CONSULATE GENERAL OF SWITZERLAND IN HONG KONG
|A condensed press review prepared
the Consulate General of Switzerland in Hong Kong
As the year draws to a close, the enduring image is the tsunami
tragedy “felt around the globe” according to the title
of an editorial. In Hong Kong, December was marked by the legal
challenge of a 67-year-old public housing tenant which derailed
the Housing Authority’s HK$ 23 billion privatisation of shopping
malls and car parks. In strong remarks seen by many observers as
a dressing down of the Chief Executive, President Hu Jintao called
on the Tung team to improve governance. Populism proves more and
more a force to be reckoned with in a HK beset by government deficiencies
and weak party politics.
Asian Tsunami: Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa vowed to do
everything possible to help Hong Kong people stranded in places
hit by the tsunami. The first Hong Kong casualty of the tsunami
was confirmed on Dec. 28. Chief Secretary Donald Tsang Yam-kuen
said 213 Hong Kong people were missing (an information which might
not be accurate he stressed). An Immigration Department source said
it was unlikely any of the missing would be found alive. Most were
in Thailand when the tsunami struck. Three flights returned stranded
tourists from Phuket to Hong Kong on Dec. 28. Mr Tsang confirmed
that applications for government support had been received from
Oxfam, Medecins Sans Frontières, the Hong Kong Red Cross
and World Vision. He promised to give funds to the organisations
as soon as possible. HK people are digging deep to help tsunami
victims, donating at least HK$ 46 million.
Carrots and sticks for Tung: At the recent China-EU Summit
in the Netherlands, Chinese Premier Wen was full of praise for HK’s
advances saying the city had achieved an economic rebound while
making steady democratic progress but a few days later President
Hu told the Tung team in public to improve governance by identifying
the inadequacies of its rule since the handover. Calling for strengthened
unity and a more people oriented administration his harsh remarks
were interpreted as a reaction to the Hunghom Peninsula, West Kowloon
cultural hub and Link Reit listing controversies and as a sign that
Beijing is not happy that his protégé has not been
able to restore public confidence and trust in his administration.
For most commentators this dress down of the chief executive will
further undermine his credibility.
Trust Offering postponed: On December 19 plans were shelved
to proceed with the listing of the Link Real Estate Investment Trust
(Reit) amid the possibility that a 67-year-old public housing tenant,
Lo Siu-lang, whose challenge twice has been rejected by the courts
could make one final appeal. Mrs Lo, a gutsy elderly welfare recipient
has been active in a tenant‘s right group and was backed by
opposition politicians (which led to claims the legal system was
being manipulated to ensure the listing could not go ahead). She
argued that privatization would mean higher prices in shops because
the store’s rents would rise. She was given a standard 28
days to consider making an appeal despite a government request to
force her to decide immediately whether to appeal. HSBC, UBS and
Goldman Sachs were the underwriters for the HK$ 23 billion offering
in which the Housing Authority is selling 151 shopping centres and
79’000 parking-lot spaces to investors through the Link Reit.
Failure to list what was to be the world’s largest initial
public offering for a property trust casts a shadow on the HK Government.
Critics charge that the Government could have better protected itself
from legal action. According to a politician, the halt of the listing
could give the community an opportunity to rethink the government
privatization policy. The latter had to refund more than 500’000
investors who bought shares on offer as well as investment houses
that agreed to buy 25% of the total offering. Two unhappy investors
launched a new legal action seeking compensation from the lawmakers
they blame for derailing the listing. According to an editorial,
one of the litigants has admitted that compensation for his financial
loss is not the main issue. He seems more interested in sending
a message to those he regards as not having HK's best interests
People power saves Hunghom flats: Last February a private
consortium bought Hunghom Peninsula buildings from the Housing Authority
which had left them empty on completion in a bid to boost the property
market. Developers had planned to knock down the never occupied
flats but were forced to scrap demolition following public outrage
at the waste of money and environmental damage, the threat of a
Legco investigation and letters showing that redevelopment was restricted
to original plan for site. Lack of transparency by the administration
has raised public concern about collusion between government officials
and developers while the business sector will become more concerned
about political risks of projects involving public property.
Democrats in need of rejuvenation: In the first genuine contest
for chairmanship since party’s creation in 1994 veteran lawmaker
Lee Wing-tat was elected new chairman. He urged dialogue and called
for contacts with the central government without conditions. The
party, once the biggest in Legco, has slipped to third largest and
faces a string of problems including a drop in voter support, an
ageing leadership and difficulties in positioning itself after the
rise of pro-democracy independents.
Public consultation on West Kowloon cultural hub: A broad
public consultation on the West Kowloon project is under way in
the middle of a strong debate on the government’s option to
realize the building of a world class cultural district through
a specific package that demands performance spaces and museums all
funded through commercial development and overseen by one or a consortium
of developers. As some see the project as property development in
disguise, the current debate is as much about use of public space
as about the content of the future cultural district.
Consensus emerging on road to constitutional reform: In his
presentation of the 4th report summarizing public views on constitutional
reform Donald Tsang said that a public consensus was emerging towards
expanding the size of the Election Committee to choose the next
chief executive in 2007 from 800 to between 1200 and 1600 adding
it was unrealistic to challenge last April’s decision of the
NPC’s standing committee and press for immediate universal
suffrage. He seems anxious to close the case for full democracy
in 2007/08 and to focus discussion on incremental electoral changes.
Long Hair unveils bill to allow referendum on issues of public
importance: The mechanism he proposes would not result in calls
for HK’s independence as all issues put to a referendum must
not contravene the Basic Law.
Meeting with Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs: On Dec.
7, Mr Tung Chee Hwa and relevant Government officials met the Assistant
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Shen Guofang. They had an in-depth
exchange of views on how to make use of the Mainland's diplomatic
resources to support and assist the HK Special Administrative Region
to expand external co-operation in various fields, including trade,
economy, technology, culture, education and tourism, in accordance
with the Basic Law, as well as to protect the legitimate rights
of HK people abroad.
HK and United Kingdom renew MOU on ICT co-operation: On Dec.
10, HK and the UK signed the second Memorandum of Understanding
on co-operation in information and communications technology (ICT).
It includes co-operation in electronic government, electronic commerce,
multimedia content creation and digital entertainment, software
applications and product, Internet and broadband networks and applications,
wireless and mobile applications an IT manpower development.
HK lures investment from Mainland enterprises: InvestHK (the
HK Government’s investment promotion agency) held its first
large-scale investment promotion road show to key Mainland cities
(Tianjin, Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou and Shenzhen) since the issuance
of investment facilitation policy by the Ministry of Commerce (MOC)
in September, to meet with Mainland enterprises and encourage them
to establish businesses in HK. According to InvestHK Director-General,
HK serves as an ideal platform for Mainland companies aiming to
expand overseas. “The city provides an excellent investment
environment for Mainland firms to become familiar with international
corporate practices and markets to prepare for growing regionally
and globally" he said. According to MOC, the accumulated outward
direct investment by Mainland companies at end-2003 amounted to
US$33.2 billion, 74% of which went to HK. During the first half
of this year, the MOC approved twice as many applications for investing
in HK compared with the same period in 2003.
Pan-Pearl River Delta Development Forum: On Dec. 13, more
than 200 academics, researchers, government officials and leaders
in business sectors took part in the Pan-PRD Development Forum organised
by the Central Policy Unit and the HK Institute of Asia-Pacific
Studies of the Chinese University of HK. In the two-day forum, participants
from nine provinces/autonomous region and the HK and Macao Special
Administrative Regions exchanged their views on how to expedite
economic and social developments in the region.
Shenzhen crime spree escalates: The opening of a Shenzhen
subway station has been delayed after an armed gang raided the construction
site and stole the escalator.
Crackdown at airport to trap fake passport holders from mainland:
mainlanders as well as other Asians fly into HK with genuine travel
documents and receive at the airport forged Singaporean, Japanese
and South Korean passports to go to North America and Europe. In
the first 10 months of 2004 more than 2’000 fake passports
have been seized.
Huge surge in HK migrants to Pearl River Delta: Most of them
young men. About 200’000 Hongkongers work in the mainland.
Oil spill highlights lack of cross-border team work: Following
a large oil spill at the mouth of the Pearl River Delta the mechanism
for joint action that exists on paper between HK, Macau and Guangdong
has not been put into practice. HK says it has not received any
response to its offer to help Guangdong and the mainland says they
have not received such an offer.
Legal affairs and human rights
New EOC boss: On December 15, Mr Raymond Tang Yee-bong was
appointed as Chairperson of the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC)
for five years with effect from January 12, 2005. He follows Patricia
Chu Yeung who was appointed after Michael Wong resigned, following
a controversy over his sacking of an EOC employee. According to
a commentator, Mrs Chu's departure came at a time when the EOC is
undergoing a number of reviews and investigations and morale at
the anti-discrimination body remains low. An internal review was
recently completed and results are expected to call for major structural
changes, including the splitting of the chairman's post into two
jobs - those of a chief executive officer and a figurehead chairman.
Let’s keep pirates out of HK: HK government wishing
to remain a role model in the region has released a consultation
document on certain provisions of the Copyright Ordinance. Its aim
is to improve the regime for the protection of copyright especially
taking into account new types of piracy activities on the internet.
Law Reform Commission proposals on press controls: The Commission’s
recommendation that a new Press Council be created to regulate the
print media and that victims of privacy breaches could be given
more judicial protection should be dealt with great caution since
HK is a city where there is a need to be particularly vigilant with
regard to potential threats to freedom of expression.
Christmas trees: It is estimated about one in every 10 artificial
trees going up around the globe is made by Boto a HK based Company
with its factory in Shenzhen. As probably the world’s largest
artificial tree maker, the company has sold more than 5 million
trees to North America, Europe, Japan and elsewhere this year. The
company designs and produces more than 200 types of artificial trees.
Despite intensifying competition, Boto – who holds 10-12%
of market around the world - expects sales to increase 10% by the
end of next year.
Mainland’s flats: There has been a sharp rise in the
number of HK people buying second hand flats on the mainland, with
transactions up 24% this year. In comparison, there was a mild growth
of 6% in the market for new flats, which has been attributed to
central government policies aimed at preventing the economy from
Continuous Linked Settlement (CLS) System: The HK dollar
has been included in the CLS System from Dec. 6 on. The CLS System
is a global clearing and settlement system for cross-border foreign
exchange transactions operated by CLS Bank International (CLS Bank).
The inclusion of the HK dollar into the CLS System enables foreign
exchange transactions involving the HK dollar to be settled through
the CLS System on a payment-versus-payment (PvP) basis, thus removing
the settlement risk in these transactions. Together with the existing
11 eligible currencies (including the Swiss franc), there are now
15 currencies eligible for settling through CLS Bank.
Classification for import and export declarations amended:
Importers and exporters were reminded that import and export declarations
for shipments on or after January 1, 2005 must be completed in accordance
with an amended classification made to the current edition of the
HK Imports and Exports Classification List (Harmonized System).
These amendments, published in the Gazette on December 10, will
take effect on January 1, 2005 and involve 129 commodity items,
mainly including textiles and clothing, food and beverages, pharmaceutical
products as well as plastic and metal products.
An alarming increase on the use of party drugs Ketamine and Ecstasy
by young people was revealed by the Security Bureau’s narcotics
division. Unemployment, School failures, easy access, cheap prices
and a huge supply of Ketamine were blamed for worsening the problem
among young abusers. Meanwhile, cocaine will be a key focus of the
narcotics bureau next year as the drugs’ popularity grows.
Fifth Anniversary of Macau’s return to the Motherland:
Before President Hu Jintao arrived on Dec. 19, security officials
refused entry to HK activist-turned-lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung (Long
Hair) who hoped to stage a protest coinciding with Mr Hu's visit.
The latter proclaimed that Macau has been thriving since the gambling
enclave of about 450,000 people rejoined China on Dec. 20, 1999.
He held up Macau Chief Executive Edmund Ho Hau-wah’s rule
as a model for “one country two systems” and outlined
4 suggestions for the city which should improve its administrative
abilities, ensure the sustainability of its economic growth, invest
in education and unite under the banner of loving China and Macau.
Various articles praised the Chief Executive who has presided over
a period of political harmony and soaring economic growth and whose
re-election for a second term this year was strongly supported by
the people of Macau. Under his leadership, Macau’s two biggest
headaches of colonial times appear to have been cured. Gang violence
was quickly eradicated soon after the handover, and years of a shrinking
economy were reversed into an unprecedented boom. Various observers
said that one of Ho’s biggest achievements was liberalising
gambling. Beijing's strong support has also been a big factor in
his success. However some observers warned that if Ho can take pride
in his achievements, his second term may prove to be more testing
than his first. A commentator noted that Macau's biggest asset also
poses its greatest challenge saying that much of Macau’s appeal
rests on a unique cultural identity and qualities which need to
be carefully safeguarded amid the rampant push for gambling-orientated
growth but which are already coming under pressure today. In a speech,
Mr Ho said that “Macau must prepare for rainy days”.
Environmental chiefs from HK and Guangdong met in HK to review progress
of the implementation of the Pearl River Delta Regional Air Quality
Management Plan and to discuss a detailed action proposal for next
year. They include an air-quality monitoring network with 16 monitoring
stations to come into operation in the first quarter of next year,
a new cross-border panel to promote energy saving in factories,
an emissions inventory, and development of an emissions trading
scheme for fuel-burning power plants
Fast Food: HK has the highest percentage of fast-food addicts
in the world, with 61% of people eating at least once a week in
fast food restaurants. In the first nine months of this year, Hongkongers
visited fast-food restaurants on average seven times a month, spending
The Basic Law Library: A joint project of HKSAR Government
and the Basic Law Institute opened to the public on Dec. 20. The
collection at the opening will be 8,000 items, of which 4,500 items
were bought by the Basic Law Institute. A total of 3,500 items originally
housed in the Hong Kong Central Library have been transferred to
the library. The reference materials include books, journals, multimedia
information, CD-ROMs, online databases and newspapers clippings.
The Basic Law Library will organise book displays, exhibitions on
special topics, visits and talks to enhance the public's understanding
of the Basic Law.
Police bid farewell to oldest Police Station: The Commissioner
of Police, Mr Lee Ming-kwai, and members of the Force bade farewell
to the Central Police Station Complex at a decommissioning ceremony.
It had been used by the Force for more than 140 years and had housed
both the Hong Kong Island Regional Headquarters and the Central
Police Station. The Complex, a declared monument, should be handed
back to Government.
Drug barons target HK market: Police raid has seized 400
litres of cocaine smuggled from South America. A massive increase
in cocaine seizure in 2004 has led police to believe South American
drug dealers are now targeting HK and other Southeast Asian cities.
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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