CONSULATE GENERAL OF SWITZERLAND IN HONG KONG
|A condensed press review prepared
the Consulate General of Switzerland in Hong Kong
Economy + Finance
HK avoids recession as GDP edges up: HK avoided a technical recession when the economy grew a seasonally adjusted 0.6 per cent in the third quarter, reversing its second-quarter decline. The government has revised its full-year growth forecast to 1.2 per cent, on the pessimistic side of its earlier estimate in the 1-2 per cent range. Government economist Helen Chan said HK's trading environment remained subject to a high degree of uncertainty due to weak sentiment in Europe and the United States. On consumer prices, Chan said inflation was likely to remain higher than earlier estimates because of a rebound in global food prices, the new round of quantitative easing in advanced economies and the renewed pick-up in local housing rents.
HK again takes world top spot in financial rankings: HK has been named the world's top financial centre for the second year running by the World Economic Forum. The independent organisation gave the city top spot again because of its solid business infrastructure, abundant human capital and low-tax environment. The ranking was based on performance in a range of categories, including legal environment and financial stability. Analysts said then that HK's explosive listing volume, low tax rates and status as the top offshore yuan trading centre had boosted its ranking. The city's status as a financial hub would help attract more fund-raising activity and financial talent, they predicted.
Mid-Autumn Festival gives HK retail sales a bigger boost: Retail sales in HK rose more than expected in September but there were signs of a slowdown in some segments. Sales amounted to HK$34.1 billion in September, up 9.4 per cent on the same period last year, driven by the holiday spending during the Mid-Autumn Festival, according to the HK Census and Statistics Department. But in the first half of this year, the luxury market grew a paltry 2.2 per cent, compared with a 32 per cent growth in the same period last year.
HK unemployment rises to 3.4pc: HK's unemployment rate rose slightly to 3.4 per cent in the three months from August to October as the economic slowdown continued, the government said on 19 November. Most of the job losses during the recent three-month period were in the accommodation services, transport and construction sectors.
HK inflation steady at 3.8pc: HK's inflation in October year-on-year was 3.8 per cent, unchanged from September's level, with increases in food prices and private flat rentals narrowing and increases in utility costs growing, the Census and Statistics Department said on 22 November. HK's quartely inflation fell from above 6 per cent in the January-March quarter to around 4 per cent in the second and third quarters. Inflation for the last quarter of 2012 was expected to remain at relatively the same level as the previous two quarters because of slower economic growth and lower imported inflation, according to a department spokesman.
HK set to lose No 3 port rank to Shenzhen: Shenzhen is set to overtake HK as the world's third-busiest container port this year for the first time ever on an annual basis. This comes as total box volumes through Shenzhen's four main facilities have continued to climb despite the downturn in global trade. By comparison, volumes through HK have dropped, especially from river trade and barge business.
Standard working hours could cost employers HK$55b: Employers will need to pay out up to HK$55.2 billion more a year in wages if standard working hours are introduced in HK, a long-awaited government report says. The report also suggests that such a law, together with a statutory minimum wage, would significantly weaken the flexibility of firms to adjust and rebound during difficult times. "There will be a huge impact particularly to small- and medium-sized enterprises. This is because there are still underlying worries as far as economic prospects are concerned," Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung said. But he added that the government did not have a preconceived stance on the matter and it was important to have consensus in society on whether standard hours should be introduced.
HK house prices 'set to fall by 20pc': A government housing adviser has forecast HK home prices should tumble 20 per cent before reaching what he regards as a reasonable level, reiterating the latest round of cooling measures would be effective in curbing investment demand. "Buyers have changed their price expectations after the rolling out of curbs [in late October]," said Stanley Wong, chairman of the subsidised housing committee under the Housing Authority and a member of the Long Term Housing Strategy Steering Committee. Without giving a timetable, he believes a 20 per cent price correction would bring prices down to the level seen earlier this year.
Leung may face vote of no confidence over structures: Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying insisted that he concealed nothing over the illegal structures at his home, which he believes "do not exist any more" after he dealt with the problem. But his latest defence failed to convince lawmakers and a motion of no confidence could be tabled as early as in December. Paul Tse, an independent lawmaker seen as close to the central government's liaison office, said he would press ahead with plans to propose a motion of no confidence in December. Tse said it was an integrity issue as Leung, who had illegal structures in his own house, attacked rival candidate Henry Tang's luxurious 2,250 sq ft basement during the chief election campaign. Civic Party leader Alan Leong said the party would not rule out going further and seeking to impeach the chief executive. The chance of passing the motion is slim as it requires majority support among both functional constituency and directly elected lawmakers. An impeachment would take even more steps, including a two-thirds majority among lawmakers.
Support for Leung Chun-ying and ministers rebounds: Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's popularity has rebounded to over 50 points for the first time in three months, a University of Hong Kong opinion poll shows. Ratings of key ministers also rose. Dr Robert Chung Ting-yiu, director of the university's public opinion programme, which carried out the poll, said: "The new housing policies seem to have had a positive impact on the popularity of the officials involved." The popularity of five other senior officials also increased, following the administration's announcement of a surprise extra property tax.
Leung Chun-ying faces heat over new TV licences: The long-overdue issuing of new free-to-air television licences could be the next political bomb for Leung Chun-ying's government as public discontent rises. This has become evident amid a mounting chorus of protest against both the delay and the issuing of the licences.
No plan to axe Leung, says Beijing loyalist Rita Fan: Veteran Beijing loyalist Rita Fan joined the ranks of those dismissing rumours that Beijing was considering sacking Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, saying the chance of that was "minimal". Her comments came after two mainland officials responsible for HK affairs openly rejected the suggestion. Both Li Gang, deputy director of the central government's liaison office, and Wang Guangya , director of the HK and Macau Affairs Office, dismissed the rumour, saying it was "ridiculous" and "groundless" respectively.
Pan-democrats question CY's commitment to universal suffrage: Pan-democrats questioned Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's commitment to universal suffrage after it was revealed that consultation on electoral reforms was not one of next year's priorities for the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau. The omission came to light in a five-page government paper to the Legislative Council, in which the bureau set out its seven top priorities. Electoral reform was only mentioned when the bureau elaborated on reviewing past elections "to ensure that public elections in future will continue to be conducted in a fair, open and honest manner".
Think tank unit won't be 'internet police', Carrie Lam says: Chief Secretary Carrie Lam defended the Central Policy Unit against a legislator's suggestion that the think tank was acting as an "internet police" force and denied that it could veto government appointments. Lam said the think tank would not engage in an online dialogue by posting its views in public forums. "Instead of giving opinionated views, the CPU only assesses public concerns and provides analyses to the top echelon and bureaus on the latest hotly debated issues," Lam said. "The government has not required policy bureaus to report to a member of the CPU before the appointment of members to advisory and statutory bodies," she said. "The CPU only plays an advisory role."
Relations HK - Mainland China
Hu appeals to HK's sense of identity in response to anti-mainland gripes: In an apparent response to growing anti-mainland sentiment in the city, President Hu Jintao expressed confidence Hongkongers would have a shared sense of pride in being Chinese, with the remarks being described as a "rare" move. In a speech opening the party congress in Beijing, Hu reiterated that the central government would "safeguard the nation's sovereignty and security". The remarks follow recent heated comments associating the waving of HK's colonial flag and the chanting of anti-Chinese slogans with demands for independence. Analyst Johnny Lau said it was rare for state leaders to mention Hongkongers taking pride in their nationality. "Beijing may feel that protesters' slogans like 'Chinese people go back to China' hurt people's feelings, so leaders try to stress the dignity and pride of being Chinese," Lau said.
Fury in HK at Beijing official's claim of 'foreign interference': A top mainland official in charge of HK affairs has lashed out at interference by "external powers" in HK elections, alleging for the first time that the unspecified powers were helping co-ordinate campaigns for opposition parties. Zhang Xiaoming, a deputy director of the State Council's HK and Macau Affairs Office, said "necessary measures" were needed to combat such interference and called for HK to pass the national security law required by Article 23 of the Basic Law. His words sparked alarm among pan-democrats, who said it could indicate a harder line by Beijing towards dissent in the city.
Colonial flags a symbol of resentment, not a call for HK independence: The display of colonial-era flags in recent protests is more about an anti-mainland feeling than a substantial movement for independence, most of the SCMP Debate participants say. The question arose when Global Times, a mainland newspaper run by the Communist Party, joined two former mainland officials in charge of HK affairs to warn of growing “pro-independence” voices in the former British colony. But Kennedy Wong, a HK delegate to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and a director of the China Law Society, said much fuss was being made of “people using freedom of demonstration to vent ‘nostalgic' sentiment.” Ray Yep, a politics professor at the City University, says it would be “an exaggeration” to equate flying the flags with the rise of a pro-independence movement. Dr Horace Chin – whose keynote publication last year advocating HK becoming a city-state has inspired thousands of online followers – says his campaign focused on local identity, “just like those states, city-states and dependencies that keep their historical coat of arms after joining a republic”. The group “We're Hongkongians, not Chinese” founder, Dickson Cheung, said there was a spirit of “social-contract” upheld by many locals in which all kinds of interference by Beijing in local affairs was regarded as inappropriate. He says all exchanges with the mainland “should be cut off”.
Wake up to HK's gripes, NPC delegate tells Beijing: Growing anti-mainland sentiment in the city may be partly due to the failure of both the central and HK governments to tackle local concerns over cross-border integration in a timely way, an outgoing delegate to the national legislature, Ko Po-ling, says. "The strong resistance to mainlanders could be due to [Hongkongers'] lack of understanding of the mainland and cultural differences," she said. "Locals also feel some mainlanders have seized their resources and affected their livelihoods. The two governments have failed to address some of the new problems in a timely manner, while letting other problems go unnoticed" for some time.”
Many Hongkongers urge cut in number of mainland Chinese immigrants: Hongkongers' negative view of mainland immigrants is underlined by a survey in which half the respondents say the number of migrants should be reduced. An academic Chou Kee-lee says such attitudes could evolve dangerously into discrimination. Economic reasons played a major part in forming negative sentiments, Chou said, with a large number agreeing that new immigrants compete for economic resources. He said perceptions such as new immigrants stealing jobs, were on welfare or would increase the crime rate, might be unfounded. The government should clarify such urban myths.
Mainland trade missions to stand up for HK: HK's growing network of trade missions on the mainland will be at the forefront of government efforts to ease cross-border tensions. They will play a key part in what Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying calls "internal diplomacy". Leung wants to strengthen the city's economic and trade offices on the mainland, of which there are currently four, with a fifth due to open. A senior government official said this was not only important for "internal diplomacy", but would make HK better prepared for new and possibly unexpected political, economic and social developments under the nation's new leadership."
Legal affairs and human rights
Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen rejects call for Chinese-only appeal judges: The city's justice minister dismissed suggestions that all Court of Final Appeal judges should be Chinese nationals, as this would "unduly restrict" the talent available for appointment. Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen rejected the idea put forward by two Basic Law experts. Yuen said it was important and beneficial for the city to maintain a link with other common law jurisdictions. Yuen said judges and other members of the judiciary should be chosen only for their judicial and professional qualities and may be recruited from other common law jurisdictions, according to Article 92 of the Basic Law. He also cited Article 82, which says the Court of Final Appeal may, as required, invite judges from other common law jurisdictions to sit on the court.
Citing fear for 'McCarthy hearing', ex-justice chief Elsie Leung snubs lawmakers: Former justice secretary Elsie Leung has invoked the spectre of McCarthyism in refusing to attend a Legislative Council meeting to explain her contentious remarks about the legal profession. Leung said that if she heeded lawmakers' demand for her to turn up, it might turn Legco panel meetings into "McCarthy hearings". Leung, who is also vice-chairwoman of the Basic Law Committee, added fuel to the debate sparked by her accusation last month that the legal profession, including judges, did not understand the relationship between the mainland and HK by saying that if the city's legal system had not developed it might still be subject to Qing Dynasty laws.
Kemal Bokhary rejects call to exclude overseas judges from top court: Nationality should not be a criterion for appointing judges to the city's top court, Mr Justice Kemal Bokhary said, rejecting a suggestion that only Chinese nationals should take up the posts. Bokhary, who retired as a permanent judge of the Court of Final Appeal last month, was responding to a mainland scholar's suggestion that overseas judges should be excluded from Hong Kong's highest court. Bokhary stressed the importance of a free and independent media in HK. "An independent media and an alert population, they go together and they are probably the chief component when it comes to the safeguarding of the Basic Law," he said. He has said he believes his liberal rulings are behind the government's decision not to extend his term of service beyond his retirement. Bokhary will continue to serve as a non-permanent judge.
Mainland mothers influx not on Beijing agenda for HK justice chief: Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen, who left for Beijing on Nov. 28, said his official trip agenda did not include passing laws on subversion or mainland women giving birth in HK. On the long-standing issue of mainland women giving birth in HK, he said the government's stance was to resolve it within the city's own legal framework. Yuen also said the time was not right to start work on enacting the national security law, because the government's top priority was livelihood.
Record number prosecuted under tough Public Order Ordinance: More protesters were prosecuted last year under the Public Order Ordinance - which carries harsher penalties than other laws commonly used in such situations - than in any year since the handover. Police laid charges under the ordinance against 45 protesters, compared with a total of 39 between 1997 and 2010. The number of public meetings and processions increased from 1,190 in 1997 to 6,878 last year, police figures showed.
Hospital fee rises to hit mainlanders: Non-locals will have to pay more to use public hospitals next year after the Hospital Authority approved the price rises. This is the government's second move to boost public medical levies in a year amid a public outcry against mainland visitors accused of taking away medical resources from locals. Since May, non-eligible mothers, mostly mainlanders, have been charged HK$90,000, up from HK48,000, for giving birth in emergency rooms at public hospitals without a reservation.
Auditor slams HK's efforts to tackle pollution: HK's proposed air quality standards are not tough enough to protect public health, while existing measures to curb harmful emissions are ineffective, inadequate or stalled by red tape, the Audit Commission says. In its third report since 1997 on HK's efforts to clean up the air, the government auditor also notes that far from meeting the 24-year-old air quality objectives, pollution has gotten worse. It says that while the city aspires to be world class, its air quality has a long way to catch up as the annual concentrations of nitrogen dioxide are up to 279 per cent higher than Sydney, New York and London, which have already met the WHO guidelines on that pollutant.
Culture and Education
Education minister admits HK faces crisis on international school places: The city is expected to face an acute shortage of 4,200 international primary school places by 2016 despite a planned expansion in the next five years, the education chief said. The shortage will hit expatriate parents and those planning to relocate to HK. It is the first time the Education Bureau has acknowledged that demand could exceed supply in the next few years. Secretary for Education Eddie Ng told Legco that by 2016 the city would need at least 4,200 more places at primary international schools. The problem had "defeated" the business community as it affected both people who now live in HK and those planning to move here.
Government sets out deal with school principals to cut class sizes: The government has finally set out a deal with secondary school principals to reduce class sizes, after sometimes tense negotiations over the past month. Class sizes need reducing to avoid teachers being laid off as admissions to secondary schools suffer a temporary drop over the next few years. By 2017, annual enrolments are set to fall by 11,000, then begin rebounding. Education Minister Eddie Ng said in a letter to secondary school principals that public schools should cut class sizes by one place a year for three years from next year.
HK ranks third in global study of cognitive skills: HK ranked third in an international survey of students' cognitive skills and educational attainment, behind South Korea and Finland. The survey compared the performances of grade 8 and grade 4 pupils in 40 countries in mathematics, reading and science, based on their results in the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment, and the international Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study and Progress in International Reading Literacy Study assessments. The measurement of educational attainment is based on the countries' latest literacy rate and graduation rates at the upper secondary and tertiary level. Despite HK pupils' superior academic performance, local experts warned rote learning remained an issue here.
Elderly in march for universal pension: An angry crowd of more than 1,000 people, including the elderly and their families, marked Senior Citizens Day by accusing the government of failing to give a commitment to the long-awaited universal pension scheme. Their anger did not let up even as top officials reiterated that the Legislative Council should pass the proposed Old Age Living Allowance as soon as possible and that the handout - which as it stands would be subject to means testing - was not a substitute for a future universal pension scheme. Amid loud chants to scrap the means test for the Old Age Living Allowance, Labour and Welfare Secretary Matthew Cheung appealed to lawmakers again to pass the bill in the coming Legco finance committee meeting on Nov. 23 for the sake of the elderly, but he reiterated there was no room for amendment. He reassured lawmakers that implementing the allowance won't stop discussion on future retirement plans.
Number of poor rising in HK: The median salary of HK's top earners is HK$88,800 a month, 26.1 times the poorest 10 per cent, government figures show. Overall, one in six people, or 17.6 per cent of 6.7 million people, struggled with poverty in the second quarter of this year, up 0.6 percentage points from last year, Oxfam HK said. "The income gap between the rich and the poor has been increasing over the years. The number of poor people in HK has also been steady and slightly growing," said Oxfam director general Stephen Fisher. Meanwhile, government figures released in June showed that the city's Gini coefficient - a scale from 0 to 1 on which higher scores indicate greater income inequality - reached a record high of 0.537 last year.
HK slips down 'best place for babies' league: Property prices are out of reach, there's a wide wealth gap and the air pollution is terrible - yet HK is the world's 10th best place for a baby to be born in 2013, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). The top 10 saw a handful of Scandinavian and Oceanic countries. Switzerland takes over as the best country for a baby. The EIU looked at 11 "statistically significant" indicators and took into account a wide range of life-satisfaction surveys.
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