Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Simmering Tensions

Parallel traders have sparked conflicts between Hong Kong and China
The tense issue of parallel traders clearing shelves in Hong Kong to sell supposedly "real" goods across the border is not going away, thanks to the inaction of the government.

Hong Kong officials have let the tensions simmer to the point where protesters are escalating their actions, verbally bullying people, physically assaulting people, and holding up traffic. It has been happening in Yuen Long, Sheung Shui and Tuen Mun, and this past weekend also spread to Tsim Sha Tsui.

Instead of trying to solve the problem, officials like Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok claims the protesters' actions were "close to that of rioters".

Protesters in New Town Plaza in Sha Tin last month
It's quite extreme for him to brand them "rioters" because it was not excessive violence, but yes, we should be trying to resolve the situation as peacefully as possible.

And who's fault is that?

The Hong Kong government could very easily limit the number of times parallel traders could come across the border daily, and yet this has not been curbed, probably because it wants these people to continue stimulating the city's economy.

After all, the parallel traders are snapping up everything from baby milk powder, to shampoo, chocolates, cosmetics, cookies and so on -- whatever is in demand and can be turned into a profit.

That has left a sour taste in Hong Kong residents' mouths -- particularly those in districts that are impacted by these people. I recently asked a relative if things were really bad in Tuen Mun where she lived and she confirmed it was terrible.

A shop like Watson's would be packed with people and so she would have no choice but to nip in there as quickly as possible to buy what she needed and then get out. There was no interest in trying to fight the crowds in the store to browse.

The government is planning to build shopping malls right by the border specifically for these commercial shoppers, but that's a ways yet before we might even begin to see some easing.

Another issue is that for some reason, the cause for universal suffrage has been mixed up with this one on parallel trading. Some see the protesters as the same ones in the Umbrella Movement, and claim that their violent actions are what people fighting for democracy do.

It's a kind of scare tactic someone or some group is using to to discourage people from supporting the Umbrella Movement, and in a way it is succeeding because no one wants to be associated with a group that is very easily provoked into violence.

In the end the Hong Kong government needs to move in and resolve this issue -- branding protesters as "rioters" will not solve anything.

And more importantly, Beijing needs to step up its campaign to prove its food and products are not substandard quality to regain consumer confidence. It's been over six years since the melamine milk scandal and what has come of it since? Can anyone blame Chinese consumers for buying up anything they can get their hands on -- outside their own country?

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