CONSULATE GENERAL OF SWITZERLAND IN HONG KONG
|A condensed press review prepared
the Consulate General of Switzerland in Hong Kong
ECONOMY & FINANCE
- 'Government inaction has cost Hong Kong advantages over other bay area cities' (SCMP, Dec. 1)
- Hong Kong to be one of world's earliest adopters of 5G technology (SCMP, Dec. 2)
- Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam talks up Saudi Arabia as trade partner in 'Belt and Road' push (SCMP, Dec. 6)
- Hong Kong private sector grows for third straight month, key index shows (SCMP, Dec. 6)
- No across-the-board tax cuts for Hong Kong despite US vote to overhaul, finance chief says (SCMP, Dec. 10)
- Hong Kong is the 9th most expensive city in the world for expats, ahead of Singapore at 21st: survey (SCMP, Dec. 12)
- Hong Kong raises base rate by 25 basis points in lockstep with US Fed's third increase this year (SCMP, Dec. 14)
- Securities commission backs introduction of dual-class shares on Hong Kong stock exchange (SCMP, Dec. 20)
- With new land to trim supply shortfall, Hong Kong government sticks to target of 280,000 new public flats over next 10 years (SCMP, Dec. 21)
- Hong Kong business leaders team up to seize Belt and Road opportunities (SCMP, Dec. 21)
- Hong Kong's commerce minister warns of rising protectionist sentiment in global trade (SCMP, Dec. 24)
- Proposed changes to tax law could save Hong Kong's small businesses HK$165,000 a year (SCMP, Dec. 27)
- By-election on March 11 for four Legco seats of lawmakers ousted after oath-taking saga (SCMP, Dec. 1)
- Days numbered for filibustering Hong Kong pan-democrats in Legislative Council as pro- Beijing camp set to table 24 proposals (SCMP, Dec. 4)
- Better education on China's laws needed in Hong Kong, says Beijing's top man in city on National Constitution Day (SCMP, Dec. 4)
- Hong Kong must accept it is part of 'red China' and led by Communist Party, liaison office legal head says (SCMP, Dec. 5)
- Time for Beijing and Hongkongers to discuss way forward beyond 2047, constitutional expert says (SCMP, Dec. 7)
- Carrie Lam rejects call to mediate tensions in Legco over rule book changes, says pan-dems would not want her to interfere (SCMP, Dec. 12)
- Carrie Lam inks deal setting out Hong Kong's role in Beijing's global development plan (SCMP, Dec. 14)
- Beijing and Hong Kong sign deal on notification procedures when residents are detained (SCMP, Dec. 15)
- Xi 'sent a reminder' to Hong Kong over Beijing's hard line on city (SCMP, Dec. 16)
- Author of book Hong Kong Nationalism among Taiwanese scholars barred from city (SCMP, Dec. 16)
- Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam hopes to restore calm after vote stops lawmakers' 'Taliban-style hijack' (SCMP, Dec. 17)
- Who are the 11 new Hongkongers elected to China's legislature – and what impact will they have on policy making? (SCMP, Dec. 19)
- Carrie Lam says 'being accountable' to Beijing doesn't equate to unquestioning obedience (SCMP, Dec. 21)
- Admit that Basic Law does not provide legal basis for joint checkpoint plan, Jasper Tsang urges Hong Kong officials (SCMP, Dec. 22)
- Controversial joint checkpoint plan approved for high-speed rail link as Hong Kong officials dismiss concerns over legality (SCMP, Dec. 27)
- Beijing implies support for Hong Kong's plan to build schools, hospitals and elderly care centres in Greater Bay Area (SCMP, Dec. 27)
- Declassified British files show how Beijing tried to stifle 1990s democratic reform in Hong Kong with airport finance negotiations (SCMP, Dec. 29)
- Hong Kong Bar Association 'appalled' by approval of joint checkpoint plan, saying it
'irreparably' breaches Basic Law (SCMP, Dec. 29)
- European Parliament delegation raises concerns over Basic Law interpretation, media censorship (SCMP, Dec. 8)
LEGAL AFFAIRS AND HUMAN RIGHTS
- More than 70 Hong Kong athletes call for better protection against sexual abuse, especially for young sportspeople (SCMP, Dec. 4)
- More than a thousand Filipino workers get ready to head to Hong Kong as Manila lifts labour export ban (SCMP, Dec. 5)
- Hong Kong domestic helpers march to demand stronger legal protection against abuse (SCMP, Dec. 18)
- Call for Hong Kong tobacco tax hike next year, and cigarette ban in 10 years (SCMP, Dec. 2)
- Funding model able to cover needs of Hong Kong's public hospitals, health chief insists (SCMP, Dec. 9)
- Hong Kong researchers discover crucial piece to mental illness puzzle (SCMP, Dec. 12)
- Plover Cove housing proposal would be risk to Hong Kong water security, government source says (SCMP, Dec. 4)
- HKU researchers unveil cost-saving LED system they claim is recyclable and can last 10 years (SCMP, Dec. 8)
- Plastic bottle deposit scheme considered for Hong Kong to boost recycling incentives (SCMP, Dec. 23)
CULTURE AND EDUCATION
- Brexit and Trump 'make Canada a more attractive prospect for Hong Kong international
students' (SCMP, Dec. 3)
- Hong Kong slips to third place in reading literacy ranking, behind Russia and Singapore (SCMP, Dec. 7)
- Palace Museum director hails close ties with Hong Kong as partnership agreement signed (SCMP, Dec. 8)
- Renowned scientist Professor Zhang Xiang named University of Hong Kong vice chancellor (SCMP, Dec. 16)
- Young Macau lawmaker suspended (The Standard, Dec. 5)
- Macau denies it is tax haven after European Union puts it on blacklist of 17 tax-avoidance havens (SCMP, Dec. 7)
Economy + Finance
'Government inaction has cost Hong Kong advantages over other bay area cities' (SCMP, Dec. 1): Government failure to maintain Hong Kong's economic advantages in innovation and technology has caused it to fall behind local rivals, a group of academics said. But the city can still rekindle its niche in logistics and high-value-added services through the "Greater Bay Area" scheme if the local government can speed up policymaking to ease cross-border trade, according to the joint report from Hang Seng Management College and Chinese University. The Greater Bay Area is the central government's plan to link Hong Kong, Macau, and nine mainland cities in the Pearl River Delta into an integrated innovation and technology hub.
Hong Kong to be one of world's earliest adopters of 5G technology (SCMP, Dec. 2): Hong Kong will be one of the world's earliest adopters of next generation 5G mobile broadband services, which will run 10 times faster than existing high-speed mobile internet when the technology is ready for commercial use in 2020, local officials revealed. The Office of the Communications Authority said the city would "grasp" 5G's benefits after service allocation details are finalised in 2019. Meanwhile, the communications authority has set up a licensing scheme for companies that wish to use wireless bands for Internet of Things (IoT) devices.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam talks up Saudi Arabia as trade partner in 'Belt and Road' push (SCMP, Dec. 6): Hong Kong's leader said Saudi Arabia could be a valuable export market for the city's professional and financial services, as she vowed to continue her overseas trips promoting Hong Kong and exploring business opportunities. Chief Executive Carrie Lam spoke a day after returning from the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh with Hong Kong's financial services minister and the heads of the Hong Kong stock exchange. During her visit, Lam met King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed and Saudi Arabia's ministers of energy and finance. Lam and other officials met Khalid Abdul Aziz al- Falih, who is both an energy minister and chairman of Saudi Aramco, a state-owned oil conglomerate which stock exchange chiefs from Hong Kong and other major global exchanges are thought to have courted for a listing. "Saudi Arabia is an important country in the 'Belt and Road Initiative'," Lam said, referring to the central government's plan to boost trade along two historic routes leading westwards from China.
Hong Kong private sector grows for third straight month, key index shows (SCMP, Dec. 6): Hong Kong's private sector showed positive growth for the third straight month, according to a key economic indicator. The Nikkei Hong Kong Purchasing Managers' Index gauges private sector business conditions including manufacturing, services, retail and construction. A score of 50 or above signals growth in the economy, while anything below reflects decline. The index rose to 50.7 in November, up from 50.3 in October, but down from September's reading of 51.2.
No across-the-board tax cuts for Hong Kong despite US vote to overhaul, finance chief says (SCMP, Dec. 10): Hong Kong will not reduce tax across the board despite an anticipated global race of corporate rate cuts following a recent US Senate vote to overhaul what businesses pay, the city's finance chief said. Paul Chan revealed that while local officials would monitor overseas trends, Hong Kong needed to reserve funds to invest in policy areas that can boost its long-term competitiveness. A tax policy unit has been set up under the Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau to review Hong Kong's tax regime. It is exploring the possibilities of broadening the tax base and offering concessions to boost the development of local industries and the economy through favourable policies. Chan said that the two-tier tax system to be introduced in Hong Kong could offer relief to most businesses.
Hong Kong is the 9th most expensive city in the world for expats, ahead of Singapore at 21st: survey (SCMP, Dec. 12): Hong Kong is back in the top 10 most expensive cities for expatriates in 2017, driven by the higher prices of goods and a stronger currency, according to a survey on cost of living. Human resources consultancy ECA International released its findings, showing that the city, which fell out of the top 10 last year, rose two places to the 9th spot in global rankings. The study takes into account the costs of daily expenses such as food, petrol and clothing. Although rents were not considered, the record-high property prices in Hong Kong could have contributed to the rise in prices of other items.
Hong Kong raises base rate by 25 basis points in lockstep with US Fed's third increase this year (SCMP, Dec. 14): The Hong Kong Monetary Authority, the city's de facto central bank, raised the base lending rate by 25 basis points to 1.75 per cent, as it moves in lockstep with the equivalent overnight increase by the United States Federal Reserve to maintain the Hong Kong dollar's peg to the greenback. "As interest rates in Hong Kong normalise, I hope everyone will consider the risk when borrowing," said Norman Chan, the monetary authority's chief executive, at a press briefing in the city. However, analysts said that while the rate rise will slow the growth in Hong Kong's run away house prices, it is unlikely to stop prices rising.
Securities commission backs introduction of dual-class shares on Hong Kong stock exchange (SCMP, Dec. 20): The Securities and Futures Commission, recognising the competitive pressures the city faces in attracting listings by new economy companies, has thrown its weight behind the Hong Kong stock exchange's proposed listing reform that will allow companies with multiple classes of shares to list here, its chairman Carlson Tong said. On Dec. 15, stock exchange operator Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing unveiled a proposal to allow giant technology companies with at least HK$10 billion (US$1.28 billion) to list with multiple classes of shares, and biotech companies with no revenue to list in Hong Kong after a rule change by mid next year. Tong indicated his support but stressed that proper investor protection measures must be in place.
With new land to trim supply shortfall, Hong Kong government sticks to target of 280,000 new public flats over next 10 years (SCMP, Dec. 21): Hong Kong is slightly closer to meeting its target of sufficient public housing for the next decade, its housing chief announcing it had marginally reduced its supply shortfall. But Frank Chan warned of bigger challenges ahead in finding more land. Chan, the housing minister, said the government had "virtually used up all [readily available] sites at hand" for public housing and that officials would have to find other land to speed up supply. He announced that the government would stick with the target of building 460,000 flats over the next decade, 60 per cent, or 280,000, of which would be public flats.
Hong Kong business leaders team up to seize Belt and Road opportunities (SCMP, Dec. 21): The Trade Development Council has taken steps to tap into opportunities offered by China's ambitious international trade strategy by launching a new high-powered committee of business leaders to come up with detailed plans. They are focusing on the Belt and Road Initiative. There are five working groups under the committee: on the international market, small and medium enterprises and the young, professional services, public relations, as well as on mainland China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).
Hong Kong's commerce minister warns of rising protectionist sentiment in global trade (SCMP, Dec. 24): Hong Kong's commerce minister warned of "rising protectionist sentiment" in the global trade environment, although he remained positive about the city's economic outlook for the coming year. Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau advised the city to beware of global issues impacting its economic outlook, despite "a very clear rebound" this year with 3.7 per cent growth and rising retail and tourism figures. While Hong Kong enjoyed a warm trading environment on this side of the Asia-Pacific, he added, the world was not uniform. "We should be cautious of rising protectionist sentiment, even among some of our trading partners. I will say that for the coming year we should stay alert but remain positive."
Proposed changes to tax law could save Hong Kong's small businesses HK$165,000 a year (SCMP, Dec. 27): A Hong Kong tax reform bill that would see small businesses save up to HK$165,000 a year will be tabled to the city's legislature early next month. The Inland Revenue (Amendment) Bill 2017, which seeks to implement a two-tier profits tax system, will be gazetted on Dec. 28. The draft bill, to be discussed in Legco on January 10, came two months after Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced her plan to introduce the new system in her maiden policy address in October. Under the system, the profits tax for the first HK$2 million of profits made by companies will be lowered to 8.25 per cent from 16.5 per cent. Profits after the amount will continue to be taxed at
16.5 per cent. For unincorporated businesses, which are mostly partnerships and sole proprietorships, the two-tier tax rates will be 7.5 per cent and 15 per cent respectively.
By-election on March 11 for four Legco seats of lawmakers ousted after oath-taking saga (SCMP, Dec. 1): A by-election to fill four empty seats in Hong Kong's legislature will be held on March 11, with the nomination period from 16 to 29 January, according to an announcement in the government gazette. The four seats are among six in the Legislative Council left vacant after six pan- democrat lawmakers were stripped of their positions by the High Court for improper oath-taking last October, after the government initiated legal proceedings against them. The March by-election is to fill the seats that Demosisto's Nathan Law, Youngspiration's Yau Wai-ching and Sixtus Baggio Leung, and academic Edward Yiu won in the September 2016 Legislative Council election. The contest for the two remaining vacant positions will take place further down the line. They are for seats in Kowloon West and New Territories East, belonging to former lawmakers Lau Siu-lai and "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung. The pair have filed appeals against their disqualification.
Days numbered for filibustering Hong Kong pan-democrats in Legislative Council as pro- Beijing camp set to table 24 proposals (SCMP, Dec. 4): The days of Hong Kong pan-democrats dragging out legislative meetings are numbered as the pro-Beijing camp is set to move 24 proposals to amend the rulebook to restrict such tactics. The pro-establishment camp expressed confidence it would gain passage in January 2018. The power wielded by pan-democratic lawmakers to block the impending changes was significantly weakened after a court removed six pro-democracy members for improperly taking their oaths of office. That has opened a window of opportunity for pro-establishment legislators to change procedural rules before by-elections to fill four of the vacant seats on March 11.
Better education on China's laws needed in Hong Kong, says Beijing's top man in city on National Constitution Day (SCMP, Dec. 4): Beijing's top official in Hong Kong has called better education on China's Constitution to enhance national awareness and patriotism, as the city for the first time launched promotional activities for National Constitutional Day. Wang Zhimin, head of the central government's liaison office in Hong Kong, said the constitution and the Basic Law had a mother-son relationship in law. "Although Hong Kong does not apply the socialist system, it must respect and recognise that the state body implements the socialist system according to the constitution. It must respect and recognise the important state system and institutions, such as the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and the [National] People's Congress as the constitution stipulated." Wang added that promoting constitutional education in the city, alongside education of the Basic Law, would benefit the implementation of the 'one country, two systems' governing principle.
Hong Kong must accept it is part of 'red China' and led by Communist Party, liaison office legal head says (SCMP, Dec. 5): Hongkongers cannot cherry-pick their national identity and say they accept the city is part of China but reject the Chinese Communist Party CCP leadership as such a stance is against the country's constitution, the legal head of Beijing's liaison office in Hong Kong argued. Wang Zhenmin urged the city to recognise that it is part of "red China" and is invested in the future of the Communist Party, as the leadership of the ruling party is a core part of the constitution. The fate of Hong Kong is closely linked with that of the CCP, just as the relations between Hong Kong and China are tied inextricably, he argued.
Time for Beijing and Hongkongers to discuss way forward beyond 2047, constitutional expert says (SCMP, Dec. 7): It is time for academics from Hong Kong and the mainland to forge a dialogue and explore the way forward for the city beyond 2047, when the "one country, two systems" blueprint expires, a prominent constitutional law expert said, as he argued that the international community would have little say in the matter. Professor Yash Ghai, an emeritus professor of law at the University of Hong Kong, also lamented the city's stagnant democratic development 20 years after its return to Chinese rule as he slammed Britain for "doing nothing at all" in ensuring the full implementation of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which promised the city a high degree of autonomy for 50 years until 2047.
Carrie Lam rejects call to mediate tensions in Legco over rule book changes, says pan-dems would not want her to interfere (SCMP, Dec. 12): Hong Kong's leader turned down former Legco president Andrew Wong's suggestion that she mediate between rival camps in the legislature, who are locked in a clash over one side's proposed changes to the rule book to curb filibustering. Chief Executive Carrie Lam said changing the rules was "entirely a matter within the power" of the Legislative Council, but added it was "completely inappropriate" for the pan-democrats to argue that the pro-establishment camp's amendments would allow the government to bulldoze through controversial legislation, such as a national security law. Some 20 scholars at Hong Kong universities launched a petition campaign calling on the public to express objection to amending the rules as proposed. "The government is likely to become the representative of a dictatorial regime not subject to any checks and balances on its power, and all Hong Kong people will suffer as a result," the group said.
Carrie Lam inks deal setting out Hong Kong's role in Beijing's global development plan (SCMP, Dec. 14): Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam took the city's involvement in Beijing's "Belt and Road Initiative" to a new level, signing an agreement with the mainland that set out the city's role and strengths within China's global trade strategy. The agreement will also help Hong Kong better utilise its "unique edge" and boost its competitiveness, while allowing the city to "explore new room for developments", according to a statement issued by the National Development and Reform Commission following the signing ceremony. "(The agreement) focuses on finance and investment; infrastructure and maritime transport; economic and trade facilitation; people-to-people bonds; pushing forward the Greater Bay Area initiative; strengthening cooperation between the two sides and dispute resolution; among others," a statement issued by commission after the ceremony said.
Beijing and Hong Kong sign deal on notification procedures when residents are detained (SCMP, Dec. 15): Hong Kong and mainland China have secured a breakthrough deal to set up a faster notification system with a clear timetable for when residents are criminally detained by the other side. Both committed to informing each other within seven working days when someone is being held for minor crimes, offering greater transparency on an issue that caused uproar two years ago when five booksellers mysteriously disappeared. However, for "serious and complicated criminal cases", a
notification period of 14 working days has been specified. For cases involving terrorist activities or those endangering national security, the time limit is even longer, at 30 working days. But the old mechanism did not specify notifications be made at all for cases in these two categories.
Xi 'sent a reminder' to Hong Kong over Beijing's hard line on city (SCMP, Dec. 16): Xi Jinping's praise for Hong Kong's leader learning about the Communist Party congress report was to remind residents of his hardline principles on the city and that its semi-autonomy is contingent on respect for the party, a leading Beijing adviser on Hong Kong affairs Lau Siu-kai said. The analysis of Lau, vice-chairman of The Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, a semi-official think tank, came a day after Chief Executive Carrie Lam met the Chinese president on her first duty visit to Beijing. One of the key tenets of the attitude towards Hong Kong mentioned in Xi's speech was Beijing's "comprehensive jurisdiction" over the city. "The phrase 'Chinese Communist Party' is no longer taboo in these two years," Lau said, adding that mainland officials instead had talked more deliberately, reminding Hongkongers that "If you want 'one country, two systems' to be implemented and continued successfully, you can't disrespect the Chinese Communist Party".
Author of book Hong Kong Nationalism among Taiwanese scholars barred from city (SCMP, Dec. 16): Two Taiwanese scholars intending to take part in a forum in Hong Kong on local politics have seen their visa applications rejected. The pair accused the Hong Kong government of undermining academic freedom by refusing them entry and implementing unnecessarily tight immigration controls. The academics barred were Dr Wu Rwei-ren and Dr Wu Jieh-min, both associate research fellows at Taipei's Academia Sinica, which focuses on the study of Taiwanese history. The pair had been invited by the Hong Kong Federation of Students to speak on the theme "Colonial Hong Kong: from British colonial to Chinese rule". James To, a veteran Hong Kong lawmaker with the city's pan-democratic bloc of politicians, said the case was worrying. Hong Kong pro-democracy party Demosisto condemned officials for "politically filtering" visitors.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam hopes to restore calm after vote stops lawmakers' 'Taliban-style hijack' (SCMP, Dec. 17): Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam hopes peace and rationality will be restored in the city's legislature, one day after 11 democratic lawmakers were thrown out of the chamber in a failed bid to block the passage of amendments to curb filibustering. Under a highly charged atmosphere on Dec. 15, the Legislative Council passed 24 amendments to the Rules of Procedure. The pan-democrats decried the amendments, saying they would strip them of the power to impose checks and balances on the government. But the pro-establishment bloc, which enjoys a majority in the legislature, said they were necessary to limit filibusters and allow the council to run effectively. The chief executive would not speculate whether the vote would hurt the relationship between the government and the pan-democrats, only saying she remained committed to communicating with lawmakers across the spectrum.
Who are the 11 new Hongkongers elected to China's legislature – and what impact will they have on policy making? (SCMP, Dec. 19): Hong Kong's contingent to the country's legislature, the National People's Congress, had a mini-makeover with 11 new faces elected into its ranks, including several low profile business leaders and a former minister. Some 49 candidates ran in the small-circle election to be among the chosen 36 delegates who represent the city in the legislature but are also widely seen as pro-Beijing in their political leanings. After the election, NPC vice-chairman Wang Chen said the central government expected the deputies to take a leading role in four areas. "They should take the lead in supporting Hong Kong's chief executive and government … in forging and safeguarding social unity, harmony and stability, in caring about young people, and in promoting exchanges and cooperation between the city and the mainland," he said.
Carrie Lam says 'being accountable' to Beijing doesn't equate to unquestioning obedience (SCMP, Dec. 21): Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam said that being accountable to Beijing did not mean taking every single order handed down by mainland authorities, as she vowed to reflect opposition from Hongkongers if they found Beijing's plans for the city "unfavourable". Lam was asked in an interview with RTHK. As she wrapped up her duty visit recently, Lam had reiterated that "it is Hong Kong's constitutional responsibility to enact" Article 23 of the Basic Law, which requires the establishment of laws that prohibit treason, secession, sedition or subversion against the central government. She acknowledged that it was up to her as the city's leader to create "favourable conditions" in society for the national security law. But in the RTHK interview, Lam made it clear that it would be difficult to start the process in the coming year.
Admit that Basic Law does not provide legal basis for joint checkpoint plan, Jasper Tsang urges Hong Kong officials (SCMP, Dec. 22): Pro-Beijing heavyweight Jasper Tsang said officials should admit that the Basic Law, Hong Kong's mini-constitution, did not provide the legal basis for the controversial joint checkpoint arrangement of the cross-border express rail link. The former Legislative Council president said the plan did not contravene the "one country, two systems" principle, but if officials kept insisting the Basic Law provided for such an arrangement, it would only undermine Hongkongers' faith in the mini-constitution. "The Basic Law has left no room for implementing the 'co- location' arrangement," Tsang wrote in his column in a Chinese-language newspaper. He said the government should not try to find justification from its clauses but instead admit that the situation was beyond the imagination of law drafters some 20 years ago.
Controversial joint checkpoint plan approved for high-speed rail link as Hong Kong officials dismiss concerns over legality (SCMP, Dec. 27): Beijing formally approved a controversial plan for mainland officials to enforce national laws in part of a station on the Hong Kong side for a cross-border rail link under construction, presenting a done deal to the city amid an ongoing row over its legality. Officials dismissed concerns about Hong Kong's autonomy being undermined by the move, stressing that only a designated zone leased to mainland authorities would be subject to national laws, after the proposal to implement the so-called co-location arrangement was tabled by China's cabinet, the State Council, and passed by the National People's Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC). The Hong Kong government's plan now is to table relevant local legislation by February for approval by the Legislative Council, with the long-delayed and over-budget Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link scheduled to start running from the third quarter of next year. However, opposition lawmakers and some legal experts in the city remained unconvinced, seeing it as a violation of the Basic Law and citing Article 18, which states that, barring a few exceptions, national laws should not be applied in the city.
Beijing implies support for Hong Kong's plan to build schools, hospitals and elderly care centres in Greater Bay Area (SCMP, Dec. 27): During her maiden duty visit to Beijing, Chief Executive Carrie Lam asked for support to build hospitals, schools and elderly centres within the Greater Bay Area that spans nine mainland cities, Macau and Hong Kong. Zhang Xiaoming, the head of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, said his office would endeavour to implement the integration plan effectively. Lawmaker and trade unionist Wong Kwok-kin said Zhang's remarks in the article signalled Beijing's support for Lam's request. He added: "The plan would help education and medical industries of Hong Kong, and attract professionals and youngsters working in the Greater Bay Area."
Declassified British files show how Beijing tried to stifle 1990s democratic reform in Hong Kong with airport finance negotiations (SCMP, Dec. 29): A new batch of declassified British government files has shed light on how Beijing tried to use negotiations over airport construction financing in the 1990s to curtail the development of democracy in Hong Kong and undermine public support for the city's last colonial governor Chris Patten. The plan to construct a new airport was announced by then governor David Wilson in October 1989 as part of the Airport Core Programme, which involved 10 infrastructure projects costing over HK$100 billion (US$12.8 billion) in total. The announcement, which came without advance agreement with Beijing, drew heavy criticism from China, which accused Britain of emptying the public coffers before the handover of sovereignty in 1997.
Hong Kong Bar Association 'appalled' by approval of joint checkpoint plan, saying it 'irreparably' breaches Basic Law (SCMP, Dec. 29): Hong Kong's Bar Association was "appalled" by a decision made by the National People's Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) on a joint checkpoint plan for a cross-border rail link, saying the move was the most retrograde step since 1997, with the city's mini-constitution being "irreparably breached" and the rule of law "severely" undermined. The association said that the decision concerning the co-location arrangement was not supported by any provisions in the Basic Law, the city's mini-constitution. The association said it was "appalled" when the NPCSC approved the plan and confirmed it was consistent with the country's constitution and the Basic Law without stating any basis. While Li Fei, a top Beijing expert on the city's mini- constitution said that the current co-location arrangement complied with the constitution and the Basic Law, the association rebutted Li's explanation. "The decision is both wholly unconvincing and unsatisfactory in achieving its purported purpose, namely to provide a firm legal basis for … local legislation," the statement released by the association said.
European Parliament delegation raises concerns over Basic Law interpretation, media censorship (SCMP, Dec. 8): A delegation from the European Parliament concluded its three-day visit to Hong Kong on Dec. 7 on a jarring note, saying it was concerned about Beijing's interpretations of the city's mini-constitution and self-censorship. "We are concerned to hear about media self-censorship and about interpretations of the Basic Law prior to court rulings," said Jo Leinen, chairman of the European Parliament's delegation for relations with China. "The rule of law is a keystone of Hong Kong's unique way of life. It is vital for the city's international reputation, and integral to the success of 'one country, two systems', which we strongly support." A government spokesman said : "[The government] has always safeguarded and will continue to safeguard the rule of law which is no doubt a core value of Hong Kong."
Legal affairs and human rights
More than 70 Hong Kong athletes call for better protection against sexual abuse, especially for young sportspeople (SCMP, Dec. 4): More than 70 Hong Kong athletes issued a joint statement calling on the government and sporting authorities to take concrete steps to protect athletes from sexual abuse. Their call came after 23-year-old Hong Kong hurdling champion Vera Lui's shocking revelation that she was sexually assaulted by a coach 10 years ago. Police are investigating the matter and the coach has been suspended by two of his employers. The Leisure and Cultural Services Department was very concerned about incidents of sexual assault and had "zero tolerance" for such abuse, the spokesman said. On Dec. 3, former Miss Hong Kong Louisa Mak became the second high profile local figure after Lui to support the global #MeToo movement, when she spoke up on Facebook about having been sexually assaulted and suggested that the incidents had happened more than once.
More than a thousand Filipino workers get ready to head to Hong Kong as Manila lifts labour export ban (SCMP, Dec. 5): Hong Kong employers can expect the arrival of new Filipino domestic helpers in the coming weeks as the Philippine government lifted its three-week ban on the export of labour. Jalilo Dela Torre, labour attaché at the Philippine consulate in Hong Kong, said 1,200 Hong Kong families had been affected by the ban. The ban came after it identified "persistent reports of illegal recruitment" and "pernicious activities of certain unscrupulous individuals preying on Filipinos". The Philippine government's labour ban was especially significant for Hong Kong. According to 2016 Legislative Council figures, the Philippines provided 189,000 of the city's 352,000 domestic helpers in total, more than any other country.
Hong Kong domestic helpers march to demand stronger legal protection against abuse (SCMP, Dec. 18): About 50 people marched in Hong Kong, submitting petitions to several foreign consulates to protest against employment agencies overcharging migrant workers and demand better legal protection from abuse and exploitation. The protesters, mostly foreign domestic helpers and local supporters, demanded the government regulate agencies to stamp out illegal and exploitative practices. They said the voluntary Code of Practice for Employment Agencies (COP), introduced in January, does not offer enough protection to migrant workers' rights. "The problem is that the COP is not law. We need the Hong Kong government to make it law," Federation of Asian Domestic Workers' Unions chairwoman Phobsuk Gasing said.
Call for Hong Kong tobacco tax hike next year, and cigarette ban in 10 years (SCMP, Dec. 2): An anti-smoking group has called on the Hong Kong government to double the tobacco tax next year, and to eventually ban cigarettes in a decade. In pushing its "tobacco endgame plan", the Council on Smoking and Health repeated its previous call to raise the tobacco tax by 100 per cent, claiming it could push smoking prevalence from 10.5 per cent in 2015 to below 5 per cent in 2027, paving the way for its desired ban that year. The council said raising the tobacco tax had been proven the most effective tobacco control measure in many countries and regions including Hong Kong.
Funding model able to cover needs of Hong Kong's public hospitals, health chief insists (SCMP, Dec. 9): Hong Kong's health chief said community health care services must be strengthened to reduce hospitalisation rates, after the city's public hospitals reported their first financial deficit in eight years. But Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan insisted that the current funding model for the Hospital Authority would be able to meet the growing needs of health care service providers as the city's population aged in the coming decades. Public health care spending has been on the rise in recent years, with expenditure this financial year standing at HK$62 billion, up HK$3.2 billion from 2016-17. Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announced in her maiden policy address in October that an
extra HK$2 billion of annual funding would be set aside for the Hospital Authority, starting from next year, to meet rising demand.
Hong Kong researchers discover crucial piece to mental illness puzzle (SCMP, Dec. 12): Scientists at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology have identified a gene mutation that leads to mental disorders in a breakthrough discovery that could help find a cure for diseases such as schizophrenia, the university announced. The findings, published in the journal Neuron, identified the mechanism of the mutation that affects human brains and causes major psychiatric conditions such as bipolar disorder, depression and autism. While the cause behind the mutation remained unknown, researchers believed the condition could be inherited and later triggered by stress or other environmental factors.
Plover Cove housing proposal would be risk to Hong Kong water security, government source says (SCMP, Dec. 4): A proposal to fill in the city's second largest reservoir to build homes on will prove to be a serious challenge to implement and put Hong Kong's water security at risk. That is the government's view on the controversial idea for Plover Cove Reservoir, floated by real estate academics earlier this year, according to a source close to the government-appointed Task Force on Land Supply. While filling Plover Cove Reservoir would create 600 hectares of residential land, the cost of doing so is a 40 per cent reduction in local freshwater storage from 586 million cubic metres to 365 cubic metres.
HKU researchers unveil cost-saving LED system they claim is recyclable and can last 10 years (SCMP, Dec. 8): Researchers have developed a new light-emitting diode street-lighting system that can last more than a decade and when burned out, allow nearly all its materials to be salvaged as raw material. Lead researcher Professor Ron Hui, chair of power electronics at the University of Hong Kong's faculty of engineering, claimed it was the world's only sustainable LED street lamp that could be bright, energy-efficient, long-lasting and recyclable. The products have been tested in hundreds of street lamps across Heshan in Guangdong province, with an additional 8,000 due to be replaced in the mainland city. The previous trial found a "zero failure rate" over a two-year period.
Plastic bottle deposit scheme considered for Hong Kong to boost recycling incentives (SCMP, Dec. 23): A deposit scheme may be introduced to boost the incentive for Hongkongers to recycle plastic bottles, a top environment official Vicki Kwok said. The government is also considering actively collecting waste plastic bottles from the community, instead of relying on contractors who have long been reluctant to handle such waste due to its high processing costs. An 18-month study is also underway to see if a "producer pays" scheme was needed to transfer the recycling costs to the manufacturer, similar to legislation tackling dumped glass bottles.
Culture and Education
Brexit and Trump 'make Canada a more attractive prospect for Hong Kong international students' (SCMP, Dec. 3): Canada has become an increasingly popular higher education destination for Hongkongers, the head of the University of Toronto said, with his own institution recording a more than 30 per cent increase in students from the city over the last five years. Meric Gertler attributed the heightened interest to the university performing consistently well in global rankings as well as the country's openness to foreigners – as opposed to a perceived less welcoming atmosphere in the US and UK, two traditional powerhouses in university education.
Hong Kong slips to third place in reading literacy ranking, behind Russia and Singapore (SCMP, Dec. 7): Hong Kong has slipped to third place in an international reading literacy ranking, after being overtaken by Russia and Singapore, according to the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) 2016. The academics urged schools to diversify teaching materials and not just focus on textbooks while calling on parents to read more and engage in parent-child reading. An Education Bureau spokesman noted Hong Kong's score was statistically not significantly different from Singapore, which was placed second. "The continuously remarkable performance of Hong Kong students proves that [our] education is heading in the right direction, and bears recognition to the concerted efforts of the schools, teachers and other stakeholders in providing quality education for our students," he said.
Palace Museum director hails close ties with Hong Kong as partnership agreement signed (SCMP, Dec. 8): Exhibitions at China's top museum have made great strides in the past five years thanks to the exchange with its Hong Kong counterpart, its director has said. Shan Jixiang, director of the Palace Museum, signed a second letter of intent on cultural exchange and cooperation with Michelle Li, director of leisure and cultural services. Both parties signed the first one in 2012 and the latest agreement will take the cooperation to 2022, the year the Hong Kong Palace Museum will be completed at the West Kowloon hub.
Renowned scientist Professor Zhang Xiang named University of Hong Kong vice chancellor (SCMP, Dec. 16): Renowned mainland-born scientist Professor Zhang Xiang was confirmed as the next vice chancellor of the University of Hong Kong despite concerns from students, staff and alumni about whether he would be able to defend the institution's autonomy. His appointment at the city's oldest university comes at a sensitive time, with HKU embroiled in numerous controversies in recent times, such as a debate over advocacy on campus of Hong Kong independence. Born in Nanjing, Zhang, 54, specialises in nano engineering and 3D fabrication technologies. He is best known for his breakthrough research in metamaterials. He is currently a professor of mechanical engineering at University of California, Berkeley in the United States.
Young Macau lawmaker suspended (The Standard, Dec. 5): Macau's legislature voted by an overwhelming majority to suspend its youngest member so he could face a criminal charge of taking part in an illegal assembly last year. The Legislative Assembly voted 28-4 to suspend Sulu Sou, 26, a pro-democracy activist. Under Macau's laws, no court can proceed against him until he leaves office. "The 28-4 result showed that most legislators chose not to defend the independence and dignity of the legislature," Sou said. He called on Macau people who voted him into the legislature in September not to give up or despair, but to turn their indignation into something that "will help push society forward." The Primary Court had charged Sou with aggravated disobedience for allegedly taking part in an illegal assembly on May 15 last year and for refusing to heed police orders to leave.
Macau denies it is tax haven after European Union puts it on blacklist of 17 tax-avoidance havens (SCMP, Dec. 7): The Macau government has strongly denied the city is a tax haven after the European Union put the former Portuguese enclave on a blacklist of those it deems guilty of unfairly offering tax avoidance schemes. A spokesman for the Macau government called the blacklisting "unilateral and one-sided" and did not speak the truth to the city's reality. He added that the city established a new tax information exchange law in May to make the city's tax information more transparent to other countries, and that the government had been studying how to improve regulations on offshore businesses.
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