THE CONSULATE GENERAL OF SWITZERLAND IN HONG KONG

 

  Hongkong Economic Report 2014 (May 27, 2015)
(pdf, 16 p.)
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Economy + Finance
HK economy records surprise 2.8 per cent growth: HK's economy fared better in the second quarter of this year, with growth at a stronger-than-expected 2.8 per cent, prompting the government to lift its target for full-year growth. The economy grew faster between April and June, which the government attributed to buoyant demand within the city. This is despite the fact that the economic environment outside HK was relatively hostile, it added. For the full year, the government expected growth to range from two to three per cent - up from an earlier target of between one and three per cent. Despite the decision to lift the full-year estimate, government economist Helen Chan warned of a more volatile global financial picture when the US raises interest rates.
Financial secretary fears 'new round of financial crisis' amid HK market uncertainty: HK Financial Secretary John Tsang expressed concern over a possible "new round of financial crisis" due to a flare-up of tensions in Korea and volatile global financial markets triggered partly by the recent devaluation of China's currency. Tsang also warned of "inevitable" impacts on the HK stock market following Wall Street's steepest one-day drop in four years on August 21. But he toed Beijing's line that the depreciation of the renminbi was a move in the right direction and could contribute to the stability of the economy and balance of payments in the long term.
HK's laissez-faire economic policy is 'outdated', says CY Leung: Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has made his strongest call yet for HK to ditch its hands-off economic policy, calling it outdated and arguing that it was time for the government to take a leading role in the city's big business decisions. The chief executive said his government should seize the opportunity to act as a "super connector" in the mainland's "One Belt, One Road" initiative, adding that a special bureau might be set up to work on the matter.
HK retail sales fall for fourth month as fewer tourists visit: Retail sales in HK declined for the fourth month in a row as fewer mainland tourists visited. The number of tourists visiting the city in June dropped to 4.36 million,
2.9 per cent down on the figure for the same month last year, according to the HK Tourism Board. In the first half of this year, retail sales value decreased 1.6 per cent compared to the same period last year.
As China devalues the yuan, HK consumers are cautiously optimistic: HK consumers and savers with yuan time deposits reacted with caution but remained optimistic in the wake of China's recent sharp currency devaluation. According to statistics released in July by the HK Monetary Authority, RMB time deposits in licenced HK banks held 812,479 million yuan in June. Analysts say the currency fluctuation will significantly affect investor sentiment but that China's move can be seen as a positive development in terms of policymaking.  The devaluation may also affect spending by mainland tourists in HK, which has already fallen after a drop in visits, as well as spending by mainland businesses.
HK still top city for business in Asia but slips down tourist rankings in online poll: HK remains the top business destination in Asia but tourists say they find the city a less appealing place to visit, as flight delays in China start to drag down the city's ratings according to SmartTravelAsia.com, an online magazine survey. “[HK] has been the top business destination for several years actually,” SmartTravelAsia.com editor Vijay Vergese said. “It's city where you can combine business with pleasure with great ease.” But Vergese said a drop in mainland Chinese tourists and the growing lack of diversity in HK's shopping scene had helped other countries gain the edge in the tourism market.
HK exports fall for third straight month amid weak global demand: HK's exports declined for the third month in a row amid sluggish global demand. Total exports decreased 1.6 per cent year-on-year to HK$320.9 billion in July, after a year-on-year fall of 3.1 per cent in June and 4.6 per cent in May, the Census and Statistics Department said. The data showed a narrowing decline in exports. But the government warned the trading environment outside the city would remain challenging, given slow global economic growth and headwinds from an impending US interest rate lift-off.

Domestic politics
'Significantly' less positive Hongkongers most worried about threat to freedom, HKU poll finds: Hongkongers have become “significantly” less positive about society according to a University of HK survey, which found indicators measuring degree of freedom, prosperity and compliance with rule of law had dropped to their lowest in over 10 years.
Occupy protests hit HK's liveability, says Economist Intelligence Unit: HK is less liveable following pro- democracy protests last year, according to the latest findings of the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). HK has seen a decline of 3.2 per cent in its liveability score over the last 12 months as a result of heightened fears of unrest. The fall has pushed Hong Kong 15 places down the ranking into 46th.
Dream the 'China dream': Beijing tells HK youth to focus on city development: Vice-president Li Yuanchao has called on HK young people to direct their energies towards entrepreneurship, in a sign that observers see as the central government's continuing shift to post-Occupy affairs. Li reached out to a 1,800-strong delegation of HK students and workers aged under 35. "Beijing has been ironing out a new youth policy since the 'umbrella movement'. As the political reform debate has come to a close, Beijing is pursuing a policy of conciliation," China watcher Johnny Lau said.
Arrests of student Occupy Central activists 'not politically motivated', HK justice secretary claims: HK's justice minister dismissed suggestions political motivation was behind the decision to arrest student leaders of last year's Occupy Central protests almost one year after the demonstrations took place. “In the process, no one has ever put any political pressure on us.” Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen said. The justice secretary said casually labelling all legal action against student activists or legislators as “political prosecution” would be unfair and could undermine the city's legal system.
HK's Democratic Party will put up fewer candidates in forthcoming district council polls: The embattled Democratic Party is planning to field 94 candidates in the district council elections in November - the smallest team in recent years and down by almost 30 per cent compared with the 2011 poll. The party said it had opted for what it called an "elite candidate system" this time and that those selected to run were believed to stand a better chance of winning.
Signs of a thaw? HK Democratic Party members hold behind-closed-doors talks with top Beijing official: Beijing appears to be extending an olive branch to the Democratic Party, with a key mainland official in charge of HK affairs hosting core members to discuss issues including governance. The lunch invitation to the five Democrats came from Feng Wei, deputy director of the State Council's HK and Macau Affairs Office. On the agenda were problems of governance in a divided city and the vexed question of reform of the 2017 chief executive poll, said party chairwoman Emily Lau.
Beijing holding out olive branch for HK pan-democrats to develop 'loyal opposition', says think  tank chief: The central government hopes to turn HK's pan-democrats into a “loyal opposition” after the city's political reform proposal was voted down, the vice-president of a mainland Chinese think tank on HK said. Lau Siu-kai, vice-president of the National Association of Study on HK and Macau, said Beijing was seeking to improve ties with HK's pan-democrats and looking for grounds to cooperate. He said a loyal opposition was allowed to have opposing views on many issues as long as it upholds some fundamental principles – such as the “one country, two systems” concept and the political structure it lays down, as well as the Communist Party's rule in the country.
Outgoing HK Legco chief warns 'one country, two systems' will fall apart if Beijing keeps on interfering: Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang has called for an urgent review of Beijing's implementation of the “one country, two systems” policy for HK, at the same time warning of its demise if the central government interferes more frequently in the running of the city. But at the same time he pointed out that HK people should recognise the political reality that the city's importance for the country's reform and opening up to the outside world did not compare with three decades ago, adding that Hongkongers should avoid making moves which would unnecessarily arouse suspicion from Beijing.

International relations
Return to 'moderate mainstream' path to achieve democracy, US consul urges HK: The top US representative in HK has called on the city to return to the "pragmatic and moderate mainstream" path and work towards the goal of achieving full democracy. Clifford Hart, US consul general to HK and Macau, said the rights guaranteed to Hongkongers under the "one country, two systems" principle had remained strong since the handover and rejected the suggestion that the city had become ungovernable. The veteran diplomat said the 1½- year debate on HK's electoral reform had been "bruising" and had polarised the city.
HK's political protests didn't put off German investors, consul general says: Investors from HK's biggest trade partner in Europe were not put off by last year's Occupy protests, Nikolaus Graf Lambsdorff, Consul General of Germany says, contradicting rhetoric local officials used to criticise the pro-democracy movement. The Occupy protesters were demanding the right to open elections for the city's chief executive in 2017. Ultimately, the protests won no concessions, but "to have so many people in the HK society engaged actively in peaceful political debate is a good thing", Graf Lambsdorff said. This is not the first time Graf Lambsdorff, who has represented Germany in HK and Macau for two years, has waded in to the debate on Occupy. On October 7 at the height of the protest, he praised young Hongkongers in a speech to guests including Chief Secretary Carrie Lam.

Legal affairs and human rights
New HK privacy chief Stephen Wong vows to protect personal privacy and free flow of information: The newly appointed privacy chief has pledged to listen to more opinions on proposed changes to  legislation protecting the data of company directors and to study the matter further. Privacy Commissioner Stephen Wong, a barrister by profession, said he would look at how such amendments would affect the wider public interest and vowed to ensure free flow of information. Wong also spoke about the recent surge in phone scams, vowing to do his best to discharge his statutory duties to tackle the problem if it concerned personal data and privacy.
HK, mainland Chinese police agree to set up task force to fight phone scammers: After top officers from the local police met Ministry of Public Security officials in Beijing, the two sides agreed that the joint-action team would exchange intelligence, enhance investigative capabilities, improve mutual reporting of the latest ways in which people are being deceived and explore how long-term communication channels should be set  up, according to the Xinhua report. Gangs of phone scammers have cheated Hongkongers out of HK$126 million in 308 cases in the last month.

Health
HK ends travel warning against South Korea after country deemed Mers-free: HK formally lifted the red travel alert on South Korea on August 1, after the Department of Health declared the Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers) outbreak was under control. The city lowered its response level for Mers from "serious" to "alert" and scrapped its travel alert - a more formal warning against non-essential journeys.
HK lead-in-water scare a 'social disaster rolling bigger like a snowball', concern group warns: HK's lead- in-water contamination scare is a “social disaster” that would “roll bigger and bigger like a snowball”, a concern group for residents warned. Democratic Party vice-chairman Andrew Wan, convenor of the  Drinking Water Victims Alliance, said the increasing number of public housing estates found to have excessive lead levels in their tap water exposed “a huge loophole” in the construction, supervision, and use of building material in the city's housing developments.
HK judge and former ombudsman tapped for two-man commission to probe tainted water crisis: Judge Andrew Chan has been tapped to lead the independent two-person commission to investigate the lead-in-water crisis, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said. The other member of the commission, Alan Lai, 64, has served as director of the Office of the Ombudsman and as Commissioner of the Independent Commission Against Corruption. The committee is one of the three task forces the government has set up to investigate into recent spate of elevated lead levels found in the water supplies at several HK public housing estates last month.
Dozens of HK schools to get free water filters amid lead scare, but kindergartens must buy their own: Water filters will be fitted at all primary and secondary schools built by the government after 2005, but private kindergartens catering to children most at risk from lead-contaminated water will have to help themselves. The Social Welfare Department also promised to install filters at dozens of special education and childcare centres built by the government after 2005 that provide services to children aged under six.
HK bans Taiwanese Horng Ryen Jen sandwiches after 46 people fall sick in food safety scare: The food safety watchdog banned imports and sales of Taiwanese brand Horng Ryen Jen. The Centre for Food Safety believed the food poisoning was linked to “processing of food at the upper stream” of production. It slapped an immediate ban on all imports and sales of the sandwiches and urged people not to eat them. The ban covers all the brand's sandwiches, regardless of the origin of its production plants. Bakery chain Horng Ryen Jen Cake and Biscuits Store denied responsibility, saying none of its branches had supplied sandwiches directly overseas.
'Shocking' levels of bacteria found in HK laundry's hospital linen: The Hospital Authority may terminate its contract with a laundry operator after a microbiologist investigating the fungal infection of six patients at Queen Mary Hospital found "shocking" levels of contamination in washed linen. Professor Yuen Kwok-yung, a world- renowned microbiologist at the University of HK, said 61 per cent of samples taken from Shum Wan Laundry tested positive for the fungus Rhizopus microspores. Shum Wan Laundry supplied bed sheets and clothes to 14 public hospitals and to a clinic in Sai Ying Pun.

Environment
Exposure to HK's traffic noise declines over 15 years, even as city grows: Fewer people are now exposed to excessive levels of traffic noise than were a decade and a half ago, but the problem remains an issue in old urban districts, environmental officials say. It added that prevention of noise problems through “active planning processes” and implementation of traffic noise abatement programmes, including the provision of noise barriers and low-noise road surfacing across the city, had helped lower the number.

Culture and Education
Top scientist quits HKU council, warning students against 'opening door to Satan' with violence: One of the city's most respected scientists is quitting the University of HK's governing council after condemning the violence and politics involved in the delayed appointment of a liberal scholar to a key managerial post. Professor Yuen Kwok-yung said he quit because he was “incapable of dealing with the politics in the university council”, as HKU struggles to contain the fallout over the promotion of moderate pro-democracy scholar and former law dean Johannes Chan to the post of pro-vice-chancellor.
HKU students branded 'brainwashed radicals' by Chinese government mouthpiece People's Daily: “Radical” University of HK students stormed a meeting of the institution's governing council partly because they had been “brainwashed by the opposition camp” in the city, the Chinese Communist Party's mouthpiece said. It was the second time in five days that the overseas edition of state-run People's Daily condemned the students' action.
'Academic freedom is under threat': 300 Hong Kong academics petition over delay in HKU's pro- democracy appointment: Nearly 300 academics have joined forces to voice opposition to the delay in appointing a pro-democracy scholar to a key managerial post at the University of HK, saying they feel compelled to speak up because the city's "academic freedom is under unprecedented threat". Some HKU council members and students have claimed Beijing and the HK government do not want the job to go to Chan because of his ties to Occupy Central co-founder and HKU legal scholar Benny Tai.
HKU sets September deadline for decision on appointment of controversial academic: The University of HK's governing council has set a September deadline to decide on whether to appoint liberal scholar Johannes Chan to a key managerial post and end months of bitter dispute. The council also accepted a recommendation from senior management that none of the scholars involved in a row over donations related to Occupy Central should be fired, including its co-founder Benny Tai and his former boss, Chan. Pro-government council members had wanted to wait until the supervisory post of provost was filled first before confirming Chan's appointment, but critics saw it as a move to punish the scholar, who is known for his liberal views and friendship with Tai.
Majority of HK's post-secondary education programmes unsuitable for non-Chinese speakers, study finds: As thousands of students seek alternative avenues of education after missing out in university placement results, many from HK's ethnic minority communities are being left out in the cold because of Chinese-language course requirements. A new study has found that ethnic minority students who don't speak or write Chinese cannot qualify for 70 per cent of non-degree tertiary education courses. The lack of Chinese-language education and subsequent lack of opportunities has been cited as a key reason for poverty in minority communities.

Macau
Beijing signs landmark pact to stem flow of Macau's dirty casino cash: Beijing has cranked up its campaign against the laundering of illicit cash through Macau casinos by signing a landmark pact that will bring unprecedented levels of co-operation between the central bank and the city's financial regulators. The central bank said the agreement would "strengthen bilateral exchanges" on anti-money laundering regulations, information exchange mechanisms and on-site inspections, but it did not give any more details. It said the two sides would adopt recommendations from a global anti-money laundering body, the Financial Action Task Force, to strengthen regional supervision against money laundering. Casinos in the former Portuguese enclave have long had a reputation as laundering conduits for hot money flowing out of the mainland in contravention of currency controls.
Macau police arrest 17 people suspected of using China UnionPay terminals in scam to get cash out of mainland: Macau police have arrested 17 people in a raid on five pawnshops thought to be using  China UnionPay point-of-sale terminals to illegally get cash out of the mainland. The raid comes amid efforts by the mainland to curb illegal money flows and clamp down on underground banks as the falling stock market and uncertainty in the global economy fuel concerns over capital flight. The Ministry of Public Security said that illegal financing in the markets and money laundering were being targeted in an operation that would last until late November.

Varia
Bangkok 'red' alert doesn't go far enough, HK travel industry says in wake of deadly bomb attack: The HK Travel Industry Council urged the government to raise the "black" travel alert – the highest security warning – for Thailand in the wake of a deadly bomb blast in Bangkok. A "red" travel alert for the kingdom's capital was issued by the Security Bureau. “HK residents intending to visit Bangkok should adjust their travel plans and avoid non-essential travel, including leisure travel,” a government spokesman said.

Press articles related to Switzerland and Swiss matters
'Thousands' of political figures stashing cash in Swiss accounts, says foreign ministry (SCMP, August 25): Thousands of so-called “politically exposed persons”, or PEPs - a category that includes heads of state and other top officials - hold Swiss bank accounts, a Swiss foreign ministry official said. Swiss authorities estimate that “there are thousands of PEPs [with accounts] in Switzerland, not hundreds,” Valentin Zellweger, who heads the ministry's Directorate of International Law, told reporters on August 24. Switzerland has repeatedly been embarrassed by revelations, splashed across front pages worldwide, of global political heavyweights hiding funds - sometimes embezzled from public coffers - in the Alpine nation's famous banks. But the country has not taken such scandals sitting down: it has been freezing suspicious assets for a quarter century. By the end of this year, Bern aims to finalise a law aimed at simplifying the process of freezing and unblocking such funds.

 

This is a review of the Hong Kong media and does not necessarly represent the opinion of the Consulate General of Switzerland. The Consulate General of Switzerland in Hong Kong does not bear any responsibility for the topicality, correctness, completeness or quality of the information provided. Liability claims regarding damage caused by the use of any information provided, including any kind of information which might be incomplete or incorrect, will therefore be rejected.

1.9.2015

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