China backs down on Hong Kong visa plan

Hong Kong said Friday that Beijing will suspend a plan to allow millions more mainland Chinese to visit the southern city, in response to a public outcry about the influx of tourists.

The plan, which was to have taken effect on September 1, would have loosened visa requirements for mainland visitors and allowed an extra four million residents of neighbouring Shenzhen to get multiple-entry permits.

But Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying said Beijing had agreed to put the plan on hold indefinitely.

"We will have to consider Hong Kong's handling capacity before we go ahead with the policy," Leung said.

The semi-autonomous southern city of seven million people is a favourite shopping destination for mainland visitors eager to stock up on Western luxury brands and enjoy a degree of freedom not allowed elsewhere in China.

Hong Kong received 28.1 million mainland visitors last year -- a 23.9 percent rise over the year before -- and while tourism is good for business it has fuelled inflation and placed strains on the already crowded city's public services.

The visa U-turn came as anti-Beijing sentiment runs high ahead of legislative elections in Hong Kong on Sunday.

The government is facing daily protests over its plans to introduce Chinese patriotism classes which parents and students say are a form of communist brainwashing.

Leung is also under pressure to make good on a promise to tackle soaring property prices, which have been pushed beyond the reach of Hong Kong's middle class by wealthy mainland Chinese buyers.