CONSULATE GENERAL OF SWITZERLAND IN HONG KONG
|A condensed press review prepared
the Consulate General of Switzerland in Hong Kong
Economy + Finance
HK still ranked world's freest economy: HK remains the world's freest economy for the 17th straight year and ranked 1st out of 41 countries – according to a report released by the Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal. The city's score remains unchanged from last year at 89.7 out of 100 in the 2011 Index of Economic Freedom, with small declines in the score for government spending and labour freedom offsetting improvements in fiscal freedom, monetary freedom, and freedom from corruption. The report said HK is one of the world's most competitive financial and business centres, demonstrating a high degree of resilience during the global financial crisis.
City casts off shadow of global financial crisis: HK's economy is rebounding from the aftermath of the global financial crisis, with the public coffers enjoying the first eight-month surplus in three years. The latest announcement showed a far better financial picture than the government had forecast. In his budget speech in February, Financial Secretary John Tsang projected a net deficit of HK$25.2 billion for the current financial year. However, consensus estimates among most accounting firms now put the full financial year budget at a surplus of at least HK$60 billion. The reserves stood at HK$537 billion as of November 30, compared to HK$455.5 billion a year earlier.
HK jobless rate falls to 4pc: HK's unemployment rate declined from 4.1 per cent in September to November last year to 4.0 per cent in October to December last year. Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Matthew Cheung, said total employment in HK had increased for the seventh consecutive month and now stood at an all-time high. “As many as 80,400 jobs were created in the labour market in over the past seven months,” Cheung said. He expected unemployment to continue to fall in the short-term.
HK yuan deposits grow to 300b yuan: Yuan deposits in HK rose to an estimated 300 billion yuan (HK$353 billion) at the end of last year, a massive 376 per cent rise over the previous year as the city became the epicentre of the increasingly international currency. While yuan deposit growth rates have been the fastest in HK this year, it still accounted for only 4.8 per cent of total deposits in the city as of November last year, and only 0.4 per cent of total deposits on the mainland. An increase in HK's yuan deposits is just one part of the city's ambitions to become an offshore yuan centre.
Wage rises of 3.8pc tipped for this year: Workers in HK are expected to enjoy pay rises of 3.8 per cent on average this year, with multinational companies considering such increases vital to hire and retain talent, a global human consultancy firm has found. This compares with the previously projected 3.4 per cent according to a survey by Mercer last year.
HK way ahead of rivals for severely overpriced homes: A new international housing survey confirms HK homes are "severely unaffordable". The city's housing was found to be the least affordable in the survey, beating London, New York, San Francisco, and other high-priced locales. The median home in HK costs 11.4 times gross annual median household income, according to a report by the US-based consulting company Demographia. Home prices in HK have surged more than 50 per cent in the past two years, powered by interest rates at a two-decade low, an expanding economy and an influx of buyers from the mainland.
Keep up the June 4 struggle - last words of Szeto Wah: HK mourned the death of Szeto Wah, a staunch defender of democracy, after he lost his battle with lung cancer. "His last words to HK were that [the] June 4 [movement] must be vindicated and we should hold on to the fight." said the Reverend Chu Yiu-ming, who worked closely with Szeto after the June 4, 1989, crackdown in Tiananmen Square. In a statement, Chief Executive Donald Tsang expressed his condolences to Szeto's family and praised his contribution to the development of democracy in HK by supporting the controversial 2012 constitutional reform package over the summer.
Regina Ip hints at run for top job: Regina Ip gave a strong hint that she is interested in running for chief executive. The lawmaker and former secretary for security listed the qualities she believed were needed to make a good chief executive -and suggested she had them. like Executive Council convenor Leung Chunying -who has hinted but never confirmed he will run for the top post -Ip was coy about her ultimate plan. Chief Secretary Henry Tang is also widely tipped as a chief executive candidate. Early this month, Ip dismissed speculation that she formed the New People's Party to pave the way for a run for chief executive. Ip said her priority was to make her party stronger. She said recruiting Michael Tien as vice-chairman had helped her to gain much support from the business sector. Tien quit the Liberal Party to join her.
More members quit Democratic Party: The Democratic Party lost more members, in the second wave of mass resignations in a month. A former Sha Tin district councillor announced she was quitting with 11 other members. Their departures come less than a month after 30 reformists in the party, who had an activist group, the NeoDemocrats, quit because the party, after talks with Beijing, backed government electoral reforms last year.
League on verge of collapse as heavyweights lead party exodus: Founding members and lawmakers Wong Yuk-man and Albert Chan quit the radical party, taking with them hundreds of members. Wong vowed to form a new political alliance. It took the League of Social Democrats just two years to become a major political party by winning three seats in the 2008 Legislative Council poll. Two years later, it is on the verge of collapse. The rise of the league was once seen as a signal of emerging radical forces, posing challenges to the government and mainstream political parties.
New Civic Party chairman vows to tolerate dissent: The newly elected chairman of the Civic Party Dr Kenneth Chan pledged to maintain close co-operation with allies in the pan-democratic camp and listen to opposition voices within the party. Alan Leong was elected uncontested as the party's leader, taking over the post from Audrey Eu.
Relations HK-Mainland China
Shut door shows Beijing calls HK shots, analysts say: The HK government's refusal to let former Tiananmen student leaders Wang Dan and Wuer Kaixi enter HK to attend the funeral of respected democratic leader Szeto Wah has further eroded people's confidence in the "one country, two systems" principle, analysts say. It also reveals Beijing's sensitivity over the June 4 crackdown now extends to HK. The decision to keep the pair out was hugely unpopular in the city. Despite fierce petitions and warnings of a political fallout, the HK government rejected their requests and, in doing so, showed once again that Beijing was the real master of the city, they said. In a press conference in Taipei, Wang Dan said he worried about the future of HK and called the "one country, two systems" arrangement a lie. Lawmaker Cheung Man-kwong, who assisted Szeto in helping dissidents flee after the crackdown 21 years ago, said the incident showed June 4 remained a highly sensitive issue for Beijing and that it would not allow HK to cross the line.
Rita Fan defends Beijing envoy in tainted milk saga: The warning by Beijing's new man overseeing HK to stop criticising the mainland was not about milk activist Zhao Lianhai but a comment on the two judicial systems under "one country, two systems", says Rita Fan. Fan, a member of the National People's Congress Standing Committee, sought to play down remarks by Wang Guangya, director of the State Council's HK and Macau Affairs Office.
Manila mayor snubs HK hostage inquest: Manila mayor Alfredo Lim blamed for his inept handling of a bus hijacking that left eight HK tourists dead said he would not attend an inquest in HK for fear of being arrested. Lim, reprimanded by his own government for his handling of last year's fiasco, said he had declined a request by HK authorities to give evidence at the inquest, which begins on February 14. The HK government has requested 116 Filipinos give evidence at the inquest. Justice Minister Leila de Lima, the principal author of the inquiry report, had earlier said she would testify, but emphasised that no Filipino was compelled to go to HK and give evidence.
Guangdong pay pledge to drive out HK factories: Guangdong plans to increase wages "more rapidly" over the next five years, a move that will accelerate an exodus of labour-intensive factories to other mainland regions or abroad. The move is aimed at boosting living standards in an inflationary economy and creating what provincial secretary Wang Yang described as "happy livelihoods". However, higher wages send unhappy messages to tens of thousands of HK manufacturers across the border, with many expecting overall wages to jump as much as 30 per cent this year and the province's minimum wage to double by the end of the five-year plan.
Legal affairs and human rights
Lawmakers set minimum wage at HK$28 per hour: Lawmakers have given final approval for HK's first minimum wage at HK$28 per hour, but critics say it is too low for many low-income people struggling to make ends meet. Concern about HK's growing income gap – which the UN Development Programme in 2009 pegged as the world's biggest among wealthy economies – prompted the government to introduce a wage floor.
New rule to end the agony of abode row: The grown-up mainland children of HK parents will be allowed to apply to live in the city from April under a new immigration arrangement announced. Until now, they have been prevented from doing so by controversial right of abode laws. The new policy, unveiled by Secretary for Security Ambrose Lee in Beijing, effectively brings to an end the decade-long right of abode saga, which has split families, created a series of landmark legal rulings and sparked violent protests. In 1999, Hong Kong's courts granted mainland children born to Hong Kong parents the right of residency. The government controversially estimated that 1.67 million migrants could flood the city, which led to Hong Kong seeking a reinterpretation of the Basic Law by Beijing to overrule the court judgment. Under the new arrangement, the grown-up children of Hongkongers born on the mainland who were under 14 when their natural father or mother obtained a HK identity card before November 1, 2001, will be eligible to apply for right of abode.
Public 'supportive' of health insurance reform but calls for transparency rise: The controversial voluntary health insurance scheme has won the general backing of the public, the government says after receiving about 500 submissions on proposed reforms in the latest round of public consultation. The Food and Health Bureau said: "Generally speaking, the community shares the government's vision of maintaining the public health care system as a safety net while reforming the private market." The government hopes to ease pressure on the public medical system by drawing more people to private services. It expects about 500,000 people to be covered by the scheme, under which, according to initial ideas, insurers have to guarantee policy renewal and cannot exclude those with pre-existing health conditions.
Second swine flu death spurs warning: The health chief Dr York Chow warned the public that the flu outbreak this year would be particularly serious after another swine flu patient died on Jan. 28. "The H1N1 virus triggers rather serious complications easier than H3 or influenza B, and causes more hospitalisation or admission to intensive care units," he said. As of Jan. 29, there were a total of 18 flu patients in public hospital intensive care units.
Public worries prompt Daya Bay to retune safety report disclosure: Even minor nuclear incidents at the Daya Bay nuclear power plant will be disclosed to the public within two working days to address anxieties about nuclear risks, the plant's operators said. Such events - classified as "level zero" and "level one" on a scale of 0-7 - were not required to be reported immediately under previous safety protocol -the HK operator only published the number of the events and a brief summary in a monthly report on its website. But this will change under a revamped cross-border reporting mechanism. Last year, the operators were accused of being slow in reporting two minor incidents in Daya: a fuel rod crack and a small radiation leak.
Pollution reducing visibility, life expectancy: Poor visibility due to environmental degradation in HK is affecting human mortality rates, a new study showed. The study by the University of HK Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine showed that, in recent years, the city has suffered environmental degradation due to air pollution. Honorary Professor of the School of Public Health Anthony Hedley said: “[Poor] visibility is now the most dominant feature of HK's environmental air quality problem with serious implications for health and economic activities.
Culture and Education
Sudden exit of arts hub chief may delay project: Arts development experts fear the opening of the troubleplagued West Kowloon Cultural District could be delayed for at least a year as a result of the sudden resignation of its chief executive officer, Graham Sheffield. The departure of 58-year-old Sheffield for "health reasons" -the second top-level resignation from the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority in a year -has damaged the international reputation of the arts hub and made the job of finding someone to replace him much harder, say members of the arts sector. The first phase of the HK$21.6 billion project is due to open from 2015, and the second phase from 2026.
Game's over for HK$6b funding bid: The government suffered a humiliating defeat in the Legislative Council as its motion seeking HK$6 billion for a bid to host the 2023 Asian Games was rejected by an overwhelming majority. The fate of the application was a foregone conclusion before lawmakers pressed their voting buttons at the end of the meeting of the Finance Committee. The motion was defeated 40 votes to 14.
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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