Cross-border school rush stokes Hong Kong-China tensions

Thu Feb 6, 2014 2:10am EST
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By Alice Woodhouse and Yimou Lee

HONG KONG (Reuters) - One recent winter dawn, more than 100 mainland Chinese parents started lining up outside a primary school in Hong Kong, to try to clinch Grade One places for their children.

They were among 700 parents competing for 550 school spots in an area near the border with the mainland that has become a magnet for people in Shenzhen and nearby cities who want their Hong Kong-born children educated in the Asian financial hub.

"It was totally unexpected. We had to start another queue," said the school's principal, Siu May-cheuk. "Parents are just afraid that the school will be filled with mainland children."

The allure is a better, more liberal education and international opportunities in Hong Kong. Every day, around 20,000 students are shuttled across the border from the mainland, dressed in neat Hong Kong school uniforms and lugging their bags on trains and chartered buses.

Since the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997, both sides have integrated more closely, with a flood of Chinese visitors bringing economic benefits to Hong Kong.

But the influx has also caused resentment and strains in the city of 7 million people, from crowded maternity wards to soaring apartment prices, besides the scramble for schools.

Roughly a quarter of births in Hong Kong between 2002 and 2012 - or more than 200,000 babies - were to couples who both came from mainland China.

Birth in Hong Kong secured residency for the children and accompanying benefits, including free education. Some mothers chose to give birth in Hong Kong to avoid fines for breaching China's one-child policy.   Continued...

Students, who live in Shenzhen, leave their school at a public housing estate in Hong Kong December 19, 2013, before crossing the border back to mainland China. REUTERS/Bobby Yip