CONSULATE GENERAL OF SWITZERLAND IN HONG KONG
|A condensed press review prepared
the Consulate General of Switzerland in Hong Kong
Economy + Finance
HK in big sell on yuan services: HK Monetary Authority chairman Norman Chan has tried to entice the City of London to co-operate in delivering yuan products and services to Europe. Chan made his appeal at an investment symposium attended by more than 1,700 companies in London. "We believe internationalisation of the yuan will proceed, and it will proceed very quickly. It does not matter whether you are a company or from a bank because there are lots of ways HK can help you to build and develop the off-shore yuan business." Chief Executive Donald Tsang also spoke, encouraging small and medium companies to use HK as a gateway to the mainland and Asia. James Sassoon, commercial secretary to the UK Treasury, said companies must "look East" to sail through the economic slowdown at home and in Europe. Jack So, chairman of the HK Trade Development Council, said the "gloom and doom" in Europe and the US had accelerated the shift of economic power.
HK still freest economy, but ranking at risk: HK has again been named the freest economy in the world, but the city could be heading downhill from here on, a Canadian free-market think tank says. For the 33rd consecutive year the city has topped the ranking, but the minimum wage law, the competition law now under debate, and the city's increasing economic ties with the mainland may mean the best is in the past, the Fraser Institute said. Singapore came second, while New Zealand, Switzerland, Australia, Canada, Chile, Britain, Mauritius and the United States rounded out the top 10.
HSBC to axe 3,000 Hong Kong jobs: HSBC, one of the city's biggest employers, is to axe 3,000 jobs by the end of 2013 - approximately 10 per cent of its local workforce - as part of the bank's global restructuring. The layoffs would affect all sections, said HSBC Asia-Pacific chief executive Peter Wong. But the primary focus will be on support functions, such as legal, human resources and back office positions. The job cuts are part of the bank's effort to streamline itself. Investment banks were also downsizing in HK because of lower-than-expected earnings within certain business lines, said Nick Lambe, managing director at head-hunting firm Morgan McKinley HK.
Employment rises, but it may not last for long: HK's jobless rate fell to a 13-year low in the past three months, but the jobs outlook may worsen soon. The unemployment rate between June and August fell to 3.2 per cent, Census and Statistics Department figures show. Despite the latest improvement, Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung warned job-seekers that employers were becoming more prudent. "Hiring sentiment among employers has turned more cautious amid the deepening euro zone sovereign debt crisis and the fragile economy in the United States," he said.
HK visitor arrivals reach record 4m in August: The number of visitor arrivals to HK hit a record of four million in August – up by 17.7 per cent on the same month last year, figures released by the Tourism Board. The largest number of visitors were from the mainland. Their numbers grew by 23 per cent to 2.9 million in August year-on-year, the board said. Buoyant performance was also observed in enhanced arrivals from Southeast Asia. Visitor numbers from the region jumped 20 per cent.
Chief Secretary quits 'to think about my next move': Henry Tang resigned as chief secretary, clearing the way for his campaign to become the city's next leader. Kicking off what may be a two-horse race between himself and Leung Chun-ying, the presumed front runner said he had tendered his resignation to Chief Executive Donald Tsang. But he stopped short of declaring his candidacy, acknowledging only that "many people" had recently encouraged him to run. Tang, 59, joined the government in 2002 as secretary for commerce, industry and technology. He succeeded Antony Leung as financial secretary the following year and became chief secretary in 2007.
Exco resignation clears way for Leung to chase top job: Leung Chun-ying tendered his resignation as Executive Council convenor to run in the chief executive election in March, raising the curtain on a race which will be more competitive than some in the pro-Beijing camp originally expected. In a few days' time, Leung will leave Exco to officially launch his campaign. While Leung's resignation came as no surprise - he dropped several hints in the past few weeks - veteran Beijing loyalists said his refusal to give up the fight put the central government in a difficult position, meaning there would be more than one contender for the top job. The 1,200 members of the Election Committee will decide the winner.
Beijing 'prefers Tang as new boss': Central government wants chief secretary as the city's next chief executive because of his support among civil servants, sources say. This comes despite controversial remarks he made on the recent visit to HK by Vice-Premier Li Keqiang and growing doubts about Tang's competence. Tang's popularity rating fell after he said it was "completely rubbish" that the government's security arrangements for Li's visit last month had violated civil rights. Tang has long been expected to face competition from Executive Council convenor Leung Chun-ying.
Only third of appointed council seats to be axed: Only one-third of the 102 appointed district council seats will be abolished in the coming elections and it could take up to another nine years before all of them are scrapped - far short of the pan-democrat camp's demand. The government's announcement disappointed many people who had hoped that all the appointed seats would be abolished immediately. Their abolition was a condition for pan-democrats supporting the government's political reform package last year. Stephen Lam, secretary for constitutional and mainland affairs, said the government planned to phase out the remaining appointed seats in one or two stages - in 2016 or 2020. He said the government would keep an "open mind" and engage the public in further debate. The decision angered many democrats, who have long criticised the voting system as undemocratic.
Stop meddling in HK affairs, China tells U.S.: The local office of Beijing's Foreign Ministry warned the United States consulate in the city to stop meddling in HK affairs. The accusation follows the recent release on the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks of almost 1,000 unedited US State Department cables referring to HK. An office spokesman said the cables showed that the United States consulate was interfering in the city's constitutional development by holding frequent meetings with selected people and conducting "so-called opinion exchanges". The spokesman accused the US of contravening the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. "We have reasons to be concerned and upset by this and we request the US side to stop the wrongdoings," he said. The Democratic Party's James To described the meddling claims as "paranoid". "There are at least eight foreign consulates in HK doing the same thing," said To, "Understanding a place's political and economic situation is a basic function of a consulate."
Bridge cost could rise by HK$6.5b: A Court of Appeal ruling cleared the way for the government to press ahead with work on the long-delayed HK$83 billion HK-Zhuhai-Macau bridge. The massive project was sidelined in April when a judge upheld an application for a judicial review claiming the government's 2009 environmental impact assessment of the project had failed to meet its own standards. In the present ruling, Mr Justice Robert Tang Ching, Mr Justice Michael Hartmann and Madam Justice Carlye Chu Fun-ling handed down a unanimous decision to allow the appeal filed by the Director of Environmental Protection. Responding to the ruling, Transport Secretary Eva Cheng said the one-year delay may increase the construction cost of the cross-border project by HK$6.5 billion. She called on the legal challenger not to take the case to the Court of Final Appeal, because of the potential tremendous impacts involved. The court's ruling was "very clear", she said.
Legal affairs and human rights
Final ruling in Congo case toes the line: The landmark "Congo case", which in deciding HK's policy on state immunity triggered the first court request to Beijing for a Basic Law interpretation, has finally ended. The Court of Final Appeal handed down its final judgment in the case, confirming a provisional ruling in June that a state's commercial activities are immune from litigation in HK. Mr Justice Patrick Chan, Mr Justice Roberto Ribeiro and Mr Justice Anthony Mason said it was in line with the interpretation made by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress. Mr Justice Kemal Bokhary and Mr Justice Barry Mortimer, who had opposed the referral to Beijing, said: "Now that the Standing Committee has given an interpretation, we recognise that these appeals must be decided in conformity with that." The case involved millions of dollars of decades-old debt owed by the Democratic Republic of Congo to FG Hemisphere, a US fund. FG took the fight to HK, where some of the assets it is owed are stashed, but Congo claimed immunity. The latest verdict capped a process fraught with worries of damage to judicial independence and how it would play out. But it ran largely as expected, with Beijing playing by the book after the court referred the issue strictly according to the Basic Law. The Department of Justice welcomed the court's judgment, which it said "clarifies an important area of the law in HK".
Public loses confidence in press freedom: Public confidence in press freedom has dropped significantly in the past five months, but the credibility of the news media has increased, a University of HK survey has found. Only 38 per cent of 1,038 people asked said they were satisfied with the state of press freedom in HK, a drop from 55 per cent in April. However, the news media's credibility rated 6.29 on a scale of 0 to 10, the survey found. The figure was 6.03 five months ago.
Idling engines ramp up pollution: Streets full of stationary vehicles with their engines running could be 10 times more polluted than busy roads full of slow-moving traffic, new research has revealed. Environmentalists said the research could provide useful clues as to the effectiveness of a ban on idling engines, which takes effect in December. Air quality has long been a cause of concern for HK. In May, Chief Executive Donald Tsang promised to set out new air quality objectives this year to replace the current rules, set in 1987.
Culture and Education
Two-year delay for arts hub: Rising costs and a construction conflict will delay the completion of major facilities at the West Kowloon arts hub by at least two years, according to a revised design unveiled. The delay of the HK$21.6 billion project is due in part to the construction of the cross-border high-speed railway, a terminal for which will occupy part of the arts hub site, the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority said. The completion dates of at least nine venues, including the flagship art museum M+, two theatres, a concert hall, a recital hall, a musical theatre, a mega performance venue and an exhibition centre, will be delayed to between 2017 and 2020.
Cardinal slams 'brainwashing' in schools plan: Government-imposed reforms of school management will allow officials to dictate a national education agenda that will "brainwash" students, Cardinal Joseph Zen warned. Zen, the former head of the Catholic Church in the city, called on teachers and students to resist the government's plan to introduce the agenda at all primary and secondary schools. He criticised it as "too vague" and said it could end up encouraging extreme nationalism. Zen also spoke against a government plan to oblige all schools receiving government aid to set up management committees that include parents, teachers and community representatives. The Catholic Church has been fighting this proposal, arguing in the courts that it will reduce its autonomy in running its schools. The case is now before the Court of Final Appeal.
HKU regains status in new university rankings: The University of HK has regained its status as Asia's top-ranking university in the latest QS World University Rankings, months after it was knocked off the top spot by the HK University of Science and Technology (HKUST) in the same research firm's Asia survey. QS researchers said the two surveys measured institutions differently and that the global version focused more on reputation, adding that HKUST is less known outside Asia
1 in 5 live below poverty line, welfare body says: Almost a fifth of Hongkongers live below the poverty line, according to a report compiled by a welfare body that has proposed a seven-point agenda to tackle the problem. The HK Council of Social Service, an umbrella organisation for voluntary agencies and NGOs, also says the lack of services for the poor and disabled is alarming, with waiting lists for some services of more than six years in some districts. The seven areas the council says need action include services for the handicapped and the elderly, as well as poverty alleviation and housing.
Press articles related to Switzerland and Swiss matters
Swiss defence of currency jolts markets (SCMP, Sept. 7): Switzerland's currency tumbled after the country imposed a ceiling on the Swiss franc's value to protect its economy amid Europe's widening financial turmoil. In what experts called a last-ditch, "nuclear option" to keep its exporters competitive, the Swiss National Bank said it would spend "whatever it takes" to keep the currency from strengthening beyond 1.20 Swiss francs (HK$9.89) per euro. "The current massive overvaluation of the Swiss franc poses an acute threat to the Swiss and carries the risk of a deflationary development," the Swiss central bank said. After the banks set a minimum exchange rate, the currency weakened to its lowest level since the implementation of the euro in January 1999. The franc fell 7.8 per cent versus the euro at 7.50am local time in New York.
Claim puts Einstein's theory to the test (SCMP, Sept. 24): Einstein's dictum that nothing travels faster than light has been shaken by claims from researchers at Cern laboratory they have broken the universe's speed limit. European scientists at one of the world's foremost laboratories have made a startling claim that a subatomic particle seems to move faster than the speed of light - a finding that, if true, could rock the foundation of modern physics to its core. In experiments conducted between Cern in Switzerland and a laboratory in Italy, the tiny particles were clocked at 300,006 kilometres per second, slightly faster than the speed of light. Researchers involved in the experiments were cautious in describing its implications, and called on physicists around the world to scrutinise their data.
UBS' exposure unacceptable, new boss says (SCMP, Sept. 26): The new interim boss of UBS faces a daunting task as he tries to get the Swiss bank back on its feet after Oswald Gruebel quit as chief executive over the US$2.3 billion loss it ran up in alleged rogue trading. Sergio Ermotti said the scandal had revealed a risk exposure that was "totally unacceptable" and his first priorities would be to review the bank's controls and conclude an internal investigation into the losses. "We are aware that we are facing turbulent times externally and this latest incident is only adding much more necessity for us to react. But let's not forget that UBS is one of the best capitalised banks worldwide," he told journalists.
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