Protesters clash with pro-government supporters in Yuen Long during a rally against parallel-goods trading on March 1, 2015 in Hong Kong.
HONG KONG — Fresh crowds of protesters have filled Hong Kong's streets in recent days, but if you think this latest uproar is about democracy, free elections and yellow umbrellas, think again.
The most recent protests, which took place in various parts of northern Hong Kong on Sunday afternoon, have had very little to do with the colorful and lively “umbrella movement” that took Hong Kong by storm last year.
For a start, Sunday's protests, and several others in recent weeks, have been far smaller — only a few hundred people at most have attended. At one point during Sunday afternoon, journalists and police officers seemed to outnumber the protesters outside the local train station in an area called Sheung Shui.
The scene at Sheung Shui MTR exit https://t.co/4GatEcxBvM— Hong Kong Hermit (@HongKongHermit) March 8, 2015
The protests later moved to an area called Tuen Mun, where there were scuffles and arrests. Late Sunday, the Hong Kong police issued a statement in which they “strongly condemned the unlawful behaviors of protesters.” Three men and one woman were arrested for "assaulting Police officer" and "obstructing Police." A police officer and a member of the public were injured during the incident, according to the statement.
Cops arrested this girl. She was just panicked and trying to get away. No idea on what charge. https://t.co/idxBeJuEz8— Hong Kong Hermit (@HongKongHermit) March 8, 2015
Unlike the big demos during the last three months of 2014, these protests have little to do with calls for free elections. Instead, these latest protests are about Hong Kong locals venting their increasing anger toward mainland China, as well as toward the large numbers of mainland Chinese who flock to the city each day to shop.
Hong Kong businesses get a lot of cash from these visitors, who buy not just luxury goods (which are cheaper in Hong Kong than in mainland China), but also everyday items such as shampoo, chocolates and diapers, which they carry in large bundles onto the trains and buses that take them back to mainland China.
Many Hong Kongers welcome the visitors, and the money they bring. But for many others, the flood of visitors has simply become too much.
This is especially the case in areas that bear the brunt of the influx. Sheung Shui, for example, is only one subway stop away from Shenzhen, just across the border from mainland China.
“People here are angry because there are so many visitors,” said Jeffrey, a store assistant in a Sheung Shui electronics shop. “It means things are more expensive — everything, it's too much.”
Areas such as Yuen Long, Sha Tin and Tuen Mun also are easy for day-trippers from China to reach, and have also seen demonstrations in recent weeks. On March 1, several dozen people were arrested amid protests in Yuen Long.
The main problem is the sheer number of people involved. Last year, more than 47 million mainland Chinese, many on day trips, came to Hong Kong, which has a population of just 7.2 million. They made up nearly 78 percent of the total number of tourists Hong Kong saw last year.
A large number of malls have been built in response to the influx of consumer traffic, but that has not prevented trains and sidewalks from getting overcrowded, and prices and rents from rising.
Many Hong Kong residents also accuse the visitors of being rude. Two years ago tensions flared over milk-powder, which mainland Chinese visitors like to buy (they distrust the stuff they can get back home); at the time, their purchases sent Hong Kong residents scrambling to meet their own needs.
The growing concern over Beijing's perceived interference, which was one of the things that brought people into the streets during the “umbrella” protests last year, does not help the rising acrimony.
A poll by one of Hong Kong's universities showed that two in three Hong Kongers now want the government to curb the number of visitors, the SCMPreported last week.
Until that happens — if that happens — the tensions between locals and shoppers are likely to linger.
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