China to “refresh” policy on mainland visitors to Hong Kong

Amidst growing anger over the swelling numbers of mainland shoppers visiting Hong Kong, the Chinese government said on Thursday that it will “refresh” its policy of granting permits to mainlanders wishing to visit Hong Kong, a territory administered separately from Beijing.

Zhou Bo, deputy head of China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, told the state-run China Daily that they “are talking to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region’s government about refreshing the policies covering visits”.

He did not indicate when the talks would come to a conclusion, but said “it would not take a long time”, according to the newspaper.

Reuters reports that this comes in the midst of mounting anger by Hong Kong residents who accuse mainland tourists of crowding them out of malls and buying up all available supplies of daily necessities. There have been instances of confrontation between mainlanders and local residents which have called for police intervention.

Zhou says that while the influx of mainland visitors has been hailed as a boost to Hong Kong and Macau’s economies, they have also become a burden.

Last year, Hong Kong received over 40 million tourists from the mainland, critically outnumbering the local population of 7.2 million.

Tensions between Hong Kong residents and mainland Chinese have escalated in recent months not only due to the overwhelming flood of mainland tourists arriving in the Special Administrative Region, but also because of the perception of Beijing’s tightening control over the city.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-Ying has assured local residents that he will raise the issue with central government authorities during the annual session of parliament in Beijing.

Returned by the British to China in 1997, Hong Kong is now one of China’s special administrative regions along with Macau under its ‘one country, two systems’ formula that affords the territories its own government and legal system, but gives Beijing the ultimate authority.

For two and a half months last year, pro-democracy protests led by students shut down parts of the city in a rally calling for open nominations for the city’s next chief executive election in 2017.