Hong Kong Tourism Board splashes out 20 per cent more to replace Lunar New Year parade with carnival – but event still overshadowed by possible protest

Kanis Leung

Hong Kong tourism authorities have spent HK$42 million – about 20 per cent more than last year – to replace the annual Lunar New Year night parade with a four-day carnival, though the event remains overshadowed by fears of abrupt cancellation on the back of the ongoing civil unrest.

Organised by the Hong Kong Tourism Board, the 2020 Cathay Pacific International Chinese New Year Carnival will take place at the West Kowloon Cultural District Art Park from January 25-28, featuring performances, festive installations and food booths to mark the Year of the Rat.

Revealing more details on Tuesday, the board said there might be security checks, but police would not enter the venue unless called upon.

Visitors are free to express their political views by chanting slogans and singing songs as long as they do not affect others, it added.

Mason Hung Chung-hing, the board’s general manager, stressed the most important thing would be safety and the board hoped to proceed with the carnival as planned.

“We are, of course, worried about [an abrupt cancellation],” Hung said, adding that if any unforeseen situations arose, decisions would be made at the time on how to handle them.

It is the first time the Lunar New Year night parade – one of the most important events in Hong Kong’s cultural calendar that draws thousands of locals and tourists, as well an array of international performers, to Tsim Sha Tsui – will not be held since its launch in 1996.

A lion dance performance during last year’s parade. Photo: Edmond So

The board’s decision follows a flurry of major events being cancelled in the city, including music festival Clockenflap and the Cyclothon, as often violent protests have roiled the city for almost eight months.

In November, the board’s executive director Dane Cheng Ting-yat announced a format change, saying the usual parade route was “too risky to accommodate crowds and maintain public order”.

Hung said on Tuesday the change was not a response to the social movement, but more about coming up with new elements to celebrate the event’s 25th year.

Flash-mob protests have sprouted in various parts of the city as unrest triggered by a now-withdrawn extradition bill, has snowballed into a much wider anti-government movement. Demonstrators often gather in groups to chant slogans and sing protest anthem Glory to Hong Kong.

Hung said the board had contingency plans in case of protests but no detailed proposals had been formulated.

On chanting slogans or singing songs, Hung said “[as long as] we feel it is not affecting the whole event, we will not stop it from happening.”

The board hoped to attract 150,000 visitors to the carnival – a figure similar to the turnout for last year’s parade.

Revellers can enjoy the free event and enjoy a parade along the promenade in West Kowloon as well as performances by 26 international teams – the largest number of foreign performing groups in the event’s history.

One highlight will be a pop dance show by V. Unbeatable from India, who shot to fame in 2019’s America’s Got Talent.

Food lovers can sample streets eats at 12 booths at the site.

From January 25 to 28, the carnival will start at 2pm and close at 8pm every day, except for the second day, when it will close three hours earlier at 5pm.

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