Hong Kong and Mainland China Escalate a War of Words
At first glance, the newspaper ad depicting an enormous locust looking over the Hong Kong skyline seems like a plug for a horror movie.
In fact, it’s the latest slap in the face to the millions of mainland Chinese tourists who flood Hong Kong each year, bringing with them what many in the territory see as less-than-refined social habits in addition to their bulging wallets.
Mainland tourists stand accused of littering, spitting, urinating in public, smoking cigarettes in inappropriate places and other breaches of etiquette that offend the more fastidious sensibilities of many Hong Kong natives.
Echoing anti-immigration sentiments often heard in the United States, some in Hong Kong also complain of mainland women giving birth in Hong Kong, an action that guarantees the newborns the right of permanent residency.
The ad, published Wednesday in the Apple Daily tabloid by a group calling itself the Golden Forum, claimed that 1 million Hong Kong dollars ($129,000) was being spent every 18 minutes on a mainland mother giving birth in a Hong Kong public hospital.
Officials have already responded to such criticism by reducing the number of foreigners allowed to give birth in Hong Kong hospitals. The quota is now 3,400, down from 10,000 in 2011.
On Wednesday, Cheung Wai-lun, a senior official at Hong Kong’s Hospital Authority, said in a radio interview that the territory’s hospitals may stop admitting “non-local pregnant women” next year.
“We are trying to safeguard local pregnant women’s rights to publicly funded medical services and facilities,” Cheung said.
Such moves are drawing strong reactions from the mainland, which has ruled Hong Kong since 1997 but has granted it a high degree of political autonomy.
The derogatory advertisement provoked outrage in mainland China, with many commentators on Sina Weibo, the equivalent of Twitter, lambasting Hong Kong residents as colonial snobs.
One infuriated mainlander called for economic sanctions against Hong Kong. “Cut off their water, power and food supplies! Let’s see who is finished first!” he wrote on Sina Weibo.
The Communist Party newspaper Global Times weighed in Thursday with a more measured editorial calling for efforts by both sides to build “a shared sense of identity.”
Since the British ceded control of the territory to Beijing nearly 15 years ago, tourism from the mainland has skyrocketed. More than 27 million mainland tourists visited Hong Kong last year, triple the territory’s own population and up 16.5% from the previous year, according to the Hong Kong Tourism Board.