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Hong Kong singer Alex Fong turning 33 on February 26th

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In Hong Kong, baby formula feeds discord with mainland Chinese


Travelers taking baby formula back to mainland China wait at Hong Kong's Sheung Shui train station. Hong Kong has since limited the amount baby formula visitors can take out of the territory.

BEIJING — In Hong Kong, baby formula has become a precious commodity, kept under lock and key.

Accusations that mainland Chinese are trying to buy up the semiautonomous territory's entire supply have led to near-riots and have become the latest source of discord with Beijing.

Before the recent Lunar New Year, a major gift-buying time in China, Hong Kong announced an emergency two-can limit. Inspectors patrolling the subways near the border crossing into Shenzhen, China, look for people smuggling cases of the precious powder. Hong Kong officials say they have called back customs inspectors from retirement to help prevent baby formula from being spirited to the mainland.

"If someone tries to go over with more than the 4 pounds allowed, we are going to deal with it by the law, with no regard for circumstance," Hong Kong's deputy head of customs, Yu Koon-hing, said at a news conference in early February.

On Friday, the daily purchase restriction becomes permanent, along with tough new penalties of up to two years in prison and a fine of $64,500.

To ensure a secure supply for Hong Kongers, a hotline was set up Feb. 1 allowing parents to place formula orders directly with overseas warehouses. The formula mostly comes from Europe, the United States and Australia.

At its heart, the dispute cast in sharp focus Hong Kong's fear of being swamped by 1.3 billion mainlanders, who are increasingly affluent and mobile. About 30 million Chinese, more than triple the territory's population, visit Hong Kong each year, and they like to shop.

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That picture is ridiculous, no wonder they're mad