Mainland Chinese Traders Milking Hong Kong for All Its Worth

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PHILIPPE LOPEZ / AFP / Getty Images

People transporting boxes of baby formula line up to get their packages weighed at the Sheung Shui train station prior to their journey back to mainland China in Hong Kong on Jan. 29, 2013

Tensions between Hong Kong people and their mainland Chinese compatriots have deteriorated further — and this time, it’s not over politics, clashing cultural attitudes or northern carpetbaggers driving up Hong Kong property prices with their lavish investments. Instead the point of contention is a product that is seemingly innocuous but says much about relations between China’s freest city and its vast hinterland: infant-milk formula.

Stocks of baby-milk powder have become alarmingly scarce in Hong Kong because of the activity of so-called gray-market traders from mainland border towns. They turn up in Hong Kong on multiple-entry tourist visas, often making several runs a day to buy up tins of formula from Hong Kong retail outlets and sell them back in the mainland, where the item commands a stiff premium. (Buying products in Hong Kong and taking them into China to sell is not illegal.)

The dearth of formula in Hong Kong shops led the government to announce on Friday that, with effect from later this month, people leaving the city will only be allowed to take two cans of formula with them. The possibility of designating milk formula a “reserved commodity” like rice — meaning that its export would be restricted, price ceilings set and a reserve stock created — has also been mooted, alongside proposals to ban mainland visitors from entering Hong Kong more than once per day.

(MORE: Trouble Down South: Why Hong Kong and Mainland Chinese Aren’t Getting Along)

Since 2008’s contaminated-formula scare — in which hundreds of thousands of mainland babies fell ill after being fed Chinese-made formula and related products that had been adulterated with melamine — foreign milk-powder brands, such as those on sale in affluent Hong Kong, have been seen as safer. But while the desire of any parent to secure the best possible supplies of food for their children is understandable, the milk-formula issue has come to crystallize for Hong Kong people the disquieting ease with which the mainland is now no longer a brooding, remote power, at a distance behind the Kowloon hills, but instead an intrusive force in the daily life of this semiautonomous enclave.

To be sure, it isn’t the only source of friction. In broad political terms, Hong Kong is worried about China’s encroachment on its traditional freedoms in areas from media to education to the judiciary. Culturally too, there has been little love lost between mainlanders and Hong Kong people, who are often viewed by mainlanders as crass, arrogant, even strangely foreign. (Hong Kong Chinese repay the compliment in kind.)

Still, often it’s the personal and social issues that loom largest. Although authorities have finally cracked down on the practice — arresting and jailing several hundred “birth tourists” in 2012 — for years, local mothers were forced to compete for maternity-ward beds with mainland women who wanted to secure residency rights for their children by giving birth in the tiny territory. Thousands of those locally born children of mainland mothers have now reached primary-school age, further exacerbating tensions with local parents, who resent the new pressures on the school system. (In the Sheung Shui district alone, lying closest to the mainland border, the shortfall in primary-school places is estimated at 1,000.)

(PHOTOS: Hong Kong: Anger and Protest as City Marks 15 Years Since Its Return to China)

But while the form filling and balloting required for school admission gives the competitive nature of the process an abstract quality, there is something raw and direct about the struggle to find milk formula that many Hong Kong parents face. Feeding their babies requires them to compete on a regular basis against the tireless gray marketers and the opportunistic local retailers in collusion with the mainland traders.

The grubby, hectic hub of the business is Sheung Shui train station. Although activity there has quieted since the announcement of the government crackdown, it has not been unusual in recent weeks to see hundreds of traders snaking into the station entrance, with police looking on. Each trader pulls a cart loaded with large parcels of everyday commodities from diapers to toothpaste — but the most sought-after item is baby formula. A local English-language paper, the South China Morning Post, estimates a hard core of about 3,000 mainlanders engaged in the gray market. But the lack of faith in China’s food security is well founded, so even genuine tourists will often buy items like milk formula to give to relatives in the mainland.

The result is misery for Hong Kong parents, who complain of being unable to find milk formula in the stores, especially those in suburbs near the border. “Out of necessity, I have become a bona fide hoarder of formula,” says Evelyn Kuong, a local surgeon who notes that she often drives across several districts of the city to find milk powder for her 7-month-old son. “It’s already exhausting enough being a full-time working mother. It is all the more stressful to be constantly popping into drugstores everywhere I go, on the off chance that they may have one remaining can of formula.”

(MORE: On the Streets of Hong Kong, a Vast Display of Discontent)

Through a popular online forum for baby-related topics, Hong Kong mothers have banded together to report to one another on the availability of milk formula in stores around town, and to help buy whatever is available in their own neighborhoods and then meet up to trade with those in need. After the announcement of the impending two-can limit, many of the forum’s users expressed relief that something was being done but also anger at what they had been put through. “Hong Kong’s parents, grandparents and their friends and colleagues have had to work together just to find milk powder. We feel so dispirited now,” one user wrote.

“I sympathize with mainlanders. Even if it’s the same brand as what they are buying here, they don’t trust the product sold on the mainland,” says Vincent Lau, who recently led a protest calling for the protection of Hong Kong’s milk-formula supply. But he says China’s food-safety problems should be fixed at the source, not at the expense of Hong Kong’s supplies. “Hong Kong is tiny. Seven million people can’t take care of 1.3 billion.”

It must be said that a more porous border with China hasn’t been all bad for Hong Kong. In fact, mainland tourists have provided a much needed boost to Hong Kong’s economy ever since they were allowed individual entry for leisure purposes in 2003. (Before then, only tour groups and individuals on business could obtain visas.) Spending by mainland Chinese accounts today for more than one-fifth of the city’s retail business, as the visitors snap up luxury goods at prices lower than in China, where steep duties and differences in exchange rate add about 20%. Even in matters of basic sustenance, Hong Kong simply couldn’t survive without China, which supplies up to 80% of city’s drinking water and most of its fresh meat and vegetables. Some would argue that means Hong Kong should have a more accommodating attitude toward its vast neighbor. But the problem is that when it comes to their babies, there’s not one parent on earth who would compromise.

MORE: Can Hong Kong Trust Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying?

138 comments
jbjnn
jbjnn

Action is more than talk and look like mainlanders winning when there already thousand of ''communist'' babies born in HK......HAHAHA

ycchan88
ycchan88

Tactics of a "wumao":

1. Start flame wars.  As debate devolves into personal attacks, people forget about the original issue.
2. Change the topic.  For example, we have posts here about expat-local dating and the fighting ability of HKers, both of which have no relation to the milk powder shortage in HK.
3. If you repeat the same thing enough times, people will give up trying to counter you.
4. Use multiple accounts and start up a fake conversation.  With luck, you'll draw in the real users as well.
5. Don't get caught by your friends or family.  Even in the mainland, astroturfing is a shameful profession.

Enjoy your $0.5 RMB per post!

Kennifu
Kennifu

Thanks to Time for this article.

Another point that cannot be repeated enough is that after the milk contamination scandal, instead of fixing the problem the Communist government instead went and put a key activist (Zhao Lianhai), who had exposed the scandal, in jail for "disturbing social order" and made him apologize publicly.  Way to give confidence to your own citizens.

AlexisDobreva
AlexisDobreva

Has 99 years under British colonial rule done nothing to improve the level of English in Hong Kong? Really. Truly unbiased information coming out of these posters folks, especially the ones with HK then a random assortment of letters after their name.  Has Hong Kong really stooped to such a low level?  Is your education system now so atrocious now that nobody has access to a beginner's economics class?  You complain about "mainlanders" coming over to your island and buying all your milk powder, amongst other goods.  You must either be writing this from a shoddy apartment in Kowloon with an extra 21st chromosome or from the phone you probably stole on the street (I would know, I got mine stolen by trash like you in HK once).  How is an influx of mainland capital and spending a bad thing for HK?  More revenue is generated and GDP goes up.  You complain about mainlanders buying up all your milk powder, yet it seems like instead of complaining on the internet in 6th grade grammar you could seize this opportunity to make something out of yourself.  They want milk powder, then sell milk powder! 

You won't be complaining in the long run once markets have had a chance to adjust.  Welcome to the free market.  Of all the places on earth, people in Hong Kong should at least be aware of this concept.

tkwpc10
tkwpc10

Why the Chinese want the HongKong's baby-milk(also the food, soap, candy ......) . Because China all the thing is fake, fake milk, fake bridge, fake bomb, fake news, fake food.........

freddy875
freddy875

it is ridiculous, is it hard to find fresh meat supply and water under globalisation?

freddy875
freddy875

so, chinese , y dun u use ur own chinese milk product but buy all of hong kong's milk power which is acting like a locust?

HK_198964
HK_198964

can someone stop slandering about hk maliciously? i was born and raised in hk, i see the different between 'before97' and 'after97' 

why mainlanders buy crazily for marking up the price and resell to the others? 
for their own use purpose, why they dont use china brands milk powder or buy in china but HK? 

mainlanders, they are not 'panic buying', they just want to resell in order to gain the largest profits, then we hk people need to suffer the markup price to get the milk powder.... 


liberalgunnuts
liberalgunnuts

Great irony here in Vancouver. We have all these Hongkies coming in, buy up real estates, take Canadian passports but never stay in Canada for long. They drive up housing price for all the young Canadians. I wish all the Hongkies could just get the hell out of Canada and stay in Hong Kong to deal with their own problems. China should limit no. of hongkies exploiting our Canadian immigration system.

Kennifu
Kennifu

Actually, real income levels in Hong Kong are decreasing for the average person, and HK's gini coefficient (a measure of rich poor gap) is one of the highest in the world for an economically developed city.

Increase in GDP has not made things better for the Hong Kong people.  The benefits of mainland tourism go to large retail corporations (often foreign) and local real estate moguls.  Mainland tourism has actually driven out small-medium businesses as local mom-and-pop stores give way to Louis Vuitton stores.  Places that used to be local shopping areas now only sell luxury goods and local people can no longer find affordable food and goods.


Coupled with the increase in corruption and graft and the steady erosion in rule of law that comes along with Communist rule, as well as political oppression mimicking the PRC's strategy in Tibetans,  the average Hong Kong person's life has gotten much worse since Communist China took possession of the city. 


vitalemon
vitalemon

i've never seen anyone disgusting like you in my wholelife. What you are doing right now is like pretending to be a smart rational guy and ask the jews to suck it up during the genocide. You dont know anything in Hong Kong.

you dont know what the LOCAL hk residents are facing everyday,
you dont know our government doesnt give a damn crap on us,
you dont know our chief executive listens only to the instructions from bejing and follow them to the letter,
you dont know who's controlling the legislative council and ban all laws that could help LOCAL hkers,
you dont know more and more LOCAL hkers are becoming homeless,
you dont know how much does a university frestgraduated earn,
you dont know there are 150 locusts from china with low-tech low-education background rushing into hong kong and ask for benefits which are for LOCAL hkers (and our dear government is more than happy to help these crap cause they are easily "brianwashed"
you dont know over 50% of hkers have to work six days a week, 9-9 per day

you dont know anything, please use your eyes to watch, your ears to listen before making such a moronic argument. And most of all, use your brain instead of your ass to think.

FelixChau
FelixChau

@AlexisDobrevaHi Alexis, Hong Kong was under the British administration from 1841 to 1997, which is 156 years instead of 99 years. Besides, Hong Kong has been returned to China since 1997 and frankly speaking the level of English is going downhill. But I hope you still respect people trying their best writing in English here just to wanna let the world know what they think and what is happening now in HK, instead of picking people's English level and belittling them. That is kinda naive.

I am sorry to mention this but investments from other countries are not calculated in a region's GDP (GDP stands for gross DOMESTIC products). Also, according to the demand and supply rule, due to a lot of mainlanders come to Hong Kong investing in properties, buying necessaries and stuff, it already causes a serious DEFICIT in which local HK residents cannot even afford to rent a small and dirty room 2 hours away from the city. The price of meat is almost a double comparing to the price one year ago. The average salary of a fresh graduate is HKD8000 while 10 years ago it was also HKD8000. A 390 sq ft flat in New Territories is 3.21 million for sale and 12k for rent. This is what you called the free market. It is out of control now and is very unhealthy. There will only be a bigger gap between the riches and the poors.

Local mothers cannot even find a can of baby formula to feed their child because merchants only sell to those who can massively purchase at one time. Local mothers cannot even breast feed their child because they still have to work from 9 to 9 everyday to repay the mortgage for the small flat.  This is now a social and ethic issue.

Stop applying your "economic" knowledge to the situation in HK nowadays. It just completely shows your ignorance to us.


liberalgunnuts
liberalgunnuts

@freddy875 The real locusts are those hongkies coming into Canada and buying all the properties and drive the prices up. They do nothing productive except eating chicken feet all day. Damn yellow bas tards.

HK_198964
HK_198964

@freddy875 it's awkward that they still need those milk powders in hk while china should have more choices for them 

liberalgunnuts
liberalgunnuts

@HK_198964 So it is ok for HKers to import goods, mark up prices and export/sell to mainlanders, but mainlanders can't do the same to make money? Are you saying only HKers can make profits but mainlanders can't?

liberalgunnuts
liberalgunnuts

@Kennifu Not true. http://www.socialindicators.org.hk/en/indicators/low_income/17.9 Real wage has grown in HK, substantially since 1997. There were a few years when real wage dropped due to high inflation but the overall trend is one of growth. The main problem in HK, that is driving down mom n pop stores, is the high rent, which traces back AGAIN to the land monopoly by the government and a few rich families. They artificially inflate the land price and rents and force that upon everyone. If you want to make lives of HKers easier, reform your land system.

liberalgunnuts
liberalgunnuts

@vitalemon To be honest, jews are still better than Hongkies. Jews have more honors and they fight for their freedoms in Israel. Hongkies always run away and try to get a new passport. I think hongkies deserve to be pissed on by everyone else because of this.

gkl19031
gkl19031

@liberalgunnuts@freddy875 Wrong. Hong Kong citizens are leaving Canada to go back to Hong Kong.  There has actually been a net loss of Hong Kong immigrants in the last few years. The ones coming in now and buying all the real estate are from mainland China. Now you know what people from Hong Kong feel, but on a far smaller scale. It sucks doesn't it, when your government ignores the well-being of their own citizens (who are being displaced and dispossessed), preferring to cater to wealthy foreigners. 

HK_198964
HK_198964

@liberalgunnuts @freddy875 really? why mainlanders come to hk and ask for money assistance from the government? why they dont go get a job?

at least, hk canadian will get a job in canada, they will find the moral ways to survive. 

HK_198964
HK_198964

@liberalgunnuts @HK_198964 import are also beneficial to the country which offers. we should have bought the milk powder with sufficient supply. its okay to buy milk powders for their own use purpose no matter they are mainlanders or not, but obviously they have another purpose, such act leads hk people cannot buy the milk powders and significantly affect the daily life. so here is the problem.

it's okay to buy by anyone, but it shuld not be affected to the locals daily life.

liberalgunnuts
liberalgunnuts

@HK_198964 @liberalgunnuts We are already getting rid of those Hongkies here. A lot of them never returned to Canada after getting passports. We will kick them and their kids out soon.

FelixChau
FelixChau

@liberalgunnuts @vitalemon huh? are you trying to say that it is possible to fight with the CCP? HKers have always been fighting with the HK gov as well as the CCP while they found that no matter how big the noise you make, they still pretend they dont hear it. HKers run away and try to get a new passport means the city dying. They were under the British administration for more than 150 years and today they still cannot vote for the Chief Executive. Go live in China for several years and you will know what I mean. People in China cannot even access facebook.

forgetaboutspel
forgetaboutspel

@liberalgunnuts @dcdc @HK_198964 @freddy875Contrary to your belief, main-landers are often the rich ones. 

People are selfish genetically. If Caucasians, for example, were to suffer through what the Chinese currently have to deal with, Caucasians would have done the same thing. My point being: this entire issue has nothing to do with race. Instead of flaming Hong Kongers and their chicken feet, we should put pressure on the Canadian Government in order to resolve this issue.

Have you been to any other countries outside of Canada? You seem very narrow minded to me.


liberalgunnuts
liberalgunnuts

@dcdc @liberalgunnuts @HK_198964 @freddy875 I can tell the difference between short and skinny Canto-speaking HKers from mainlanders. Mainlanders are generally poorer in Canada because most of them arrive on the basis of education and they have to find jobs to survive. HKers are the ones doing nothing all day but eat chicken feet in restaurants or just never show up and return to HK. We don't need these useless people in Canada.

dcdc
dcdc

@liberalgunnuts@HK_198964@freddy875Sorry to interrupt here. How do you guys differentiate mainland Chinese and HK citizens? 

As far as I know, the Canadian's main enemy should be those wealthy Chinese class, rather than the HK citizens. I know, they both do the same thing. Yet the number of Chinese is much more than HKers (around 33:1). And I knew they would pretend themselves as HKers as they would get less discrimination.


http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/resources/statistics/facts2011/permanent/10.asp

liberalgunnuts
liberalgunnuts

@HK_198964 @liberalgunnuts @freddy875 My neighbor's house in Richmond was bought by a Hong Kong couple without mortgage. They left the house empty and waited for 2 years to sell to another HK couple for higher price. The current family lives in HK and the house is still empty. I guess they are waiting for even higher price. That is what my country has become. A bunch of empty houses and HK speculators outside of Canada. Do you want HK to become a land of speculation for mainlanders? Don't make Canada like that too.

liberalgunnuts
liberalgunnuts

@HK_198964 @liberalgunnuts @freddy875 Jason Kenny, our immigration minister, recently passed a number of good laws to get rid of these fake marriages from China and Eastern Europe. They don't impact my life too much though. The high property price in Vancouver however is hurting my family and friends. We are forced to move to cheaper locations nearby instead of living in where we want. Tell your HK friends to stop buying houses in Vancouver and get the hell out.

liberalgunnuts
liberalgunnuts

@HK_198964 @liberalgunnuts @freddy875 Not sure about government people but students are welcome here in Canada because they usually stay and become good workers and pay taxes. It is those speculators from HK that buy houses and never come back to Canada again. These people should be banned. 

liberalgunnuts
liberalgunnuts

@HK_198964 @liberalgunnuts @freddy875 we want real workers, not people who get passports, buy a house for speculation and never return. Hongkies aren't real immigrants. We don't want this kind of people here. The real immigrants like my great-grand parents settled down in Canada and helped to built the country. They didn't run back to Poland after getting passports.

liberalgunnuts
liberalgunnuts

@HK_198964 @liberalgunnuts @freddy875 They actually don't pay taxes here. They ask for non-resident exemptions so essentially they get all the benefits but pay no taxes in Canada. I live in Surrey, BC. Used to live in Richmond until those Hongkies drove up the price in the area.

liberalgunnuts
liberalgunnuts

@HK_198964 @liberalgunnuts @freddy875 hongkies don't even live in Canada. They just get passports and go home with their chicken feet. When they get old and sick, they might come back and use our free healthcare system and run back to HK again. Wish Canadian army could shoot a few hongkies to set an example for this kind of exploitation.

ddgcd
ddgcd

@liberalgunnuts@HK_198964Hong Kong is just a small city. Its milk powder supply can never meet the huge demand of mainland China. They should import from manufacturers and wholesalers directly, rather than exhausting supplies from local retailer stores, that causes the real problem for mothers here who need milk powder for their babies. Moreover, these people are smugglers and they are ibreaking the laws. There is custom tax on the mainland side for importing, but these smugglers avoid that by bribing some corrupted officials.

liberalgunnuts
liberalgunnuts

@HK_198964 @liberalgunnuts 

So HKers import things only for their own use but never re-sell for profit purposes? Who gives a damn about locals when locals are so stupid to import more milk powders? Other locals are too busy to make money anyways.

gkl19031
gkl19031

@liberalgunnuts@ddgcd@HK_198964It's not people from Hong Kong who are doing this. The largest number of immigrants coming from HK was in 1996 & 1997. The numbers have been tapering down since then, to the point that there are more HK people leaving Canada than there are coming. The mainlanders are the ones who are moving to Canada in droves. Since you have so much sympathy for the mainlanders, I hope you enjoy living with them.

liberalgunnuts
liberalgunnuts

@ddgcd @liberalgunnuts @HK_198964 HK and mainland are one country. You are supposed to move around freely in the same country. Canada is a separate country. We are not a part of China. Don't come here and disrupt our economy. Stay in China. I don't just wish HKers the same situation. I wish they just get the hell out and never return with their chicken feet.

ddgcd
ddgcd

@liberalgunnuts @HK_198964 It is wrong for those Hong Kongers who only take Canada's benefits but not contribute to the country. Your government should do something to control property speculations and avoid such immigrations. However, with the same logic, that means Hong Kong government should also do something to stop immigration from mainland China, stop them from raising property price and stop them from smuggling milk powder.
What you are saying is stupid: the situation is bad in Canada because of some HKers, so you wished HK suffer the same situation.

liberalgunnuts
liberalgunnuts

@HK_198964 @liberalgunnuts Come to Vancouver and see for yourself. It is on the news here. We held a protest 2 years ago about Hongkies speaking only Cantonese in HSBC  and having only Chinese signs in stores. Sometimes I feel these ugly people are overwhelming my country. Tell your fellow HKers to stop coming to Canada. Unless you want to be real workers here, go away.

HK_198964
HK_198964

@liberalgunnuts @HK_198964 mainlanders pee and poo in disneyland, harbour city mall, and yell everywhere, but i wont believe hk people will be noisier than mainlanders seriously

liberalgunnuts
liberalgunnuts

@HK_198964 @liberalgunnuts LOL what? I saw hongkies picking their noises, eating their own boogers and peeing in the park in Richmond. Check local news here in Canada. It is f--king crazy.