On the first day of a new restriction that limits travelers from taking more than 1.8 kg of infant milk formula out of Hong Kong, border authorities arrested 10 people in violation of the new law. The new regulations were implemented on March 1, 2013. A 47-year-old man was prosecuted March 2, and fined 5000 HKD [zh] (approximately 650 USD). The maximum penalty for smuggling milk powder out of Hong Kong would be a 500,000 HKD fine and 2-year imprisonment.
Mainland Chinese media outlets are divided in their opinion on the policy. Commentators in the newspaper Global Times criticize [zh] the policy as a de facto embargo that violates the principle of free trade. On the other hand, CCTV and the China Daily point out in their micro-blog comments [zh] that the mainland Chinese milk industry is to be blamed for the current situation.
As most of the mainland Chinese do not understand that the policy is targeting smugglers rather than normal visitors, many are outraged, in particular by the 2-year imprisonment penalty. Famous mainland Chinese property developer Pan Shiyi [zh] describes the policy as a modern version of Les Miserables:
Just watched the movie Les Miserables. It is a great movie. Before the French revolution, Jean Valjean stole a piece of bread for his sister and was sentenced to 5 years in prison. Today, in 2013, people are sentenced to 2 years in prison for buying more than 2 cans of milk powder for their 3-year-old infant. @Hong Kong Legislative Council Members.
Former CEO of Google China Lee Kai-fu points out [zh] that both the Chinese government and Hong Kong government should be blamed for the ridiculous situation:
Comment on the fallacies concerning the Hong Kong milk powder incident: 1. Fallacy: We should criticize mainland China rather than Hong Kong – Why do we have to choose between the two? We should criticize the poisonous milk, the expensive taxation on foreign milk and the ridiculous penalty. 2. Fallacy: The criticism will create antagonism between Hong Kong and mainland Chinese – We are criticizing the law, not Hong Kong people. Do not label the discussion. 3. Fallacy: As Hong Kong people are facing milk powder shortage, the regulation is thus justified – Don't mix up the concepts: We can understand protection, restriction and fine, but a 2-year prison term is outrageous!
If buying three cans of milk powder results in a 500,000 HKD fine and 2 years in prison, my reaction is: Hong Kong, fuck your rule of law and freedom! It is like a 2-year forced labour education sentence when [the Chinese police] find people holding a small knife. Of course we have to criticize the mainland Chinese government for its inability [to maintain food security], and the poisonous milk scandal. However, we cannot forgive the Hong Kong government's abuse of the law. It is replacing rule of law with populist sentiment and the eventual erosion of Hong Kong spirit.
As more and more countries have imposed restriction on the export of infant milk powder, Chinese parents are desperate to find safe milk for their children. Children's book writer Zhen Yuanji also laments [zh]:
Those who sell the poisonous milk stay out of jail. Those who try to buy good milk powder are put into prison. The reality is crazier than fiction. Children's security should be prioritized in national policy. I urge that in the process of government transition, the state council should set up a milk powder office headed by the deputy premier to handle the situation. Milk powder security will affect the future of the country.
Micro-blogger Silly Child reminds [zh] those who are unhappy about the Hong Kong policy about the story of Zhao Lianhai, an activist in the 2008 Chinese milk scandal who was sentenced to 2.5 in prison for his part in the backlash against the government.
As Zhao's name is still unsearchable in Chinese social media, the micro-blogger uploaded his post in image format:
We only have one Zhao Lianhai, that's why he is in jail. If we have 10 Zhaos, they will censor your voices; if we have 100 Zhaos, they can't do anything; if we have 1000 Zhaos, they will be frightened; if we have 10,000 Zhaos, the Chinese milk problem can be solved. China only has one Zhao Lianhai, though we have 10,000 people cursing the Hong Kong milk powder policy.
Indeed, while anger abounds, signs of any strong public movement are absent in the outrage.