Hong Kong Protests Against Milk Powder 'Day Trippers' as China Eyes Action

March 9, 2015 10:24 AM
Hong Kong Protests Against Milk Powder 'Day Trippers' as China Eyes Action

Provincial Chinese governor calls on traders not to go to Hong Kong for milk powder, which is popular with Chinese tourists concerned about food safety.

Hong Kong protesters rallied against traders who snap up goods in the city to sell in the mainland, as the governor of China’s second-most populous province sought to discourage people from going to the city to buy milk powder.

Scuffles broke out between police and protesters at the Tuen Men and Tsim Sha Tsui neighborhoods yesterday, leading to the arrest of six people, the government said. Hong Kong residents are demanding controls on traders, who cross the border to buy necessities in the city to resell in China.

The traders are exploiting concerns about safety of products such as milk powder in China, while the protests reflect anxiety that the Chinese are overwhelming Hong Kong and skewing the cost of goods for locals. It was the fourth week in a row for rallies in areas with transportation links to the Shenzhen border.

“The massive influx of day trippers has created a lot of public outcry,” Kevin Lai, a Hong Kong-based economist at Daiwa Capital Markets, said by phone today. “In many ways the day trippers have also crowded out some of the better, higher spenders.”

An influx of Chinese visitors has prompted the city’s government to consider curbs on tourist arrivals. Instead of rich Chinese flying in, the city is seeing an increasing number of visitors with big luggages hoarding up space in its subways, on its buses and on the pavements as they buy shampoo, groceries and medicine.

Retail sales in the city fell 14.6 percent in January from a year ago, with expenditure on luxury items down 21.4 percent.

Force Closures

A group of protesters first went to the Sheng Shui district before heading to Tuen Mun, the South China Morning Post said today. Some people rushed into a jewelry shop and shouted at customers, forcing its closure, the SCMP said. Some pharmacies also shut because of the disruption, the newspaper said.

“They shoved police officers at scene, caused disturbances to road users and shops, threw rubbish bins, and attempted to block the road with mills barriers,” the police said in a statement. About 150 people took part, the police said.

Protesters chanted “Combat illegal parallel trade” and “Buy mainland goods if you are really patriotic,” according to footage from Hong Kong Cable TV.

A second group of about 80 protesters also caused disruption around the Tsim Sha Tsui area, the police said.

On Saturday, the governor of China’s Shandong called on those from the province not to go to Hong Kong for milk powder, which is popular with Chinese tourists concerned about food safety that it’s sparked anger among Hong Kong residents who say local supplies are being sapped.

Creating Pressure

Guo Shuqing told a meeting of Shandong delegates to the nation’s legislature that he didn’t want to see too many tourists from the coastal province visiting Hong Kong. Shandong was China’s second-most populous province in 2013 with 97.3 million people, according to government data.

“Shandong has a big population and we don’t want to see too many individual tourists creating pressure for Hong Kong,” Guo said Saturday. “Especially we don’t want to see Shandong people running to Hong Kong to buy milk powder. We promise Shandong people won’t go there scrambling for milk powder.”

Chinese shoppers have favored milk powder from abroad after contaminated baby formula killed at least six infants and sickened thousands of others since 2008. In 2013, Hong Kong imposed a limit of two 2-pound cans apiece on outbound travelers.

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said Friday that China would look into the impact of visitors on the city. On Saturday, Chinese Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng said the government is aware of “new problems” with cross-border visits and will optimize its Hong Kong tourism policy, at a briefing during the National People’s Congress in Beijing.

Tourists from mainland China rose 16 percent to 47 million in 2014 from a year earlier, according to the Hong Kong Tourism Board. Day trips accounted for a record 60 percent of these, compared with 38 percent in 2006.

Public discontent over the rising number of Chinese tourists have boiled over in the past, as when Hong Kong newspapers referred to mainland Chinese as locusts.

--With assistance from Feifei Shen in Beijing and Vinicy Chan and Lisa Pham in Hong Kong.

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