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[HONG KONG] Tensions between Hong Kong residents and visitors from mainland China will not be tolerated, the city's leader said Monday as he confirmed a limit on the number of visits which mainlanders can make.
An influx of millions of Chinese visitors to Hong Kong has prompted rallies by residents angered by congested public transport and shop shelves emptied of daily necessities that are resold over the border.
Critics in the semi-autonomous Chinese city say mainland visitors also push up prices, increase delays at border crossings and behave badly.
Mainland authorities have now stopped allowing residents from the border city of Shenzhen to make unlimited visits to Hong Kong, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said, restricting them to one visit per week.
"Anything that increases tension between Hong Kong and mainland society is not tolerated," Mr Leung said.
Anxiety over China's increased influence remains high in the former British colony, months after mass protests demanding greater democracy from Beijing ended in December with no concessions.
The decision to restrict mainlanders' entry was aimed at curbing the practice of "parallel trading" in which visitors buy up prized goods such as baby formula in Hong Kong and resell them in China's border towns to avoid tariffs.
Mr Leung said the new restrictions were suggested by the Hong Kong government and adopted by Beijing.
He said the policy would affect about 4.6 million travellers, or nearly 10 per cent of the annual 47 million mainland visitors.
China's state-run Xinhua news agency said Monday the policy arose from concerns over "growing pressure" on the city's border due to a surging number of travellers.
Mr Leung admitted the move would not completely end parallel trading, adding the government would continue to crack down on illegal activities.
Hong Kong has a separate customs jurisdiction from mainland China, which imposes tariffs on foreign imports.
Concern over how retailers may be affected dragged some share prices down Monday.
Shares in cosmetics retailer Sa Sa International dropped 6.24 per cent to HK$4.06 while Chow Tai Fook, which sells jewellery, fell 2.93 per cent to HK$8.95.
Mr Leung warned against further protests targeting mainland visitors, describing them as "unruly" and "counter-productive".
Some recent rallies have led to clashes with police and several arrests.
Some mainland netizens expressed dismay at the policy, branding it unfair.
"One country two systems. Hong Kong people returning to China should have weekly limits to meet the requirements of equal status," a netizen wrote.
Another wrote: "Hong Kong (people) really are hypocrites (wanting wealth while not wanting tourists)." Some Hong Kong residents expressed doubt the policy would be effective against parallel traders, saying local people instead of mainland Chinese would be recruited to transport goods.
Hong Kong opened up to Chinese tourists in 2003 to try to revive its economy after an outbreak of the respiratory disease SARS, allowing mainland Chinese to visit as individual travellers rather than as part of an organised tour.