Hong Kong’s ban on baby milk formula trade adds to tension with mainland China
As complaints over the severe baby formula shortage in Hong Kong rise, the local authorities plan to slap a tough restriction on the amount of formula outbound travellers can take. The new rule, which is aimed at mainland Chinese smugglers, has sparked fear, outrage and angst on Chinese social media.
Under the regulation, each individual leaving Hong Kong can take no more than 1.8 kilograms, or two cans, of baby formula past the border. Violators can face imprisonment of up to two years and a maximum fine of HK500,000. In addition, the city has stepped up border inspection to keep potential smugglers at bay. More than 600 were denied entry into Hong Kong in the past four days since the announcement.
The prohibitions arise from the large amount of baby formula being smuggled out of Hong Kong into mainland China on a daily basis. Cross-border traders buy up imported formula in Hong Kong and sell them at a premium in the mainland. But as the result of the ongoing Chinese milk scandals since 2008, most Chinese middle class families concerned with food safety are more than happy to pay the hefty prices.
A long line in front of a store in Hong Kong with a sign that reads, “Japanese Milk Powder (baby formula)”
A drugstore in Hong Kong packed with shoppers who snap up baby formula
The high demand for baby formula from the mainland has drained Hong Kong residents of milk, and the upcoming Chinese Lunar New Year, which falls on February 10 this year, has only exacerbated the shortage. Last week, nearly a hundred local protesters besieged a drugstore packed with mainland smugglers and shouted their slogan, “Regain Possession of Hong Kong! Give Formula Back to Us.”
Hong Kong parents’ fury and frustration at illegal baby formula trade can even be felt overseas. On January 29, they launched a petition at the White House web site, calling for international support and assistance as malnutrition and hunger loom large for the city’s babies. As of Tuesday, the petition has garnered over 22,000 signatures.
The new two-can limit imposed in response to the clamor, which is likely to go into effect by the end of the month, has set off alarm on Sina Weibo, Chinese twitter, where net users chewed over the significance of the regulation.
Some accuse Hong Kong, a former British colony, of being ungrateful for and discriminatory towards the mainland. They argue that Chinese government has been providing resources, business opportunities and food supply to the otherwise isolated island, and yet Hong Kong has failed to return the favor.
“For so long, the mainland has been shipping the best to Hong Kong, but now they are talking about clampdown after mainlanders buy a few cans of formula. Hong Kong people, a few cans of formula is a testament to your shamelessness!”
”You have been consuming our meat products for so many years. What’s wrong with us drinking so little of your milk?”
Others call for a boycott of Hong Kong in retaliation,
“Haha, as soon as we mainlanders stop travelling to Hong Kong, those Hong Kong guys will loosen up.”
Such mentality has aroused antagonism and aversion on Hong Kong’s part. Liao Weitang, a Hong Kong author, commented on Weibo,
“For today’s matter of baby formula, we most Hong Kong parents have displayed extreme restraint and tolerance…But now so many people and officials have jumped out and asked us to be grateful in a colonialist tone! Enough is enough!”
This prompted more rounds of verbal attacks between Hong Kong and mainland net users. One Weibo user from Hong Kong made a poignant comment on the topic,
“It is everyone, regardless of citizenship, who is prohibited from taking more than two cans. Besides, your children’s tragedy is your own fault. If mainlanders were more united, three million people is enough to solve all the problems when they take to the street and demand the end of one-party rule. What has poisoned your children is those parents who have no gut to hit the street and supervise the government!!!”
Such a sassy tongue has had some ears on the mainland. One said,
“I can understand Hong Kong people’s frustration over mainland’s sweeping purchase… Mainlanders’ colonialist air is so disgusting. You’ve paid so damn high taxes to a damn government, and you are tough with Hong Kong people? If you have the nerve, protest in front of toxic formula manufacturers and the supervisory departments! Please change your own country!”
The post was shared over 1,200 times.
Last year, spats between Hong Kong residents and mainland Chinese escalated to nasty confrontation, culminating in a full-page ad run in a Hong Kong newspaper. Trash-talk reigns the Internet, with mainlanders calling Hong Kongers dogs and slaves, and the latter responded by labeling the former “locusts.” The ad shows a locust overlooking Hong Kong’s skyline. “Hong Kong people have had enough!” it screamed, calling mainlanders out on a wide range of social issues including baby formula buy-up and births by mainland parents for Hong Kong citizenship.
Despite the widening rift between Hong Kong and mainland over the formula, they actually share the same sentiment: worry. Even if the restriction proves effective, the shortage in Hong Kong is unlikely to be alleviated anytime soon, and Chinese parents will have to start hunting elsewhere for their babies.