CONSULATE GENERAL OF SWITZERLAND IN HONG KONG
|A condensed press review prepared
the Consulate General of Switzerland in Hong Kong
ECONOMY & FINANCE
- Hong Kong’s Bond Connect sees US$1b worth of trading on first day (SCMP, July 3)
- Hong Kong retail downturn may be thing of the past, accounting giant says (SCMP; July 4)
- Economic growth in Hong Kong to slow, dragged down by weak private consumption and investment in construction (SCMP, July 6)
- Hong Kong courts Asean countries with Belt and Road advantages (SCMP, July 12)
- Hong Kong-Asean free-trade deal to be signed by November (SCMP, July 13)
- Hong Kong’s new government seeks to settle pension fund controversy by end of the year (SCMP, July 13)
- Hong Kong’s SFC steps out from ‘behind the scenes’, pledging direct, proactive regulation (SCMP, July 14)
- Hong Kong slips to new low in innovation rankings (SCMP, July 15)
- Fourteen years after Sars, Hong Kong must innovate to make the most of its free-trade deal with China, analysts warn (SCMP, July 17)
- Carrie Lam’s policies may be boon for Hong Kong-Australia trade links, envoy to city says (SCMP, July 24)
- Hong Kong bosses refuse to budge in payout row over pension pots (SCMP, July 25)
- Hong Kong given level playing field after government cuts tax rate on aircraft leasing companies (SCMP, July 30)
- President Xi Jinping marks ‘red line’ in warning to Hong Kong on national sovereignty (SCMP, July 2)
- Annual July 1 pro-democracy march in Hong Kong draws record low turnout (SCMP, July 2)
- Peace returns to Hong Kong’s legislature as new leader Carrie Lam attends first session – but how long will honeymoon last? (SCMP, July 6)
- Beijing is not insisting Carrie Lam pass a national security law right now, senior adviser claims (SCMP, July 7)
- Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam at highest popularity since she was elected four months ago (SCMP, July 11)
- Hong Kong pan-democrats urge Beijing to release ailing dissident Liu Xiaobo in Legco petition (SCMP, July 13)
- Court ruling disqualifying Hong Kong lawmakers over oath-taking controversy ‘a declaration of war’ (SCMP, July 14)
- Legislative Council disqualifications shift the balance of power in Hong Kong (SCMP, July 15)
- Rule of law sacred but we can still make peace with pan-dems (SCMP, July 20)
- Moves under way to change Hong Kong Legislative Council rules to block filibustering (SCMP, July 21)
- Joint Hong Kong-mainland China checkpoint given go-ahead despite legal fears (SCMP, July 26)
- Hong Kong legal challenge to mainland’s high-speed rail terminus lease ‘unlikely to succeed’ (SCMP, July 26)
- Joint checkpoint deal opens door for Beijing to quash protests on Hong Kong soil, Basic Law drafter warns (SCMP, July 28)
- Hong Kong leader blasts views of joint checkpoint critics as ridiculous and incomprehensible (SCMP, July 31)
- Beijing says Sino-British treaty on Hong Kong handover still binding but does not allow UK to interfere (SCMP, July 8)
LEGAL AFFAIRS AND HUMAN RIGHTS
- Hong Kong police to set up special team to handle terror attacks and large-scale protests (SCMP, July 7)
- Hong Kong passes law making it easier to say ‘sorry’ without legal consequences (SCMP, July 14)
- Poor Hong Kong patients to see fees relief (SCMP, June 8)
- Hong Kong’s new welfare chief urges action to ease plight of city’s elderly carers (SCMP, July 10)
- Hong Kong doctors asked to report antibiotics use amid global superbug crisis (SCMP, July 11)
- 46 samples of cooking oil on sale in Hong Kong contained cancer-causing substance in tests (SCMP, July 17)
- Hong Kong health chief confirms 8,300 more places for hospital outpatient clinics to fight flu (SCMP, July 20)
- Hong Kong’s Chinese medicine doctors ‘could help during flu crisis’ (SCMP, July 25)
- Hong Kong ship regulation on sulphur dioxide emissions set to align with national level (SCMP, July 3)
- West side of Hong Kong and the poor most at risk from city’s dirty roadside air, study finds (SCMP, July 14)
CULTURE AND EDUCATION
- Hong Kong’s new leader doles out extra billions in education spending spree (SCMP, July 6)
- Hong Kong teachers oppose appointment of pro-Beijing educator as undersecretary (SCMP, July 8)
- Hong Kong university picks new leader over the objections of students and staff (SCMP, July 26)
- Up to 27.5 per cent rise in Tuition approved for English Schools Foundation institutions in Hong Kong (SCMP, July 28)
- Macau’s former chief prosecutor Ho Chio-meng jailed 21 years for crimes including fraud and money laundering (SCMP, July 15)
- Fresh Beijing crackdown on dirty Macau cash anticipated as VIP casino revenues surge (SCMP, July 20)
- In key audit, Macau gets glowing report card for efforts to fight dirty cash (SCMP, July 27)
- Greater satisfaction, good pay rises and reduced air pollution: Hongkongers quality of life on the rise according to survey (SCMP, July 6)
Economy + Finance
Hong Kong’s Bond Connect sees US$1b worth of trading on first day (SCMP, July 3): The Bond Connect programme that kicked off on July 3 with more than 7 billion yuan(US$1 billion)worth of mainland Chinese bonds traded by international investors. The long awaited cross-border trading scheme, which initially will give international investors access to China’s US$9 trillion bond market via Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing (HKEX), marked a milestone in China’s further opening up of its capital account. It also marked a milestone for HKEX in expanding its products from stocks and commodities to bonds. People’s Bank of China deputy governor Pan Gongsheng said the Bond Connect “shows the central government’s support for the Hong Kong market.” But southbound trading through Bond Connect would launch only when there is sufficient demand, he added.
Hong Kong retail downturn may be thing of the past, accounting giant says (SCMP; July 4): The protracted retail downturn in Hong Kong could be a thing of the past as fewer cross-border conflicts encourage mainland shoppers to return and spend more in the city, according to a global accounting and consulting firm. PricewaterhouseCoopers estimated that this year’s retail sales would grow 3-4 per cent to about HK$450 billion and growth would improve further by 6-7 per cent to HK$480 billion next year. Last year’s retail sales totalled about HK$436 billion, the lowest since 2011. PricewaterhouseCoopers said part of the reason for the weakness of retail sales in the past two years was the hostile and polarised political climate in Hong Kong which deterred mainland visitors. They expected this to improve under new chief executive Carrie Lam.
Economic growth in Hong Kong to slow, dragged down by weak private consumption and investment in construction (SCMP, July 6): Hong Kong’s economic growth is expected to slow in the coming three months, dragged down by weaker private consumption and construction investment, according to a Hong Kong University survey. The university’s quarterly Hong Kong Macroeconomic Forecast put the city’s gross domestic product growth at 3.2 per cent in the third quarter of the year, lower than the 3.6 per cent and 4.3 per cent in the second and first quarter. According to the survey, private consumption is expected to record much slower growth at 3.1 per cent, compared with 3.9 per cent in the previous quarter. It also predicted the growth for fixed capital formation in the land and construction sector to slow to 9.5 per cent from 10.1 per cent.
Hong Kong courts Asean countries with Belt and Road advantages (SCMP, July 12): The preferential treatment Hong Kong enjoyed from the mainland would enable the city to play a key role as countries in Southeast Asia took advantage of the “Belt and Road Initiative”, Beijing’s international trade development strategy, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said. The city’s top official signaled Asean’s importance to Hong Kong by arranging for her first overseas visit to take her to the region. Lam said that Asean countries had become Hong Kong’s second largest merchandise trading partner, with bilateral trade at US$107 billion in 2015 – behind China but ahead of the United States and the European Union.
Hong Kong-Asean free-trade deal to be signed by November (SCMP, July 13): The Philippines’ trade minister revealed a long-awaited free-trade agreement between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and Hong Kong was expected to be signed in November, as he urged the region’s businessmen to use the city as a gateway to mainland China. Secretary of Trade and Industry Ramon Lopez said the agreement was set to be signed on the sidelines of the 31st Asean summit in the Philippines in November, taking relations between Asean and the city to a new level. The Philippine consul general, Bernardita Catalla, said the key elements to be covered by the FTA included “the elimination or reduction of tariffs, liberalisation of trade and services, as well as intellectual property cooperation”.
Hong Kong’s new government seeks to settle pension fund controversy by end of the year (SCMP, July 13): Hong Kong’s new government is seeking to work out by the end of the year a revised version of the previous administration’s controversial plan to scrap a much-criticised system that allows employers to dip into workers’ pension funds for severance and long-service payments. Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung said the government was considering increasing the HK$7.9 billion in subsidies to be given to businesses over a 10-year period as part of the original plan to get rid of the so-called offsetting mechanism under the Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) scheme.
Hong Kong’s SFC steps out from ‘behind the scenes’, pledging direct, proactive regulation (SCMP, July 14): Hong Kong’s Securities and Futures Commission said that it will “no longer act behind the scenes” and will use its existing legal powers to regulate listed companies more directly and proactively, a move which marks a major change in how the city’s stock markets are supervised. It implies a change in the city’s long standing listing regulation convention, whereby the SFC has taken a back-seat in gate-keeping and deferred to Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing (HKEX) as front-line regulator and single point of contact in all listing matters. Ashley Alder, SFC chief executive officer, said that the new approach will be “front-loaded, transparent, and direct”.
Hong Kong slips to new low in innovation rankings (SCMP, July 15): Hong Kong has slipped for the fourth year in a row in a global benchmark of innovation, ranking 16th globally – its lowest ever position. The city, which now falls behind regional competitors Singapore, South Korea and Japan, experienced a significant drop in education performance, while research and development continued to be one of the weakest areas. Now into its 10th edition, the Global Innovation Index is co-published by Cornell University, INSEAD business school and the United Nations’ World Intellectual Property Organisation. It studies five input factors – governmental institutions, human capital, infrastructure, market sophistication and business sophistication – as well as two output factors – knowledge and creativity.
Fourteen years after Sars, Hong Kong must innovate to make the most of its free-trade deal with China, analysts warn (SCMP, July 17): A free-trade deal with mainland authorities that was intended 14 years ago to bolster Hong Kong’s then-struggling economy may have run its course for the city unless it innovates, analysts warn. Billy Mak, Baptist University, said China was required to
gradually remove barriers for all its trade partners as a member of the Word Trade Organisation. The effect for Hong Kong businesses, he added, would be fiercer competition from foreign firms. With additional overseas rivals joining the game, firms from the city have been urged to raise their competitive edge by incorporating more advanced technologies. Relying on past policy advantages would offer no solution, added Stephen Wong of Chinese University. “It is very difficult for Hong Kong firms to survive on the mainland by purely counting on preferential policies now,” he said.
Carrie Lam’s policies may be boon for Hong Kong-Australia trade links, envoy to city says (SCMP, July 24): Australia’s trade and business links with Hong Kong could see an expansion, the country’s new top diplomat in the city said, pointing to the policies Chief Executive Carrie Lam was set to launch. Australian Consul General Michaela Browning said that it was Lam who helped to initiate the first ever free trade agreement between the two sides – which is still under negotiation – during her visit to Australia in 2015. “She has set a very ambitious agenda on things like the new economy, smart cities, and urban development – these are things that Australia has a lot of interest in supporting and getting engaged,” Browning said, referring to the Hong Kong leader.
Hong Kong bosses refuse to budge in payout row over pension pots (SCMP, July 25): Members of Hong Kong’s business chambers refused to concede much ground over a proposal to allow employers to almost halve long-service and severance payouts in return for no longer dipping into workers’ pension funds. In their first meeting with the city’s new labour minister Dr. Law Chi-kwong, bosses said lowering the maximum payout to HK$200,000 – nearly half the current level – did not go far enough in return for abolishing the Mandatory Provident Fund offsetting mechanism. Labour representatives have said recently that any reduction in the cap would hurt workers.
Hong Kong given level playing field after government cuts tax rate on aircraft leasing companies (SCMP, July 30): With the recent decision by the Hong Kong government to cut the tax rate on aircraft leasing companies, analysts and industry insiders believe the city has an opportunity to be less reliant on property and tourism when it comes to financial transactions. In June the government announced it would reduce the effective tax rate on aircraft leasing companies to less than 10 per cent from over 30 per cent. “The tax cut is significant for Hong Kong’s aircraft leasing business and it will make the [the city] more attractive I believe,” said Clarence Leung, a tax partner at PwC. Corrine Png, chief executive of Crucial Perspective, a Singapore-based research firm, agreed that the tax cut was long overdue and a significant milestone for Hong Kong’s aircraft financing market. “Its existing tax regime was uncompetitive compared to Ireland and Singapore,” she said. “A growing aircraft leasing business will help broaden and deepen the spectrum of financial services in Hong Kong. It will also create more jobs and support the development of Hong Kong’s aviation sector.”
President Xi Jinping marks ‘red line’ in warning to Hong Kong on national sovereignty (SCMP, July 2): President Xi Jinping warned Hong Kong not to cross the “red line” of undermining Chinese sovereignty, urging consensus instead of conflict to solve major problems, as he mapped out his clearest, most comprehensive direction for the city. Wrapping up his landmark three-day visit by swearing in the city’s first female chief executive Carrie Lam on the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China, Xi struck a tough yet tempered tone in his speech before a 2,000-strong audience. He praised the city for its successes but also pointed out the strains it had been under, alluding to the political and social tumult of recent years that has spawned radical dissent and even independence advocacy, to the consternation of Beijing. Drawing a link between the political tensions in the city and missed opportunities for socio-economic development, Xi warned that the city “cannot afford to be torn apart by reckless moves or internal rift”. “Any attempt to endanger China’s sovereignty and security, challenge the power of the central government … or use Hong Kong to carry out infiltration and sabotage activities against the mainland is an act that crosses the red line, and is absolutely impermissible,” he said. “Hong Kong needs to improve its systems to uphold national sovereignty, security and development interests.” Xi highlighted the need to enhance education and awareness on the history and culture of the Chinese nation. Xi also clarified the legal status of Hong Kong’s Basic Law, the mini-constitution providing its rights and freedoms, stressing that it should be viewed as subordinate to China’s constitution.
Annual July 1 pro-democracy march in Hong Kong draws record low turnout (SCMP, July 2): The July 1 anti-government march saw its size shrink by almost half to a two-year low of about 60,000, with organisers blaming the low turnout on perceived aggressive tactics by police towards protesters in recent years and heavy rain. Police put the turnout at 14,500 – the lowest number since official
records of the turnout began in 2003. The Civil Human Rights Front warned the new chief executive Carrie Lam not to take the people’s demands lightly despite the “seemingly low turnout”. The government said it understood the people’s desire for universal suffrage but that given the “extremely controversial nature of the issue, we must prudently consider all related factors and seek consensus at a suitable juncture and in appropriate circumstances.
Peace returns to Hong Kong’s legislature as new leader Carrie Lam attends first session – but how long will honeymoon last? (SCMP, July 6): A long-forgotten peace resumed in the Legislative Council as the city’s new leader Carrie Lam attended her first question-and-answer session – which did not end up in a war of words. While radical lawmaker “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung was again ousted from the chamber as he protested against Lam for not implementing a universal pension scheme, lawmakers from both sides agreed the meeting was more constructive and peaceful than those attended by Lam’s predecessor Leung Chun-ying. Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan said the honeymoon period might not be long as Lam soon had to deal with a hot potato – the establishment of a joint immigration facility for the high-speed rail link to Guangzhou.
Beijing is not insisting Carrie Lam pass a national security law right now, senior adviser claims (SCMP, July 7): Beijing is not insisting that Hong Kong’s new leader secure passage of a national security law in the next few years, but she must demonstrate she is willing and sincere about safeguarding China’s sovereignty, a senior adviser to the central government Professor Lau Siu-kai said. Lau said Beijing would prefer that Chief Executive Carrie Lam strengthen the authority of her administration over the next few years with policy achievements and ideally amid a moderate political atmosphere in the city. Carrie Lam reiterated Hong Kong had a constitutional responsibility to enact a national security law, but made clear it would only happen when conditions were conducive.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam at highest popularity since she was elected four months ago (SCMP, July 11): Hong Kong’s new top official has received a favourable report card, with all but two ministers from the previous administration scoring positive marks in the first popularity survey conducted by the University of Hong Kong since July 1. Carrie Lam’s popularity rating hit its highest level since she was elected the city’s chief executive in March. Her popularity increased dramatically, by 11.5 marks, to 63.7 out of 100, as compared with two weeks ago. The study polled 832 Hongkongers between July 3 and 6, and came against the backdrop of Lam’s efforts to mend ties with the legislature. Her efforts to undo several of Leung’s controversial policies have led some to argue she seeks to ditch accusations that she is “CY 2.0”, in a reference to her predecessor CY Leung.
Hong Kong pan-democrats urge Beijing to release ailing dissident Liu Xiaobo in Legco petition (SCMP, July 13): Twenty-four pan-democratic lawmakers presented a petition in the Legislative Council urging Beijing to allow critically ill dissident Liu Xiaobo to receive treatment overseas. But Legco President Andrew Leung banned the lawmakers from tabling an adjournment debate on Liu’s case, sparking accusations of abuse of power from democrats. Under the Legco rules of procedure, members can present a petition but no speech, debate or voting shall be made. The 24 pan- democrats stood up to show respect and support for the democracy fighter after Democratic Party’s Ted Hui read out the petition. The pan-democrats also issued an open letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping, voicing the same demand. On July 11, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said it was not her role to exert pressure on the central government over the matter. She said she was confident that Beijing would handle it “in a legal and compassionate way”.
Court ruling disqualifying Hong Kong lawmakers over oath-taking controversy ‘a declaration of war’ (SCMP, July 14): An intense political drama gripped Hong Kong as the High Court stripped four opposition lawmakers of their seats in the legislature for improper oath-taking, in a tough ruling that further alienates the pan-democratic camp and sets the stage for months of legal appeals, protests and acrimony ahead. “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, Nathan Law, Lau Siu-lai and Edward Yiu were disqualified by the Court of First Instance. The court, ruling on legal action initiated by former chief executive Leung Chun-ying, was unambiguous in clarifying that oath-taking must be done strictly by the book with no additions or deviations – before, during or after an oath – no matter how well intended. Mr Justice Thomas Au based his ruling on both common law principles and a controversial interpretation of the city’s mini-constitution by China’s top legislature that earlier saw two newly elected pro-independence lawmakers kicked out of Legco for insulting the nation during their swearing-in. All four vowed to appeal, presenting a picture of defiance at a press conference first and a protest at night joined by hundreds of supporters outside government headquarters. The judgment dashed any hope of reconciliation between opposition lawmakers – who called it a “declaration of war” – and the new administration of Chief Executive Carrie Lam. Responding to the ruling, she made it clear she would not intervene for the sake of better relations.
Legislative Council disqualifications shift the balance of power in Hong Kong (SCMP, July 15): The removal of four opposition lawmakers on July 14 over improper oath-taking has further crippled the democratic bloc in terms of its already limited veto power in Hong Kong’s divided legislature. That gives the government’s allies the opportunity to capitalise on their strength in the Legislative Council and change the rule book to stop filibustering, a tactic often used by the pan-democrats to block controversial bills.
Rule of law sacred but we can still make peace with pan-dems (SCMP, July 20): Hong Kong’s No 2 official drew a bottom line, making it clear that the government would not compromise the rule of law to mend fences with opposition lawmakers alienated by the recent disqualification of four members of their camp. Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung was speaking a day after the final meeting of the Legislative Council’s Finance Committee ended in chaos, with five out of eight government funding requests untouched before the three-month summer break. The pan-democrats dragged out the funding debate to protest against what they called “a declaration of war” after the High Court ruled in favour of the government and stripped four lawmakers of their seats over improper oath-taking. While stressing the administration was sincere in extending an olive branch to the pan-democrats, Cheung also spelled out the bottom lines in terms of observing the rule of law and seeing to the overall public interest and well-being of the community.
Moves under way to change Hong Kong Legislative Council rules to block filibustering (SCMP, July 21): Pro-government lawmakers will propose to change the procedural rules for the Legislative Council after the summer recess to restrict filibusters in a move slammed by their rivals as “taking advantage” of their plight. Pro-Beijing lawmaker Priscilla Leung said that their camp would raise proposals to restrict filibusters in council meetings when Legco resumes in October. Changes to the rulebook require support from both geographical and functional constituencies, which are both dominated by the pro-government camp after six lawmakers from its rival camp were disqualified over their oath-taking antics. Civic Party lawmaker Alvin Yeung slammed the pro-Beijing lawmakers for taking advantage of the “exceptional time” to strip legislators’ powers.
Joint Hong Kong-mainland China checkpoint given go-ahead despite legal fears (SCMP, July 26): National laws will be enforced on Hong Kong’s soil for the first time under a controversial plan approved by the city’s government on July 25 to lease to mainland authorities a quarter of the West Kowloon terminus of the high-speed rail link to Guangzhou. Top officials denied ceding Hong Kong territory to authorities from across the border as they tried to ease concerns about jurisdictional uncertainties, while critics called it a violation of the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law. The so- called co-location proposal endorsed by the Executive Council will allow mainland officers to exercise nearly full jurisdiction – criminal and civil – in the 105,000 square metre designated port area. Top officials had a simple answer for critics warning that this would violate Article 18 of the Basic Law that states mainland laws cannot be enforced in Hong Kong territory. “We do not think Article 18 would apply because ... the mainland port area would be regarded as outside the territorial boundary of Hong Kong,” Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen said. Opposition lawmakers remained unconvinced, vowing to go all out to block the arrangement for the HK$84.4 billion Hong Kong section of the express rail link, which is scheduled to open in the third quarter of next year. A government source said the need for nearly full mainland jurisdiction in the leased area, beyond the immigration and quarantine aspects originally discussed, was to avoid legal uncertainties and loopholes due to “overlapping jurisdictions”.
Hong Kong legal challenge to mainland’s high-speed rail terminus lease ‘unlikely to succeed’ (SCMP, July 26): It will be “nearly impossible” to win a court challenge against the proposal to apply mainland laws to part of the West Kowloon terminus for the high-speed rail link, lawyers say after the justice secretary Rimsky Yuen unveiled his plan to seek confirmation from the ultimate source of legality – the National People’s Congress Standing Committee. Once the committee passes a decision to allow the Hong Kong government to lease a 105,000 sq m site to mainland authorities, Hong Kong courts will be effectively stripped of the power to scrutinise the “fait accompli”, according to constitutional lawyers in Hong Kong and Beijing. Under the plan, the two governments will first reach a cooperation agreement, then ask for a ruling by the Standing Committee before leaving it to the local legislature to finalise the arrangement.
Joint checkpoint deal opens door for Beijing to quash protests on Hong Kong soil, Basic Law drafter warns (SCMP, July 28): Two drafters of Hong Kong’s mini-constitution locked horns over the legal basis of a controversial joint checkpoint for the cross-border express rail link. Founding Democratic Party chairman Martin Lee, a barrister who sat on the committee that drafted the Basic Law, said the arrangement could set a precedent for the Hong Kong and central governments to easily invoke the same legal arguments in future to tackle difficult situations, such as a repeat of the Occupy movement of 2014. “With a mutual agreement through Article 20, the occupied area can be rented to the mainland on a short one-week lease, and for that week Hong Kong laws will not apply,” he said. “It means Hong Kong people will not be protected by Hong Kong laws, including the Basic Law,” Lee said. But pro-Beijing member of the Basic Law drafting committee, Maria Tam, dismissed such fears as a big “what if” and pointed out that there was a complete legal basis for the leasing arrangement. Tam, also a barrister, countered that she could not see Lee’s scenario happening and that the government “would never out-of-the-blue just lease land to the mainland to use”.
Hong Kong leader blasts views of joint checkpoint critics as ridiculous and incomprehensible (SCMP, July 31): Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said that Hongkongers’ civil liberties and personal safety would not be compromised under the controversial joint checkpoint arrangement for the cross- border express rail link’s terminus, as she described opposition lawmakers’ criticism as “ridiculous” and “incomprehensible”. The chief executive expressed confidence that the Legislative Council would approve related legislation before the HK$84.4 billion rail link opened in the third quarter of next year. Defending the plan on a radio programme, Lam urged residents not to consider the plan from a “politicised” perspective. Writing on their weekly official blogs, the city’s second and third ranking officials said the joint checkpoint plan was vital for Hong Kong’s economy. Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung said without the plan the rail link would not bring the envisioned economic benefits to Hong Kong and the city would face being marginalised. Financial Secretary Paul Chan wrote that the joint checkpoint would help Hong Kong maintain its economic vitality.
Beijing says Sino-British treaty on Hong Kong handover still binding but does not allow UK to interfere (SCMP, July 8): Beijing conceded that the Sino-British Joint Declaration was legally binding, but insisted the 1984 treaty to enable Hong Kong’s handover to China in 1997 did not give Britain the right to interfere in the city’s affairs. Xu Hong, director general of the Chinese foreign ministry’s treaty and law department, sought to clarify a colleague’s recent remarks suggesting the irrelevance of the treaty. He also assured Hong Kong that Beijing was committed to upholding the “one country, two systems” policy – not under the treaty, but because of a commitment in the city’s mini-constitution. Xu was referring to ministry spokesman Lu Kang’s statement on June 30, the eve of the 20th handover anniversary, that the treaty had become “a historical document that no longer has any realistic meaning” and did not have “any binding power on how China administers Hong Kong”. Britain hit back at Lu, insisting the treaty remained legally binding and it was committed to monitoring its implementation.
Legal affairs and human rights
Hong Kong police to set up special team to handle terror attacks and large-scale protests (SCMP, July 7): Hong Kong police will set up a new 30-member contingency coordination team in two months to boost their capacity in handling major incidents like terror attacks, large-scale protests and disasters, according to the city’s deputy police chief Alfred Chau. The Junior Police Officers’ Association welcomed the new contingency coordination team, additional personnel and new gear, saying the measures would help upgrade the force’s capabilities and provide better protection to frontline officers.
Hong Kong passes law making it easier to say ‘sorry’ without legal consequences (SCMP, July 14): Legislative Council approved by 46-2 votes the long-awaited Apology Bill, which is intended to prevent the escalation of disputes, such as medical negligence cases, and to facilitate their “amicable” resolution. Under the law, an apology, whether oral, written or by conduct expressing “regret, sympathy or benevolence”, will not be admissible as evidence to determine fault or liability in civil and other non-criminal proceedings, subject to certain exemptions. The idea of introducing an apology law, which is already in place in countries such as Canada and United States, was raised after the Lamma ferry disaster of 2012, when the Marine Department director at the time took eight months to offer an apology. He cited the need to take legal advice.
Hong Kong’s new welfare chief urges action to ease plight of city’s elderly carers (SCMP, July 10): Hong Kong’s new welfare minister called for a fresh look at the support network for the tens of thousands of elderly people who serve as caregivers as he proposed an inquiry into a tragedy in which an 80-year-old man who allegedly strangled his chronically ill wife. Secretary for Labour and Welfare Dr Law Chi-kwong, an academic who specialises in social policies and ageing issues, made the call weeks after the crime led to renewed criticism of efforts to allow seniors to age at home rather than in institutions. The number of residents aged 65 and above rose from 10.3 per cent of the population in 1997 to 16 per cent in 2016, pushing the number to more than a million. This figure will soar to 24 per cent by 2025 and by 2041 almost one in three will be elderly.
Hong Kong doctors asked to report antibiotics use amid global superbug crisis (SCMP, July 11): Hong Kong’s private doctors will be asked to report the use of antibiotics under a comprehensive government action plan to tackle overprescription and the proliferation of superbugs. The move to get a grip on the problem that the World Health Organisation is calling a “global crisis” comes as Hong Kong has seen a five-fold increase since 2007 in cases of one particular drug-resistant superbug spreading in the community. However, the reporting of antibiotic usage through the existing electronic health record system shared by doctors and the government will be voluntary, and no punishment is in store for offenders, raising doubts about the effectiveness of this approach. The government also plans to ban farmers in two years’ time from giving antibiotics to animals bred for food unless they are prescribed by vets. It will then scrap a specific permit that currently allows farmers to purchase and use antibiotics.
46 samples of cooking oil on sale in Hong Kong contained cancer-causing substance in tests (SCMP, July 17): Hong Kong’s consumer watchdog has found more than 40 samples of cooking oil to contain contaminants and a cancer-causing substance. The Consumer Council tested 60 types of edible oil from various brands and found 46 samples contained the toxic carcinogen glycidol. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified glycidol as a Group 2A substance, or “probably carcinogenic to humans”. There are no safe levels set for it anywhere in the world. For cooking oils sold in Hong Kong, there are currently no safety standards. The government said legislation would be presented in the wake of the Taiwan gutter oil scandal in 2014, but that still has not been unveiled.
Hong Kong health chief confirms 8,300 more places for hospital outpatient clinics to fight flu (SCMP, July 20): An extra 8,300 places will be made available at general outpatient clinics at public hospitals in the next two months in a bid to cope with a surge in summer flu cases. The increase, which accounts for 1.6 per cent of the existing monthly quota, was announced by Secretary for Food and Health Professor Sophia Chan. Chan confirmed good progress in talks with St Teresa’s Hospital, which she believed may be the first private hospital to offer beds to help ease the crisis. Chan said other private hospitals were expressing an interest in helping public facilities, which saw an overall occupancy rate of 108 per cent on July 18.
Hong Kong’s Chinese medicine doctors ‘could help during flu crisis’ (SCMP, July 25): The city’s 18 government-supported Chinese medicine clinics could take up to 30 per cent more patients than they are currently, to help with the overload at public hospitals caused by the summer flu peak period, a senior Hospital Authority official has said. Eric Ziea, chief of the authority’s Chinese medicine department, said traditional remedies could help alleviate some symptoms of the illness, but that his doctors had not had anything like the huge increase in demand seen at mainstream public hospitals lately. Ziea’s announcement came as doctors and nurses struggle to cope with throngs of patients hit by a summer flu strain that has killed more than 200 people since May.
Hong Kong ship regulation on sulphur dioxide emissions set to align with national level (SCMP, July 3): A two-year-old Hong Kong regulation requiring ships to switch to low-sulphur fuel at berth is to be replaced by one that will extend the standard to marine vessels operating in Hong Kong waters. The tweak in regulations is set to align with Pearl River Delta emissions control which will take effect on the national level in January 2019. Authorities told the Advisory Council on the Environment the move would help cut harmful sulphur dioxide emissions from the marine sector by about 6,340 tonnes and respirable particulates – called PM10 – by about 710 tonnes by 2020.
West side of Hong Kong and the poor most at risk from city’s dirty roadside air, study finds (SCMP, July 14): Recent Hong Kong government figures may show a general improvement in air quality – but the threat to public health from street level pollution remains dire and will continue to worsen in the absence of better policies in transport management, an environmental group has warned. The Clean Air Network has found roadside air pollution to be worst in the western parts of Hong Kong, with the hardest hit neighbourhoods also the poorest, most socially deprived, densely populated and clogged with traffic. Citing previous academic studies, the Clean Air Network said there was a positive correlation between a district’s population, household income, traffic density and air quality. The more populated and less well-off areas had greater traffic and thus were more exposed to unhealthy air.
Culture and Education
Hong Kong’s new leader doles out extra billions in education spending spree (SCMP, July 6): Chief Executive Carrie Lam offered •subsidies to around 40,000 secondary school leavers and promised permanent jobs for more than 2,300 teachers as she outlined how she would spend the extra HK$5 billion a year on education she promised earlier. “The education problem needs not just money to solve it; it also needs all our hearts,” Lam said. “The increase in expenditure is only the first step.” Dr Ng Shun-wing, adjunct professor at the Education University, said Lam’s policy was a “goodwill response” to many problems that had long existed.
Hong Kong teachers oppose appointment of pro-Beijing educator as undersecretary (SCMP, July 8): The controversy surrounding the possible appointment of pro-Beijing secondary school principal Christine Choi as the No 2 in the Education Bureau has escalated with an online petition opposing the move snowballing to 10,339 signatures in less than three weeks. Late last month, soon after her possible appointment was reported, Choi appeared in a China Central Television news programme saying that one of her missions was to cultivate students’ recognition of the country. The coalition said this showed that Choi’s stance was so strong that she was violating the professional code requiring educators to remain neutral and balanced.
Hong Kong university picks new leader over the objections of students and staff (SCMP, July 26): Chinese University has chosen an internationally renowned scientist Professor Rocky Tuan as its new vice-chancellor despite opposition from students, staff and alumni who fear he will not be able to protect its institutional autonomy. Tuan will begin his term on January 1 next year for a period of six years. When asked about whether he would help students who had been arrested for participating in civil disobedience movements, Tuan said the school could act as a bridge to get alumni to help but added that the university had to abide by the law. Professor Chan King-ming, president of the Chinese University Teachers Association, said he was disappointed that Tuan could not promise to help students.
Up to 27.5 per cent rise in Tuition approved for English Schools Foundation institutions in Hong Kong (SCMP, July 28): Hong Kong’s largest provider of international education has confirmed that it has secured Education Bureau approval to raise its fees by between 5.4 and 27.5 per cent for 17 of its schools in the next academic year. A spokeswoman for the foundation said the sharp rise was caused mainly by the loss of the government subvention, which started being phased out last year, over a period of 13 years. She said of the HK$23,000 increase, a total of HK$17,300 was caused by the government not subsidising this batch of pupils, while the rest was caused by cost increases.
Macau’s former chief prosecutor Ho Chio-meng jailed 21 years for crimes including fraud and money laundering (SCMP, July 15): Macau’s former top prosecutor Ho Chio-meng was jailed for 21 years for crimes including aggravated fraud, money laundering and initiating or founding a criminal association. Ho, who faced 1,536 charges and was convicted of 10 types of crime, has no right of appeal because he was judged by the highest court in Macau. He was prosecutor general from 1999 to 2014 and once tipped to become chief executive. It was the second high-profile case involving a top official since Macau returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1999.
Fresh Beijing crackdown on dirty Macau cash anticipated as VIP casino revenues surge (SCMP, July 20): A surge in VIP takings at Macau casinos coupled with an unprecedented warning from its biggest junket operator about the dangers of moving money in and out of the city have sparked fears that the world’s top gaming hub could see Beijing launch a fresh crackdown on dirty cash. More than
three years into a drive to transform the city’s gaming industry from a high-rolling conduit for huge volumes of illicit money from the mainland into a more family-oriented, mass market destination, the latest official data shows a significant jump in the very VIP revenues Beijing wants to curtail. The VIP rise comes as China continues its ever expanding effort to block available avenues for capital flight, most notably with recent high-profile curbs on investments by some of the country’s largest conglomerates.
In key audit, Macau gets glowing report card for efforts to fight dirty cash (SCMP, July 27): Casino hub Macau’s bid to reinvent itself as a family-friendly tourist destination was given a boost after a respected international body handed the city a glowing report card at the end of a key audit of its anti-money-laundering and anti-terrorist-financing regime. Carried out by a team made up of member nations of the Asia-Pacific arm of the Financial Action Taskforce on Money Laundering (FATF), the audit or “Mutual Evaluation Report” rated Macau’s “effectiveness” in supervising its anti-money laundering regime as “substantial”, a measure officials from the Monetary Authority of Macau said was the result of “tremendous and continuous” efforts by the authority and the financial sector as a whole.
Greater satisfaction, good pay rises and reduced air pollution: Hongkongers quality of life on the rise according to survey (SCMP, July 6): Hongkongers’ quality of life has “significantly improved” for the first time since 2010, fuelled by greater life satisfaction, inflation-beating pay rises and reduced air pollution, a Chinese University of Hong Kong survey has claimed. But freedom of speech and the intensity of press criticism of the government and local corporations has continued to decline, researchers said. Compiled annually since 2003, the Hong Kong Quality of Life Index studies year-on- year changes of 23 indicators from the five categories of health, society, culture and leisure, economy, and environment. With a base score of 100 for 2002, the index for 2016 stood at 105.39, compared to
101.32 for the previous year.
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