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Hong Kongers protest cross-border visits as China eyes action

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Hong Kong protesters rallied against traders who snap up goods in the city to sell in the mainland, as the governor of China's second-most populous province sought to discourage people from going there to buy milk powder.

[BEIJING] Hong Kong protesters rallied against traders who snap up goods in the city to sell in the mainland, as the governor of China's second-most populous province sought to discourage people from going there to buy milk powder.

About 100 people gathered in the Sheung Shui neighborhood to demand controls on parallel traders, who they say are driving up prices. It was the fourth week in a row for rallies in areas with transportation links to the Shenzhen border.

Protesters chanted "Combat illegal parallel trade" and "Buy mainland goods if you are really patriotic," according to footage from Hong Kong Cable TV.

The traders are exploiting concerns about safety of products such as milk powder in China, while the protests reflect anxiety that Chinese are overwhelming Hong Kong and skewing the the cost of goods for locals. Such tensions have boiled over in the past, as when Hong Kong newspapers referred to mainland Chinese as locusts.

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An influx of Chinese visitors has prompted the city's government to consider curbs on tourist arrivals.

Such action could further undercut Hong Kong's slowing economy, which has benefited from Chinese shoppers coming to buy supplies of daily goods to luxury brands of watches and bags.

Today's protesters were outnumbered by about 500 police watching them closely, Hong Kong's cable TV reported. Some protesters left Sheung Shui and staged another protest in Tuen Mun, a second area with transportation links to Shenzhen.

On Saturday, the governor of China's Shandong called on those from the province not to go to Hong Kong for milk powder, so popular with Chinese tourists concerned about food safety that it's sparked anger among Hong Kong residents who say local supplies are being sapped.

Coastal Province Guo Shuqing told a meeting of Shandong delegates to the nation's legislature that he didn't want to see too many tourists from the coastal province visiting Hong Kong.

Shandong was China's second-most populous province in 2013 with 97.3 million people, according to government data.

"Shandong has a big population and we don't want to see too many individual tourists creating pressure for Hong Kong," Mr Guo said on Saturday. "Especially we don't want to see Shandong people running to Hong Kong to buy milk powder. We promise Shandong people won't go there scrambling for milk powder."

Mainland shoppers have long favoured milk powder from abroad after contaminated baby formula killed at least six infants and sickened thousands of others since 2008. In 2013, Hong Kong imposed a limit of two 2-pound cans apiece on outbound travelers.

Hong Kong's Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said on Friday that China would look into the impact of visitors on the city.

On Saturday, Chinese Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng said the government is aware of "new problems" with cross-border visits and will optimise its Hong Kong tourism policy, at a briefing during the National People's Congress in Beijing.

Tourists from mainland China rose 16 per cent to 47 million in 2014 from a year earlier, according to the Hong Kong Tourism Board.

Day trips accounted for a record 60 per cent of these, compared with 38 per cent in 2006.

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