CONSULATE GENERAL OF SWITZERLAND IN HONG KONG
|A condensed press review prepared
the Consulate General of Switzerland in Hong Kong
Chief Executive Policy Address
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, with popularity flagging, laid out ambitious plans in his maiden policy address on Jan. 16 to boost land supply and address the city's acute housing problems. He also spelled out detailed measures to tackle the city's economic, environmental and social issues. He has made it the government's top priority to ensure an adequate and steady supply of land and homes. He admitted that there would be a time lag before these measures took effect. On the economic front, Leung said the government must be “appropriately proactive” to safeguard HK people's interests first. This point is underpinned by his earlier policies, which ranged from restricting flat sales to HK permanent residents only, introducing special buyers' stamp duty and banning mainland parents from giving birth in HK. He also outlined the need to consider removing healthcare and education services from a list of six industries that previous administration proposed to promote. To clean up HK's environment, the government will phase out old diesel commercial vehicles progressively by giving HK$10 billion in subsidises to owners of more 80,000 heavily polluting vehicles. This will cut the overall emissions of particulates and nitrogen oxides by 80 per cent and 30 per cent respectively. He said little about universal suffrage and did not give a timetable for the consultation on the election methods of the chief executive in 2017 and the Legislative Council in 2016, saying only that these would be conducted at an “appropriate juncture”. Political scientist Dr Li Pang-kwong said the chief executive “could have given more details on how the consultation would be done. It is also disappointing to hear he did not touch on any governance issues, given their weak governance and a lack of political talents.” But Li, of Lingnam University, said Leung had addressed the gravest concern of the general public by introducing his plans to increase land supply: “But it will take time. It would be difficult for his flagging popularity to rebound substantially and immediately.”
CY Leung's popularity dives after first policy address: Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's popularity plunged shortly after he delivered his maiden policy address on Jan. 16, according to polls by the University of HK's public opinion programme. The public's dissatisfaction rate with Leung rose 15 percentage points, from 24 per cent in an instant survey on the day of the address to 39 per cent in follow-up polls on Jan. 17-18. The surveys, released on Jan. 22, found 40 per cent of respondents considered his housing measures would be ineffective. Political analyst Ma Ngok, an associate professor in the department of government and administration at Chinese University, said: "Dissatisfaction grew … mainly due to the government's lack of effective measures to address the people's needs."
Critics attack CY's 'committee politics' plan: Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's proposal of appointing elites to advisory committees to serve as middlemen between the government and society is doomed to fail, according to some of his critics. The "committee politics" that worked in the pre-handover era is out of date as direct public participation in politics has become the mainstream, says City University social studies lecturer Dr Brian Fong. Ada Wong, the Institute of Contemporary Culture's chief executive, agreed, saying: "Committees comprising a few busy part-time members cannot drive policy formulation. [They are] only a political move that will not bring about … the best policy options." In his policy address on January 16, Leung said he would set up a number of new committees to advise on policy issues. They include the Economic Development Commission, Financial Services Development Council and Harbourfront Authority.
Economy + Finance
HK again named world’s freest economy: HK has topped the world in economic freedom for the 19th consecutive year, according to the Heritage Foundation’s index. But the conservative American think tank warned that the city could lose the top spot it has occupied since the index started in 1995. ”Although HK remains No 1 in the index rankings, the uniqueness of its commitment to economic freedom has eroded in recent years, and any further implementation of populist policies that empower the bureaucracy or undermine the principle of limited government could threaten its standing in future,” it said. HK is followed by Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Canada, Chile, Mauritius, Denmark and the US.
Rosy outlook for local economy this year: HKU economists: The HKU economists say the city's real gross domestic product is expected to grow by 2.9 per cent this quarter and by between 3.5 and 4.3 per cent for the whole of the year. Domestic demand was still driving economic growth this quarter, said Dr Wong Ka-fu, an assistant professor of economics at HKU. But private consumption expenditure growth this quarter is expected to slow to 2.5 per cent from last quarter's 2.6 per cent, while retail sales growth is also forecast to slow from 5.4 per cent to 4.4 per cent in the same period, he said. Dr Wong Ka-fu attributed the optimistic forecast for this year to improvement in economies overseas. "The worst [of the European debt crisis] seems to be over, the US seems to be growing at a slightly higher rate, and China's economy is expected to make a slight rebound," he said.
HK may have to import workers to build homes, Leung says: The government will have to import foreign labour to build public housing if the construction industry's workforce proves too small to meet growing demand, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying told lawmakers. But unionist lawmakers opposed the idea. Lee Cheuk-yan expressed concern that immigrant labour would reduce wages for locals, while Wong Kwok-hing of the Federation of Trade Unions said the government should train more local workers.
CY Leung threatens a vacancy tax on unsold new flats: The government would not rule out the possibility of imposing a vacancy tax on unsold new homes to stop developer hoarding, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying warned. Secretary for Transport and Housing Professor Anthony Cheung said the vacancy rate for private homes, new or second-hand, was 4 per cent. "This is not a high rate ... but if it can be lowered to 3 per cent, it'll be even better, of course." Developers must complete construction before a date specified in the land lease, but there is no deadline to sell all the flats.
FSDC vows transparency in first meeting: The controversial Financial Services Development Council FSDC, which held its first meeting on Jan. 22, said it would not operate "in the dark" and would be transparent as it promoted the city's financial sector around the world. Set up on Jan. 17, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's brainchild aims to promote the city's financial industry and its links with the mainland. But the fact that it was set up as a private body with no statutory backing or government funding has led to criticism from lawmakers over a perceived lack of checks and balances. Other critics said the 22-member council's functions were the same as those carried out by regulators and promotional bodies. The council defined five areas of study, according to the council chairwoman Laura Cha. These include finding opportunities in the mainland, promoting the financial services industry overseas, training talent, further developing the financial sector, and encouraging new and innovative businesses.
HK faces new competition as Shanghai plans free trade zone: Shanghai will start building a free-trade zone this year in a major step towards its long-term ambition of becoming a leading international trading hub. The first step will be to upgrade and expand the city's bonded areas, where goods can be imported, processed and re-exported without the intervention of customs authorities. It would be the first such free-trade zone in China if approved by the central government, Xinhua said. The announcement was made by Shanghai's acting mayor, Yang Xiong , in the government report delivered at the municipality's People's Congress. The metropolis wants to attract 150 more multinationals to set up their regional headquarters over the next five years
Rival protests turn up the heat on Leung Chun-ying: HK's political divisions intensified on Jan. 1 as tens of thousands of protesters called on Leung Chun-ying to step down while pro-government groups mobilised supporters to back the embattled chief executive. The various rallies held were marked by polarised stances towards Leung. And six arrests were made as traffic was disrupted by anti-government protesters. The march led by the Civil Human Rights Front - calling for Leung to resign and universal suffrage - drew most attention. As well as the major theme, protesters also demanded universal pensions, the protection of gay rights and a halt to the northeastern New Territories development plan. Political analysts said Leung's government had become a "lame duck" and the coming months would be crucial for him to rescue his tenure.
Ex-ally Lew's interview triggers new graft case against Leung: Leung Chun-ying will face a fresh graft investigation over the chief executive election last year, after his former ally Lew Mon-hung turned from friend to foe in an interview this month. Neo-Democrat lawmaker Gary Fan, who filed a complaint with the Independent Commission Against Corruption on Jan. 26, confirmed that a case had been opened. In the magazine's latest issue published on Jan. 24, Lew, a member of the nation's top political advisory body, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, said Leung lied over his handling of illegal structures at his Peak homes and considered pan-democrats "enemies". Once a staunch supporter of Leung's campaign, Lew also accused the chief executive of breaking his promise to appoint him to the Executive Council, or recommend him for CPPCC Standing Committee membership, as a reward for his support during the election. According to the Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Conduct) Ordinance, it is a criminal offence for a person who offers an advantage to another person as an inducement to vote, or canvass votes, for a particular candidate. It was later revealed that Lew was on bail after being arrested by the ICAC on January 8 in a separate case involving his listed company, Pearl Oriental Oil.
Legco votes down CY impeachment motion: Pan-democrats failed to initiate impeachment proceedings against Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying when an unprecedented motion was defeated in the Legislative Council on Jan. 9. A majority of the directly elected lawmakers present voted for the motion, which accused Leung of dereliction of duty for his handling of unauthorised structures at his home. But as expected it failed to win support among trade-based lawmakers. It required majority support in both groups.
Tang calls for 'truly democratic' poll in 2017 - but won't say if he'll run: Failed chief executive candidate Henry Tang remains tight-lipped about his political future, but does not rule out the possibility of another run at the top job in four years under what he hopes will be "genuine" universal suffrage. Tang and another former chief secretary Anson Chan separately urged winner Leung Chun-ying to try to regain people's trust by setting out a blueprint for democratisation and better living in his maiden policy address.
Controls on milk formula likely soon, says health chief: The government will decide soon whether to protect baby formula as a “reserved commodity”, like rice, to ensure local needs, the health minister said. Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man said the government was studying the feasibility of adding the formula under the Reserved Commodities Ordinance to prevent parallel trading. Rice, a staple food, is the only reserved commodity under the ordinance, which controls imports and exports to ensure a stable supply.
Stop driving Chinese visitors away, tourism chief warns: HK could become "very dull" if the backlash against mainland tourists continues - and they might just spend their cash in Paris instead, the city's tourism chief warned. Tourism Board chairman James Tien said it was "sandwiched" between rising anti-mainland sentiment and its mandate to promote tourism. While its tourism campaign on the mainland remained unaffected for now by recent protests over cross-border parallel traders, he said the board was concerned about their impact. Tourism, Tien said, was the city's only pillar industry with sustained growth. Spending by tourists reached HK$305 billion last year, up 16.5 per cent. Overnight visitor numbers also increased by 6.5 per cent. And this growth was being driven by mainland tourists. Of the 48 million arrivals, 70 per cent, or 34 million, were from the mainland.
CY Leung promises to maintain crackdown on parallel traders: Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said his government would continue its crackdown on cross-border parallel-goods traders. He acknowledged that parallel traders caused a nuisance to residents in many districts. “The government attaches great importance to [the problem] and we will leave no stone unturned to carry out our enforcement,” Leung said. Residents in the northern part of the New Territories have been protesting for months, demanding a tougher curb on parallel-goods traders, who buy up goods in HK to resell at a profit across the border. The local residents are angry as parallel traders clog up passageways with heavily loaded trolleys and monopolise resources in their towns.
Legal affairs and human rights
Justice minister Yuen under pressure to spell out right of abode request: The justice minister is being pressed by the legal sector for details of an application to the top court for a referral to Beijing to clarify the Basic Law on who has right of abode here, before it is heard next month. And the local government was also warned the request must be handled well - or the city's rule of law could be affected. The government wants a clarification in light of a surge in the number of mainland women giving birth in HK, where their children get residency, and challenges by domestic helpers to the law preventing them from seeking permanent residency.
HK chief justice says criticism by ex-justice minister won't affect judges: Criticism by former justice minister Elsie Leung of HK judges will not influence the decisions of courts, according to the city's top judge. "[Leung] enjoys her freedom of expression. However, her remarks will not affect judges," Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma said in response to questions after a ceremony to mark the opening of the legal year. It was the first time Ma had commented on Leung's criticism last year of Hong Kong judges' "lack of understanding of the relationship between the HKSAR and the central government", which drew fire from the legal profession. Bar Association chairman Kumar Ramanathan SC warned against "political demagoguery" and "special interest groups" undermining the judicial system.
HK beats UK, US on 'human freedom' index: HK ranks third-best globally for "human freedom", topping such well-established democracies as the United States and United Kingdom, according to the research from the Fraser Institute, a Canadian think tank. The mainland stood at 100th. The city was the star performer for economic freedom - scoring 9.02 out of 10. But in terms of personal freedom, or civil liberties, it measured 7.8, worse than at least 49 countries. This gave it an overall score on the "human freedom index" of 8.39, below New Zealand and the Netherlands.
Journalists firm on gaining full access to data: Journalists have rejected a counter-offer by the government over the proposal to bar access to key personal information of company directors, insisting on the status quo of unlimited access for all members of the public. It is understood officials proposed that reporters in future would be allowed to obtain residential addresses and full personal identity card numbers of company directors in a public database - provided they did it with an account and password assigned to their companies. Journalists Association chairwoman Mak Yin-ting said her organisation would not support the proposal. "We are not talking about restrictions on journalists only, but the rights of other citizens and the freedom of information," she said. The counterproposal has come amid growing objections to the new Companies Ordinance, tabled for the Legislative Council to approve in the middle of the year.
Legal cap mulled on cooking oil toxin Benzopyrene: The city may set a legal limit for a cancer-causing chemical found recently in cooking oil sold by local suppliers, the health minister says. Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man told legislators that the government would consult an expert committee this month on whether to set legally binding safety standards. It will consider a proposal to recall cooking oil found with more than 10 micrograms of Benzopyrene per kg. Last month, the Centre for Food Safety found the carcinogen Benzopyrene in oil samples at levels higher than the safety limit set by the European Union of two micrograms per kilogram and even exceeding the mainland limit of 10 micrograms. There is no international safety limit on Benzopyrene in food under the Codex Alimentarius Commission, a UN body for protecting public health.
HK to spend HK$31b to solve waste crisis: HK will spend at least HK$31 billion on waste-handling infrastructure in the next seven years. And included in the measures will be a bitterly contested plan for an incinerator put forward by the previous administration, which has been stalled by opposition in Legco and the courts. Moves spelled out by deputy environment minister Christine Loh gave the first clear indication that incineration remained a priority as the government seeks an ultimate solution to the city's waste crisis. But the target date for commissioning the waste-burner - 2021 at the latest - is about three years later than proposed by the previous government.
Victoria Harbour water to improve after sewage works upgrade: Victoria Harbour's water quality is set to improve when the second stage of the Harbour Area Treatment Scheme reaches its halfway mark next year. HK's famous landmark should see 90 per cent of the current Ecoli eliminated from discharged sewage. During this stage of the project, the Drainage Services Department will upgrade the 10-hectare sewage treatment works on Stonecutters Island in West Kowloon by building the world's largest underground pumping station. The first half of the second stage of the scheme is expected to be completed in late 2014, and has cost HK$17 billion.
Christine Loh offers time frame for cleaner fuel law for ocean vessels: It will take several years for the government to introduce onshore electricity power facilities at the Kai Tak cruise terminal but a law requiring ocean-going vessels berthing at the city to use cleaner fuel can be in place next year at the earliest. Undersecretary for the Environment Christine Loh made these remarks at a forum. Loh also said that the government planned to introduce a law next year at the earliest requiring all ocean-going vessels - not just cruises - to use fuel with a cleaner sulphur content when in the city. HK would be the first city in Asia to have this law if it were passed, although some European countries already had it, Loh said.
Culture and Education
Public schools may give families in HK priority: Admissions priority for local families is among measures being considered in response to pressure on public school places from HK-born children living on the mainland. Secretary for Education Eddie Ng revealed the possible option but gave no timeframe - despite the long queues of families seeking Primary One admissions recently. The pressure is especially acute on public schools in Sheung Shui, where there is an estimated shortage of 1,000 Primary One places because of its proximity to Shenzhen. The demand for school places is coming from local families, Hong Kong families living across the border and children born to mainland families - with the latter amounting to some 200,000 in the past few years.
HK$400m bill fails to derail university bidder: A Catholic group insisted it would press ahead with its bid to build a private university in Fanling as the government warned that basic infrastructure alone could cost HK$400 million. A spokeswoman for the preparation task force of the Jesuit University HK said: "We will not withdraw and we are willing to pay for the infrastructure." The Jesuits announced last year that it wanted to open a liberal arts college - which generally covers subjects such as literature, philosophy and science - with an annual tuition fee of HK$250,000.
Press articles related to Switzerland and Swiss matters
Art Basel HK promises big showing in May (SCMP, Jan. 16): The first edition of Art Basel HK will feature 245 art galleries from 35 countries showcasing works from modern masters to rising stars. The works of several HK artists will be presented alongside their regional counterparts' at the fair in May, which organisers hope will attract more international collectors and art leaders to the city. Art Basel, which originates from Switzerland, is one of the world's most famous modern and contemporary art fair. The HK edition comes after organiser MCH Swiss Exhibition (Basel) in 2011 acquired 60 per cent of Asian Art Fairs, organiser of the HK International Art Fair (ART HK).
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,
correctness, completeness or quality of the information
provided. Liability claims regarding damage caused by the
use of any information provided, including any kind of information
which might be incomplete or incorrect, will therefore be
Back to the top of the page