In a familiar scene echoing the frequently confrontational demonstrations in Hong Kong last year, police this weekend arrested 38 in the city's latest protest against mainland Chinese intrusions on the Southeast Asian financial hub. But this time, the strife was not over politics, but the local shopping economy, authorities said Monday.
Officers wielded batons and pepper spray to control hundreds of protesters who marched along a suburban strip mall Sunday in protests aimed at the soaring contingent of shoppers from mainland China descending on the region. Locals say that mainlanders frequently travel to Hong Kong with empty suitcases to fill up with mass purchased goods, effectively skewing the domestic economy and driving up prices.
Video shows scuffles breaking out as police fought to contain the crowd gathered near a row of shops catering to mainland shoppers in the district of Yuen Long, near Hong Kong's border with China.
The protest was the third this month directed at parallel traders — Chinese mainlanders crossing the border to take advantage of Hong Kong's sales tax-free goods, which are then resold for profit back on the mainland.
Some of these shoppers are organized by shadowy triad networks, and there was some speculation the protests over the weekend would draw gang involvement — but this never materialized. Locals claim the spending sprees inflate product prices, making some goods inaccessible, while soaring rents are dislodging local shopkeepers.
"There is a lot of anger from other people on Chinese smugglers because we just don't like how they drive up all the prices, drive up everything, create a lot of chaos, and we aren't benefiting from it," Kelvin Lee, one of the protest's organizers with the association Hong Kong Indigenous, told the Associated Press.
The dozens of detained protesters were aged between 13 and 74, the South China Morning Post reported. Ten officers were injured in the melee.
Hong Kong's luxury goods, smart phones, and medicine were among the highly sought after products snatched up by the some 47.3 million mainlanders who visited the area in 2014. An estimated third of retail sales in Hong Kong are attributed to mainland consumers.
Resentment of mainlanders has continued to mount in Hong Kong since the Chinese government moved in last year to try and control the city's inaugural 2017 leadership elections, despite earlier promises of greater political autonomy following the city's return to Chinese control after 156 years of British governance.
The sometimes-violent pro-democracy Occupy Central protests last year, which sprouted from this dissatisfaction, failed to resolve the issues concerning the city's electoral autonomy, and negotiations are ongoing. Late last year, police dismantled the camps of thousands of so-called "Umbrella Movement" protesters in various parts of the city.
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