CONSULATE GENERAL OF SWITZERLAND IN HONG KONG
|A condensed press review prepared
the Consulate General of Switzerland in Hong Kong
Economy + Finance
HK GDP growth remains strong but economists warn of bubble: HK's economy remained robust in the third quarter, with gross domestic product growth stronger than expected at 6.8 per cent, but economists are warning of a rising risk of inflation and an asset-market bubble. The growth was fuelled by a strong rise in exports, which increased 21 per cent over a year ago, and a 5.7 per cent rise in private consumption due to improving incomes and job prospects. Thanks to rosy Asian economies, total exports of goods increased by more than one-fifth. Kelvin Lau, regional economist at Standard Chartered Bank, said that asset inflation could pose a threat to the economy, and urged the government to announce new measures to prevent a bubble bursting.
Property speculators slapped with up to 15pc extra stamp duty: The government slapped additional stamp duty on property speculation in a desperate move to rein in rampant home-price inflation. The monetary authority lowered the mortgage ratio for costlier flats. Properties purchased and sold within six months will incur a 15 per cent stamp duty. This is in addition to the current stamp duty, capped at 4.25 per cent. The new levy will come down to 10 per cent for transactions between six and 12 months after purchase. It will be levied at a rate of 5 per cent on sales after that, Financial Secretary John Tsang announced. The government's move had been widely expected amid concerns about surging property prices, but the measures announced were more severe than the market anticipated.
Hot money heads our way as Fed frees up billions: The HK Monetary Authority has warned that the US Federal Reserve's latest US$600 billion attempt to boost the world's biggest economy will probably add to the asset and housing bubble here, but says it stands ready to act. It said it would re-enter the city's red-hot housing market as required after the Fed announced its latest round of quantitative easing in Washington.
Minimum wage law to help 310,000, but job losses forecast: HK is set for the first time to have a legal wage floor of HK$28 an hour. The new law is expected to benefit more than 310,000 low-income workers. Describing the law as a milestone, Chief Executive Donald Tsang said it would offer better protection for lowincome workers. But he admitted it would have an impact on the labour market and business environment. The minimum wage will come into effect on May 1, 2011.
Fitch boosts HK's credit rating: Fitch ratings agency has boosted HK's credit rating to its second-highest ranking, applauding the city's fiscal strength that helped it through the global financial crisis. The agency upped HK to AA+ from AA with a stable outlook, saying the financial hub's international reserves would likely rise to US$300 billion by the end of 2012, up from US$266 billion at the end of September. “HK's sovereign creditworthiness is underpinned by its strong external financial position, solid public finances, a well-regulated and capitalised banking system, its dynamic and flexible economy and strong standards of governance,” Fitch said in a statement.
HK retail sales up 17.2pc in September: HK's retail sales totalled a provisional HK$25.13 billion in September -up 17 per cent in value from a year earlier and up 16 per cent by volume, Census and Statistics Department figures showed. A government spokesman said retail sales remained robust in September. “Growth in sales of consumer durables, clothing, and jewellery was strong in particular, reflecting the sanguine consumer sentiment amid the improving job and income prospects, and also the sustained strong growth in inbound tourism.”
Legislative Council (Legco) rejects thanks for policy address, again: For the fourth time since Donald Tsang took office as chief executive, lawmakers refused to thank him for his policy address. It was Tsang's sixth policy address. Only two motions of thanks, in 2007 and 2008, have been passed since he assumed office in 2005. lawmakers criticised the government for refusing to resume building Home Ownership Scheme flats, and expressed concern over surging property prices and the wide wealth gap in the city. All five amendments tabled by the pan-democrats, calling for legislation to eradicate functional constituency seats on Legco and appointed seats on the District Council, and further measures to alleviate poverty, were defeated.
Move with the times or pay the price, Chief Executive warns: Chief Executive Donald Tsang told businessmen to move with the times on corporate social responsibility or risk having changes forced on them. "Times are changing. In recent years, business success has sometimes been equated with business excess," he said. "Social tension is increasing because the fruits of business prosperity have not been trickling down to the grass-roots level. Amid intensifying public sentiment against the rich and powerful, Tsang cited several measures in his policy blueprint, including the imminent introduction of a minimum wage and plans to study the introduction of standard working hours.
Michael Tien splits from Liberals, citing principles: The Liberal Party is going through its second major split in as many years after senior member Michael Tien quit because of differences over issues of principle. The split shows the weakness of the party, which is torn between a wish to woo broader popular support and a struggle to retain the backing of the business sector whose views it is meant to represent. Tien's recent backing of a campaign to boycott Cafe de Coral over its plans to offer workers a pay rise if they gave up their right to a paid lunch break shocked party ranks. The decision was later reversed because of public outrage. Party vice-chairman Tommy Cheung, the lawmaker representing the catering sector, fiercely attacked Tien's position.
Relations HK -Mainland China
Lawmakers and activists to attend Liu Xiaobo's Nobel prize ceremony: Politicians and activists in HK will form a delegation to take part in the award ceremony to be organised for this year's Nobel Peace Prize winner, Liu Xiaobo, despite strong pressure from Beijing, which opposed the award. At least four pandemocrat lawmakers will be present at the ceremony, to be held in Oslo in Norway on December 10. "The recognition by the civilised world of Liu Xiaobo's peaceful fight for human rights and democracy is a big international event," said Democratic Party chairman Albert Ho, who was invited to the event. "We must attend and show support." Ho was among activists invited by Liu Xia, wife of the imprisoned dissident who was named by the Nobel Committee as a laureate last month.
HK pressure 'key' in U-turn on milk activist: Public pressure from HK played a crucial role in dramatic twist in the case of jailed melamine milk activist Zhao Lianhai, who will probably be released on medical parole, his supporters say. HK politicians from across the spectrum, including pro-Beijing lawmakers and National People's Congress deputies, united in calling for Zhao's release. Li Fangping and Peng Jian, Zhao's former lawyers who were sacked unexpectedly, said they believed the public pressure from HK was a decisive factor in Beijing's decision to consider releasing Zhao. "HK is not only helping one person, but the conscience of China," Peng said. Legal scholar Ong Yew-kim said the decision was a face-saving move by Beijing, which was alarmed by the widespread outrage in HK but at the same time refused to correct its decision through legal procedures.
Shenzhen's Qianhai - partner or rival for HK?: The Shenzhen municipal government will invest 40 billion yuan (HK$46.5 billion) in the next three years to develop service industries such as finance, logistics, professional services, communications and the media as well as hi-tech industry. The State Council has designated Qianhai as a "HK-Shenzhen modern service industries co-operation zone". The governments of HK and Shenzhen are discussing how to capitalise on HK's strength in financial services, trade and logistics to pave the way for development of service industries in the zone. Dr Fang Zhou, assistant chief research officer at the One Country Two Systems Research Institute in HK, said Qianhai would compete with HK in service industries. However, Fang added that given HK's advantage in the rule of law and free flow of capital, it would be difficult for Qianhai to emulate HK in the development of service industries.
Consultation on developing Lok Ma Chau Loop launched: The HK and Shenzhen governments launched stage one of a public consultation on transforming the restricted border zone in Lok Ma Chau Loop into a hub for higher education. The two-month public consultation would collect views from both HK and Shenzhen residents on the plan to develop higher education and research centres in the Loop. HK deputy-director of planning Ling Kar-kan said universities and education institutions in both cities had showed an interest in developing schools in the area.
Legal affairs and human rights
Competition law is still at least three years away: The long-awaited competition law is not expected to take full effect until 2014 at the earliest, Undersecretary for Commerce and Economic Development Greg So says. Before that a string of procedures needs to be completed, including establishing a commission to investigate anti-competitive activities and a tribunal to act on the commission's findings, and drawing up guidelines on how the law should operate. Despite worries from business, the bill has general support. It is expected to be passed by the Legislative Council before July 2012.
Secretary calms bird flu fears: Health authorities scrambled to contain any outbreak of bird flu as Health Secretary York Chow reassured the public after HK recorded its first human case of the illness since 2003. The government raised its avian influenza alert level to “serious", meaning there is a “high risk” of people contracting the potentially fatal disease, a spokesman for the Department of Health said. But officials said there was little risk of person-to-person transmission, after a 59-year-old woman tested positive for Influenza A (H5), a variant of bird flu. The latest bird flu patient had recently visited the mainland cities of Nanjing, Shanghai and Hangzhou, but it was too early to say where or how she contracted the disease, officials said. Chow said the government had stepped up poultry inspections at wholesale markets and enhanced infection controls at public hospitals and clinics.
New hospitals chief outlines three priorities: Manpower shortages, staff morale and long working hours will be the top three topics to be tackled by new Hospital Authority chief executive Dr Leung Pak-yin. "I hope I can tackle these problems by communicating more with frontline staff," he said. Unions welcomed Leung's appointment, but doubted if there could be any major changes.
Codes for energy use in buildings mandatory: The Legislative Council passed a law to make voluntary building energy codes mandatory. The codes will apply to all new commercial buildings and to public areas of new residential and industrial buildings, as well as existing ones undergoing major renovation. They cover the energy efficiency of air conditioning, lifts and escalators, lighting and electrical installations in communal areas, but they will not regulate external lighting. Officials said extending the codes to all buildings was not practical, as many old buildings had space or design constraints preventing installations from being upgraded. Buildings account for about 89 per cent of the city's energy consumption.
Lawmakers, greens find five ways to curb waste: Green groups and several lawmakers have come up with an action plan to reduce by two-thirds the amount of solid waste produced in the city by 2022. The action plan aims to cut the 9,000 tonnes of solid waste generated each day to 3,000 tonnes by then. Generating less waste and promoting reuse should be the top priorities, followed by recycling and, as a last resort, methods such as incineration and landfills, Michelle Au of Friends of the Earth said. The government thinks otherwise. Environment secretary Edward Yau says two incinerators will be built, at Shek Kwu Chau, off Lantau, and in Tuen Mun.
Culture and Education
Hundreds march for cut in size of school classes: Hundreds of teachers, parents and students took to the streets of Central to protest against a government policy forcing schools to close because of falling rolls. The march was part of a campaign by education groups, led by the union and the HK Federation of Education Workers, to press for smaller classes in secondary schools. They want 30 students a class for the next school year and a further drop to 25 students by 2014-15. The standard class size now is 36. In some schools, it is 40. The protesters said the government should take advantage of falling student rolls to adopt smaller classes.
Elite schools hit back at audit report findings: Schools criticised for spending and accounting malpractices by the Audit Commission have hit back at education officials, accusing them of poor governance and failing to give clear guidelines on how they should handle their finances. Principals say that a system of poor oversight used by the Education Bureau over the past decade is in stark contrast to the stringent regulatory yardsticks used by the commission. They are angry that this has led to unwarranted criticism of their management which has struck at the reputation and operation of the whole direct subsidy schools sector.
Macau bars HK activists as Premier Wen makes maiden visit: The Macau government slammed the door on HK protesters once again as it greeted Premier Wen Jiabao, who was making his maiden visit to Macau. Five members of the HK Alliance In Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, and seven activists from April Fifth Action were denied entry to Macau. The two groups had separately planned to hand petitions to the premier, calling on Beijing to release two imprisoned activists Zhao Lianhai and Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo. Pan-democrat legislators, academics and journalists have also been denied entry in the past.
Medal success spurs support for Games bid: HK's success at the Asian Games in Guangzhou has led more people to support a bid to host the 2023 event, Secretary for Home Affairs Tsang Tak-sing said. Tsang called on political parties not to politicise any possible bid by the government. Major parties have criticised the cost of hosting the Asian Games. The government budgeted up to HK$14.5 billion which was later revised to HK$6 billion.
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
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