Hongkongers and Chinese mainlanders are not on the best of terms these days, but nearly everyone agrees with what a Hong Kong judge said during a recent court session.
On Feb. 6, judge Ng Wai-fong convicted 23 Hong Kong and Chinese residents for trying to smuggle large quantities of milk powder past Hong Kong customs to the mainland.
“It’s tragic that you dare not consume milk powder produced on the mainland,” said Ng in Mandarin and Cantonese during the sentencing at Fanling Magistrates’ Courts. “This state of affairs is a national disgrace.”
Indeed, the number of milk powder smuggling cases rose from 2,700 in 2013 to 5,000 in 2014, a “very horrifying” phenomenon, says Ng.
In 2008, a tainted milk scandal broke out in China when milk powder manufactured from a factory in Guangzhou was discovered to contain high levels of melamine, a toxic chemical.
Mainlanders started crossing the borders to Hong Kong to purchase imported milk powder in bulk, resulting in a chronic shortage in the semiautonomous Chinese city.
Because of this, the Hong Kong government passed a law in March 2013 which limited people from leaving the special administration region with more than two cans, or 1.8 kilograms (about 4 pounds) of milk powder. Lawbreakers can be fined up to HK$500,000 (about $64,500) and face a two-year prison stint.
Judge Ng’s “national disgrace” comments have since been hotly discussed in Chinese social media.
“It’s really sad that Chinese are losing faith in the country,” one netizen said.
“Milk powder is just one of many food products that no one dares consume,” added another netizen. “Saying that it’s a ‘sorrowful’ situation doesn’t quite capture it.”
Others seized the opportunity to criticize broader societal issues.
“The rich don’t want tainted milk powder and the poor can’t afford it; China’s income inequality is the real ‘national disgrace’,” said a netizen.