Smugglers are honourable, and you count for nothing

Hong Kong Chief Executive CY Leung says “attacking malls and creating a nuisance to society” is unacceptable. So, he’s finally going to do something about the shoppers invading Hong Kong shopping centres and breaking Mainland laws by smuggling? No – he’s talking about the protesters.

Harbour Times presents a forthright contrarian view of the Mainland-shoppers scourge. Rather than oppose the influx of cross-border traders into Tuen Mun and elsewhere, it says, we should rejoice at the money-making opportunities. Mothers who complain about shortages of milk powder are “fussy whiners,” while the shoppers are “honourable traders eking out an honest living.”

The article backs this up with paragraphs on the historical and current benefits of free trade to Hong Kong and the world. Only a Marxist would disagree with that. But the magazine misses the point. Protesters are not opposing the trading: they are against the extreme over-crowding and other nuisances making life intolerable for residents.

Harbour Times has not witnessed the scenes in border towns at first hand. We can tell because it begins a sentence: “If the MTR has a problem with overuse of their facilities…”

The suggested remedies to MTR overcrowding (if it exists): charge traders extra for using special repacking zones and for carrying over-size baggage, and create special lanes in the stations and space on trains for them to use. Good luck with implementing and enforcing all that, even assuming it would miraculously provide more space. More realistically, the article questions the government’s inevitable hang-up about using industrial buildings as outlets.

In feudal East Asia, merchants were the lowest class of society, ranked beneath gentry, soldiers, artisans and even peasant farmers. Charging more than you paid for something was considered almost immoral. Harbour Times seems to turn this upside down. People engaged in this cross-border arbitrage are so noble that everyone else must make way for them, whatever the inconvenience. This echoes the Hong Kong government’s assumption that developers’ and landlords’ interests automatically override the well-being of the rest of the community (and broader economy).

From an economic-policy viewpoint, Hong Kong’s ‘opportunity’ to make tons of lovely dough from Mainland shoppers is transitory, unsustainable and short-sighted.

It relies on an artificial distortion in the form of import and sales taxes on the other side of the border. The Chinese government could reduce levies on foreign milk powder, designer-label fashions and so on tomorrow, and the whole incentive for cross-border smuggling would vanish. It imposes growing burdens on transport, retail space, living costs and the streets that we have no hope of alleviating with extra capacity in any conceivable or reasonable time-frame. And the displacement of other economic activities is narrowing our economic base and reducing opportunities for entrepreneurs.

Indeed, many of the protesters believe the whole phenomenon is deliberately engineered to reduce Hong Kong to a giant mall offering only dead-end jobs – as a means of taming the city. Sounds like a conspiracy theory. But look at officials’ total refusal to do anything serious about Mainland smugglers (which means cutting the numbers). Look at the Chinese customs authorities’ apparent indifference to the smuggling. And look at the way officials blame the victims for complaining.

Following the success of last weekend’s Tuen Mun ‘Occupy Bus Stop’, the anti-smuggler movement squeezes past all the suitcase-draggers into Shatin on Sunday.


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23 Responses to Smugglers are honourable, and you count for nothing

  1. PD says:

    Crazier and crazier: having special lanes for outsize-luggage mainlanders would be totally unenforceable. What happens when a locust lane crosses a local lane: who has right of way? If the outsize luggage overhangs the local area (as it invariable would) is this an infringement? Would small-luggage people be allowed in the outsize-luggage repacking areas? Would there be blind local lanes and blind locust lanes? Would the EOC get hot under the collar?

    It all just reminds me of John Tsang’s budgetary genius. If you’re not sure, simply create yet another fund with our money, then ringfence it, then surreptitiously switch the money back and forth between all the funds like a three-card trickster.

  2. Flip-Flopper says:

    Top, top blog. Nail squarely hit on the head.

    Sadly, no matter what the benefits to the local residents, or the wider economy in the longer term, 689 will never slight the Glorious Motherland by reducing visitor numbers.

    Indeed, the fastest he’s ever moved in terms of policy formulation was to pour cold water on suggestions of a land departure tax on these locusts. Funny that such rejection did not require a committee, consultation, think tank or focus group to study it first!

  3. Headache says:

    Harbour Times is fundamentally libertarian so it is compelled to say such things on the grounds of principle. What actually makes sense and would work is irrelevant.

  4. Chinese Netizen says:

    “Rather than oppose the influx of cross-border traders into Tuen Mun and elsewhere, it says, we should rejoice at the money-making opportunities.”
    This is the economic bone CY and gang has tossed to the low end bottom dwellers of HK society/economy since they’ll NEVER, EVER be able to get into the real estate game, have enough for a decent retirement through MPF or even be literate enough for a “dead end” job in a mall, department store or Café de Coral (so posh sounding!).
    Smuggling until you’re 65~70 and collect cardboard on the streets afterwards. Wait for handout treats during Spring Festival or pro CCP political rally.

  5. Maugrim says:

    The word ‘smuggling’ implies an illegal act. Surely we aren’t encouraging people to break China’s laws? What’s the bet that if the Central Government changed its stance our Government would take action, Eurasia being at war with Eastasia never happened. What do HK’s ruling class care anyway? They live on the Island or their familes are overseas. Perhaps if the road to the airport was disrupted they’d notice.

  6. reductio says:

    Does anyone read the Harbour Times? Not much buzz on the the “Replies” section (none last time I looked, unlike this fair organ.

  7. NIMBY says:

    Occupy Central lost it when the students moved to Mong Kong and Causeway Bay. A more strategic and possibly more popular move should have been against Peak Road, Tram; sit-ins restricting access to a few of the large Hongs cum Monopoly/Monosony headquarters.

  8. Cassowary says:

    Headache: Agreed. Harbour Times is the sort of libertarian that wouldn’t recognize a negative externality if it beat them over the head with a stick. It’s brought to you by the same folks behind the Lion Rock Institute, a “think tank” whose mission statement announces that it already knows all the answers without having to do any research. Wow, who knew policy-making was that easy? Just wave your arms and chant “free market low taxes free market low taxes”.

  9. Scotty Dotty says:

    Excellent post from Hemmers.

    Ironic shades of Britain’s immigration disaster anyone? Any of the indigenous Brits complains at their lives being harmed by incomers it’s THEM that’s the problem. Never mind their primary schools can’t cope, crime through the roof, poisonous cults (ie, the puke making Islam) treating everyone like shit… Tuen Mun, meet Luton, it’s your new twin!

  10. NIMBY says:

    …“free market low taxes free market low taxes”: Well Said! That mantra and free meals from a few Tycoons who hardly made their money at a free market = Lion Rock Inst. Lion Rock’s moron has a gig with a ditzy, desperate for a man mid-day show host on RTHK-3, where he frequently fronts items that would shove more money in the pockets of either Li or Lee. She seems oblivious to it all, perhaps it’s his hyena laugh.

  11. gumshoe says:

    I don’t even try to go into town on the weekends in Yuen Long anymore. I just hide in my bunker and wait for it to blow over.

  12. One of your best. CY Leung says “attacking malls and creating a nuisance to society” is unacceptable. Of course, anyone supporting democracy or earning less than the median wage is not part of society as he defines it.

  13. Knownot says:

    Bus-stop, one day, she’s there, I say,
    Let us sit together.
    So much business to discuss
    Sitting on the bus.

    Each day waiting at the bus-stop,
    Standing with our trolleys,
    Talking, laughing, texting, phoning,
    Happy as the Hollies!

    Then one day she lost her case,
    She did not know where.
    We went searching, and we found it!
    Huggies, Pampers, safely there.

    Now in Tuen Mun and in Shenzen
    We are both so happy.
    Strange to think that our affair
    Started with a nappy.

  14. LRE says:

    All the free market nonsense is particularly ironic given that the only reason the mainlanders want HK baby milk is precisely because the market is regulated rather than free like in the mainland.

  15. reductio says:

    Looks like someone DOES read HT after all. Sadly he (?) thinks the HT analysis is a crock. Well, the good news is that due to corruption and incompetence in Macau the long-awaited Lantau bridge will be late opening. God help us then.

  16. Cassowary says:

    A few years ago, I visited Lion Rock’s website. The only piece of “research” they had up was a powerpoint from a supposed survey claiming:

    1. The majority of consumers wanted more information about cosmetics and skincare products.
    2. The majority of consumers relied on advertisements as a source of information about cosmetics and skincare products.
    3. Therefore, the government should not regulate cosmetics advertising to prevent fraudulent claims from being made about the products. Because that would be censorship of “information”.

    From the skewed questioning to the brain-damaged logic, I was agog. It was shoddy even by corporate shill standards. I see that their website is now much improved. It no longer makes any attempt to present research, only punditry.

  17. Joe Blow says:

    I am so f*cking sick and tired of this CY entity.

    Can someone PLEASE “do” something about it ?

  18. @reductio – ’twas I – in my other incarnation as Private Beach (sadly unable to post here as such because Hemlock’s software now mysteriously rejects me as spam) who posted the response on HT, having been led there from this article. The HT piece has obviously been written by someone who never comes anywhere near the MTR in the New Territories – otherwise they would know that there is simply no space to allocate to the dedicated smugglers’ lanes they so thoughtfully propose.

  19. Hermes says:

    I live in one of the border towns and this is spot on.

    BTW I read that the leader of the Shatin protest has now backed out due to ‘insufficient preparation’ and will ‘not be responsible for any action on that day’.

  20. Nightmare on Lockhart says:

    Took a walk through Wanchai market this afternoon to pick up some large plastic bags for my impending move out the Wanchai/CWB battle ground. What a delight – almost entirely locals. No suitcase luggers! Nice exchange in a little shop in a mix of Cantonese and English. Earlier this evening took a stroll around my soon-to-be new neighbourhood on Caine Road – couldn’t believe it, hardly any people and not a suitcase in sight. Walked down through Soho and the evening crowd seems well within my tolerance levels, again no suitcases. We may complain but the people I now have the greatest sympathy for are the locals who have seen the place they genuinely feel great attachment to progressively destroyed by crap policies and what can only be construed as a deliberate swamping by plastic suitcases and those attached thereto!

  21. inspired says:

    wonder if Mainland tourist numbers are one of 689’s yearly cadre performance targets…

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