CONSULATE GENERAL OF SWITZERLAND IN HONG KONG
|A condensed press review prepared
the Consulate General of Switzerland in Hong Kong
Economy + Finance
HKMA reveals new measures to boost drive for yuan business: The HK Monetary Authority announced new measures to boost the city's yuan business as the currency hit a record high. HKMA chief Norman Chan said the move would "deepen and enhance" HK's role as a clearing and trading centre for the yuan. From June, HK will introduce what Chan said will be the world's first offshore yuan interbank rate fixing. Each day, a group of the city's bankers will set the interest rates on interbank loans with tenures from overnight to 12 months. At present there is no benchmark rate for yuan loans and banks determine the rate for loans individually. Chan said the fixing would encourage banks to offer more yuan loans and other yuan interest rate products. Chan said the HKMA had also decided to relax two regulatory requirements. First, it will remove the yuan net open position limit. This regulatory tweak puts HK on a par with Taiwan, where there is no such limit. It also lifted the 25 per cent minimum liquidity ratio for yuan. After these changes, the requirements pertaining to the yuan would be the same as for any other non-local currency.
HK's rich face exposure in tax-haven leak: More than two million documents naming many individuals and detailing their financial exploits have leaked from the British Virgin Islands to the US-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). The group is working with dozens of journalists around the world to process the data and publish the secret financial information. The ICIJ said its data analysis showed most people setting up offshore entities lived on the Chinese mainland, HK and Taiwan. "This explains why the second-largest source of capital investment flowing into China is the offshore tax haven of BVI," it said. More HK and mainland firms will be revealed, the ICIJ said. Many of the world's top banks, including Deutsche Bank and UBS, had been found to have helped clients transfer money to BVI and others havens, such as the Cayman Islands, it said.
British Virgin Islands picks HK to be its Asia hub: The British Virgin Islands has chosen HK as its headquarters for a new push into the Asian market as it faces a global storm linked to a massive leak of client data and claims of secrecy, tax evasion and hiding assets. Next month, the leader of the British overseas territory - reckoned to be home to more than 40 per cent of the world's offshore registered companies - will be in HK to open an official investment arm in the city. BVI companies are so popular that the territory is the most important transit point - after HK - for money flowing in and out of the mainland.
Shipping industry hit hard by dock strike: While the dockers strike (since March 28) is costing Hongkong International Terminals a reported HK$5 million a day, the actual cost of the dispute is costing the maritime and logistics industry much more as ships and cargo are diverted to other ports. Shipping lines and logistics firms have also been hit with extra costs as ships burn extra fuel while waiting to berth and vessels and cargo are diverted to other ports. It is the longer term damage to HK's reputation as a fast and efficient transshipment port that has some senior industry executives concerned. Alan Lee, chairman of the HK Container Terminal Operators Association, said once container shipping lines "feel that [HK's] costs are too high and it's not as efficient as other transshipment ports then they will change".
Poll reveals widening income gap in HK: HK's poorest 20 per cent take up just 6 per cent of society's income share while the rich take up 43 per cent, a poll has found as the city's notoriously wide income gap continues to worsen. The survey, conducted last year by Ipsos Media Atlas, polled 6,100 Hongkongers aged between 12 and 64. The results represent about 5.5 million of the city's population, Ipsos said. "The income disparity is serious," said Ipsos director Susanna Lam. "There are signs the situation is deteriorating."
Equality chief says UN rules for free elections must be met: Dr York Chow, new chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission, believes HK will have to meet international standards for democratic elections as well as the Basic Law when universal suffrage is introduced. Dr York Chow appeared to take on Basic Law Committee heavyweight Maria Tam, who said that the UN's International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights did not apply to HK as the British had chosen to exempt the city when it came into effect in 1976. Tam said that for HK, universal suffrage meant only the right to vote had to be universal, not the right to nominate a candidate or stand for election. Chow countered: "We were exempted because there was no universal suffrage then … If universal suffrage is introduced in HK, I believe we have to meet [the standards in] this treaty, or the criteria committed in the Basic Law. I believe we have to do so." But when pressed to clarify whether he believes a citizen's right to stand for election must be universal as well, he declined to comment. Political reforms must be introduced as stipulated in the Basic Law, he added.
Elsie Leung warns against 'stupid' votes in 2017 chief executive race: If Hongkongers are "stupid enough" to vote for a chief executive candidate who does not meet Beijing's criteria of "loving the country and loving HK", they should not blame Beijing for the consequences, former justice secretary Elsie Leung says. She also said that achieving a perfect form of universal suffrage for the 2017 chief executive election would not be possible, nor would the vote mark the end of the city's political reforms. Leung, vice-chairwoman of the Basic Law Committee of the National People's Congress, urged those involved in the electoral reform debate to be peaceful and rational. Joseph Cheng, convenor of the Alliance for True Democracy, said Leung's remarks showed a lack of trust in Hongkongers. Cheng insisted that no primary election or vetting would be acceptable in the 2017 race.
Martin Lee pulls controversial plan for HK chief executive poll reform: Martin Lee retracted a proposal for electoral change he put forward a day earlier and apologised to his critics in the pan-democratic camp, saying he had "let them down". The dramatic U-turn by the founding chairman of the Democratic Party underlined the gap between Beijing and the pan-democrats on political reform. It was also an indication of the dilemma facing pan-democrats - whether to open talks on practical issues, such as the rules for nominating chief executive candidates within the parameters set by Beijing; or stick to its call for "genuine universal suffrage". Lee had proposed that candidates for the 2017 chief executive election could be nominated via a screening process. But he conceded it was "a rash decision" to put forward the controversial plan for universal suffrage before seeking advice from fellow pan-democrats.
Focus on the 2017 nomination committee, academic Benny Tai says: The academic behind a plan to block traffic in Central in the fight for democracy is seeking to move the debate on universal suffrage beyond the issue of screening candidates. The city should focus on discussing how to form the nominating committee in the 2017 popular vote for chief executive, instead of speculating on whether pro-democracy candidates would be screened out, Dr Benny Tai said. The city has yet to have such a committee. In last year's race won by Leung Chun-ying, 1,193 members of the Election Committee nominated and elected their pick for chief executive. Tai suggested the nominating panel be returned by a popular vote, instead of being formed in the same way as the Election Committee, which is made up mainly of Beijing loyalists with a mandate of 249,499 voters. Last month, Qiao Xiaoyang, chairman of the National People's Congress Law Committee, suggested that the next chief executive must not be a person who would oppose the central government. His comments sparked fears of a mechanism that would bar pan-democrats from the poll.
Commerce key for universal suffrage, says Anson Chan: Former chief secretary Anson Chan emphasised that she hoped to forge a consensus among businesses on the path to genuine universal suffrage, as their participation would be vital to achieving full democracy and improving governance. Chan said she also remained "keen" on communicating with Beijing in order to persuade the national leadership to trust Hongkongers - in response to National People's Congress Law Committee chairman Qiao Xiaoyang's remarks last month that the city's chief executive must not be confrontational towards the central government. She would relaunch the nine-strong Citizens' Commission on Constitutional Development, which she founded in 2008 to facilitate public discussion on political reform. The reborn commission will take the name "HK 2020".
ICAC chiefs should be open to investigation, says Carrie Lam: Any ICAC officer who fails to strictly comply with civil service rules should face investigation, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam said, amid a meals and gifts scandal engulfing the anti-graft agency. Lam also said the ICAC's system of regulating the giving of gifts by its officials may need to be reviewed. "Every system has room for improvement as public demands and social conditions change … every system has to be reviewed after a time," she said. Tong spent hundreds of thousands of dollars from the public purse on gifts and lavish meals for mainland officials when he headed the ICAC from 2007 to 2012. The convenor of the Executive Council, Lam Woon-kwong, said it was vital that ICAC commissioners set a good example, and he called on Tong - who has so far remained silent - to explain.
Relations HK - Mainland China
Lam regrets filibuster over quake donation: Chief Secretary Carrie Lam was disappointed after lawmakers failed to vote on a proposal to donate HK$100 million to the Sichuan earthquake relief effort amid concerns the funds may be misused. "I hope this will not affect the ties between HK people and mainland compatriots and lawmakers do not make a mountain out of a molehill," she said. The pro-establishment camp, which dominates the 69-member Finance Committee, has already expressed support for the donation. But the main pro-democracy parties have said they will oppose any donation directly to mainland governments. More than a dozen motions to be raised with the aim of tightening control over use of the money - with more likely to emerge - may further delay scrutiny.
Legal affairs and human rights
Privacy commission slams sale of personal data to insurance broker: The public watchdog condemned a medical centre HK Prevention Association HKPA for collecting personal data from more than 360,000 people and selling it to an insurance broker Aegon Direct for direct marketing purposes. Privacy Commissioner Allan Chiang said the data was collected in a misleading and arguably deceitful way. He said the insurer was also accountable as it had approved scripts used by the association's telemarketers. The commissioner ordered the insurer to destroy all the data obtained from the HKPA, except information about those who had bought insurance, by the end of September. Failure to do so would be a criminal offence.
Tough task to push for work hours law: A special committee to look at the possibility of legislation on standard working hours was set up, but its members face a tough task. Former Executive Council member Dr Leong Che-hung was appointed chair of the committee for three years. Its 23 other members are from the labour and business sectors, government, academia and the community. Labour minister Matthew Cheung said the committee was tasked with the job of promoting the standard working hours issue and advising the administration on whether a statutory regime was needed. Seven of the city's biggest business chambers sent a joint letter to the government in November, saying legislation on standard working hours would hurt the commercial environment. While they did not explicitly state any opposition to such a law, the chambers did warn in the letter that it would be detrimental to economic growth.
Hospitals can cope with bird flu outbreak: Contingency plans at public hospitals to cope with a possible outbreak of human cases of H7N9 bird flu have been worked out, the public has been assured. The plans cover procedures for isolating patients, dispensing medicine and deploying doctors and nurses. Private doctors or retired nursing staff might be called in to help at government hospitals if needed, according to Hospital Authority director Dr Cheung Wai-lun. Hospital Authority chief executive Dr Leung Pak-yin also assured the public that there was enough medical supplies in stock.
China poultry cull urged to halt spread of bird flu: A leading researcher has called for live-bird markets in H7N9-hit areas of the mainland to be closed and poultry culled to block the deadly virus' spread, as a study confirmed wet markets to be the "smoking gun" in the spread of the disease. A report in The Lancet medical journal provided the first evidence that the new flu virus in human infections is 99.4 per cent related genetically to that found in live chickens. University of HK microbiologist Yuen Kwok-yung said: "The [Lancet] research is the first direct proof of poultry markets being the smoking gun, the chicken virus being the bullet, with the patient being the victim. "The difference between the chicken and human virus is so small that the chicken virus must have just recently jumped into humans," said Yuen, who collaborated on the study with Zhejiang University. Though the virus' ability to spread from birds to humans is still limited, the study said it displayed a high ability to spread between chickens. Further adaptation could lead to less symptomatic infection and more efficient person-to-person transmission, the study said.
HK expert warns new bird flu virus could become a pandemic: The deadly new bird flu may pose a bigger threat to humans than the H5N1 bird virus that has killed hundreds of people worldwide, a University of HK microbiologist warned. Ho Pak-leung became the first expert to publicly express fears it could become a pandemic. Ho said the new virus showed a higher ability to be transmitted rapidly from birds to humans and to spread geographically. He said news that a four-year-old Beijing boy was found to have the virus despite not showing any flu symptoms was a "warning sign" for a pandemic. "It is possible for the virus to grow more adaptable to the human body … and eventually becoming transmittable among humans," he said.
Unease at planned reclamation projects in HK: While the pace of reclamation was slowed down by a social movement anxious to protect Victoria Harbour, the need to build up a land bank in order to drive down runaway property prices has put the possibility of reclamation outside the harbour back on the agenda. The sites the government put forward for reclamation in the second stage of its consultation last month include Tuen Mun, Lantau, Shatin, Tsing Yi and Sunny Bay. Nine green groups oppose the proposals which have sparked critical discussion among urban planners in universities. Professors of urban planning say the government's recent consultation exercise failed to offer a sound basis for the plans or detail how the reclaimed land would improve people's lives. “The reclamation is not without costs. It will lead to irreversible damage to our environment," said Professor Ng Mee-kam, an urban planning scholar at Chinese University.
Delta air quality improves, but roadside pollution worse in HK: Air quality in the Pearl River Delta improved last year, according to the latest regional air quality report, but concerns are mounting about the deterioration of roadside air in HK. The biggest improvement was in sulphur dioxide concentrations, which fell by an average of 25 per cent from 2011 levels. Respirable suspended particles - tiny specks of pollutants that can penetrate the lungs - fell 13 per cent year on year, while ozone dropped by 7 per cent and nitrogen dioxide by 5 per cent. Environment officials in HK attributed the decrease to "favourable meteorological conditions" as well as emission reductions. Despite the improvement, a local clean air advocacy group remained deeply worried about air quality at street level. "The continuing improvement to the regional air quality is in stark contrast to HK's deteriorating roadside air pollution, in particular nitrogen dioxide," said Kwong Sum-yin, of the Clean Air Network. Kwong urged the government to speed up a phase-out of dirty diesel trucks. Some HK$10 billion has been earmarked to compensate truck operators under a plan to remove up to 88,000 trucks from the streets by 2019.
Culture and Education
Fewer HK teens expect to complete university: Less than half of 15-year-olds in HK expect to complete a university education, compared with more than 80 per cent of their peers in South Korea, a study shows. The city also trails rival Singapore, where more than seven in 10 youngsters expect to graduate. The figures raise questions about the quality of HK's workforce in an increasingly knowledge-based environment. Education lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen agreed the low university admission rate was a major factor among student expectations.
Artists worry government will try to control culture at new M+ museum: Pro-Beijing lawmaker Chan Kam-lam came under fire after he warned the West Kowloon museum not to confuse art with politics. Chan's remarks raised questions as to whether the pro-Beijing camp was putting political pressure on M+, the arts hub's 20th to 21st century visual culture museum. The museum acquired 1,510 Chinese contemporary artworks produced between 1979 and 2009 from Swiss collector Uli Sigg - some of which are considered politically provocative. Chan said at a meeting of a joint Legislative Council subcommittee monitoring the arts project that freedom came with conditions. Artist Chow Chun-fai agreed that the pro-government camp had been more vocal on cultural issues lately. He was worried that such a move was "their attempt to control culture, as culture influences ideologies".
New measures to ensure milk supply for HK mothers: Manufacturers and pharmacies have announced joint measures to guarantee local mothers six tins of infant milk formula a month, a move they hope will prompt the government to drop its export curbs. Under the scheme, up to six coupons will be issued each month by seven major brands to local parents who sign up for a membership programme. These coupons can be used to buy formula from designated pharmacies. Some retailers said their business had dropped 30 per cent since a limit of two cans of formula per departing traveller was imposed in an effort to ease shortages caused by mainland traders buying the powder to resell at higher prices. Liberal Party lawmaker Vincent Fang said he hoped the government would review the two-tin restriction swiftly after the measures proved successful in ensuring the supply of infant formula for local mothers. Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man initially said he wanted the curb - which took effect on March 1 - to continue for at least a year, but later promised to review it after six months.
This is a review of the Hong Kong media and does
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of Switzerland. The Consulate General of Switzerland in
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