Sat, May 10, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Hong Kong falls from China's grace

By Paul Lin 林保華

Since SARS began to spread in China and the authorities in Beijing acknowledged the epidemic, 94 countries around the world have adopted differing degrees of restrictions on Chinese persons visiting their countries.

Some refuse entry entirely. Among these countries, the Asian and African countries that constitute China's "old friends" have put the tightest restrictions in place. For example, Sudan has completely refused entry to all visitors from China. By contrast, the Western countries often viewed as "opposing forces" have been more generous.

By last year, the UN had 191 member nations. Thus those acting in an "unfriendly" manner toward China amount to nearly half of the UN member states, and these are precisely the countries that usually have relatively frequent interaction with China.

The people of Hong Kong are naturally among those Chinese who have faced restrictions. Hong Kong is a special administrative region (SAR) of China, and thus even its name brings SARS to mind. Besides, Hong Kong's infection and death rates are among the highest in the world.

Even more unfortunately, apart from Hong Kong being designated an epidemic region and having all sorts of restrictions imposed on it by foreign countries, people from Hong Kong have also been prevented from entering many cities and provinces within China. According to available data, 16 cities and provinces around the country have refused entry to people from Hong Kong and even expelled those who were already there, making people from Hong Kong in effect no different from India's "untouchables."

Among the country's 30 provinces, over half are unfriendly to visitors from Hong Kong. The great extended family of all Chinese is colder toward its own members than is the wider global community. So much for blood being thicker than water.

According to Hong Kong media reports, those areas that have adopted measures to quarantine visitors from Hong Kong include Shanghai and the provinces of Hainan, Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Sichuan, and Liaoning.

When Taiwan announced on April 28 that travellers arriving from Hong Kong would be quarantined for 10 days upon arrival, officials of the SAR government and some opinion makers were a bit annoyed. But who would have imagined that certain cities and provinces in China would act with no prior warning, adopting measures to quarantine visitors from Hong Kong immediately for a period of 14 days? Moreover, the hotel bills for those 14 days are to be paid by the quarantined travellers themselves. Some districts in Shanghai acted in just this manner.

Reports say that in some neighborhoods of Shanghai, little old ladies have formed posses and begun snooping about to discover which households might have visitors from Hong Kong. It's almost like the rooting out of "illicit foreign relations" in previous times. Public Security officers also entered people's homes in Hainan. If they saw anyone from Hong Kong, that person was immediately deported. Otherwise one faced 14 days in quarantine.

Suddenly finding themselves outcasts, these people were driven back to Hong Kong, but the SAR government dared not complain. Of course, the Shang-hai city government denied having such a policy, but it issued two related documents. On this basis, each district government set its own "local policy."

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