Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying urged residents to consider mainland Chinese's rights to visit the southern China city as well as the economic impacts of restricting tourist influx. His statement Friday seemed to be a change of course from Leung’s and other Hong Kong lawmakers’ promise to propose changing the mainland Chinese visitor policy at the National People’s Congress, China’s annual parliamentary meeting.
"We have to balance mainland residents' need to travel to Hong Kong and their rights under the existing policy with the livelihood of Hong Kong people," Leung said on the sidelines of a meeting of the NPC, according to Reuters. "Also, any adjustments in the policy cannot result in a significant drop in tourist numbers and hence affect the overall economy of Hong Kong and employment."
Hong Kong residents have been clamoring for a change to the multiple-visit visas that mainland Chinese have used in order to visit and buy goods in the city in bulk because of the lack of sales tax on certain goods. Mainland Chinese shoppers often clear shops of daily necessities such as diapers and milk powder. Most recently a protest broke out Sunday in the Yuen Long district, and an estimated 400 demonstrators showed up chanting for the Chinese Communist Party to be toppled and for the shoppers to return to China. The police used pepper spray on the protesters and 38 people were arrested. Protesters have taken to calling mainland Chinese shoppers "locusts."
Over 40 million mainland Chinese tourists visited Hong Kong last year, outnumbering the city’s population of 7.2 million. However, inbound Chinese tourist numbers fell for the first time in about 20 years during the Chinese New Year holidays in February. "It's alarming," said Joseph Tung, Hong Kong's Travel Industry Council executive director, according to Reuters. "Put yourself in their shoes. If you feel as though people are not welcoming you, why would you come to Hong Kong? If these things carry on ... the high spenders in China can just go elsewhere, like Europe."