Police arrested two people as protesters clashed with each other in Tung Chung on Sunday as tensions erupted over the influx of tourists from mainland China into Hong Kong.
Three weeks after the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge opened, a record-breaking number of tourists have used the crossing. On Sunday alone, 86,436 passengers passed through the city’s port checkpoint by 8pm, with 44,888 visiting Hong Kong, the Immigration Department said.
With Lantau Island bearing the brunt of those arrivals, community activists have become increasingly vocal about unlicensed tour guides from across the border bringing visitors to the city.
Emotions finally boiled over on Sunday afternoon when Tung Chung Future, a local activist group, staged a protest to reclaim the town from mainlanders, and called on residents to join them in identifying unlicensed travel agents.
Outside Tung Chung station, where the protests happened on Sunday afternoon, a 72-year-old woman was arrested after grabbing a man’s phone which he was using to take pictures of the protest.
Later, a 30-year-old man reported that he had been injured when he was grabbed by a 59-year-old man during a dispute at 2.50pm. The older man was also arrested.
Holding a banner that said, “Leading tourist groups without licences is breaching conditions of stay”, Wong Chun-yeung, the Tung Chung group’s leader said about 60 people had joined his action.
The group urged tourists sitting on the floor in front of shops to leave, and worked on spotting tour groups led by unlicensed mainland travel agents.
Wong and his supporters also reported two Hong Kong tour guides to police for leading more than one tour group at a time, which is against the rules set down by the Tourism Commission governing tour guides.
Police were seen taking the pair away for questioning.
Verbal clashes started when the pro-Beijing Treasure Friendship Group turned up and accused the activists of seeking Hong Kong’s independence, and hurting the relationship between the city and its neighbours across the border.
Sandy Li, the rival group’s spokeswoman, compared the protest with the previous actions taken against buskers at Tsim Sha Tsui, whose purpose she said were to insult mainlanders.
She urged tourists to reject the inspection sought by protesters.
“Don’t let those pretending to be police check your permits,” she told them. “They don’t have the right.”
Intense verbal disputes occurred several times between the two groups, and dozens of police officers were needed to maintain order.
Some local residents supported the actions of Tung Chung Future, and said they felt disturbed by the influx of visitors.
“This neighbourhood is completely disrupted by these low-quality visitors,” one resident, who identified herself as Sze, said.
She said she was annoyed by how the public areas and shopping malls were occupied by the crowds after the opening of the port, and worried how it might impact house prices in the area.
“Tung Chung used to be quiet. That’s why I moved here,” she said. “Now I don’t even want to go out into the streets.”
The chaos worsened when lawmaker Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, chairwoman of the New People’s Party, showed up to observe the rival protests alongside Fu Hiu-lam, a Tung Chung district councillor.
Ip said she had noticed the overcrowding issues in the town, and had already worked on some solutions.
The pair’s brief visit sparked chaos, and they were escorted away by police when leaving. Ip was criticised by both groups for turning up, with the rivals accusing her of trying to capitalise on the issue.
Meanwhile, tourists from three different tours told the Post they did not have local guides. A man surnamed Li from Guangzhou said his guide had only given him a bus ticket for the B6 to get to Tung Chung, and had told him to meet at a gathering point.
He did not know about the B5 bus route that takes visitors to other urban areas in Hong Kong. The service has been well-promoted by the Hong Kong government.
But, Matthew Wong Leung-pak, whose company operates the B6 route between the local checkpoint and Tung Chung, said the company had arranged more buses this morning at the port and the number of people had seen an apparent decrease compared to the peak time last Saturday.
He said 9,000 passengers had used the service as of 6pm on Sunday.
Chinese University political scientist Ivan Choy Chi-keung warned the government had to be careful, or risk the return of a series of large-scale protests similar to the ones seen in Sheung Shui six years ago.
“The protests to reclaim a neighbourhood has stopped for quite some years, but if the government is not cautious, they might return,” he said.
In 2012, Sheung Shui, a border town, was overrun by so-called parallel traders, buying goods to sell at a profit over the border, triggering protests and souring relations between Hongkongers and mainlanders.
Choy said the government must think of how to manage the crowds, by moving them to other districts.
He said from what he had seen the authorities had not done enough, but he noted some progress had been made, and that more time would be needed to assess how effective those measures are.
Additional reporting by Peace Chiu and Ernest Kao
This article Two arrested as Tung Chung protesters clash over influx of visitors from mainland China to Hong Kong first appeared on South China Morning Post