CONSULATE GENERAL OF SWITZERLAND IN HONG KONG
|A condensed press review prepared
the Consulate General of Switzerland in Hong Kong
After a traumatic year marked by the SARS crisis and the large protests
against the government's plan to introduce a state security legislation,
2004 has started quite well for HK: economically the city, with
the active support of Beijing, is recovering from a prolonged period
of stagnation and politically the democratic forces fighting for
direct elections of the chief executive in 2007 and the legislature
in 2008 are gaining in strength. On January 1st around 100'000 people
marched in favour of democracy asking the authorities to set up
a calendar for constitutional reform. If Hongkongers are showing
a renewed confidence, a majority of them still does not trust the
The main political event of 2004 will no doubt be the legislative
elections in September.
Political reform debate: Over the last weeks public debate
over the scope and the pace of HK's constitutional reforms has intensified
and dominated the headlines. Beijing authorities have clearly stated
that they want to be consulted on the issue and have set camp in
Shenzhen where they are meeting a range of HK representatives. In
his annual policy address on January 7th 2004 the Chief Executive
has not given any calendar for democratic reform as requested by
the democratic forces but has announced the creation of a special
task force whose mandate will be to study the provisions of the
Basic Law concerning constitutional reform, to start discussions
with the central government and to hear the point of views of Hongkongers.
In view of the first visit to Beijing by the special task force
in February various view points have been made public setting the
parameters of the debate:
- NGO's have published a green paper stating all the possible
options concerning the election mode of the Chief Executive and
LEGCO from no change to universal suffrage.
- A well-known Chinese legal expert has stated that universal
suffrage in 2007 would go against the Basic Law and that it would
take more than 30 years to achieve it. His statement has not been
endorsed by Beijing but is interpreted as a trial balloon for
the upcoming talks.
- The pro-democracy camp has reiterated its request to have a
timetable for universal suffrage by 2007 and that there is no
provision in the Basic Law preventing such a development.
- After the public support in favour of democratisation by the
American Consul General in HK, Beijing has asked Washington to
stop interfering in Chinese domestic affairs.
- The HK General Chamber of Commerce has made public that 77%
of its members believed the existing political system was not
workable and constitutional reform was needed.
- Various polls have concluded that around 70% of the HK population
supports direct elections for the Chief Executive and the legislature
and that until now the Beijing authorities are much more popular
than the local government.
The whole debate embedded in legal interpretations of the Basic
Law provisions about constitutional reform is in fact highly political.
Follow-up of district elections: After the democratic camp
victory in November 2003 district elections, the Chief Executive
selected all the legally appointed district council members (102
on 529), a move seen as an effort to dilute de election victory
of the democratic camp and as a political faux pas.
Harbour reclamation: Conservationists won a legal fight to
protect Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour when the city highest court
rejected a government appeal to allow a land-reclamation plan to
proceed. According to the court the harbour is a special public
asset and heritage.
Cultural agreement signed between HK and Egypt.
Visit of Tienanmen leader Wu'er Kaixi: highly publicised
visit to HK of exiled Tienanmen student leader who has made repeated
appeals in favour of human rights and democracy in Mainland China.
Visit of US panel on religious freedom: visit aimed at preparing
future trip to Mainland China called inappropriate by central government.
Contacts with pro-democracy HK Catholic Bishop Zen.
Tourism: Guangdong Province officials are planning to give
all residents, and not only those from a few selected cities, the
right to apply to travel as individuals to HK.
Immigration: From January 2004 onwards new migrants to Hong Kong,
mostly from the Mainland, will not be eligible for assistance from
the city's social security system. Other issues to be addressed:
greying of HK's population and easing of restrictions on bringing
in highly skilled people from Mainland China.
Crime: Soaring crime rate in Shenzhen, one of the most crime
ridden cities in Mainland China. Danger to HK which is still considered
one of the safest cities in the world.
Environment: Thick smog cutting visibility to 900 meters
largely stemming from Guangdong Province industrial pollution
Transportation: HK airport fights for its status as gateway
to Mainland, an uphill struggle as Beijing has just postponed talks
to discuss further opening the Mainland market to HK's airlines.
Policy address: The Chief Executive Mr Tung Chee-hwa said
he was optimistic about HK's economic prospects. He highlighted
the factors underpinning economic recovery, including an improving
world economy, a growing Mainland economy, closer links to the Mainland
and the Central Government's strong support. HK should consolidate
its core industries: producer services, logistics, tourism, financial
services. He further mentioned that HK's economy is still in a transition
to a knowledge-based economy. Mr Tung recalled that the target date
for restoring fiscal balance had been postponed to 2008 - 2009.
2003 Hong Kong Swiss Business Council (SBC) survey: In summary,
2004 seems to be shaping into a good year for HK. Swiss companies
operating in the SAR are more optimistic about business prospects
than they have been for a number of years now, with sales and profits
both expected to be higher.
Land sales: First public land auction after 13 months moratorium
to shore up falling property prices
- Public housing: Call for changing the system of highly
subsidised public housing benefiting half of Hong Kong's population
Hong Kong in figures:
- Gross domestic product (GDP): After shrinking in the second
quarter because of Sars, the economy has dramatically rebounded
on rising consumer confidence and an influx of high spending mainland
visitors. Researchers said they expected HK's gross domestic product
to record 4.2 per cent growth in the fourth quarter of last year
and a 3.1 per cent expansion in the whole of last year. That is
in line with the government outlook showing third quarter GDP grew
4 per cent. According to an economic forecast commissioned by The
Better Hong Kong Foundation the real GDP is estimated to grow by
3,3% in 2003 with a prospective 6,7% in 2004.
- Unemployment: The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate
continued to decline, from 7.5% in Sept. - Nov. 2003 to 7.3% (provisional)
in Oct. - Dec. 2003.
- Consumer price index (CPI): According to the policy address,
deflation is easing off. It might disappear in 12-18 months. According
to the Composite CPI, overall consumer prices fell by 1.9% in Dec.
2003 from a year earlier, narrowed further from the 2.4% decrease
in Nov. 2003.
- External trade: Comparing the first eleven months of 2003
with the same period in 2002, the volume of HK's re-exports of goods
rose by 15.7%, while that of domestic exports fell by 8.5%. Taken
together, the volume of total exports of goods grew by 13.6%. Concurrently,
imports of goods increased by 12.2% in volume.
Monkey's year outlook: Public confidence in HK's economic
prospects has hit a three-year high, according to a survey conducted
by the University of HK. The Year of the Monkey will be a good one
for HK companies, said another survey: optimism over corporate profits
and the economy in the coming six months is at its highest level
ever. According to a business survey conducted by the think-tank
Civic Exchange in November more than 80% of the business sector
is dissatisfied with the Government's performance. A commentator
warned that change in HK's political system was needed if stability
were to be maintained. On Government's side we heard that HK people
might not want to achieve political reform at the expense of prosperity.
And to take a social perspective, we add those lines taken out an
editorial: "The economic shock caused by Sars is seemingly
Public discontent against the administration and pressure
for democratic change could be eased considerably with further economic
improvement. But even if the economy returns to a healthy state,
there are still many people who will lose out. The gap between rich
and poor has widened with the drop in average wage levels of low-income
SARS: In January 2004 a total of three SARS cases have been
confirmed in neighbouring Guangdong Province. A few more suspected
cases have turned out to be false alarms. The three individuals
who had no contact with each other have already been released from
hospital care. It seems the virus has mutated to a milder form.
The civet cats and rats are once again suspected to be the carrier
and spreader of the virus. The civet cat - a local delicacy in Guangdong
- is now banned from markets in China. HK has so far not seen any
new SARS cases since the outbreak last spring.
Bird flu: The recent spread of H5N1 avian influenza in Asia
has been more worrying in HK than SARS and has brought back bad
memories. The same string of virus has killed six people in HK in
1997. HK has therefore stepped up measures to prevent another outbreak.
The territory already has extremely severe measures in handling
of poultry in place. In addition to the monthly rest and cleaning
day, all life chicken receive vaccination. Also the bio-security
measures at chicken farms and surveillance of wild birds have been
stepped up after a dead peregrine falcon tested positive for H5N1.
In the meantime the government is discussing if the selling of live
birds - very popular in HK - should be completely banned. The city
remains bird flu free.
Tendering process under way for the controversial West Kowloon cultural
zone, a privately built project on freely allotted public land combining
museums, theatres, residential and commercial properties aimed at
making Hong Kong a world class cultural hub.
Press articles about Switzerland
South China Morning Post, 13.1.04: «In his policy address,
Mr Tung describes Hong Kong as being very well placed to further
develop as an international services and asset management centre
like Switzerland. This is a very interesting and constructive proposal
as Hong Kong is already a banking and financial centre. Looking
at the high value-added services provided by Switzerland in corporate
investment, personal banking, insurance and financial services is
definitely a step in the right direction. During a trip to Geneva
few years ago, I noticed that prices appeared much higher than in
neighbouring France. Yet, despite the relatively high cost of living,
Switzerland remains famous not only for private banking and financial
services, but also for high quality manufacturing, hotel management
and tourism services. It can achieve this because it produces high
quality products and services that the world is prepared to buy-
even at a higher price.»
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
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