HONG KONG (AP) — Chinese authorities brought in curbs on travel to Hong Kong on Monday to cool tensions over the growing influx of mainland shoppers that's angering residents of the Asian financial hub.
The public security bureau in neighboring Shenzhen will stop issuing multiple visit passes to people who live in the border city and instead issue only once-a-week travel passes, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
The move comes as anger simmers over the rising numbers of cross-border mainland Chinese travelers, who've been blamed for voracious buying of smartphones, cosmetics, medicine and luxury goods that distorts the local economy.
Chinese especially favor imported baby formula bought in Hong Kong over domestic brands after repeated food safety scares and because of the city's reputation for authentic goods.
Hong Kong activists held several protests earlier this year that erupted into chaos when protesters scuffled with the tourists.
The central government in Beijing has adjusted the travel policy because, "alongside the unceasing growth of mainland residents traveling to Hong Kong and growing pressure on mainland and Hong Kong immigration ports, there's growing contradiction between visitor numbers to Hong Kong and Hong Kong tourism's capability," the Xinhua report said.
Many cross-border shoppers often work for shadowy networks that organize the resale of the goods back in mainland China for a profit, in what's known as parallel trading. Hong Kong's leader, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, said the policy is "directed against professional goods smugglers" and vowed further measures to target such traders based in Hong Kong.
Leung said 4.6 million mainland Chinese visited Hong Kong more than once a week last year, with Shenzhen residents with multiple visit passes accounting for 30 percent. That's a tenth of the 47.3 million mainlanders who visited in 2014, up 16 percent from the year before. They are estimated to be responsible for a third of retail sales in Hong Kong, a city of 7.1 million that's been a specially administered Chinese region since 1997.