CONSULATE GENERAL OF SWITZERLAND IN HONG KONG
|A condensed press review prepared
the Consulate General of Switzerland in Hong Kong
Economy + Finance
October sees fastest growth since 2007: Business activity in HK rose in October for a third straight month as the purchasing manager's index (PMI) hit 54.6, up from 51.8 in September – its highest reading since December 2007. The adds to recent economic data showing the economy is picking up after pulling out of recession in the second quarter. A PMI reading above 50 indicates growth in activity, below 50 signals contraction.
IMF issues warning over property prices: The International Monetary Fund IMF has warned of the risk of ample liquidity and credit fuelling the property market in HK. It says measures may be necessary to ensure banks manage risks prudently and curb any escalation in housing prices. "There is a risk that prices could become driven more by short-term liquidity conditions, divorced from fundamental forces of supply and demand," said IMF.
Customs deal done on wine exports: The government is taking an important step forward in its ambitions to develop HK as a big player in the global wine market, with an agreement on mainland customs measures for wines exported from the city and a standardised accreditation system for storage facilities. Financial Secretary John Tsang said the government was also discussing with the mainland's food safety department - the Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine -to see if further measures could be introduced.
Moody's upgrades HK credit outlook: "While HK's rating is separate from that of China, it is linked, and the residual China effect constrains HK's intrinsic upward rating potential. However, China's outlook change indicates that the level of hypothetical risk emanating from China has lessened, which contributes to a positive rating outlook for HK." said Moody's. HK's relatively robust fiscal balance sheet, including virtually no government debt and large fiscal reserves, is often recognised with strong creditworthiness ratings.
Migrant entry initiative brings city HK$36.6b: The government's migrant investment scheme has seen HK$36.6 billion invested in HK in the past six years, with the property market accounting for about 30 per cent of overall investment. Immigration consultants said an increasing number of migrant investors had chosen to invest in property, included luxury flats, in the past year.
HK grows just 0.4pc in third quarter: HK's economic recovery decelerated in the third quarter, as GDP grew just 0.4 per cent from the previous three months, with weak exports offsetting a pick-up in private consumption, the government said. The government now forecasts gross domestic product will contract 3.3 per cent this year against an earlier estimate for a 3.5 to 4.5 per cent decline.
Jobless rate down slightly, but economic uncertainty continues: The unemployment rate improved slightly from 5.3 per cent in September to 5.2 per cent in October, although the number of people with jobs fell to a two-year low, suggesting that the pace of recovery remains slow and uncertain. This is the second straight month of declining unemployment, which is at a seven-month low.
CS unveils electoral reform plan: Chief Secretary Henry Tang said the government would start consulting the public on expanding its legislature and the committee that picks the chief executive in 2012 – as part of a long path toward greater democracy. The proposals - contained in the government's consultation paper on electoral reform - advocate an additional 10 seats in the 60-member legislature – of which five would be elected directly and another five elected by district councillors as a new functional constituency. Appointed district councillors will be excluded from the election. The government also proposed expanding the 800member election committee that elects the chief executive to not more than 1,200. The proposals are subject to a three-month public consultation and legislative approval.
Pan-democrats divided over referendum plan: Pan-democrats were divided on whether to go ahead with their referendum plan to protest the government's latest electoral reforms. The referendum plan requires one pan-democrat from each of the five geographical constituencies to resign and trigger by-election in each constituency, which would in theory give voters an indirect way of expressing their support for or opposition to the proposed electoral reforms. The Civic Party and League of Social Democrats said they would proceed with the referenduam plan – even if the Democratic Party decides not to do so.
Civic Party may reconsider resignations: Civic Party leader Audrey Eu said pan-democrat legislators were willing to reconsider the mass resignation plan to preserve the unity of the pro-democracy movement. The resignation plan was advocated by the League of Social Democrats and the Civic Party, but not supported by the Democratic Party.
Consider the public, CE urges over resignations plan: The chief executive urged pan-democrats to take into account people's wishes and the public interest on the issue of mass resignations from the legislature. The remarks - the first from CE Donald Tsang on the matter -reflect the government's growing concerns over a possible de facto referendum on its political reform proposals.
Government goes on attack over democrats' reform 'referendum': The government has gone on the offensive over pan-democrats' plans for several legislators to resign and trigger a "mini-referendum" on political reform, calling on them to answer what it says are key questions hanging over the plan. The demand came as Democratic Party founding chairman Martin Lee said he had been wrong in backing the resignation plan and urged the parties to reconsider, saying mounting dissent among them was playing into Beijing's hands. Beijing also weighed in, with an official in HK saying dialogue was better than confrontation.
Reform proposal to be tabled on time: The final political reform proposal would be tabled as scheduled without the government waiting for the pan-democrats to trigger a de facto referendum through mass resignations, the constitutional affairs chief said. The warning by Stephen Lam came as Beijing loyalists vowed to block funding for any by-elections to be held should lawmakers from the Civic Party and the League of Social Democrats resign, calling it a waste of taxpayers' money.
Relations HK - Mainland China
Suffrage progress in 2012 important, Beijing official says: A top Beijing official stressed the importance for HK to make progress in 2012 for the implementation of universal suffrage in 2017 and 2020. But central government liaison office deputy director Li Gang would not be drawn on whether Beijing would hold back the timetable if the 2012 reform package, to be tabled by the government, was vetoed. In 2005, the pandemocrats rejected the proposals put forward by Chief Executive Donald Tsang and forced the electoral methods for the chief executive and legislature to a standstill.
Beijing official plays down 'jibe': A top Beijing official in HK tried to play down comments by a colleague in the capital that were seen as criticising the lack of co-operation between HK's government and judiciary. Li Gang, deputy director of the central government's liaison office, said HK should not try to learn from Macau if the majority of the public did not want it. Zhang Xiaoming, deputy director of the State Council's HK and Macau Affairs Office, praised the Macau judiciary for co-operating with the Macau government and legislature, saying it was "constructive" for society, in contrast to HK.
At critical time, Hu's qualified backing lightens Tsang's load: President Hu Jintao gave his backing for the HK government's policy direction. He tempered his remarks, though, by urging the administration to make more efforts to improve people's livelihoods and promote economic growth. Political commentators saw Hu's words as a message of support for the chief executive days ahead of the release of the government's proposals for electoral reform and soon after Tsang came under heavy fire following his policy address.
HK implicated in US report on Chinese spying: A US congressional advisory panel has voiced concern about HK's export controls, fearing the mainland could use the city to import sensitive technology. It also says that HK's autonomy is being "chipped away" by Beijing, which has mobilised its local representatives to increase its influence. It describes HK as a "loophole for transferring sensitive technology to the mainland".
Lawmakers told why rail link cost soared to HK$65b: Half of the 65 per cent rise in the cost of the planned high-speed rail line to Guangzhou is due to the many design improvements, and the other half is because of unexpectedly high inflation, transport officials told lawmakers.
Easing of visa rules in Shenzhen next month set to boost tourism: HK is expected to see a rise in mainland visitors next month when new visa rules will make it easier for migrant workers in Shenzhen to travel to the city. Until now, non-permanent residents of Shenzhen have had to apply in their home province for visas. From December 15, between two million and three million migrant workers would be eligible to apply in Shenzhen to visit HK under the individual visit scheme.
Guangdong to replace HK as bridge leader: Guangdong is to replace HK as the leader of a committee that will make major decisions on the multibillion-dollar highway across the Pearl River Delta. Officials close to the HK-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge project said the change would not give the province control or veto rights because decisions could be made only after consensus among all governments.
Legal affairs and human rights
Bishop weighs in for right-of-abode seekers: Bishop John Tong Hon has put his weight behind right-ofabode seekers, urging the government to speed up family reunions for mainland children born across the border to Hongkongers. "Mainland children born to Hongkongers have been waiting too long for family reunions," Tong said.
Visit rules eased for divided families: Mainland parents of HK-born children will be able to visit their families more easily under relaxed travel rules to be introduced next month. Parents who are not permanent HK residents but whose children live in the city will be able to apply for a new "visiting relatives permit", details of which have yet to be announced. Parents whose spouses are HK permanent residents will qualify for a one-year multiple-entry permit.
Free jabs set to start for 2m at high risk: Two million Hongkongers in five high-risk categories will be able to receive free shots against swine flu next month, with the government finally securing three millions doses from a French drug maker. More than 30,000 human swine flu infections have been reported in HK.
Virus passes from humans to pigs in city: The swine flu virus has passed from humans to pigs for the first time in the city, with University of HK researchers finding it in two live pigs from Sheung Shui slaughterhouse. Medical professionals and Secretary for Food and Health Dr York Chow said the discovery would not pose a greater risk to Hongkongers. A government spokesman said the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department would increase the inspection of slaughterhouses, and would ensure all pigs passed tests.
Greener fuel standards proposed for vehicles: The government has proposed making vehicles more environmentally friendly by requiring fuel supplied in the city to meet greener standards. "If existing petrol vehicles use Euro 5 petrol, their emissions of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons will be reduced by about 10 per cent," the government paper said.
Dirty HK refuses to go it alone at green talks: HK's per capita greenhouse gas emissions are double the world average and it is one of the world's most advanced economies. But it refuses to come out from under China's umbrella as a developing country - with its more lenient emission standards - as nations meet to set new targets to combat climate change. Non-government organisations that will attend the United Nations conference on climate change in Copenhagen next month say that while Hong Kong is not obliged to adopt the stricter standards of a developed economy, it should do so voluntarily.
Culture and education
Praise for HKU and PolyU's international policies: The University of HK and Polytechnic University were cited at an international higher education conference in Kuala Lumpur as examples of effective ways to develop internationalisation policies. The three-day conference attracted 700 participants from 45 countries, including China, with "emerging trends and major developments in higher education" as its theme.
Snub for audit chief as Chui Cabinet cleared: The Cabinet line-up of Macau's chief executive-elect Fernando Chui, which included seven holdover ministers and three new appointees, has been approved by Beijing. The new government is due to take over on December 20. The only minister left out is Commissioner of Audit Fatima Choi, who openly criticized Chui over a 1.4 billion pataca (HK$1.36 billion) overrun in the 2005 East Asian Games budget when he was secretary for social affairs and culture. Analysts said that the departure of Choi would send the wrong message to the public -that hard-working and responsible officials would be punished.
E-channels for quicker entry to HK and Macau ready next month: HK and Macau residents travelling between the two cities will be able to use e-channels for immigration clearance from next month. A memorandum signed between the two cities marked efforts to streamline immigration procedures and make travel easier. The new measures will be introduced on December 10.
Population of NT new towns cut by 27pc: The new towns proposed in the northeastern New Territories will accommodate a population of 131,000 and offer sites for the development of pillar industries from 2019, according to the Development Bureau.
Press articles related to Switzerland and Swiss matters
Swiss refuse bail for Polanski: Professor Chan visited Switzerland and promoted HK's advantages (Headline Daily, Nov. 20): The Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury, Professor K C Chan, visited Switzerland and promoted HK as an international financial centre. He introduced business opportunities in HK, which intended to develop itself as an international asset management centre. He met Swiss officials and bankers and exchanged ideas about reforms in financial market.
Swiss voters back right-wing move to ban new minarets (SCMP, Nov. 30): Switzerland voted to impose a blanket ban on the building of minarets across the country, backing an initiative by far-right politicians. A clear majority of 57.5 per cent of the population and 22 out of 26 cantons voted to ban the towers or turrets on mosques from where Muslims are called to prayer. Far-right politicians celebrated the results, while the government sought to assure the Muslim minority that a ban on minarets was "not a rejection of the Muslim community, religion or culture". "The Federal Council [government] respects this decision. Consequently, the construction of new minarets in Switzerland is no longer permitted," the government, which had firmly opposed the ban, said.
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