year. Many Hong Kongers accuse the well-heeled mainlanders of driving up the price of real estate — an odd charge, indeed, given that the speculative flipping of apartments seems to be encoded into everyone’s DNA in the S.A.R. (Meanwhile, it is widely believed here that mainlanders are worried about the social and political stability of China and are using Hong Kong real estate to park their money.)

Locals also complain that Chinese shoppers, scared about food purity and safety back home, have driven up the price of diapers, powdered milk and infant formula, stripping shelves and carting their goods back to the mainland. There’s often a fine line between shopping and smuggling.

After the handover in 1997, opinions about Hong Kong and mainland kinship have fluctuated. More recently, however, more Hong Kong residents seem to have negative feelings for mainlanders, which has Beijing worried about Hong Kong and mainland relations. The Wall Street Journal adds:

A series of incidents in this city have highlighted escalating resentment among Hong Kongers toward the ever-growing presence of mainland Chinese in the city, a shift that has Beijing both incensed and worried.

The deterioration in attitude has expressed itself in protests small and large, with “locusts” the latest insult hurled by Hong Kongers at the millions of mainlanders who come to the city to shop, see the sights and in some cases give birth. The incidents have led to harsh denunciations from Beijing.

In recent weeks the tension has risen following a poll showing that the number of Hong Kong residents identifying themselves as Chinese citizens—as opposed to Hong Kong citizens or a mix of both—fell to 16.6%, a 12-year low. Three years ago, 38.6% of Hong Kong residents considered themselves Chinese citizens.

The dispute feeds the anxieties of China’s leaders who are worried that the first democratic elections in Hong Kong, scheduled for five years from now, could empower forces hostile to Beijing. That helps to explain recent attacks by Chinese officials and Beijing-backed Hong Kong media against U.S. Consul General Stephen Young for comments he made endorsing Hong Kong’s transition to democracy. Beijing deemed his remarks to be interference in local politics.


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