CONSULATE GENERAL OF SWITZERLAND IN HONG KONG
|A condensed press review prepared
the Consulate General of Switzerland in Hong Kong
Economy + Finance
Signing launches HK's enlarged role in nation: The Chief Executive Donald Tsang and the Governor of Guangdong Province Huang Huahua signed the Framework Agreement on Hong Kong/Guangdong Cooperation in Beijing, witnessed by the State Vice-President Xi Jinping. Although many of the measures are not new, securing Beijing's blessing will help ensure they are realised and pave the way for HK and Guangdong to become a "world-class economic zone" in the words of the pact. Covering financial services, the environment, education, transport, manufacturing and more, as well as Macau, the agreement puts HK's agenda at the national level for the first time. The central government named HK the leader in financial services, for example, and ordered Shenzhen and Guangdong to provide all necessary support.
Financial Secretary still sees bubble risk, though flat price rises are slowing: Housing price rises and transactions have slowed, but HK still faces the risk of a property bubble, the government has warned. "Although the momentum in the property prices has slowed in recent months, the risk of a property bubble remains," Financial Secretary John Tsang said. Tsang attributed the surge in prices to a huge flow of "hot money" into the economy, and low interest rates, as well as a relatively low supply of flats in recent years.
Bank deposit guarantee rises to HK$500,000: Bank deposit protection will be raised to HK$500,000 per person per bank by January next year. The increase in protection from HK$100,000 to HK$500,000 will come as the government ends its guarantee of all deposits, a temporary move spurred by the global financial crisis. It is understood that the government does not want to continue guaranteeing deposits for fear banks will take more risks knowing deposits are fully insured.
Jobless rate drops to lowest since late 2008: The city's jobless rate fell to its lowest since the last quarter in 2008 when the impact of the global financial crisis started to sink in. The unemployment rate dropped to 4.4 per cent in the first quarter of this year. "The fundamentals of the labour market remain robust," Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung said. Improvements were mainly seen in the insurance, arts, entertainment, recreation as well as information and communications sectors.
Liberal Party warns of ripple effect of rise in wage level on businesses: Catering industry lawmaker Tommy Cheung -who got into hot water last month for suggesting a minimum wage of HK$20 an hour -has joined Liberal Party colleagues in proposing a rate of HK$24. Cheung and party chairwoman Miriam Lau said that even at this level business would be severely affected by a "ripple effect" that would push up wages of workers already earning more than the minimum. The suggestion was put to the Provisional Minimum Wage Commission along with one from the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions suggesting HK$33.
Be more Chinese and more global to compete, HK told: HK is China's most competitive city for the fifth year in a row. The lead is narrowing, though, and to stay ahead of the other 293 Chinese cities, HK should become more of a world city -and integrate more with the mainland -says the state researcher in charge of compiling the national competitiveness index. Specifically, the state researcher Ni Pengfei says HK needs to focus more on the higher end of the global financial services market and that the government should put more emphasis on science and technology.
Exports jump 32.1pc: HK's exports jumped 32.1 per cent in March, as shipments returned to pre-financial crisis levels due to a strong rebound in regional trade. The total value of shipments rose to HK$231.8 billion last month, the fifth consecutive month of year-on-year growth, according to the Census and Statistics Department. The rise was mainly led by exports to Asia, which grew 44.4 per cent from a year ago.
Government proposes limited political reform: The HK government announced its political reform plans for the 2012 elections. Chief Secretary Henry Tang told legislators the government wanted to expand the chief executive selection committee from the present 800 people to 1,200 for the 2012 election. Tang also proposed expanding the Legislative Council to 70 members – from the present 60 – while maintaining the present 50:50 ratio of those directly by the public and those elected by members of various functional constituencies. The government proposed adding five more geographical constituency seats directly elected by the public and five more functional constituency elected by district councillors. Tang said the National People's Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) in 2007 gave a clear roadmap and timetable for implementing universal suffrage. According to NPCSC, the city could elect its chief executive in 2017 and all Legislative Council members may also be elected by universal suffrage in 2020. Chief Executive Donald Tsang called for the lawmakers to reach a consensus on this reform package. The government proposals, which require 40 votes in the legislature, will likely be blocked by the pan-democrat camp. Opposition lawmakers want direct elections of all political offices immediately. Moderates say they will support limited reform only if there is a clear promise of full democracy at a fixed date – a timetable that the Beijing and HK governments so far have refused to deliver.
26 nominations for LegCo by-election received by deadline: The by-elections were triggered by the resignations in January of three lawmakers from the League of Social Democrats and two from the Civic Party. The parties see the polls as a de facto referendum on the pace and scope of democratization. Progovernment parties have boycotted them on the grounds that the Basic Law does not permit referendums. Still, the by-elections have attracted a large number of fringe candidates. A total of 26 nomination forms for the 2010 Legislative Council by-election were received.
Chief Secretary's robust defence of trade seats dismays critics: Chief Secretary Henry Tang fuelled speculation that functional constituencies are to stay indefinitely when he said other jurisdictions enjoyed equal suffrage with a "one person, two votes" system. The trade-based seats, with their narrow electorates, effectively give 220,000 voters a second vote other than the one they enjoy in the geographical constituencies. Civic Party leader Audrey Eu said, "We have seen clearly today that government has its own road map, and that road map is to retain the functional constituencies." The Law Society, which believes the functional constituency seats should ultimately be abolished, said the government's proposals for electoral reform in 2012 "fall short of expectations". Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor said the electoral proposals did not meet standards laid down by international convention. It was disappointing that the chief secretary had resorted to "one person, two votes" to distort the definition of universal suffrage, the group said.
Exco chief in rare attack on lawmakers of trade-based seats: Executive Council convenor and chief executive hopeful Leung Chun-ying has made an unusual public attack on functional constituency lawmakers, saying some of them put their constituents before the HK public. Leung said the constituencies' narrow electoral base and the performance of functional constituency legislators had caused the public to doubt the system.
Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs calls Legco by-elections ‘unnecessary': Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Stephen Lam said the Legco by-elections due to be held next month were pointless. Five former pan-democratic legislators who resigned in January to fight for the implementation of full universal suffrage registered for the by-elections. The pan-democrat camp believes they will put pressure on the government to make more progress on the implementation of universal suffrage in HK. But Lam said the five activists could have achieved more by continuing in their former roles as lawmakers in the Legislative Council.
Relations HK - Mainland China
Beijing seeks to end doubt on polls: Beijing made a surprise announcement aimed at clearing up doubts of the path to universal suffrage, just hours after the government unveiled its proposal for political reform in 2012 -a package little changed despite a massive consultation campaign. Qiao Xiaoyang, deputy secretary general of the National People's Congress Standing Committee, said the authority and legal effect of the committee's decision in 2007 on the timetable for electing the chief executive and legislature by universal suffrage was "beyond any doubt". Qiao reiterated that the five steps outlined in the 2007 decision still had to be taken for universal suffrage to become a reality. Referring to the five steps, Qiao said the process would start with the chief executive submitting a report to the Standing Committee requesting changes to current electoral methods. The committee would then approve them, Legco would approve a proposal by a two-thirds majority in the Legco, the chief executive would then endorse it and the committee would record, or approve it.
Veto of electoral reform will affect mainland trust, top adviser says: Mutual trust between HK and the mainland would be undermined if the government proposal for electoral reform in 2012 is vetoed by the legislature, the government's top adviser Lau Siu-kai warned. Lau said the central government would be more at ease to allow HK a bigger role in the nation's economic development, particularly in the financial services sector, if mutual trust was strengthened. Lau said Beijing attached great importance to ensuring financial security in the process of financial reforms. He said some members of the Commission on Strategic Development were worried that the lack of mutual trust would adversely affect economic integration.
New era in cross-strait relations: In a reflection of warming relations between Taiwan and Beijing, HK and Taiwan are establishing a quasi-official framework under which deals on economic and cultural co-operation can be negotiated. The HK-Taiwan Economic and Cultural Co-operation and Promotion Council, headed by top ministers, will be authorized to hold talks and sign memorandums of co-operation with a soon-to-be formed Taiwanese counterpart. Financial Secretary John Tsang, who will be the council's honorary chairman, said officials from both sides could exchange views on issues of mutual concern "in appropriate capacities under this umbrella".
Chief Secretary to persuade HK entrepreneurs to tap Hengqin island development: HK entrepreneurs will be encouraged to take part in the development of Hengqin, a Guangdong island earmarked as a key base for cross-delta co-operation, Chief Secretary Henry Tang said at a forum in Macau after meeting Macau Chief Executive Fernando Chui. He said HK companies may have an advantage in Hengqin's development, which is centred on tourism, convention, exhibition, leisure and cultural industries. Guangdong deputy governor Lei Yulan and Macau finance minister Francis Tam also attended the forum.
No restriction on amount of cash crossing border, minister promises: HK will not restrict the amount of cash travellers can bring into the city even though it plans to ask them to declare how much they are carrying above a set amount. "HK is a free port. We won't restrict the amount of cash that visitors bring," security minister Ambrose Lee said. Lee said any system introduced would be convenient, and a public consultation might be held to hear views from related sectors before it was drawn up. The move follows the third evaluation of HK by the Financial Action Task Force -the international body promoting policies to combat money laundering -in 2008, which pointed to the city's lack of a system to detect or seize cash or financial instruments that might be involved in money laundering.
Legal affairs and human rights
Geoffrey Ma named as new chief justice: The Chief Judge of the High Court, Geoffrey Ma, has been named as the new chief justice, a government spokesman said. He will replace Andrew Li, who will step down in August. Ma said he would do his best to ensure the rule of law and judicial independence in HK.
Government gets 30 applicants for private hospitals: Thirty organisations have expressed interest in building private hospitals on four sites offered by the government. Industry insiders say the winning bidders are likely to target the high end of the health care market. Sites at Wong Chuk Hang, Tung Chung, Tai Po and Tseung Kwan O have been set aside for hospitals. The Food and Health Bureau said 21 of the 30 proposals were from local groups, 7 were from overseas and 2 were partnerships between local and overseas companies.
Delta air cleaner, roadside air worse: Environment officials have been told not to rejoice over remarkable improvements in regional air quality last year, since roadside air pollution continues to worsen and remains at health-threatening levels. Hong Kong and Guangdong jointly released monitoring results that showed sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide levels fell 26% and 7% respectively last year. But roadside figures showed annual average concentrations of nitrogen dioxide at the roadside in Causeway Bay, Central and Mong Kok in HK rose by up to 13%.
Bill aims to reduce idling time of vehicles: New legislation would be introduced into the Legislative Council to reduce the number of idling vehicles in HK, Secretary for the Environment Edward Yau said. According to the new bill, any driver who contravenes its prohibition against idling vehicles will be liable to a fixed penalty of HK$320. This is the same penalty for illegal parking. Yau said the bill against idling vehicles at roadsides was intended to reduce air pollution.
Wind farm off Lamma passes hurdle: Hongkong Electric has cleared one of the hurdles to erecting wind turbines in waters off Lamma after the government's environmental advisers gave the green light to the project. With approval of the environmental impact assessment from the Advisory Council on the Environment, the next step for the power firm will be a formal application to the Environment Bureau for the multibillion-dollar green energy project.
Culture and education
Cambridge seeks closer ties with HK universities: The vice-chancellor of the University of Cambridge has held talks with the leaders of HK's three biggest research universities to explore possibilities for closer links. Cambridge already has 31 academics involved in collaborative research or exchange programmes with universities in the city and is helping the Chinese University of HK to develop its college-based education system.
400 HK parents sign up for place at Harrow: More than 400 HK parents have put their children's names down for the city's first international boarding school - months before building work is due to begin. The school is being set up under a franchise agreement with Harrow School in Britain by Harrow International Management Services. Executive headmaster Mark Hensman said the school aimed to recruit 50 per cent of its 1,500 students from the territory -the maximum number permitted by the government -but had set no minimum quota for local students.
This is a review of the Hong Kong media and does
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