Officials need backbone to realize benefits from mainlander influx: Vines

The mainland visitors influx can be of immense benefit under proper management of the government, said a Hong Kong-based journalist and entrepreneur.

“These visitors provide employment and business opportunities for a great many local people,” Stephen Vines said. “Moreover, the influx … offers mainlanders a glimpse of a sophisticated cosmopolitan lifestyle and level of freedom not seen anywhere else in China.”

In an article published in the South China Morning Post on February 14, Vines said that officials lacked backbone in handling mainland relations and the proposed arrivals tax to discourage visitors was stupid.

He also noted that despite people’s growing concern over the pressure from mainland visitors, the tax was proposed by self-promoting, opportunistic politicians to enhance their own popularity.

“Instead of looking at the positives, political opportunists are exploiting people’s fears of incomers and their scaremongering is given credence by the government’s failure to address these fears,” he said.

The proposal introduced by democratic groups came soon after commerce chief Greg So Kam-leung delivered the new Tourism Report in January, in which he estimated that Hong Kong’s capacity to receive visitors would climb to 70 million a year by 2017, and 100 million by 2030.

Upset by the already surging visitors and angered by the report, scores of demonstrators launched an anti-mainland visitors protest, in which they marched from Star Ferry pier to Canton Road, a central Hong Kong district popular with tourists, hurling insults at mainland shoppers.

The protest, subsequently condemned by Hong Kong government and mainland media, also triggered an anti-demonstration from pro-government and pro-Beijing activists, who accused the protesters of spreading evil and harming the country.

“If people had more confidence in the government and the administration was prepared to show the smallest degree of backbone in handling relations with the mainland, a lot of heat would be taken out of this debate,” Vines said.

He also noted that officials needed to demonstrate commitment to preserving Hong Kong’s identity, while implement concrete measures to improve the infrastructure to begin a more constructive debate.

Dooms predicted by vastly expanded visitor arrivals from the mainland could be “treated with contempt”, Vines said, illustrating with London’s emergence under the influx of immigrants in the 1980s.

“The reality is that the hard-working immigrants brought dynamism and new life to the economy,” he said.

However, Vines said Hong Kong was still “far from this realization” and called for more proper administrations from the government.

C.f.: The many benefits of mainland Chinese visitors

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