Many Hong Kong residents as of late might not really feel like celebrating in any respect when the twenty fifth anniversary of the town’s return to Chinese language rule is marked. That is due on the one hand to the efforts of the Chinese language authorities to broaden its affect in Hong Kong and to suppress the democracy movement, an effort that has been growing for years. Alternatively, the COVID-19 pandemic has hit the town laborious and introduced one of many pillars of its financial system, tourism, to a digital standstill.

Zero-COVID coverage has devastating penalties

“Till 2019, Hong Kong was one of many world’s most-visited cities,” says Wolfgang Ehmann of the German Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong. Nevertheless, because of strict pandemic journey restrictions, a few of that are nonetheless in power, the sector collapsed fully.

In all of 2021, the official variety of customer arrivals was simply 91,000, Ehmann mentioned — in contrast with almost 56 million in 2019. “This exhibits how devastating the implications of the zero-COVID coverage have been, and proceed to be, for tourism in Hong Kong.”

People wearing masks walking through the streets of Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, strict COVID-19 guidelines proceed to use, akin to sporting face masks in public areas

On Hong Kong’s streets, the massive variety of lowered shutters, and closed shops and eating places within the purchasing facilities, are proof of how badly the financial system has been hit by the absence of tourists.

In response to official figures, tourism makes up circa 5% of the town’s gross home product. There are greater than 300 accommodations, and the sector immediately employs some 260,000 folks.

Most vacationers from mainland China

The tourism trade has modified significantly over previous a long time. “Purchasing tourism is essential in Hong Kong immediately,” says Jianli Chen, proprietor of the Hamburg-based firm China Hansa Journey, which organizes journeys to his residence nation. “Chinese language vacationers from the mainland now play a a lot greater position than worldwide tourism.”

Official figures bear this out. In 2017, for instance, 76% of all guests got here from mainland China. Costly watches, fancy luggage, branded items of every kind — that is what rich mainland Chinese language are on the lookout for in Hong Kong, Chen explains.

Two young Chinese women with shopping bags in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is common as a purchasing vacation spot with mainland Chinese language

The truth that such purchasing journeys — typically solely day journeys — are doable is a direct results of the town’s rule being returned to China. Beginning in 2003, the Chinese language state started issuing visas that enable particular person journeys to Hong Kong. Since then, virtually 300 million Chinese language have made use of them.

Hans-Wilm Schütte, a Chinese language scholar and creator of a number of journey guides on China and Hong Kong, remembers occasions when this was not doable. “Vacationers in Hong Kong was once People, Japanese, often just a few Europeans,” he says. “The truth that so many mainland Chinese language come immediately additionally has to do with [Hong Kong’s] handover to the Individuals’s Republic of China.”

That handover formally concluded on July 1, 1997, after a few years of wrangling. After the so-called Opium Conflict in 1841, rule of Hong Kong was within the fingers of the UK. Town subsequently developed into an necessary navy base and buying and selling heart. Throughout World Conflict II, Japanese forces occupied the town, and afterwards Hong Kong grew into an financial powerhouse, thanks partly to Chinese language entrepreneurs who had fled Mao’s Purple Brigades.

China and Hong Kong flags decorate a highway bridge in Hong Kong

Today, the town is adorned with Hong Kong and Individuals’s Republic of China flags

Critics warn of autonomy undermined

Within the Seventies, China’s strain on the UK to relinquish it as a colony elevated. It was lastly agreed that for a length of fifty years, Hong Kong could be a so-called particular administrative area of China’s. Below the motto “one nation, two techniques,” Hong Kong residents have been assured in depth freedoms and rights.

However Hong Kong’s autonomy is being more and more eroded. In 2020, a controversial “safety legislation” got here into power that gave the Chinese language authorities leeway to supress free speech and democracy protests there, and which continues to serve because the basis for arrests of regime critics.

In London, a man demonstrates with a banner for more democracy in Hong Kong

Dozens of regime critics gathered in London on June 12 to exhibit for extra democracy in Hong Kong

In 2014, tens of hundreds of individuals took to the streets in so-called “umbrella protests” to demand extra democracy. Additionally in 2019 and 2020, the town noticed a sequence of pro-democracy demonstrations.

Though the demonstrations have been largely peaceable, Chen believes this has impacted tourism — he is satisfied that many tour operators merely take Hong Kong off their itineraries when there’s any form of unrest there.

China’s President Xi Jinping to attend celebrations

Town had lengthy been the gateway to China for Western vacationers; hovever, this has modified.

“Hong Kong tourism from Europe has develop into a lot much less,” says Chen. As just lately because the Nineties, he used to common three journeys a yr to Hong Kong as a tour information.

“The traditional route for spherical journeys to China started and led to Hong Kong,” says Chen. Nevertheless, with the progressive opening up of China, this has regularly modified.

A poster celebrating the 25th anniversary of the return of Hong Kong to Chinese rule is seen in Central Hong Kong

Dozens of occasions are deliberate to mark twenty fifth anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese language rule

In the meantime, restoration of the tourism trade continues to be not in sight. Hong Kong vacationers proceed to be subjected to strict COVID-19 restrictions that embody a number of exams and lengthy lodge quarantines.

Celebrations to mark the twenty fifth anniversary of the return of the town are, nonetheless, prone to be lavish. China’s President Xi Jinping may even be current, and is predicted to attend a number of official occasions.

This text was initially written in German.

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