By Tan Ee Lyn
HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong may bar mainland Chinese mothers from giving birth in public hospitals next year to ease over-crowding in local maternity wards, the city's health chief said on Tuesday.
Since it reverted from British to Chinese rule in 1997, Hong Kong has benefited from its deepening integration with China. Yet the unfettered access of mainland Chinese to public services in the densely populated city has also caused social strains.
"Right now, we expect that in 2013, all public hospital obstetric services may be reserved for local pregnant mothers," Hong Kong's Health chief York Chow told reporters.
The comments came after the financial hub's leader-elect, Leung Chun-ying, said private hospitals should bar mainland Chinese mothers and that their newborns will no longer be able to claim permanent residence in the city.
"If they apply now and prepare to come to Hong Kong next year to deliver their babies, in all likelihood, their babies will not have permanent residency status in Hong Kong because once I assume office, I will surely work on this," Leung told Hong Kong's Cable Television in an interview on Tuesday.
Leung, a property surveyor and Beijing loyalist was chosen in March to succeed the bowtie-wearing Donald Tsang by a 1200-member, largely pro-Beijing election committee, in a scandal-tainted contest that protesters denounced as a "small circle" affair puppeteered by Beijing's leaders behind the scenes.
Leung's tough stance on the mainland mothers signals a move toward a more populist agenda once he takes office on July 1, that has included pledges to provide more land for public flats and to make housing more affordable.
Leung did not say if the city would pass laws or use other methods to stop the children of mainland parents from gaining the right of abode, or permanent residency, in Hong Kong.
The pledges by authorities to tackle the hot-button issue come after street protests by local mothers, heated online debates and provocative advertisements in local newspapers denouncing mainland Chinese visitors as "locusts", including mothers crowding out Hong Kong's maternity wards for months.
In 2010, of the 88,584 newborns in Hong Kong, around a third, or 32,653 were born to mainland women, up from 620 babies in 2001.
The influx has spawned an industry of agents shuttling Chinese mothers across the border, hiding them in illegal 'inns' before birth, partly to circumvent China's one-child policy and also to gain the right the live in one of the world's most developed, wealthiest cities. Continued...