Hong Kong malls in the middle between mainland outrage and local fears

Laurie Chen

Hong Kong shopping centres are under fire on Chinese social media over their treatment of the city’s police during the ongoing unrest, driving developers to appease high-spending mainlanders with apologetic statements.

On Monday, in a statement to mainland newspaper Global Times, New World Development apologised for a “misunderstanding” over a previous apology it had issued to Hong Kong protesters for allowing riot police to use the public toilets at its D Park shopping centre on Saturday.

The initial apology had sparked fury among mainland Chinese, who have shown strong support for Hong Kong police. Over the weekend, social media users on China’s Twitter-like Weibo slammed D Park, in the New Territories town of Tsuen Wan, and called for a boycott of other malls owned by New World Development.

“The statement clearly indicates that Hong Kong police entering the mall to use the toilet destroyed public order. New World Development, you don’t ever need to call the police in future or need them to help you restore order,” said one popular comment on Weibo on the weekend.

“I’m a Shenzhen resident and go to Hong Kong very often, but this is the first time I heard of this mall. Turns out that you don’t let police enter to use the bathroom! Hong Kong police work so hard to protect citizens and you bully them just like the pro-independence rubbish youth!” another Weibo user said.

In its latest apology, New World Development said, “Shopping mall bathrooms are used by the general public, including police officers who are treated equally without discrimination. We are against violence, and support Hong Kong police in carrying out their duties.”

New World Development released a statement on Tuesday condemning the escalating violence over the past two months, while blaming neither protesters or police.

“Peace and the rule of law are Hongkongers’ core values, we support the Chief Executive and the special administrative region’s governance, as well as the police’s just execution of the law,” it said. “All illegal violence should stop at once.”

Hong Kong shopping centres have been caught in the middle as Hong Kong residents have grown increasingly distrustful of the city’s police as the protests which began in early June have been met with escalating force.

On several occasions violent encounters between riot police and protesters have spilled into shopping centres, most notably at New Town Plaza in the city’s far north. Riot police stormed into the luxury mall at Sha Tin on July 15 to arrest protesters leaving a peaceful march which had ended nearby, causing scenes of mayhem in front of panicked shoppers.

How a peaceful rally led to bloodshed and chaos in Hong Kong mall

Angry locals criticised New Town Plaza’s owner, Sun Hung Kai Properties, for letting riot police inside and accused the shopping centre of not doing enough to ensure customer safety.

In response, other major malls in the city have asked police not to enter unless a crime has taken place “to ensure the safety of customers” – only to draw complaints from the mainland’s online community.

Wharf Real Estate Investment Company put up notices on Thursday at its Harbour City mall in Tsim Sha Tsui and Times Square in Causeway Bay asking police not to enter, after protesters organised snap rallies in both districts on the same day.

Wharf Reic chairman Stephen Ng Tin-hoi said in a press conference that the measures had been taken to protect staff and patrons of the shopping malls. Wharf Reic has been contacted for comment.

Harbour City, a popular destination for mainland visitors located in Kowloon’s prime tourism district, has come under particularly fierce attack from the mainland’s internet community, after protesters removed the Chinese flag flying outside the mall near the Star Ferry pier and threw it into the harbour twice in three days.

Hong Kong mall owner bows to protester pressure and bans police

The editor of Global Times Hu Xijin was the most high-profile critic on Weibo of Harbour City and its owner Wharf Reic, which also manages the land where the flagpoles are situated.

“We care about Harbour City because mainland tourists often visit there. The current status of Harbour City has seriously offended mainlanders,” Hu wrote on his Weibo profile. “A place where the national flag cannot fly – how does this make mainland tourists feel?”

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