CONSULATE GENERAL OF SWITZERLAND IN HONG KONG
|A condensed press review prepared
the Consulate General of Switzerland in Hong Kong
Economy + Finance
Economy grows 7.2pc in first quarter: HK's economy expanded by 7.2 per cent year-on-year during the first quarter. The government said the first quarter figures were better than expected and it has now raised its full-year growth forecast to between 5 and 6 per cent. Exports surged by 16.8 per cent year-on-year in the first quarter because of strong economic growth in the mainland that boosted production and export growth throughout Asia, the department said. HK's private consumption grew by 7.6 per cent because consumer sentiment was supported by an improving job market and increases in the value of assets, the department added. The unemployment rate declined progressively to 3.4 per cent in the first quarter.
HK retail sales soar 26 per cent in March: HK's retail sales soared 26 per cent in March on the back of strong domestic and tourist spending, with "little discernible impact" from Japan's earthquake, the government said. For the first three months of the year, retail sales were 21 per cent higher than in the same quarter last year. The March gains were led by an 85.9 per cent increase in sales of consumer durable goods, followed by jewellery and watches (42%), motor vehicles and auto parts (32%) and apparel (23%).
Developers swoop on three luxury residential plots with aggressive bids: Fierce bidding for three luxury residential sites on May 12's land auction suggests government efforts to cool the overheated property sector are failing to make an impact. Sun Hung Kai Properties outbid four others to win the former Lingnan College site on Stubbs Road, the most anticipated land lot in the auction, for HK$4.49 billion or HK$24,829 per buildable square foot. It represents the third most expensive residential site auctioned in the city in terms of price per square foot. Bidding for the two other sites was also hotter than expected. Cusson Leung, an analyst at Credit Suisse, said the results sent a strong signal many developers were optimistic about the property market outlook. Data from Jones Lang LaSalle showed that luxury residential prices grew 8.3 per cent in the first quarter.
Take mainland sting out of housing market, Exco member urges: An influx of mainland property buyers has become a structural problem that needs to be solved to stop Hongkongers' discontent rising further, an Executive Council member Anthony Cheung warned. Flat prices rose by 9 per cent between December and March. Demand from mainland buyers is blamed by many for the pace at which home prices are rising. Legislator Lee Wing-tat said that to make sure local people could afford to buy homes, the government should consider banning non-locals from buying mass-market homes. Mainlanders and foreigners could be restricted to the luxury market.
By-elections given a no-vote: The government has a plan to stop lawmakers using by-elections to stage "referendums" - by scrapping by-elections in geographical constituencies. In a proposal announced on May 17, a vacant seat in the Legislative Council arising from the resignation or death of a legislator would be filled by the next best placed candidate at the previous election. In January last year, five Civic Party and League of Social Democrats lawmakers resigned to trigger by-elections they hoped would be a de facto referendum on political reform. But the other main political parties did not put up candidates, and all five were voted back into office last May. Turnout was just 17.1 per cent and the government said the by-election, which cost HK$126 million, had been unnecessary. The proposal would take effect next year and apply to geographical constituencies and five new district council functional constituencies.
Rita Fan still undecided about political future: Former Legislative Council president Rita Fan said she would decide in two months whether to run in next year's chief executive elections. Fan, who is now HK's Standing Committee member of the National People's Congress, said she was being encouraged to compete for the top job. Other potential contenders are Chief Secretary Henry Tang and Executive Council convenor Leung Chun-ying. A poll conducted by the Hong Kong Transition Project research institute in late November said Fan was the most popular choice as the city's next leader. Fan has denied being approached by Beijing about running.
Lawmakers may invoke special powers to investigate claim of political pressure over HK$220m contract: Lawmakers could invoke special powers to ensure top government officials address allegations that a former senior civil servant faced political pressure from the highest levels of government to award a HK$220 million contract to a specific professional organisation. Civic Party legislator Audrey Eu says the Legislative Council should set up a select committee to investigate claims by the government's ex-information technology chief, Jeremy Godfrey. Godfrey claims Financial Secretary John Tsang and Permanent Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Elizabeth Tse put pressure on him to award the contract to iProA. Dr Elizabeth Quat, who later joined the government-friendly Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of HK and became a district councillor, was a founder of iProA.
Chief's popularity hits record low: Donald Tsang has registered the worst popularity figures since assuming office as chief executive, while dissatisfaction with his government is easing, a University of HK poll has found. Tsang's disapproval rate climbed to a record 59 per cent, while only 29 per cent approved of his performance, a record low. Dr Robert Chung, director of the university's public opinion programme, said the poor ratings could be due to rising prices and controversy over the introduction of the minimum wage. The government has been criticised for issuing vague guidelines in the minimum wage law that took effect this month.
Relations HK-Mainland China
Rita Fan reignites Article 23 debate: Rita Fan has described the thorny issue of national security legislation as an "unavoidable challenge" for the next government, sparking suggestions that she is trying to sweeten up Beijing ahead of an attempt to become chief executive. "It's the government's responsibility to enact Article 23 [of the Basic Law] that covers national security legislation," she said, referring to legislation shelved by former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa after 500,000 protesters took to the streets. "I think the next government cannot avoid tackling this issue." On Article 23, Fan acknowledged that many HK people were worried, but she insisted it was "a monster as imagined by many".
Mainlanders swamp schools near border: The number of cross-border children in HK schools and kindergartens has doubled in the past five years as more mainland women give birth in the city. The increase has brought calls from teachers for the government to make sure it is prepared for the growing influx. While there are enough teachers and places overall to cope with the present numbers, a squeeze is already being felt in kindergartens and primary schools close to the border.
Legal affairs and human rights
Chief Executive has confidence in court's neutrality: Chief Executive Donald Tsang has assured the courts he was not criticising them when he complained about big projects being held up by politically motivated abuse of judicial reviews. "The chief executive's remarks on May 19 carry no criticism whatsoever of the court," his office said in a statement. "On the contrary, the chief executive is fully confident in the impartiality, independence and professionalism of the court in exercising its judicial power." The statement came a week after a question-and-answer session in which Tsang made the comment, which was prompted by a court ruling that overturned the environmental impact report on the HK-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge. Legislators, meanwhile, continued to put pressure on Tsang to make a proper apology.
HK bans tainted Taiwan drinks: HK has banned two imported sports drinks contaminated by cancer-causing chemical DEHP as Taiwan struggles to contain its worst food scare in a decade. The level of DEHP detected in Speed Sports Drink, Speed Sports Drink (Lemon Flavour) and Brand's Calcium Grow Chewable Tablets exceeded the WHO safety levels by one to 17 times, HK health officials said. HK immediately banned the two drinks from sale. Chicken essence maker Brand's began a voluntary recall of the tainted products. HK Centre for Food Safety controller Dr Constance Chan urged the public not to panic. "These sports drinks would only be harmful if you drank them every day for more than a decade. If you drink them occasionally, it should be fine," she said. She said there was no need to ban all food imported from Taiwan and the government would continue testing Taiwanese food products and sports drinks from all origins.
1-year contract only for overseas doctors: Overseas doctors recruited to work in public hospitals without having to pass the local licensing examination will be given only one-year contracts and will receive the same pay as local doctors. The recruitment exercise is the first of its kind to be introduced by the Hospital Authority to tackle its manpower shortage. It is aimed mainly at overseas-qualified HK people who are practising abroad. Cantonese proficiency is stipulated for posts requiring frequent contact with patients. The overseas doctors, employed on "limited registrations", will be exempted from the Medical Council licensing examination and a one-year internship, but will be allowed to work only in public hospitals and clinics. Public Doctors' Association president Dr Loletta So said the union did not support the plan, saying the licensing examination must be passed to safeguard standards.
Government to appeal against bridge ruling: The government is to appeal against a landmark High Court ruling that quashed the environmental permit for the building of the HK-Zhuhai-Macau bridge. The Environmental Protection Department filed the appeal, saying it disagreed with the ruling, which would have far-reaching implications on the environmental impact assessment process and the principle of how it is enforced. On April 18, the Court of First Instance quashed the permit issued by the department's director, on the grounds that the study report into the project lacked a standalone analysis of projected environmental conditions in the absence of the bridge. "After seeking legal advice and considering relevant factors thoroughly, we decided to lodge the appeal against the judgment," the department said.
Chief Executive promises new pollution rules this year: HK will have new air quality objectives ready this year, the chief executive Donald Tsang has pledged - nearly a quarter of a century since the last figures were set. Tsang insisted the government was serious about setting new objectives adopting interim and ultimate targets for the levels of various pollutants listed in World Health Organisation guidelines. HK's air pollution index, which measures the concentrations of five major pollutants, is based on a set of air quality objectives from 1987 that are widely criticised by environmentalists as being outdated and too lax. Tsang said it took time to study overseas experience in adopting the new standards recommended by the WHO.
Charge for the bags and keep the money: All 60,000 HK retailers should join an expanded plastic bag levy scheme. But instead of paying the 50 cents- a-bag levy to the government - which netted the government HK$25 million last year - the retailers should keep the money. These are the key features of a proposal by the Environmental Protection Department being put forward for public consultation. The 3,000 outlets presently covered by the scheme introduced in July 2009 are mostly big chains, including supermarkets, convenience stores and drugstores. But under the revised scheme, all retailers, including small ones without sophisticated accounting systems, would have to collect the levy. The new proposals come after statistics showed that the number of plastic bags dumped in landfills fell by just 5.7 per cent last year, compared to the year before the levy was imposed.
Culture and Education
I've the energy for the job, says new arts hub chief: Michael Lynch, newly appointed arts hub chief, whose previous jobs included leading the Southbank Centre in London and the Sydney Opera House, pledged that he would defend the city's freedom of expression in arts and culture. He said the immediate task of his three-year term was to turn the ambitious conceptual plan of British architect Norman Foster into reality. Despite his confidence, there are challenges with rising construction costs and development of the 42-hectare site.
Pupils to be taught to appreciate China: Learning to appreciate China will become a core part of a reformed curriculum which seeks to make national education a compulsory subject for all schoolchildren in HK, starting as early as next year. While the authorities say lessons in moral and national education will promote individual development, critics say such lessons could turn into political brainwashing and promote the Communist Party. Under proposals released on May 5, which are subject to a four-month consultation period, schools would have to spare up to 50 hours a school year, or about two lessons a week, for the new subject.
Ai Weiwei's gesture of defiance: Detained mainland artist and activist Ai Weiwei may have been silenced, but a provocative piece of work is making a statement on his behalf at the HK International Art Fair (ART HK). The 2007 piece, Marble Arm, which features a defiant middle finger, is on display courtesy of Swiss-Beijing dealer Galerie Urs Meile. It appears to be the only work by Ai at the fair. When asked about the presence of Ai's work at the fair, ART HK's director Magnus Renfrew said that Ai's works were greatly admired and HK had a special role to play.
March of the minimum wage victims: Thousands of people marched across Kowloon and HK Island on Labour Day in protest, ironically, at the new minimum wage law. The marchers included workers who had been laid off recently due to the introduction of the law, which took effect on May 1. Others told how their employers had shortened their working week to offset the increase in labour costs. Lee Cheuk-yan, the labour lawmaker, said complaints about various measures adopted by employers to offset the statutory wage increases had become increasingly common. Protesters called for a range of better working conditions, as well as the right to collective bargaining, paid lunch breaks and rest days, and the yearly review of the minimum wage law. The rising cost of rent and the effect of inflation on food prices were also targeted.
Taiwan offers new move for its HK presence: The Taiwanese government is considering setting up a representative office in HK under its future culture ministry, as part of the island's efforts to increase its presence in the world's cultural arena. The names of Taiwanese governmental organisations in HK have long been a sensitive issue from Beijing's perspective, the island's deputy culture minister, Lee Jen-fang, said. Although the future cultural agency would be seen as a formal representative office by his government, it would keep the name of Kwang Hwa in HK and maintain its local business registration. Lee said he believed the change was unlikely to face political obstacles.
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,
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