Hong Kong tourists may gain more access to the once-restricted city on the border with mainland China, the minister says, but residents are calling for a balanced approach

Visitors may gain more access to Hong Kong’s once restricted border town of Sha Tau Kok, according to a minister, but residents have urged authorities to strike a balance between promoting tourism and preserving their daily lives.

Culture, Sports and Tourism Secretary Kevin Jung Yun-hung said Monday that his department would discuss with the Security Bureau the further opening of the area as officials consider how best to position the city as a tourist destination.

Ray Choo Wai-kee, project manager at the Sha Tau Kok Culture and Ecology Association, also told the Post that the city, located on the border with mainland China, has the potential to become a center for cultural and ecotourism.

The border city of Hong Kong is giving tourists limited access as part of a pilot scheme

“There are so many marine parks, rural parks and geoparks in these areas that no one has ever visited or appreciated,” Chu said.

Sha Tau Kok has been closed to most outsiders since the 1950s as part of the colonial government’s efforts to combat illegal immigration, smuggling and spies.

The city partially opened its doors to travel agencies for the first time last year as part of a pilot ecotourism scheme. Before the move, residents needed a special permit to visit the area.

Shenzhen and local governments also share jurisdiction on each side of Chung Ying Street in the area, where residents of both locations can run shops and visit the street at the same time.

Sha Tau Kok Pier is 300 meters long. Photo: KY Cheng

Tourism chief Yeung was speaking at a meeting of the Legislative Council, where he followed up on Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu’s announcement in his policy address last week that the area would be developed into a “Sha Tau Kok Cultural Tourism Zone”, although similar arrangements will turn off Chung Ying Street.

Lee said the aim was to “promote cultural and ecotourism” in the area, and the Hong Kong government would also explore with its Shenzhen counterpart whether the mainland could facilitate access.

The daily quota of 500 visitors allowed to visit the area will be doubled to 1,000 from January 6 next year, according to Lee Kun-hung, chairman of the Sha Tau Kok District Village Committee, who said approved visitors will no longer be restricted to certain areas.

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He added that most residents welcomed the plans to reopen, calling the city’s current state “bleak.”

“Sha Tau Kok has been a restricted area for 70 years. Many of the remaining residents are old people, as all the young have moved away for better opportunities.”

Association representative Chu agreed and said the opening would inject some much-needed funds and resources to update the dilapidated city.

He said visitors may be allowed to leave by boat from Sha Tau Kok Pier to explore remote islands in the northeastern New Territories, which would otherwise take up to three hours by sea. “Inside [that time]you can take a trip to Japan or Taiwan.

He said the pier, 300 meters (984 feet) long, was a landmark in itself as the longest in the city, adding that it was built this way to extend into deeper waters for use by large boats.

Colorful low houses are a potential attraction for visitors. Photo: May Tse

He pointed to the city’s public housing complex as another potential attraction for visitors, with its 51 blocks of colorful low-rise buildings of just four to five stories, a rarity in Hong Kong.

But it was important to “find a balance” as some remained opposed to the idea because they didn’t want too many outsiders coming to the area, he said.

“Some of the older residents are particularly concerned about the litter and noise that tourists can bring. It’s also a very small community where everyone knows everyone and they’re worried about that changing.

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