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Shenzhen in traders tit for tat

Date: 2012-09-27

Shenzhen customs has warned that repeat parallel-goods offenders from Hong Kong will be jailed for at least six months - apparent retaliation for the crackdown on mainlanders indulging in cross-border trade.

Hours after the Shenzhen warning, however, 15 mainlanders were arrested in a joint operation by police and customs at Sheung Shui and Fan Ling.

Tit-for-tat operations on both sides of the border could hit travelers as they are likely to face more stringent checks by customs officers.

"It appears that bad feeling is growing on the other side of the border," political commentator James Sung Lap-kung said, adding that authorities on both sides need to focus on long-term cooperation.

The Shenzhen warning was conveyed by lawmaker Gary Chan Hak- kan of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong after visiting customs officials there.

Chan quoted Shenzhen officials as saying that Hong Kong residents will be detained or have their goods confiscated for the first two attempts.

But they will be prosecuted if they break the law a third time, and on conviction will be jailed for at least six months.

Shenzhen estimates there are between 20,000 and 30,000 couriers carrying goods, and about 200 spot checks are made each day.

"Hong Kong parallel traders are reminded they can be prosecuted for carrying even lower-duty goods like baby formula, beverages or toilet paper," Chan said.

Yesterday Hong Kong stepped up its crackdown on mainlanders
acting as couriers at the border. The 15 who were arrested in the fourth operation to be mounted in eight days are two-way permit holders and included a temporary Hong Kong ID holder,.

Five men and one woman among the two-way permit holders were found in a flat at Sheung Shui Centre, about five minutes away from the MTR station, while the others were rounded up in an industrial building in Fan Ling.

Principal immigration officer Wong Yin-sang said the six were found packing more than 50 of the latest smartphones. All products were seized.

While buying goods in Hong Kong for sale across the border is not illegal, mainland traders are breaching immigration laws by working illegally.

"We will maintain our vigilance with a view to cracking down at the source," Wong said.

So far 14 of the 158 mainlanders arrested have been prosecuted for breaching conditions of stay. The remaining 144 have been repatriated.

Wong said 20 of those repatriated tried to re-enter Hong Kong but failed. "Their names were put on a monitoring list following their repatriation," Wong said. "Should they re-enter Hong Kong in future, officers will check their reasons carefully."

Sung, of the City University, said Shenzhen border officials are under pressure to match Hong Kong's crackdown.

He said recent government actions and the visit of Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to the State Council's Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office in Beijing should be seen as targeting the Hong Kong public rather than putting pressure on Shenzhen officials.