And Finally

Wrong formula?

New Hong Kong policy infuriates mainlanders

For China’s mothers on a shopping mission to Hong Kong, one can of infant formula costs HK$250 ($32) and two can be purchased for HK$500. But for the third can the price could spike to HK$500,000 plus two years in jail.

This isn’t the only joke going viral, after new regulations imposed a punitive outcome for travellers carrying more than two cans of milk powder across Hong Kong’s borders this month. The two-can limit is also pushing Hong Kong-China tensions to new heights.

Readers of WiC will be familiar with the fraying relationship. From traitorous dogs to grasping locusts, the mainland Chinese and their Hong Kong countrymen have swapped animalistic insults (see WiC136) for a while. But this time, even weibo celebrities and prominent politicians have been joining the fray. Wang Shuo, managing editor of Caixin Media, slammed Hong Kong policymakers “with no conscience but the brains of pigs”, while former Google China chief Lee Kaifu, who has more than 30 million Sina Weibo fans, made similar comments. “Despite all the claims on the rule of law how could Hong Kong come up with such a shameless sentence?” he asked.

Qu Zhihang, an artist famous for doing naked press-ups in public places (see WiC61), then protested against the ban by performing his nude routine at the crowded Hong Kong-Shenzhen border.

Hong Kong isn’t the only place to impose restrictions on Chinese tourists emptying the supermarket shelves of infant formula. But mainlanders consider its move to be particularly disloyal to the motherland, especially because the city owes much of its prosperity in recent years to milking the buying power of mainland Chinese visitors.

Strangely enough, state media was more restrained, focusing on China’s own shortcomings. CCTV called it a “wake-up call” for local dairy producers, and said they needed to win back the confidence of consumers. Chinese parents worry that if they feed their babies with domestically produced infant formulas they’ll get sick. This follows a spate of scandals involving melamine-laced powders (see WiC6 for our first mention of the issue).

Senior officials then suggested that a detailed plan to reform China’s food and drug safety system will be unveiled within days. Domestic critics aren’t expecting much action. Zheng Yuanjie, a famous fairy tale author, sniped on his own blog that the State Council probably needed to create a “Minister of Milk Powder” headed by one of the vice premiers to solve the problem .

The most-forwarded dark joke sums up the predicament of Chinese parents. The best strategy for mothers-to-be, according to an anonymous blogger, is to carry the third can of milk powder out of Hong Kong and get caught. Then refuse to pay the fine, go to prison and give birth to the child while serving the jail sentence. The reward is free (and safe) baby formula from the Hong Kong government and the right of abode for the newborn. This casual comment was so widely forwarded that Hong Kong authorities even issued a statement, rebuffing the strategy.


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