Sat, Oct 26, 2019 - Page 9 News List

Mainland Chinese uneasy in Hong Kong

As protests in Hong Kong continue unabated, mainland Chinese living in the territory are increasingly fearful, not speaking Mandarin and considering moving back to China

By Bei Hu, Alfred Cang and Alfred Liu  /  Bloomberg

Illustration: Tania Chou

As Hong Kong’s historic protests become increasingly violent, mainland Chinese living in the territory are becoming increasingly fearful.

Min, who moved to Hong Kong from the mainland in 1995 and now runs his own hedge fund, said the startling escalation in mayhem prompted him to tell his children not to speak Mandarin in public for fear they will get beaten up in the Cantonese-speaking territory.

Before going out for dinner, Min checks his phone for news on which streets are blocked due to mass marches or violent clashes. He stopped flying on the territory’s flagship carrier, Cathay Pacific Airways, where some staff took part in protests and others were fired after investigations into depleted oxygen tanks.

With battles between police and black-clad mobs becoming pervasive, Min said he has considered moving his business to Shanghai and his family to Canada.

“They have no moral bottom line as to what they’ll do to achieve their goals,” Min, who asked that his full name not be used for fear of retribution, said of the protesters. “Fingers crossed, I believe the police can crush this.”

The strife ripping through Hong Kong — with police officers and protesters in hand-to-hand combat, subway stations set ablaze and an improvised explosive device detonated near a police car — looks very different from the territory’s mainland-born residents.

More than 1 million Mainlanders, including many professionals, have migrated across the border since China regained control of the former British colony in 1997, helping swell its population to 7.5 million.

The protests began in opposition to a since-scrapped government bill allowing extraditions to mainland China and have expanded to include calls for greater democracy and an independent inquiry into police tactics.

While the majority of protesters are peaceful, the demonstrations often feature a darker, anti-China tone. Some demonstrators have burned Chinese flags and spray-painted the phrases “Chinazi” and “Hong Kong is not China!” across the territory.

The rhetoric is spilling over into violence on both sides. A 22-year-old mainland visitor accused of slashing a teenage Hong Kong protester in the abdomen surrendered to police this week.

Over the weekend, gangs ransacked or destroyed Chinese bank branches and retail businesses, including an outlet for smartphone maker Xiaomi Corp based in Beijing.

The tensions between mainlanders and locals also surface in daily office interactions.

“Employees are generally encouraged to not discuss this topic at work and to leave political opinions at home,” said Benjamin Quinlan, chief executive officer of financial services consultancy Quinlan & Associates.

Still, “you can’t segregate a private and corporate life so cleanly, and there will inevitably be opinions on politics that don’t gel among colleagues,” he said.

When crowds surged into the streets recently, Yang, a 34-year-old finance professional from China, watched from above in one of the territory’s gleaming skyscrapers.

TVs in the office — and desktop livestreams — were all tuned to the protests against Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s (林鄭月娥) impending use of a colonial-era emergency powers law to ban face masks on demonstrators.

Mobile phones buzzed with messages flowing across WeChat groups about looming protests and violence outside, including one alarming video of a Chinese banker from JPMorgan Chase & Co getting punched in the head by a protester and someone yelling: “Go back to the mainland!”

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