“It’s been three difficult years, but I can finally breathe again,” Jerry Tse, a Hong Kong businessman who runs a network of dance schools in mainland China, told Lusa news agency as he crossed the border connecting the region by train. Administrative authority from China to Guangdong, the mainland Asian country.
Jerry has gone nearly three years without visiting his family. “Finally I feel free,” he said.
Surrounded by a dense urban fabric, interspersed with mountains and abundant vegetation, typical of the subtropical climate in southeast China, the high-speed train travels the distance between West Kowloon, in Hong Kong, and the South Station in Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province.
The first stop after boarding from Hong Kong is Futian Station in Shenzhen, China. Done through a tunnel, this route takes just 14 minutes to complete. A second-class ticket costs 66 yuan (about 9 euros).
For nearly three years, China’s ‘no virus’ policy has carved a practically unbridgeable hole between the two cities, which has included imposing a quarantine of up to three weeks on anyone entering mainland China or suspending travel documents and visas. Those who leave for China still have to undergo several nucleic acid and serological tests.
Alexandra Orlova, a 29-year-old Russian, said China still requires a negative test for the virus for anyone traveling from Hong Kong, but that is now just a “detail”, compared to a list of requirements previously imposed. destination beijing.
“When I got to customs and only had to show my passport and visa to enter China, it seemed surreal,” said Llosa.
The windows of the train are decorated with cut red paper, a traditional handicraft used during the Lunar New Year, the main holiday for Chinese families, which is celebrated this week.
“I will keep this flight ticket as a souvenir,” Huang Qinqin, a Chinese national from Guangdong Province, said, stressing the importance of reopening communication. Until the borders were closed, Huang would travel several times a month to Hong Kong for leisure or business.
Reopening borders is vital to Hong Kong’s economy, as tourism accounted for 4.5% of GDP and generated 225,000 jobs in 2018, the year before pro-democracy protests rocked the city.
In 2020, tourism contributed 0.2% of the territory’s GDP, and the following year, tourism contributed just 0.05%, according to data from the local government. In the first 10 months of 2022, the city recorded just 249,000 visitors from mainland China, compared to more than 51 million in 2018.
Pro-democracy protests and Beijing’s subsequent imposition of a national security law in 2020 transformed the semi-autonomous region. The United Kingdom handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997, under its “one country, two systems” policy, which aims to ensure the autonomy of the city’s democratic institutions, and to distinguish them from mainland China, which is dominated by the Chinese Communist Party.
The law resulted in the arrest of activists, demonstrators, and opposition figures on charges of “subversive activities,” “separatism,” “terrorism,” or “collusion with foreign powers.” According to Amnesty International, the legislation “decimate” freedoms in the province, turning the city into a “desert of human rights, increasingly resembling mainland China”, by giving the authorities “a free hand” to criminalize dissent “illegally”.
According to official data, more than 200,000 residents have left Hong Kong in the past two years, in the largest population decline since records began more than half a century ago.
“People are depressed,” described Lusa, a European student studying for a doctorate in literature at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “They feel hopeless about the future,” he said.
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