By James Pomfret
HONG KONG (Reuters) - China will limit visits by residents of the southern city of Shenzhen to neighboring Hong Kong, local media and politicians said on Sunday, following recent tensions in the former British colony caused by growing numbers of mainland visitors.
Shenzhen authorities would soon restrict its residents to one visit to Hong Kong per week, from an unlimited number of daily trips, said Michael Tien, a Hong Kong member of China's parliament, the National People's Congress.
"It will definitely happen," Tien told Reuters. "I have heard from very reliable government sources." Local media said the travel curbs could come into effect as early as Monday.
The development comes after a groundswell of discontent in Hong Kong toward rampant growth in the numbers of mainland Chinese visiting the already densely populated city.
Shenzhen is just a short train ride from Hong Kong.
Some 47 million mainland Chinese visitors streamed into Hong Kong last year, more than six times the population of the former British territory that returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
While the tide of mainland tourists has powered the local economy, by spending freely in luxury shops, malls, restaurants and hotels, they have also been blamed for pushing up shop rents and property prices, as well as emptying local stores of daily necessities such as baby milk formula and cosmetics.
Travel industry executives say political tensions in Hong Kong including pro-democracy demonstrations last year and recent protests against mainland Chinese shoppers in local malls, when some Chinese were harassed, have discouraged tourists from mainland China. The travel industry had spoken out against the imposition of any curbs on mainland visitors.
The Hong Kong government wouldn't confirm the move, saying any announcement would come from Chinese authorities. But it acknowledged, in a statement, that it had proposed to Beijing concrete measures to adjust visas that currently allow permanent residents of Shenzhen multiple-entry to Hong Kong.
There was no immediate response from the Shenzhen government and no official confirmation of the new travel limits.
While it's not clear to what extent the new travel restrictions will impact Hong Kong, Shenzhen's proximity and affluence has made it a key source of Chinese shoppers in the city for years.
Hong Kong's retail sales fell 2 percent in the first two months of the year, stoking concerns of a more protracted retail slowdown due to a drop in mainland tourists.
(Editing by Susan Fenton)