China stops couriers from shipping black clothing to Hong Kong amid protests

SHANGHAI/HONG KONG, Oct 18 (Reuters) - China has banned the bulk shipment of black clothing and other items popularly used by Hong Kong protesters to the city, staff at Chinese courier firms said, as authorities grapple with often violent anti-government protests that have gripped the city.

Customer services staff at some of China’s major couriers, including STO Express, ZTO Express and YTO Express, told Reuters that such restrictions were put in place around August.

One staff member from STO said that single pieces of black clothing could be sent, but shipments of more than five pieces would be stopped. They were also not allowed to ship masks, bulk orders of umbrellas or sticks.

“Any items that can be used by mobs,” he said.

ZTO and YTO declined to comment, while STO Express said that it abided by China’s laws and regulations.

China’s General Administration of Customs, which manages the country’s imports and exports of goods, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Black clothing and masks have been regularly worn by participants in the past four months of anti-government and anti-China protests in Hong Kong, which have seen police arrest more than 2,300 people since June. Thousands have been wounded, including two shot with live rounds.

The protesters are angry at what they see as Beijing’s tightening grip on Hong Kong, which was guaranteed 50 years of freedoms not extended to the mainland under a “one country, two systems” formula when Britain returned the city to China in 1997.

Beijing rejects the charge and accuses Western countries, especially the United States and Britain, of stirring up trouble. The unrest poses the biggest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012. He has warned that any attempt to divide China would be crushed.

The shipping restrictions appear to be having little impact on the ground in Hong Kong, however, sales representatives at retailers such as Uniqlo, H&M and Giordano Ladies at a local mall told Reuters.

Most said they had not heard of a ban on black clothing, and all said they had not received any corporate directives related to the ban, but also that they had not noticed an increase in the sale of black clothing recently.

One manager at H&M told said she was surprised to hear of such a restriction. “We can sell black clothing. We can also wear it,” she said whilst sporting a black dress. (Reporting by Brenda Goh in Shanghai and Sarah Wu in Hong Kong; Additional Reporting by Beijing and Shanghai Newsrooms; Editing by Alex Richardson)