Mainland tourists are often portrayed as the lynchpin of our economy. Even Li Ka Shing claimed that revoking the Individual Visit Scheme would create a 1,000 point drop on the Hang Seng.
The realisation must dawn upon our government soon, one hopes, that trickle-down economics simply do not apply to our increasingly polarised city. The only lesson that we could learn from Wall Street’s highly controversial bail out programs and Tung Chee-hwa’s Mandatory Provident Fund is that pouring money at the top does not create opportunities for the bottom tier at all. The earnings of the elite class have diverged from the common people to the extent that 10 per cent of Hong Kong’s population controls 77.5 per cent of our wealth, according to a Credit Suisse research.
This virtually nonexistent trickle-down effect shows up in our Gini Coefficient (a measurement of wealth disparity) and in the recent protests against parallel traders. It fuels a growing antagonism against our mainland neighbours and our seemingly inept administration.
In an idealised situation, a foreign visitor, eager to explore our metropolis, would wander around the narrow streets of Mong Kok and purchase from small shops. Perhaps they would hire taxis, lodge in cheap hostels and hire a local tour guide. However, mainland visitors and entrants from the Individual Visit Scheme, who make up a significant portion of the parallel traders, merely contribute to the shortage of basic commodities, crowding of Sha Tin malls and increase in VIP members of posh, high-end retail stores in Tsim Sha Tsui.
Given that wealth remains largely at the hands of the privileged, the so-called prosperity that Hong Kong supposedly reaps from our patrons is only felt by most of us in the forms of rising property prices, MTR stations beyond their maximum capacity and simplified Chinese being more ubiquitous.
To be fair, assumptions of Chinese visitors being rude and obnoxious by default, a major factor exacerbating the Hong Kong-Chinese row, are inflated and somewhat prejudiced. But it has to be acknowledged that some mainlanders seem to feel that any inconvenience they cause citizens could be justified by their consumption of goods and services – something locals clearly disagree with.
Harassments and violent clashes should not be condoned, but protests and exercising our basic autonomy to free speech should not be viewed as “tarnishing peace” or “ruining our economy”. Rational individuals would not deliberately try to cut off our main source of income. But after a quick cost-and-benefit analysis it is clear that the disruption we have been experiencing far outweighs whatever good the visitors were supposed to have brought.