CONSULATE GENERAL OF SWITZERLAND IN HONG KONG
|A condensed press review prepared
the Consulate General of Switzerland in Hong Kong
Economy + Finance
Vice-Premier boosts HK role as yuan trade hub: Vice-Premier Li Keqiang announced a raft of more than 30 measures to boost the local economy by encouraging two-way investment and trade between Hong Kong and the mainland and strengthening the city's role in the internationalisation of the yuan. The business community and trade organisations generally welcomed Li's proposals, made on a visit to HK, hoping they would improve gloomy market sentiment. Of the measures he announced at a forum on the nation's 12th five-year plan, 12 are related to financial services and the development of the offshore yuan market. One key scheme to support the stock market is to allow mainland investors to invest in HK stocks by launching the long-awaited index-tracking Exchange Traded Fund backed by a portfolio of HK stocks. The fund, to be listed on the stock exchanges in Shenzhen or Shanghai, will allow mainlanders to invest in Hong Kong stocks. Several other measures will encourage expanded use of the yuan. One is a 20 billion yuan (HK$24.4 billion) quota for HK companies to invest in securities on the mainland via a yuan-denominated Qualified Foreign Institutional Investors (QFII) scheme. This could help achieve a better return for the 554 billion in yuan now sitting as low-yielding deposits in banks in HK. A scheme allowing companies to settle trades in yuan, currently limited to 20 provinces, is being expanded nationwide. Bejing will also allow more mainland companies to sell yuan bonds in HK. HK companies will be able to invest on the mainland using yuan - making it easier to repatriate to the mainland yuan raised through bonds or share issues. There are still capital controls and currently all transfers need approval.
GDP growth slows on global uncertainty: HK's economic output grew 5.1 per cent year on year between April and June, and the government maintained its forecast for it to grow by 5 to 6 per cent this year. Still, it is concerned that problems elsewhere continue to put the global economy at risk. The pace of growth slowed from the first quarter when gross domestic product (GDP) rose 7.5 per cent year on year. Goods exports also took a hit - attributed in part to Japan's earthquake and tsunami disrupting supply chains. Domestic demand was the strongest contributor to economic growth.
Peg to remain despite turmoil: HK has no plans to change its currency peg with the US dollar despite Standard & Poor's decision to strip the United States of its top-tier AAA credit rating, the HK Monetary Authority said. The currency peg means that most of the HK$2.43 trillion in the Exchange Fund needs to be mainly invested in US Treasuries, stocks, bonds and other US dollar denominated assets. "The HK dollar peg has been working well since its adoption in 1983. It's been the foundation for financial stability in Hong Kong for the past 27 years so we have no intention to make any change," said Norman Chan, the chief executive of the HKMA.
Hackers crash the HKEx website: Computer hackers attacked the HK Stock Exchange's regulatory disclosure website, crashing the site and forcing the suspension of trading in shares of seven firms with a combined market value of HK$1.5 trillion. The stocks were suspended because the seven firms attempted to make announcements of price-sensitive information during the lunchtime trading break, which investors may not have seen due to the hacking incident. The exchange's trading platform was not targeted.
Unemployment rate falls: HK's jobless rate has declined by 0.1 per cent, amid warnings that firms are getting more cautious. Census and Statistics Department figures showed the unemployment rate between May and July fell to 3.4 per cent, down from 3.5 per cent between April and June. Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung said the employment situation hinged on economic performance and the corporate sector's job-creating capacity. The unemployment rate peaked at 5.5 per cent two years ago.
HK's inflation rate hits 7.9pc: HK inflation rose to 7.9 per cent last month - the sharpest jump in 16 years. A government spokesman warned that inflation rates were "likely to remain notable in the near term" due to expected increases in the price of food and housing. The government said the rapid increase was partly due to a lower base of comparison with a year before, especially concerning public housing. The administration waived public housing rentals in July 2010 in a one-off relief measure that also made this year's increase in housing costs appear more severe. If you take all the government's relief measure into account, the year-on-year rate of increase would be 5.8 per cent.
New bloc shifts power in Legislative Council: HK's already fragmented legislature faces a power shift, with 12 lawmakers announcing they had formed a pro-business alliance to counter what they call rising radical and populist sentiments in society. The bloc, which has yet to be formally named, will have more lawmakers than the pro-government Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and progress of HK, which has 10. The Legislative Council now has three major factions: the pan-democrats with 23 votes; the pro-establishment camp - which includes the DAB and the Federation of Trade Unions - with 14 votes; and the new pro-business alliance with 12 votes. James Sung, a City University political scientist, said it would now be easier for the government to canvass support from pro-establishment camp as it only needed to negotiate with a few groups. He said the new alliance had a hidden agenda. "It shows they have stepped up efforts to keep the functional constituencies in the Legislative Council election in 2020." The government has yet to say if it will scrap functional constituencies to ensure all lawmakers are elected by universal suffrage by 2020.
Hard race looms as poll sizes electoral mood: If they decide to run, Chief Secretary Henry Tang and Executive Council convener Leung Chun-ying would find themselves in a neck-and-neck race for the chief executive's post, an opinion poll has found. 43 percent supported Tang, while 42 percent favored Leung. In terms of suitability for the job, Leung received 52 marks, while Tang got 50.8. But the findings also showed some people don't fully favor either of the two hotly tipped candidates - as 41 percent of respondents opposed Tang, while 38 percent were against Leung. The poll, conducted by the University of HK's Public Opinion Programme, was commissioned by the HK Public Opinion Research Centre.
Legislative Council president open to job as chief secretary: Legislative Council president Tsang Yok-sing said he would seriously consider being the next chief secretary, but would not consider running for the post of chief executive. It was the first time Tsang had responded directly to suggestions that he could become a top official in the next government. And he ruled himself out of contesting the chief executive election next March. "I am still very conscious and very aware of my own limitations," Tsang said. "I am not the right kind of person to become the chief executive of HK."
Relations HK-Mainland China
Vice-premier Li Keqiang sings HK's praises: HK's role in the nation's reform, opening-up and modernization drive is "irreplaceable," according to Vice Premier Li Keqiang. He also predicts the SAR will have a bright future with its vigor and vitality. Wrapping up his three-day visit, Li said: "There is a wide range of areas that the mainland and HK can cooperate on to develop, and there is huge potential. HK, under the rule of `one country, two systems,' has the great vitality to cope with challenges and maintain prosperity and stability whatever the circumstances." Li also listed some of traits he observed about local people. "HK compatriots are hardworking and wise. They work seriously, diligently and professionally. HK society is open, diversified and full of vigor. He also said his first-time official visit as vice premier deepened his understanding of the SAR.
Shopping gets easier with two-in-one smart card: Hongkongers and mainlanders will be able to travel or shop in HK and six Guangdong cities with one electronic card next year, after smart card companies in both regions signed an agreement to issue a two-in-one card. The deal between Lingnan Tong and Octopus to issue the card was among five HK-Guangdong collaboration agreements signed. Holders will be able to use the card in HK, Guangzhou, Foshan, Jiangmen, Zhaoqing, Shanwei and Huizhou. The card will be equipped with two electronic "purses", enabling yuan payments in Guangdong and HK dollar payments in HK. Chief Executive Donald Tsang said cross-border co-operation was bearing fruit. "These agreements can set goals for the next stage of HK-Guangdong collaboration, and prove the determination and sincerity of both in reinforcing co-operation," he said. A much anticipated scheme to expand the number of drivers allowed to cross the border would be implemented in March - after a postponement of 15 months - Guangdong governor Huang Huahua announced. The two administrations signed a letter of intent on co-operation to push forward the development of the Nansha new area, which Tsang and Huang described as a future hub for the development of innovative technology.
Legal affairs and human rights
Beijing brings HK into line on state immunity: It's official: in its first interpretation of the Basic Law requested by the HK courts, Beijing concluded that the city must follow the mainland's law on state immunity. The need for a ruling stemmed from a debt dispute between the Democratic Republic of Congo and United States-based fund FG Hemisphere Associates. Congo claimed it was immune from prosecution in HK, triggering the argument of whether HK follows Beijing's practice of absolute immunity or can continue with its pre-1997 regime that denies immunity to states in commercial deals. The interpretation said state immunity policy was considered part of foreign affairs, and therefore the central government had the right to decide the city's policy, in accordance with Article 13 of the Basic Law. And with respect to Article 19 of the mini-constitution, HK courts have no jurisdiction over matters of state immunity policy.
September ruling in residency fight: Any judgment on a judicial review by a domestic helper fighting for her right of abode should take into account its potential effect on all foreign helpers, lawyers for Evangeline Banao Vallejos said. Wrapping up her argument, Gladys Li, SC, also rejected government lawyers' suggestion that domestic helpers' residence was "extraordinary" because they were subject to conditions of stay, like prisoners, refugees and asylum seekers. After three days of hearing, Mr Justice Johnson Lam said he aimed to hand down a decision in the maid's abode-rights challenge by the end of next month before he starts hearing two similar judicial reviews in October. Central to Vallejos' case is the question of whether an Immigration Ordinance provision that says foreign domestic helpers cannot be treated as an "ordinarily resident" - a requirement for permanent residency - is constitutional. It is the first of three cases launched by domestic helpers. David Pannick, QC, for the government, said there were substantial restrictions on the ability of domestic helpers to stay in the city, which rendered their residency extraordinary. Li said the Immigration Ordinance should never supersede the Basic Law in excluding domestic helpers from becoming permanent residents. The government could always adopt administrative measures to control people's stay, Li said.
Basic Law Committee member says NPC interpretation wouldn't be threat to judiciary: Elsie Leung, vice-chairwoman of the Basic Law Committee, said that seeking an interpretation from the National People's Congress, as allowed by the city's mini-constitution, should not be treated as a threat to judicial independence. She said changing administrative rules to limit the number of helpers eligible for permanent residency would not be a long-term solution. University of HK legal scholar Cheung Tat-ming said the right of residency was an internal matter, and there were no grounds for seeking an interpretation of the Basic Law.
Anger at 'assault on press freedom': About 300 reporters and photographers marched on police headquarters to condemn what they said was heavy-handed policing during the visit to the city by Vice-Premier Li Keqiang, describing it as an attack on press freedom. It was one of the largest protests of its kind for several years. The journalists say security measures put in place during Li's first official visit to the city were much more stringent than those during previous visits by mainland officials. Protesters also hit out at Chief Secretary Henry Tang, who earlier dismissed as "complete rubbish" the claims by some journalists and politicians, that press freedom had been suppressed.
HKU expert says protesters can sue: Police may have illegally detained three protesting students during a visit by Vice-Premier Li Keqiang to the University of HK, the dean of HKU's law faculty said. Professor Johannes Chan said there were sufficient legal grounds for the three students to pursue a civil case against the police for locking them up on the campus on August 18. The trio was trying to protest against Li, who was attending the university's centenary celebration. Meanwhile, the university's vice-chancellor, Professor Tsui Lap-chee, again expressed regret about the security arrangements on campus, and said he had written to the Security Bureau demanding an explanation. The Bar Association demanded that the police and Security Bureau explain what legal authority they acted on in imposing heavy-handed security measures and restrictions on freedom of expression during Li's visit. It said there was no law allowing police to designate an area as "a core security zone" to protect VIPs. The shielding of high political figures from public embarrassment at being confronted by others holding different views in the exercise of the right of expression is a manifestly inadequate basis for such action, the association said.
Top cop blows the whistle: Police Commissioner Andy Tsang has blown the whistle on the University of HK in defending officers' actions at the campus during Vice Premier Li Keqiang's visit. At a special meeting of the Legislative Council's security panel, he also denied the tough policing was an attempt to win favor with Beijing. He rejected claims that officers detained three student protesters during Li's visit. Officers were acting on the university's request that uninvited guests be kept out of the security zone, he said. Responding later to Tsang's claims at the panel session, the line from the university was that it never asked police to create a "security zone" on the campus. The discussions between the police and the university on August 17 were focused on traffic arrangements, it said. Questioned repeatedly by lawmakers on whether the force was told by the mainland to ensure that Li would not face any embarrassment, Tsang said the content of their discussions remains confidential and he refused to disclose details. He only admitted there had been communication between HK and mainland police over security arrangements. Tsang also said the police operation had a legal basis, citing section 10 of the Police Force Ordinance, which stipulates officers are duty bound to preserve the public peace and prevent injury to life and property. Security for Security Ambrose Lee said the arrangements for Li were consistent with the practice for visits of government leaders or foreign dignitaries. Mainland authorities did not order HK police to suppress the media or make arrests during Vice Premier Li Keqiang's visit, Ambrose Lee insisted. But Confederation of Trade Unions lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan accused the force led by Tsang of behaving like mainland police.
Foreign doctors' test 'too tough': Fewer than 10 per cent of foreign doctors who sit the HK Medical Council examination go on to get a licence, raising concerns that the local medical profession is putting up barriers to fend off competition. The concerns have prompted the head of the council's licentiate committee, Dr Cheung Hon-ming, to call for a review of the test, which he says is "too difficult". But the city's medical association rejected claims the test was a barrier to foreign doctors, saying HK has a very free market. Overseas and mainland doctors who want to practise in HK have to pass the exam to get a licence and qualify for an internship. But graduates from the city's two medical schools - at the University of HK and Chinese University - do not have to sit the test.
Airport plan could breach new pollution limit by 50pc: The cumulative effect of air pollution from new infrastructure proposed for Tung Chung - including a HK$136.2 billion third runway - could be up to 50 per cent higher than a legal limit that may come into effect this year. The proposed infrastructure also comprises a cross-border bridge connecting Hong Kong, Macau and Zhuhai, and all related roads and border facilities. A preliminary assessment, commissioned by the Airport Authority, says that such infrastructure could by 2030 together produce nitrogen dioxide about 50 per cent higher than the proposed new limit. A spokesman for the Airport Authority said that necessary mitigation measures would be implemented to ensure the project complied with legal requirements on air quality.
Greener light bulbs targeted: Officials want to phase out millions of inefficient light bulbs and replace them with fluorescent ones that are up to 70 per cent more energy-efficient and last longer. The proposal, now under public consultation for three months, would outlaw the sale and supply of incandescent light bulbs of 25 watts or above if they fail a minimum energy efficiency standard. Some light bulbs, such as the tungsten halogen lamps widely used for commercial display, will be exempted temporarily as they are deemed relatively more efficient and as yet have no effective substitute - a concession that led an environmental activist to label the proposal half-hearted.
Sharp decline in quality of sea water: Hot weather, heavy rainfall, pollution from the Pearl River and other unknown causes have been blamed for one of the worst declines in the quality of marine water last year. A report by the Environmental Protection Department says quality deteriorated in several districts which fell short of the overall water quality objectives. Dr Man Chi-sum, chief executive of Green Power and a government environment adviser, said the department should not blame weather and external factors for the deterioration of water quality. "Some of our sewage is still pumped untreated into the waters, while the wastewater collected at the sewage treatment works is not being treated to the most desirable standard," he said.
Culture and Education
HK's examination system seeks mainland approval: Exam officials have appealed to their mainland counterparts to recognise HK's new public examination system for admitting students to their universities. The Examinations and Assessment Authority's secretary general Tong Chong-sze said it was still sorting out admission arrangements with mainland universities for students taking the Diploma of Secondary Education Examination DSE in March. He is hoping those who take the diploma can be exempted from the national exam now required of HK students hoping to enter university on the mainland. "The DSE is a new system, so more understanding with the mainland is needed," he said. "We are looking into the possibilities of expediting the acceptance of the DSE as entry requirement.
Visa rules relaxed for Taiwanese tourists: Visa restrictions on Taiwanese visitors to HK will be relaxed next month under as part of efforts to improve ties between the city and the island. Financial Secretary John Tsang announced that Taiwanese passport holders with mainland travel permits would have their maximum stay extended from seven days to a month. Taiwanese without the permits will also be able to register online for entry to HK in advance and at no cost, though Tsang did not say when this facility would be introduced. Charles Lee, Chairman of the HK-Taiwan Economic and Cultural Co-operation and Promotion Council (ECCPC) said an official representative headquarters would be opened in Taipei next month to handle visa applications, maintain contact with Taiwanese authorities and promote trade and investment. Chung Hwa Travel Service - the de facto Taiwanese embassy in the city - was upgraded to an official agency last month.
Press articles related to Switzerland and Swiss matters
Pioneering boat sails in on the sun (SCMP, August 16): Captain Erwann Le Rouzic is manning the world's first solar marine expedition on the Turanor PlanetSolar, a boat that runs entirely on energy from the sun, and, at 90 tonnes, is the largest solar boat ever built. As part of a global voyage that has spanned 38,000 kilometres since leaving Monaco last September, the ship berthed at Ocean Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui. "In 15 years, it may be possible for you to buy a solar boat ... we have the technology," said the founder, Raphael Domjan, a Swiss native and self-styled eco-explorer. With 537 square metres of solar panels on its wide, flat deck, the vessel - a central hull borne by two pontoons which also carry the propellers - provides all its own energy for the motors and on-board electrical equipment.
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