CONSULATE GENERAL OF SWITZERLAND IN HONG KONG
|A condensed press review prepared
the Consulate General of Switzerland in Hong Kong
April did not bring any joke; the month developed in a highly charged
political atmosphere marked by Beijing's ruling out universal suffrage
for elections in 2007 and 2008. Just before, the National People's
Congress Standing Committee's (SC) gave its interpretation of the
provisions on electoral reform of HK's Basic Law, a move some considered
as a big step back for democracy. It was followed by the chief executive's
(CE) report on the need for political reform recommending guidelines
considered as additional hurdles by the opposition. As to the economy,
no obstacle prevented some 300 HK exhibitors from successfully returning
back to Basel World.
The Interpretation of the Basic Law: This is the first time
Beijing has intervened in such a way on its own initiative. For
some observers, the announced interpretation was seen as the most
significant step by Beijing to deflate HK pro-democracy movement
since it strengthened with a 500'000 strong demonstration on July
1, 2003. During a meeting held on 31 March and seen as the first
formal dialogue between democrats and Beijing since their relationship
soared after the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989, the democrats explained
that the interpretation would undermine the "one country, two
systems" principle. For the conservative side, the interpretation
would help forge consensus by pointing out a clear direction for
HK's constitutional development. A candle-light vigil was held on
April 2, with 3000 people protesting Beijing's decision to interpret
the Basic Law. Clashes broke between Police and protesters at the
central government offices. On April 4, HK told the United States
not to interfere in its affairs after they expressed "serious
concerns" over Beijing's decision to interpret the Basic Law.
On April 6, the SC's interpretation said the central government
had the power to decide whether there was a need for constitutional
reforms but gave the CE the right to start the process. The latter
should submit a report to the SC on whether there is a need to amend
the methods of selecting the chief executive and Legco. If the SC
accepts HK would start public consultation and table reform bill.
Any changes passed into law would need final approval by Beijing:
the mainland was given effective veto power at both ends of the
reform process. On April 11 thousands (20'000 according to the organisers,
10'000 according to the police or 7'627 (!) according to a survey
commissioned by the Government) join a march on the mainland's liaison
office to attack their unpopular leader, adding their voices to
the denunciation of the interpretation. Urged to publicise his report
as soon as possible, but ignorant of a call to feel the public pulse
and not to attach further conditions to political reforms the
Chief Executive (CE), Tung chee-hwa, submitted his report on
the need for reform on April 15, recommending that changes be
made to HK's electoral methods in and after 2007. However, he set
out nine stringent conditions HK must abide by when proceeding with
reforms. He stated that progress towards the Basic Law's ultimate
aim of universal suffrage should progress in a gradual and orderly
manner and should accord with the HK's actual situation to preserve
its prosperity and stability. According to HK's only delegate to
the SC the nine conditions were the result of discussions with the
central government. Critics said the CE acted hastily, that the
report turned its back on the citizens and did not propose specific
changes. They added that the 9 principles effectively ruled out
the introduction of universal suffrage by 2007. The CE was urged
to send a supplementary report that would outline the public's democratic
aspirations. Pro democracy lawmakers further condemned the CE' report
in an unprecedented Legco debate. Three of them lobbying for the
introduction of universal suffrage met a mainland official (a first
encounter after 15 years), Mr. Li Fei, vice-chairman of the NPC'
Legislative Affairs Commission who promised he would channel their
views to the NPC. However, being of the opinion that HK has enjoyed
unprecedented democratic rights.
Beijing ruled out the universal suffrage for selecting the CE
and legislature in 2007 and 2008. The half-and-half ratio for
members of Legco elected from functional constituencies and elected
directly and the procedures for voting on bills and motions in Legco
shall remain unchanged in 2008. The methods for elections could
be appropriately modified, in accordance with the principle of gradual
and orderly progress. As he did for the interpretation, the Deputy
Secretary General of the SC, Mr. Qiao Xiaoyang, came to HK to explain
the SC's decision. He said that HK lacks a proper understanding
of the "one country, two systems" principle and that the
electoral methods should be conducive to the balanced participation
of various social strata including the business sector without which
the original capitalist system in HK cannot be ensured. Angry pro-democracy
camp says "one country, two systems" has been seriously
undermined but was determined to keep on fighting. The Democratic
Party Chairman said that the only way to oppose Beijing's official
to rule HK was to vote on the September Legco election. The organisers
of last July demonstration said a similar rally would be held this
year. Ahead to his visit to Europe, premier Wen Jiabao pledged that
the objective of having HK elect its CE and the legislature by universal
suffrage had not changed.
Official visits: The president of the Czech Republic, Mr
Vaclav Klaus and the president of Latvia, Mrs Vaira Vike-Feriberga
paid a visit to HK.
A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Cultural Co-operation
between Singapore and HK was signed on April 1 in HK. It provides
a formal framework to further strengthen the current state of active
cultural exchange, and promote co-operation in the fields of culture
and the arts.
Human Rights and Legal Affairs
Action demanded on 1997' phone-tap law. Secretary for Security
was told to enforce the anti-bugging law endorsed by the Legco seven
years ago or step down. The warning was issued after his Deputy
failed to say when the government was expected to bring the Interception
of Communications Ordinance into force. In 1997, Legco passed the
ordinance, which would require a judge's permission for phone-tapping
instead of authorisation from the chief executive or chief secretary.
HK & IMF : The global economy is set to grow at its fastest
pace in a decade this year, led by the United States, China and
other Asian economies, the IMF said yesterday in its biannual world
economic forecast. It expects the mainland's economy to expand 8.5
per cent this year. The outlook for HK is also optimistic, with
gross domestic product forecast to grow 5.5 per cent this year.
The IMF predicts the mainland's economy will expand 8 per cent next
year, while HK's will grow 4.5 per cent. In HK, "robust private
consumption is driving a stronger recovery [and] deflation is abating",
the IMF report says. HK experienced more than five years of unbroken
deflation, one of the longest spells of falling prices anywhere
in the world since the second world war, it adds. The IMF forecasts
consumer prices will decline by half a percentage point this year,
but rise by eight-tenths of a percentage point next year. The fund
predicts unemployment in HK, which in February fell to 7.2 per cent,
will average 6.4 per cent this year and 5.3 per cent next year.
The IMF says the government should give priority to consolidating
its budget deficit.
Budget Deficit : On April 28, the Government announced its
provisional financial results for the year ended March 31, 2004.
According to the provisional results, expenditure for the year ended
March 31, 2004, amounts to $247.4 billion and revenue to $207.3
billion, resulting in a deficit of $40.1 billion. The provisional
deficit of $40.1 billion is $8.9 billion lower than the revised
estimate of $49 billion announced in the 2004-05 Budget Speech
Solo travel scheme for visits to HK is doubled A further
74 million people in 16 of the richest mainland cities will be eligible.
HK can expect millions more mainland visitors from next month after
the State Council doubled to 150 million the number of citizens
allowed individual travel to the city. The scheme has been extended
to residents of a further 16 of the country's wealthiest cities.
Since last July, when mainland authorities began exempting some
travellers from the requirement that they visit HK in tour groups,
more than 1.6 million people from Shanghai, Beijing, and 14 cities
in Guangdong, have visited. With each visitor spending an average
of $5,600, the economic benefit to HK has been almost $9 billion.
HK's tourism, retail and food sectors are promoting their wares
ahead of the arrival of more than 400,000 mainland visitors during
the May Day holiday week.
Property: High reserve prices offered for the first two sites
to be auctioned after a 19-month freeze on land sales indicate the
growing strength of the property market, experts say. Two residential
sites in the New Territories will be auctioned next month with offered
prices at the upper end of market expectations. Under the land sale
system, a developer offers the Land Department a minimum price it
guarantees to pay for a site. If that price meets the government's
target reserve, the site will be brought to auction. The government
announced the land sale suspension in November 2002 in a bid to
shore up the housing market, which had slumped since 1997.
Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing wins higher profile in Guangzhou
and Shanghai: HKEx has been given approval to set up "contact
points" in Guangzhou and Shanghai.The authorities allow foreign
exchanges to have just one representative office in the mainland.
The HKEx was granted the two contact points after opening its representative
office in Beijing in November last year.
Bonds: The HK government launched its first securitised bond
issue. The bonds, worth $6 billion, are backed by tolls from five
tunnels and the Tsing Ma Bridge. Last year the government announced
plans to sell $112.5 billion of assets and debts within five years
to tackle the deficit. Retail investors may subscribe to three-year
bonds at an annual interest rate of 2.75 per cent, five-year bonds
at 3.6 per cent or seven-year bonds at 4.28 per cent. By comparison,
a two-year HK dollar fixed deposit earns about 0.8 per cent a year
and savings accounts pay 0.001 per cent, or $10 for every $1 million
on deposit. According to the Secretary for Financial Services and
the Treasury the next step would be to issue $20 billion in government
bonds before the summer.
The HK Monetary Authority published its Annual Report for 2003
on April 26. The Report reviews recent trends and events in monetary
and banking affairs and reports on the HKMA's work during the year.
It also sets out plans for the coming year.
CEPA : Nearly 170 HK permanent residents have been given
approval to open shops in Guangdong without mainland business partners.
A total of 200 applications to open shops filed by HK and Macau
residents have been approved so far, according to Guangdong authorities.
Under the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA), HK permanent
residents can set up stores in Guangdong without a partner.
The HK Gifts & Premium Fair 2004 opened on April 28:
according to an opening speech this fair is the premier event of
its kind in the region, this year with more than 3,400 exhibitors.
It has long been recognised as the best sourcing hub in Asia and
as a premier networking venue for industry players.
The first "Survey on Business Attitudes to Intellectual
Property" reveals that the awareness level of intellectual
property rights among the business sector in HK is remarkably high.
More than 90% of respondents understood what items were protected
by intellectual property and 95% of them considered that it was
necessary to protect intellectual property rights in the business
environment of HK. The respondents in general believed that the
intellectual property infringement was now quite serious.
HK's economic development is being hampered by insufficient
investment in science and technology-based industries, according
to one of the world's foremost economists, Jeffrey Sachs. He said
"From an economic development point of view, it is the capacity
to mobilise science and technology that is the fundamental, long-term
"I would also commend it to HK because
this incredibly dynamic society oddly lags behind the rest of the
world in terms of its own science and technology. This is probably
the one place in the HK economic structure that one sees a serious
weakness." HK had achieved remarkable developments in its business,
services and infrastructure, but had now been overtaken by countries
where the average annual income was also more than US$20,000 a year,
he said. Their experiences had shown that innovation, rather than
just business, further increased income.
Hong Kong in figures
To have and have not/The widening Gap: For almost a quarter
of households it would take at least 3½ years to earn what
Hutchinson Whampoa group managing director takes home in a day.
Among the world's wealthiest economies, HK has the biggest gap between
rich and poor. More than 500,000 households earn less than $8,000
a month. Only a fifth of HK's 245,000 unemployed claim welfare.
The number of households earning less than $4,000 a month has risen
almost a quarter since 1999 to almost 200,000. A family of four
unemployed adults can receive $4,830 in benefits on top of housing
costs, about half UK levels in HK dollar terms.
In March, 2004, the value of total exports of goods (comprising
re-exports and domestic exports) increased by 13.9% over a year
earlier to $162.9 billion, after a year-on-year increase of 28.2%
in February. Within this total, the value of re-exports increased
by 14.5% to $153.2 billion in March, while the value of domestic
exports increased by 4.5% to $9.7 billion. Concurrently, the value
of imports of goods increased by 15.4% over a year earlier to $178.0
billion in March, 2004, after a year-on-year increase of 33.3% in
There have been recent reports of confirmed and suspected Severe
Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) cases in Mainland China. HK therefore
remains vigilant and prepared. The Government has enhanced SARS
preventive actions. The current response level is Alert Level (lowest
level out of three response levels). Mandatory health declarations
and stringent temperature screening checks are being maintained
at border points. HK maintains close communication with the Mainland
health authorities for updated developments. Since 23 April 2004,
HK has used an enhanced surveillance system for reporting pneumonia
patients with a history of travel to Beijing or Anhui Province during
the 10 days before symptom onset. So far, none of these patients
have tested positive for SARS. HK has been free from SARS since
2 June 2003.
Culture and Education
Merging Universities: Education chief said he welcomed recent
studies by the Polytechnic University and City University over a
possible merger, saying such a move would benefit the tertiary education
sector in the long term. He also said that merging universities
was a trend overseas. Last year he proposed a merger between Chinese
University and HK University of Science and Technology, but the
scheme failed because there was strong opposition from students
HK International Film Festival: The curtain went up on April
6, 2004 on the 28th HKIFF. It featured 300 movies from about 40
countries. The Festival director said "
while at the beginning
it was primarily focused on local films and audiences, we are now
moving it towards being a truly international festival." The
festival ended on April 21.
Spiritual Focus: Middle class Hongkongers have increasingly
turned to religion in recent years amid the difficulties of the
economic downturn, according to clerics in mainstream religions.
There are now more than 230'000 Catholics and almost 300'000 protestants
in HK. Ninety-two adult catechumen - people being taught the principles
of Christianity - were baptised in the Catholic Cathedral over Easter.
The diocese's Chancellor said the economic downturn was not a dominant
factor, but said people have increasingly felt the need to find
value in life. According to another source, as more people turn
towards religion to fill a spiritual void, interest in fung shui
and New Age spiritualism is also on the rise.
Press articles about Switzerland
South China Morning Post 07.04.04: HK is not ready to accept
euthanasia, says academic (this article was written following
HK quadriplegic Tang Siu-pun's appeal for the right to die) Excerpts:
In Switzerland, the laws are possibly the most relaxed because assisted
suicide is legal there, although active euthanasia is not. The former
requires that the person wanting to die has to be able to carry
out the act themselves, whereas in the latter, a doctor has to do
But in Zurich, there are medical facilities that
allow outsiders to end their lives, as long as they have the correct
paperwork from their doctor. This has led to concern among Swiss
authorities and private organisations that Zurich is in danger of
getting a reputation for "death tourism". Dignitas, a
group founded by Swiss human rights lawyer Ludwig Minelli to assist
suicides, has 2,000 members and welcomes foreigners. Mr. Minelli,
whose group's slogan is "Live with dignity, die with dignity",
has also widened his brief to include those suffering from schizophrenia
Apple Daily (local Chinese Press), April 16, 2004. (Summary)
Financial Secretary Mr. Henry Tang and Mr. Fred Lam, Executive Director
(Designate) of the HK Trade Development Council, headed the HK delegation
(333 exhibitors, more than 2000 staff) to return to the Basel World
2004 and officiated the opening ceremony of the HK Pavilion. The
article recalled the hard feelings of what happened to HK exhibitors
last year due to the SARS. It also mentioned that the HKTDC has
reached an agreement with the organiser of the Basel World. HK exhibitors
can return to Basel with prime location and it is guaranteed for
the next 6 years. Similar articles were published in the local Chines
press : HK Economic Journal on 16.04, HK Daily News
South China Morning Post, 30.04.04: And then twenty-five
became one. Call me a sentimental old fool, but I do not care. Try
as I might, I cannot get my head around the fact that come tomorrow,
Lithuania will be part of Europe, Switzerland still will not be
450 million people, the new-look Europe will have the third largest
population grouping in the world after China and India
conveniences of European enlargement aside, a nagging doubt persists:
what is a European and does it matter if you aren't one? Swiss and
Norwegians clearly do not worry, as they have resisted the call
to join the European Union
The post also reproduced an article
from The Christian Science Monitor with the title "Pressure
mounts on the nations of "Sin" a wry acronym for Switzerland,
Iceland and Norway called an unusual troika united only by their
obdurate refusal to take up membership of the EU
South China Morning Post 30.04.04 (Bloomberg in Bern) Laundering
safeguards a must for Switzerland: Stringent anti-money-laundering
rules are the only way for Switzerland to preserve its 70-year-old
banking secrecy laws, according to J.-B. Zufferey, of the Swiss
Federal Banking Commission
Swiss bankers spent 20 per cent
of their workday on compliance issues, a study released earlier
this month by the University of Zurich's Swiss Banking Institute
showed. Banks last year devoted 50 per cent more money than in 1998
to meet rules including tougher anti-money-laundering laws
After cutting personnel costs, the next legitimate question for
a banker is: how can I cut down on regulation costs?" Mr Zufferey
"That's why we try to strike a balance and to act
only when necessary". Switzerland's regulator was still less
intrusive than financial supervisors elsewhere, he added.
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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