HONG KONG - It may be China's national day, but there was little love lost among Hong Kongers for their fellow countrymen from up north.
Screaming matches, tent-slashing and charges of tent-stealing erupted over the weekend at a popular campsite on Lantau Island as mainland tourists muscled in on the space, hoping to save money on hotel accommodation.
As China began its week-long Golden Week holiday celebrating its 63rd national day on Monday, Hong Kongers were bracing themselves for a flood of visitors from the mainland. The Travel Industry Council said an estimated 400 tour groups would arrive in the city each day during the holiday - up from about 360 last year.
But indicating the ambivalence in relationship, the property industry is stepping up launches in anticipation of sales to cash-rich mainlanders, while shops are laying out the welcome mat.
The latest brouhaha sparked off a debate on whether the city should rethink a scheme instituted in 2003 that allows mainlanders to visit Hong Kong individually rather than in tour groups.
The anticipated strain on the infrastructure led even Ms Starry Lee, an executive council member from the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, to call for visitor curbs. "More discussions are needed on whether the Hong Kong government should have a say over which (mainland) city's people can come," she said in a TVB programme on Sunday.
The number of mainland visitors to Hong Kong quadrupled in a decade to 28 million last year.
Speaking at a national day reception yesterday, Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying did not allude directly to the fracas but noted that in the first eight months of this year, Hong Kongers made 370,000 cross-border trips a day between Hong Kong and Shenzhen - 2.5 times those by mainlanders. Many were there to visit relatives, work or do business.
This underscores the size of Hong Kong's "unprecedentedly large external economy" in Guangdong province, which has sustained the territory's economic growth and created employment for Hong Kongers, he said.
"We must realise it is inevitable and essential for Hong Kong to develop alongside the mainland."
He promised that his government will "address new issues which arise as Hong Kong continues to develop alongside the mainland, including the capacity problem of Hong Kong", but did not give any details.