Chinese officials consider changing rules to visit Hong Kong

Chinese officials consider changing rules to visit Hong Kong
Protesters wearing masks shout at mainland Chinese travellers (C) during a demonstration inside a shopping mall in Hong Kong February 15, 2015. Anti-mainland Chinese demonstrators on Sunday protested against parallel traders and confronted police, government radio reported.

Regulations covering individual visits to Hong Kong and multiple-entry permits are to be revised to promote contact between tourists from the mainland and the region's residents, according to an official from the State Council's Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office.

"We are talking with the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region's government about refreshing the policies covering visits," Zhou Bo, the office's deputy head, told China Daily.

Zhou, who is also a deputy to the National People's Congress, did not say when the talks would be concluded, but added, "It will not take a long time".

During the past few months, there has been a rise in sentiment against parallel trading in Hong Kong, with a series of protests occurring in some popular destinations for mainland visitors.

Parallel traders from the mainland use multiple-entry permits to travel to Hong Kong, where they buy tax-free goods and take them back home to resell at a profit. The practice has caused shortages of household goods in some parts of Hong Kong.

The mainland implemented an individual visit programme in 2003, allowing residents of four cities in neighbouring Guangdong province to travel to Hong Kong and Macao within a limited period of time.

The programme was later expanded to 49 mainland cities, covering more than 300 million people.

Since April 2009, residents of Shenzhen have been allowed to visit Hong Kong multiple times within a year.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said previously that the individual visit programme should be tightened up, according to media reports.

Zhou said, "Both policies have helped greatly to boost Hong Kong's economy and create jobs by accelerating the growth of industries such as tourism, hotels, restaurants and retail."

However, he said the increasing number of visitors from the mainland in the past few years has become a heavy burden for Hong Kong and Macao.

"Any city would be unable to host such a dramatically increased number of tourists," he said, adding that facilities for visitors should be upgraded.

Lee Tak-lun, a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, said: "Parallel traders account for only a small number of mainland tourists, and Hong Kong itself has thousands of parallel traders.

"The key to solving the problem of an overflow of people is to deal with parallel traders in an effective way by cooperating with the mainland government."

Felix Chung Kwok-pan, a NPC deputy from Hong Kong and chairman of the Liberal Party, said parallel traders should be dealt with separately from normal tourists.

He suggested building a shopping centre near the border to relieve the pressure on popular tourist areas.

In addition, he said restrictions should be placed on multiple-entry permits issued in Shenzhen, while the individual visit programme should be extended to more cities.

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