Yippee – another 4 million tourists are coming!

Shenzhen’s 4.1 million non-permanent residents – migrant workers, in other words – will be able to visit Hong Kong with Shenzhen-issued multiple-entry permits starting Saturday. Previously, they had to return to their hometowns to get the paperwork. While Commerce and Economic Development Secretary Greg So blathers away about how this will be a boost to the Big Lychee’s retail and catering industries, everyone else (even China Daily quotes anti-tourism activists)  is asking pointed questions.

Where the hell will all these people actually be wedged in, on our sidewalks, in our trains and in our shops? Please show us the empty space they will physically occupy. And what have we done to deserve this? Why does Shenzhen hate us so much that it would commit such an act of plain malice?

The Hong Kong government, which clearly was not consulted about this, is scrambling to assure the 99% of us who do not own Greg So’s beloved retail outlets that it will somehow manage the expected new influx. No details, as they say, are available. With 270 million Mainlanders already eligible to visit Hong Kong on an individual, multiple basis, it could be that this extra number may make relatively little difference. Having said that, they are right next door, not living hundreds of miles away in Shanghai or somewhere.

Stereotypically, the migrant workers are the social and economic underclass of modern urban China. They live in shanties or dorms; they work for pittances on construction sites; they have no access to subsidized public health or education services; they are prone to commit crime. In reality, most are probably clean-living, hard-working factory workers saving to start a business back in their home province or hoping to qualify for local ID.

The fact is that, while each one takes up the same space as your standard Mainland tourist, they probably on average have far less money to spend. So maybe they won’t come here because they can’t afford it. Alternatively, it could mean trouble. How long will it be before they find out that our hospitals treat patients for no fee and present bills on trust? How long before they find they can commute across the border to wash dishes or break scrap metal for double their Shenzhen wages? How long before some of them find Hongkongers are wimps who are easy to mug and carry lots of cash and fancy accessories?

Defenders of the government like to point out that we are all one country now, and Hong Kong must in time be as accessible as anywhere else. Shanghai, Chicago and Munich aren’t sealed off from the rest of their countries, and ultimately Hong Kong can’t be. But the differences between Hong Kong and its hinterland are so great as to cause serious distortions in travel patterns and the local market. Up there, there is a tax on luxury goods, the milk powder might be poisonous and the cosmetics might be fake and even dangerous; down here, designer labels are tax-free, the milk powder is pure and goods are real and safe. Until things have evened out, Hong Kong will be under artificial pressure from people wanting to visit. For poorer Mainlanders, it’s an arbitrageur’s (or smuggler’s) paradise.

One quick fix to the problem would be for Hong Kong to introduce its own tax on luxury goods; bingo, half the Mainlanders would go somewhere else. But this is looking at it logically from the public’s point of view. To our policymakers, millions of tourists are good, therefore tens of millions of tourists must be better, and hundreds of millions must be so utterly wonderful that words cannot describe it. No-one has ever done a cost-benefit analysis on all this, presumably because vested interests (landlords, basically) don’t want us to see how much the rest of us are subsidizing their huge profits.

Every time a mall puts a rent up to levels only a Mainland-serving luxury brand tenant can afford, the effects ripple out across the rest of the city. The previous tenant goes somewhere else, and a chain of relocations must take place, ending ultimately in a local store serving local people vanishing. And unlike small local operators, the labels and landlords promptly send much of their income out of Hong Kong, so it doesn’t circulate much in the local economy. For every job created, another has probably been lost. And prices and/or inconvenience go up for ordinary residents. Like so many others, South China Morning Post columnist Michael Chugani swallows the ‘retail-is-good’ line and says the sector would ‘die’ without Mainlanders. It wouldn’t die; it would simply go back to serving local needs. Abercrombie & Fitch’s multi-million emporium would die; the harmless China Tee Club would come back.

(The current market distortion also takes a toll on us through mental and physical stress created by the extra crowding and pollution. No tourist has yet been hurled to his death from the Mid-Levels Escalator, but I swear it is only a matter of time before a local resident snaps. Like so much of our infrastructure, it is clogged with guidebook-clutching hordes who think the transport system is a Disneyland ride just for them. I will happily be a defence witness.)

Of course, this way of looking at it presumes this phenomenon is being contrived to benefit the landlords – the same oligarchic property developers who already extract so much of our wealth. But it could be more subtle than that (or, indeed, less subtle). It could be that this is part of the whole sinister National Education, astronaut-worship, Mainlandization, conditioning-through-immersion preparation for 2047. A lot of not especially paranoid people perceive it that way, because it feels like it, and the benefits to the landlords and costs to everyone else are so extreme that they look like unintended consequences of a totally different and heavy handed policy that is being implemented too quickly.

A bureaucrat’s paranoid conspiracy theory to answer the above question on evil Mainland motives: Shenzhen’s leaders are unhappy that the Hong Kong government isn’t taking seriously their efforts to launch numerous financial and other grandiose-sounding hub-zone projects, so they are taking revenge by unleashing 4 million of their unwashed on us and landing the CY Leung administration in yet more doo-doo. (A purely fictitious idea, © 2012.)

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27 Responses to Yippee – another 4 million tourists are coming!

  1. Bela Bladerunner says:

    More locusts!

    Heuschrecken für alle! I love, love it, LOVE IT!!!!

    in 1988, a colleague said to me: “In 1997, these people will disappear up their own axxholes.”

    And lo…it came to pass…the grosses Arschloch vill soon be arriving!!!

    More Dior, more Chanel, more crowded buses and more garlic!!!

    Oh dear, maybe it isn’t such a good idea after all…

  2. Maugrim says:

    Worse still, I’m sure I read that other provinces are allowing their migrant workers the same relaxation of conditions as their Shenzhen counterparts. What is truly chilling is that the Chinese economy isn’t what it used to be. As such spending in a lot of our Mainland centred businesses is down if not downright flat. But they still come. Walking, squatting, spitting, and browsing. What will HK be like when Mainlanders start having more cash to spend?

    The excellent pollitically incorrect Cantonese has more:

  3. Will.I.Blam says:

    The Xinjiang Endlösung in full force. But there does seem to be a certain… acceleration effect at play. The more the better the faster. I thought I could last another 10 years here, but certainly willing to leave my options open. Let me put it this way… if I had wanted to live on the mainland, I’d just live on the mainland. Politely decline. If indeed Hong Kong is hell-bent on actually losing its identity in the process of pimping its soul, I see very little reason to stay on here.

  4. oddsox says:

    I’ve never understood why the Mainland seems to control who from there comes here and have been too lazy to find out why. Why doesn’t HK exercise its own control over who visits or settles from the Mainland and when? Could someone who actually understands HK/Mainland immigration policy please explain this.

  5. Quality of Life says:

    Mandarin speaking couple on the MTR have their kid stood up on a seat. I’m thinking that’s kind of rude, someone else will soon be sitting on that seat. Imagine my horror when — you guessed it — they proceed to pull down his pants, hold up an empty plastic water bottle and capture a stream of urine from his fully exposed member.

  6. Real Tax Payer says:

    Nothing personal against our Northern Brethren, but I can see that such a huge influx will really overload the transport system – especially the KCR from Lo Wu. And that is a serious problem for commuters.

    Same as allowing Mainland drivers to come to HK – our roads are crowed enough as it is, and I can imagine the chaos if they start parking willy-nilly* in crowded business areas . It’s hard enough to persuade itinerant lazy parking wardens to book even a couple of the dozens illegally parked people movers one sees . I can see their horror when they see a naked mainland number plate, and thinking of all the extra paperwork it will cause to follow up on the case

    (* if you have not tried parking willy-nilly, do so one day: it’s real FUN ! )

  7. Old Timer says:

    The Lunatics are Taking Over the Asylum.

  8. Mary Hinge says:

    So there I was, in the HK Wetland Park the other week, and I was delighted to learn that it had a multi-media, eco-friendly exhibition on the perils of overcrowding, pollution and the introduction of non-indiginous species to the biodiversity of fragile ecosystems. Except that when I entered the hall I found that I couldn’t get anywhere near it for all the tour groups of bloody mainlanders …

  9. Jonathan Stanley says:

    Mid-Levels Escalator… surely the East Rail line, with its lack of platform barriers/screen doors. Well… barrel, shooting, fish?

  10. Big Al says:

    This is yet another example of the administration running Hong Kong like a listed company (we even have a CEO, for fuck’s sake) seeking to maximise profits at the expense of all else (i.e. the local population). I’m sure our civil servants and administrators become tumecent with pride as our stock price, sorry, foreign currency reserves, get bigger and bigger. And for what? Who benefits from this pathaolgical hoarding of cash, other than the usual suspects via building more pointless infrastructure?

    Thought of the Day: Why are companies driven to maximise shareholder return? What if all companies were limited by law to providing shareholders with a maximim 5% return? What could they do with all the spare cash? Rather than squeezing every last cent out of employees and suppliers to pay parasitic shareholders, companies could spend more on benefits for employees, be more generous with suppliers (all the way down the supply chain to the primary producers), improve pollution control and lower costs to consumers. Billions would benefit, rather than a few blood-sucking shareholders. What a different world we would be living in …

  11. PropertyDeveloper says:

    A red tide came creeping over the new de facto border a few days ago, suffocating all in its way. A portent?

    Quality of Life: think, it could easily have been worse…

  12. Tiu Fu Fong says:

    What if all companies could only return no more than 5%? Then everyone would invest in low risk, low return equities like infrastructure funds and anything riskier could not access funding. Investment revolves around “higher risk requires higher return”. Your proposal would kill innovation faster than a Chinese education.

  13. Reductio says:

    West Rail is the same way as East Rail. Packed like sardines and every carriage with half a dozen jokers with baggage on their way to Tsuen Wan to stock up on milk powder, face whitening masks and gold. Standby for some more YouTube vids with Tagline “Hong Kong Locusts”.

  14. Stephen says:

    This could be interesting – light the touchpaper and watch it go bang !

    Then what ? We are supposed to have harmony, love the Country (and party) and yet all this will cause is aggro.

    And how will China React ? (Because lets be honest two systems and the HK Government is no more than a pathetic joke) Well, going by previous form, not very well.

  15. Chopped Onions says:

    The Han are coming!!!! Run, or stay and fight.

  16. Vile says:

    Come now, mustn’t be selfish. The Berlin Wall would never have come down if the Ostberliner hadn’t had the Westberliner to look to as a shining example of fair play and good, Prussian values. Think of the future of the motherland! If the price is the complete and utter destruction of what’s left of the Pearl of the Orient, that is indeed a small price to pay for the democratic betterment and progress of greater Cathay.

    Innovation, incidentally, is at best marginally linked to investment, and only then in the sense of, let’s hypothesise, the mass marketing of one particular intelligent mobile device in favour of a technically better one. Innovators tend to be clever chaps and chapesses who think of stuff but ordinarily neglect to protect their IP properly.

  17. Chimp says:

    I have a cunning plan.

    Tax every arriving Mainlander RMB2,000 per week, paid in advance. The proceeds, less 10% for “expenses”, to be distributed pro rata to every HK resident, on his/her birthday. Accompanied by a nice card.

    Build a fucking great shopping mall at Shataukok. Move the birds somewhere nice. Or whatever. Have it run by the Link, with profits to go into the “birthday fund”.

    “Accidentally” sever rail links from Shataukok south. Except to Disneyland. It will cost RMB500 to take the train to Disneyland from Shataukok.

    Add an RMB500 a head/night tax to all hotel stays / campsites for anyone not able to produce a local ID or a proper visa. Proceeds to go to the “birthday fund”.

    We will need to employ loads of inspectors to police campsites and so on. Meanwhile, they can also hand out spot fines for, e.g., smoking/spitting and all that. Completely self funding. I suggest commissions for the inspectors, but only when they catch people without local ID. It could be like those creepy semi-retired gents in Singapore.

    It literally can’t fail. We create loads of well paid jobs. We get a bunch of cash for our birthdays. Campsites are cleaned up, smokers scared, litterers licked.

  18. Real Tax Payer says:

    The Han Chinese are in fact the original “Yellow River ” inhabitants of Chinese Mandarin. The Yellow River Hans were squeezed to the South by the invading waves of northerners until they ended up in Guangdong, thus Cantonese is one of the oldest languages in China

    Eventually all original Hong Kongers will be squeezed first onto HK Island and finally into Stanley Village

    Buy now in Stanley main street before prices go up !

  19. Prodigal_Son says:

    Oh how right Michael Chugani is. Lord knows, growing up in the Big Lychee, it always pained me to glimpse the struggling wretch that was our retail sector.

    Thank heavens for our munificent mainland brethren! Their patronage has lifted our stores out of the wretched slums in which they squatted!

  20. Alfred Bester says:

    Hemmers, you are letting the side down today in your usual, thorough, insightful, cutting edge search for juxtaposition glitches. Surely page 1 of the SubStandard, which puts a Club Med infinity pool picture next to a columbarium “View to Die For” headline, is worth a mention.

    My mind idly wanders to the thought of Club Med issuing a set number of plastic meal and cocktail tokens to each urn occupant. I guess this is a good way to prevent hungry ghosts at least.

  21. Maugrim says:

    I wonder how this’ll will all play out at election time? Leung might well rue the provincial government”s timing if there is a backlash against say the DAB.

  22. Joe Blow says:

    Why don’t you colonial-era dinosaurs stop being so reactionary ? Hong Kong has put up with you lot long enough, and nobody is complaining.

  23. Real Scot Player says:

    Good post from Hemmers today. Best analysis on the web for this decision. I reckon The Economist might rehash today’s post

  24. Real Tax Payer says:

    @ Chimp

    Your plan has a lot of merit ( although lacking somewhat in fine details …. !)

    I second it because it will relieve my taxes, which I hate to go towards subsidizing Disneyland et al.

    But actually, thinking out loud, there may be a greater plan in all this, several quantum levels above the plebs and DAB – voting public

    (Talking of the DAB : I passed an election pre-parade meeting the other night in Southorn playground and it looked more like a Nuremberg rally with 10 meter high banners waving in the wind and everyone dressed in DAB brief-coats – at least they were blue and not brown….)

    THE PLAN is maybe what it always was / is :

    We are THE GREAT CATALYST for ( even Greater) China Mainland.

    Mao was a megalomaniac to be sure, but he sure was astute, thus he kept HK intact even during the height of the CR. He had a cunning reason, which Deng Xiaoping almost certainly was privvy to, as were subsequent China leaders : HK can be the little cog that turns the big cog.

    Absurd prices for HK property (and milk powder ) are but collateral damage en route to the Greater Goal, which is the ultimate Free-Market era of China, which will create a truly educated middle class, which will in due course lead to a democratic PRC in a generation beyond mine to see and experience.

    So bottom line : the Big Lychee had many a good few years on its own ( like 150 + ) but now comes pay-day .

    Like it or leave it

    I guess more than a few will leave it. Well if so, bye bye and no hard feelings. See you again in 2048 when the West is bankrupt and China rules the World ( economically , at least)

    But as for me : well I have enough experience of the Great Motherland Up North not to fear It , and indeed to embrace it

    “Fool” say Ye !

    Maybe, maybe not. Time alone will tell what is Truth.

    ( And I bet a case of Guinness I’m right for any left here to see it in my lifetime)

  25. PropertyDeveloper says:

    The only way the mainland can manage its own economy is by throwing people into jail indefinitely and manipulating the yuan. Is this the economic model that’s going to rule the world?

  26. Vile says:

    My primary reaction to mainlanders is to note how much quieter they are. Mandarin does have certain advantages over Cantonese from a noise abatement viewpoint.

    The air will drive me from Hong Kong long before the face-whitening and handbag shops (which I never patronise) drive out the quaint local purveyors of fake hacksaw blades and out-of-date foodstuffs of uncertain origin (which I never patronise).

  27. Real Fax Paper says:

    I don’t know about manipulated yuan being an economic driver. It’s not clear to me that it is now undervalued; for the best part of this year USD has tended to trade well above the daily mid-point set by PBOC. This suggests that were it allowed to go where it wanted, USDCNY would not unquestionably go in the direction the ranters in Washington would have their electorate believe.

    Not having an open capital account, that’s a whole different matter, but…

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