Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Hong Kong's Border: A Barrier for Many Chinese

Yesterday, as I walked on a bridge over a small river I took this photo:

people walking in one direction on an enclosed bridge

The bridge is significant because it connects immigration checkpoints for Hong Kong and Shenzhen, China. When I took the photo I had just passed through immigration in Hong Kong and was on my way to immigration in Shenzhen. In short, I needed my passport to depart Hong Kong, and yet again needed my passport, but with a Chinese visa, to enter mainland China. While Hong Kong is part of China, experiences such as this one can make it feel otherwise.

Perhaps this is no more strongly felt than by some of China's own citizens. While entering Hong Kong is simple for me as a US Citizen, with only a passport I'm granted 90 days visa-free upon arrival, it is very different for many people in mainland China. For example, here is an excerpt of some of the polices for citizens of mainland China as posted on Hong Kong's Immigration Department's web site:
Visit relatives

6. Mainland residents who wish to visit their relatives in Hong Kong are required to obtain an Exit-entry Permit for Travelling to and from Hong Kong and Macao with an "endorsement for visiting relatives (Tanqing)" from the relevant Public Security Bureau Office.

Group tours

7. Mainland residents who wish to come here for sightseeing may join the group tours organized by designated Mainland tour companies. Group tour members need to obtain an Exit-entry Permit for Travelling to and from Hong Kong and Macao and an "endorsement for group visit (Tuandui Luyou)" issued by the Public Security Bureau Office. As group tour visitors, they must arrive and depart together as a group.

Individual visits

8. Mainland residents from Guangdong Province and 28 cities, including Shanghai, Beijing, Nanjing, Suzhou, Wuxi, Hangzhou, Ningbo, Taizhou, Fuzhou, Xiamen, Quanzhou, Tianjin, Chongqing, Chengdu, Jinan, Shenyang, Dalian, Nanchang, Changsha, Nanning, Haikou, Guiyang, Kunming, Shijiazhuang, Zhengzhou, Changchun, Hefei and Wuhan who wish to come here for sightseeing purpose in individual capacity are required to obtain an Exit-entry Permit for travelling to and from Hong Kong and Macao and an "endorsement for individual visit (Geren Luyou)" from the relevant Public Security Bureau Office.

Business visits

9. Mainland residents who wish to make business trips to Hong Kong in their private capacity are required to obtain an Exit-entry Permit for Travelling to and from Hong Kong and Macao and an "endorsement for business visit (Shangwu)" from the relevant Public Security Bureau Office.
To be clear, even if someone from mainland China has a passport they can be denied entry to Hong Kong if they have not applied in advance for a permit. And just because someone can apply for a permit doesn't mean they'll receive it. Also, people in different parts of mainland China are not treated equally. For example, point 8 only offers residents in select locations the opportunity to visit Hong Kong for sightseeing purposes if they're not a part of a group tour.

I recall one time in particular when a Chinese friend received a permit to visit Hong Kong and she was eagerly awaiting its abundant shopping opportunities (some international goods are cheaper or more available in Hong Kong than in mainland China). Unfortunately, upon getting off the bus in Hong Kong she had to immediately return to mainland China for work-related reasons. Although she wanted to return to Hong Kong the next day, she couldn't because her permit was only valid for a single entry.

A couple of months ago Su Gengsheng wrote a blog post detailing her own eye-opening experience of being denied an entry permit for Hong Kong by local police in Hunan province. A translation can be found in the post "Is Hong Kong really a part of China? Emotionally no." by Annie Lee on ChinaHush. While Su blamed a "chaotic management system" for her problems, Lee mentions another post with a different perspective:
After reading Su’s blog post, Netease certified columnist Nan Qiao commented the subject matter in his post “When will HK return to China”. He went on HK government site to check out the rules set by Hong Kong and concluded that Chinese are being discriminated from the fact that residents from 53 foreign countries such as the US, France, Japan, Britain can enter and stay in HK for up to 90 days visa-free; and residents from 11 other foreign countries get the visa-free stay for 30 days such as Costa Rica, Honduras, Indonesia, Jordan, Kuwait etc; and some 17 other countries’ passports get 14 days visa-free stay. Of course China is not the only one that is keep out by visa, there are a bunch of other countries too, including Afghanistan, Albania, Cambodia, Congo, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, North Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya and so on.

“In HK and our central government’s eyes” wrote Nan Qiao, “are we Chinese family fellows the same as people from Afghanistan, Burundi, Cuba, North Korea, Iraq etc? People may think that these restrictions are reasonable considering mainland’s super large population. Then why Indians get to have 14 days visa-free stay in HK? Does India have a small population?”
Based on the conversations I've had, thoughts on whether and how the policy should change can vary quite a bit, particularly if comparing those of people in mainland China and Hong Kong. Whatever the justification for the policy, Nan's later comments at the end of his post touch on a broader point: what impact does the policy and its application have on how other countries treat or perceive China and its people? The answer to that question may matter more to many in mainland China than whether they can visit Hong Kong without needing to apply for a permit.

1 comment:

  1. China wants control over all their people. I lived there for 4 years and it was just terrible.!