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November 14, 2002 Hong Kong Presentation Notes by Johnson Choi
In Depth Look of Hong Kong - Past, Current & Future
In Depth Look of China - Past, Current & Future
To succeed in business in Hawaii, you must understand the islands
How to Do Business with China, through Hong Kong & Setting up Business in China?
Hawaii Failed Business Image and Continue Missed Opportunities

        

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BRENDA FOSTER, PRESIDENT OF THE AMERICAN CHAMBER OF COMMERCE IN SHANGHAI; "An Update of the Business Climate in China" to the Hong Kong China Hawaii Chamber of Commerce (HKCHcc) at the Pacific Club 2/14/2008

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March 31, 2008

Hong Kong: China's State Council, or cabinet, appointed Simon Peh Yun-lu as the Director of Immigration of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government here on Friday. The State Council also ended the term of Lai Tung-kwok as the Director of Immigration. Lai was named to the position last June. The decision was made based on the nomination and suggestion by Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, chief executive of the HKSAR government.

If the government introduced a congestion charge today it would have to sting drivers for HK$90 for each trip to Central - and that would deter only one in five from making the journey by road. But drivers would need pay only HK$40 to HK$50 if the scheme were launched in 2016, when the Central-Wan Chai bypass has been built. Those are among the findings of the second study of the feasibility of electronic road pricing. A senior government source called the HK$90 charge huge and said: "We do not think people will be willing to pay such a high price." Congestion charging has been on the agenda since the 1980s. A consultancy study finished in 2000 was not released in full. The source said officials were looking at the second study's findings and considering how and when to release them. The source said the difference between the charges was so high because, without a bypass, drivers unwilling to pay would have almost no alternative route. "They would have to pay and go to Central because there was no other choice, thus only a huge charge can deter traffic coming to Central. With the bypass, drivers going to Sheung Wan and Western could skip Central without paying a charge. Without the bypass, motorists who don't want to pay would be pushed to Mid-Levels and that would be a nightmare." The source added: "The bypass is an essential part of the road pricing scheme." Tim Hau Doe-kwong, a University of Hong Kong transport expert, said the figures showed the significance of giving drivers a second option. "A mere increase in costs to suppress demand without the provision of an alternative would result in public chaos," he said. The Transport Department's 2006 annual traffic census shows the average number of vehicles entering and leaving the city's central business district each day was 491,320. Other cities have reported dramatic results from congestion charging. Singapore's Land Transport Authority says the number of vehicles entering the city centre fell by more than 70 per cent when road pricing was introduced in 1997. Transport for London, which oversees congestion charging in the British capital, says that in 2006, the number of vehicles entering the central zone where the charge applies was down 21 per cent on the number in 2002, a year before it began charging drivers. The Hong Kong government's third comprehensive transport study, in 2003, showed average speeds had dropped to 16km/h on major roads in the central business district. If nothing was done by 2011, it said, that would drop to 5.3km/h. The Council for Sustainable Development polled 80,000 people last year and found more than 40 per cent support for electronic road pricing. What other cities charge: Singapore charges between S$0.25 and S$10 (HK$1.40 to HK$56) per road Monday to Saturday from 7am to 10.30pm. Rates change every 20 minutes. London charges £8 (HK$125) to enter the city centre between 7am and 6pm on weekdays and 6pm to 7am at weekends and holidays. Discounts are offered to some categories of driver. Stockholm levies between 10 and 60 krona (HK$13 to HK$78) on vehicles using roads in the congestion zone between 6.30am and 6.30pm. There is no charge at night, during weekends and public holidays or in July. Dubai charges between 4 dirham and 24 dirham (HK$8.50 to HK$51) when drivers pass toll gates at the entrance to the emirate's congestion charging zone. New York has proposed levying congestion charges of between US$7 and US$21 on vehicles entering the Manhattan business district from 6am to 6pm.

Hong Kong's flying dragon logo, seen on posters, brochures and Cathay Pacific flights, has been successful since it was unveiled seven years ago as part of a city image promotion program, a senior official said Friday. The image incorporating the letters HK and the Chinese characters for Hong Kong, often together with the phrase "Asia's world city," has been a successful example of branding, said John Tsang, financial secretary of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government, comparing it with Canada's trademark maple leave. "The Hong Kong Brand has become known overseas since it (the logo) was launched some seven years ago. Hong Kong is regarded as a vibrant, multi-cultural city with plenty of opportunities for those who dare to take the plunge," Tsang told a forum Friday. The strategic objective of the Brand Hong Kong initiative, launched by the HKSAR government in 2001 and run by the Information Services Department, was to communicate the city's competitive positioning, values and culture, the HKSAR government said. The HKSAR government has carried out massive promotion under the program. The visual identity can now be seen across Hong Kong, from the skyline to the airport. It even had an official website of its own. The phrase "Asia's world city' has become part of the regional lexicon and many organizations and individuals were applying for authorization to use the Brand Hong Kong logo, the website said. The ideas, hard work and passion of Hong Kong residents formed the foundation for Brand Hong Kong's success both at home and overseas, Frederick Ma, secretary for commerce and economic development, said at a workshop earlier. The HKSAR government is in the middle of public consultation, begun with Wednesday's workshop to review the Brand Hong Kong program. Tsang called for updated public services, among others, as he asked people to consider whether Hong Kong's competitive positioning was still relevant today. "Given the many changes around us, since its issuance some seven years ago, we are now in the process of reviewing its relevance and applicability through an extensive public engagement exercise, " he said, urging for revitalization of Brand Hong Kong.

Private rules that govern public spaces - Insisting on the right to use public space within a private development can earn you a strong rebuke from security guards. In one case, it resulted in a call to the police. The multimedia team of the Sunday Morning Post conducted a test last week to gauge the accessibility of these public spaces. The test involved using a video camera to film city sights popular with tourists. In two cases - at the fourth-floor public podium at IFC mall and at Swire Properties' Park Court outside Pacific Place - security guards allowed filming without condition. In the third case, staff working for Hong Kong Land in Exchange Square permitted filming of the sculptures on public display, but said tripods were not allowed. At the fourth location, guards reacted differently as we filmed from a public sidewalk in Quarry Bay. Two guards said we were not permitted to take images of the exterior of Taikoo Place, claiming those images were the property of Swire. Nevertheless, they took no further action as we continued to shoot, as we insisted filming could take place from a public sidewalk. The greatest trouble encountered was at the public courtyard at The Center, in Central, which is managed by Citybase Property Management. Staff said that while the area was public, it was "under the control" of Citybase and we were required to apply to management for shooting permission. Security services manager Terence Mok said someone might trip over our tripod, while our Canon XL1 camera - because of its size - would draw too much attention. "The tripod and the shooting will affect our guests. They will ask, `What's going on? What's going on? What happened here?'" he said. After we turned off our cameras, Mr Mok asked us to erase footage of him, saying we had violated his privacy. We declined to do so, explaining we had identified ourselves as reporters and that the shooting took place in a public area. Mr Mok then called the police, in the apparent belief the police could order the footage to be deleted. However, the commanding officer who arrived at the scene told Citybase it was not within his authority to order the destruction of the private property of another individual. The Sunday Morning Post (SEHK: 0583, announcements, news) informed Citybase that Mr Mok's image would not be used as part of the video report accompanying this story. The test was to measure the openness of these public spaces, not to highlight the actions of any particular individual. The police officer proposed to Citybase that it post its rules clearly on how the public may use the courtyard. The Development Bureau on Friday recommended that property owners across Hong Kong do the same. Spokeswoman Eunice Chan said Citybase had no rules for the courtyard, "and so there is no issue, as suggested, to post rules in an area where the public can view them". She said the security guards had disallowed the use of tripods "to maintain free flow of passage for the convenience of the public", but did not say why filming was banned. Asked whether calling the police was an appropriate use of police resources, Ms Chan said this "should be appreciated as an act to avoid further escalation of arguments". However, during 15 minutes of friendly chat as we waited for the police, Mr Mok said we were not being detained, though he wished for us to remain until police arrived to resolve the issue.

The police will do a good job at ensuring law and order if protests break out during the Olympic equestrian events, Hong Kong's police chief said yesterday. Commissioner of Police Tang King-shing said the force had received information that protests by foreign groups would be staged in the city during the Games. He said the force would contact the protest groups to sort out the logistics as soon as possible. "We will contact foreign protest groups because they don't know the city and because we want to make sure that all protests go smoothly and are peaceful," Mr Tang said. Mr Tang said the force had not received any intelligence that terrorist groups had targeted the city during the Games but a medium security alert had been raised. The force has also been working with the Beijing Organising Committee for the Games to ensure the event goes smoothly. Mr Tang said officers trained to handle any eventuality would be deployed to ensure security at the equestrian events and throughout the city. Information on securing Hong Kong would also be sought from other countries.

Booming industry 'threatens safety' - A boom in shipbuilding across East Asia is fuelling an acute shortage of experienced mariners, which poses a serious risk to safety standards, industry experts warn. New shipyards are coming on stream across China following industry expansion in the Pearl River Delta, Shanghai, Ningbo, Dalian and Tsingtao, with Vietnam and South Korea also seeing rapid growth. "We are set to see an even greater expansion over the next five years and the whole industry - because of the rapid expansion - is suffering from a shortage of experienced staff," one industry insider said. "It takes 10 to 12 years to build a captain in terms of giving him the experience and security to head a vessel, but it only takes two years to build a ship." Classification society DNV Maritime warned last week that global accident rates for large ships had doubled in the past five years, citing the boom in shipping, a shortage of officers, lower retention rates and faster promotion as key factors. Arthur Bowring, chairman of the Hong Kong Shipowners Association, said: "We do have a crisis in seafarer supply. Everybody is short of people. So far we haven't laid up any ships for lack of crew but in the next two to three years we should see a situation where ships are not able to sail because they don't have the right crew."

China: EU foreign ministers rejected Saturday the call for a boycott of the upcoming Beijing Olympic Games over the Tibet issue. EU acknowledged Tibet is part of China and Chinese territorial integrity should be respected.

3G cell phone services on trial run in 8 cities - China Mobile will next week launch the pre-commercial service of third generation (3G) mobile phone telephony based on a home-grown standard.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (C) arrives in Vientiane, capital of Laos, March 29, 2008. Wen started his working visit to Laos on Saturday evening by the invitation of Lao Prime Minister Bouasone Bouphavanh, and he is also scheduled to attend the 3rd Summit of the Great Mekong Subregion countries in Vientiane. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao arrived here on Saturday evening, starting his working visit to Laos. Wen is also scheduled to attend the 3rd Summit of the Great Mekong Subregion countries -- China, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar -- to be convened in this Laos capital city on Monday. According to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Wen, invited by Lao Prime Minister Bouasone Bouphavanh, will meet with Lao President Choummaly Saygnasone and hold talks with his Lao counterpart Bouasone on future bilateral cooperation. Wen and Bouasone are scheduled to attend the signing ceremony of cooperation agreement in the sectors of economy, technology, coal and e-governance. After his working visit to Laos, Wen will join with leaders from the other five GMS members as well as representatives from the Asian Development Bank at the summit and attend the opening ceremony of a 1,800-km international road from China's Kunming city to Thailand's Bangkok. The GMS, established in 1992, promotes economic and social development, irrigation and cooperation within the six Mekong countries. About 320 million people live within the GMS region, and their common link, the Mekong River, winds its way for 4,200 km. The great majority of these people live in rural areas where they lead subsistence or semi-subsistence agricultural lifestyles. The area boasts abundant natural resources and huge development potential. With a long history of cultural and economic exchanges among the nations, the area has formed peculiar cultural and economic characteristics based on different folk customs and natural landscapes of the six nations sharing the river. The first GMS Summit was held in Cambodia's Phnom Penh in 2002,and the second in southwest China's Kunming in 2005.

Crew members of the Olympic Torch plane take oath in front of the plane at Beijing Capital International Airport March 27, 2008. The plane, chartered to carry the torch back to Beijing, will take off for Athens on Saturday. The Olympic Torch plane takes off from Beijing Capital International Airport on Saturday morning, heading for Athens where it will collect the famous flame, Tan Zhihong, senior vice-president of Air China, which provided the plane, said on Friday. The Airbus A330 passenger airliner, which has 200-plus seats, including 30 for VIPs, has been chartered to carry the torch on its global tour. "The aircraft has a specially designed stand to hold the flame while it is in transit," Tan said. "We guarantee it will continue to burn throughout the 11-and-a-half-hour flight from Athens. "It will arrive in Beijing on Monday, after its six-day relay through Greece," he said. A grand ceremony will be held to welcome the flame and officially launch the torch relay of the 2008 Olympic Games.

Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi got close to two orangutans at a conservation area in Sabah, Malaysia last December while shooting a program to promote wildlife protection. Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi is in the spotlight once again, but not as an actress. This time, Zhang Ziyi is hosting an English TV program titled "The Story of Wildlife," which aims to draw attention to wild animals facing extinction. Zhang shot the program last December at a conservation area in Sabah, a region in Malaysia, Xiaoxiang Morning Post reported. The trailer of the program shows Zhang visiting a tropical rainforest and introducing some species of the nearly-extinct wildlife. Although the insects in the rainforest are potentially harmful, Zhang insisted going into the rainforest herself to give the audience a closer look at the animals. After spending three days with a pair of orphaned orangutans, Zhang experienced their deteriorating living environment firsthand. This primate, which acts much like humans, is often captured and regarded as a pet. Some wildlife experts predict that they will die out in ten years if no effective measures are taken. 

A girl stands beside a Bright Dairy booth at a supermarket of Yichang, Central China's Hubei Province, on March 28. Approved by the regulator, Bright Dairy raised the prices of some of its milk products on Friday.

The unmanned lunar orbiter Chang'e I that blasted off from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan province atop a Long March 3A rocket last October, heralding the first stage of the mainland's lunar exploration program, is among several other space technologies on display at an exhibition in West Kowloon. China Space Expo - Space Odyssey, which winds up at the end of this week at the PopTV Arena in West Kowloon, offers a rare look at the Chang'e I, the Long March rocket and Shenzhou spacecraft. A space documentary is also a part of the show. Exhibits are on show in two separate areas - the China Space Expo hall, and the Space Odyssey hall. The Space Expo hall has more than 10 pieces of key equipment on display, such as the Long March-2 rocket launcher, Shenzhou re-entry capsule and the Shenzhou spacecraft. Huang Chunping, the commander of Shenzhou No 5 and 6 missions who is also vice-chairman of China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, hopes the show will inspire the young and stir their ties to the mainland. Secretary for Home Affairs Tsang Tak-sing says that the expo reflects the giant leap made by China in space technology. The expo is open from 2-10pm from today to Friday and from noon to 10pm this weekend. Tickets for adults are priced from HK$80 to HK$100, while students, children, the handicapped and seniors pay HK$40 on weekdays and HK$50 on weekends. The exhibition is presented by Beijing Science Association in conjunction with Beijing 1831 Mobility Technology Centre and the China Exhibition Organizing Committee. It is also supported by the China Space Museum, PopTV Arena HK, Cosmedia Group, and Live Nation.

The "Made in China" label, once scorned in Laos, is now coveted. "About eight years ago, the quality of Chinese products sold in Laos was so bad that they had an infamous reputation," said Peng Zhenghua, a Chinese businessman who has lived in the capital, Vientiane, since 1993. "Many people found that Chinese food they bought had already expired. Others complained their new washing machines and video players broke down after a few months' use. "Laos people used to boycott Chinese products. Even me. I refused to buy them at that time. As a result, many shops selling Chinese products were forced to fold and Chinese businessmen faced a hard time during the period." Mr Peng was speaking on the eve of the arrival of Premier Wen Jiabao in Laos for the third summit of the Greater Mekong Subregion. The change finally came when the central government weighed in, the Shanghai native and general secretary of the Vientiane Chinese Association said. "In 2002 or 2003, the Chinese embassy in Vientiane gathered Chinese businessmen in the capital," he said. "In a bid to avoid further deterioration of the reputation of Chinese products, officials warned them to stop selling substandard goods immediately. "As well, Chinese officers at border checkpoints tightened up on fake and bad-quality goods exported to Laos." The moves quickly achieved the desired effect. "From then on, motorbikes made in China gradually took over the Japanese market share because of their overwhelmingly low price," Mr Peng said. "For instance, a Japanese motorbike sells for US$1,200, while you can buy one imported from China for only US$500. "Although the quality of Japanese products still gives them advantages, more importantly, people must consider whether they are affordable before buying them. "People know how to choose. Nowadays, almost all Chinese products are welcomed by people in Laos. "Kangjia and Changhong are well-known brand names for TV sets, Haier is famous for its refrigerators, while Meide may be the best-seller of cookers here." Mr Peng's point of view is shared by China' ambassador to Laos, Pan Guangxue. "Bilateral trade between China and Laos is experiencing its fastest growth period and Sino-Laotian ties are at their highest point in history," Mr Pan said. In 1998, the volume of trade between the two countries was about US$28 million. "Last year, bilateral trade volumes hit historical highs and reached US$249 million, more than twice as much as four years ago," Mr Pan said. The governments of both countries were aiming for US$1 billion in the next few years. "I definitely believe economic and trade co-operation will deepen, and political relations will strengthen between the two countries after Premier Wen's visit," the ambassador said.

March 30, 2008

Hong Kong: Millionaires fall along with stocks - More than 60,000 people have lost their "millionaire" status since November because of the stocks slump. According to a Citibank-commissioned survey by City University, 414,000 people had liquid assets of more than HK$1 million in October and November, up from 276,000 in 2006. But, with the recent stocks slump, a resampling, carried out in February, found the number is down 15 percent to 350,000. "Most people may have had between HK$600,000 and HK$900,000 in liquid assets in 2006 and the bullish market turned them into millionaires, but they lost this status when the market slumped," Citibank global consumer group chief executive Weber Lo Wai-pak said yesterday. More young people between 30 and 39 have acquired millionaire status, 22 percent of the total, up from 15 percent in 2006. Ditto for those aged from 21 to 29, but up a mere 1 percent to 4 percent. There was a decline among those 40 and above. About 15 percent of the millionaires originated from the mainland. Of these, 84 percent made their money here. Overall, most millionaires came from the financial, insurance and property sectors as well as civil servants. Each person had on average HK$4.6 million in liquid assets and HK$9.9 million in total assets. About 31 percent had average liabilities of HK$3.8 million. About 81 percent had invested in stocks and 60 percent in forex trading and time deposits. About 38 percent are optimistic about the future of the stock market, while 47 percent are optimistic about property. One in seven people on Hong Kong Island are millionaires, against one in 15 in Kowloon and one in 17 in the New Territories. Eastern topped the districts with 69,000 millionaires. But it is easier to bump into a millionaire in Wan Chai where they form 18.2 percent of the district's population.

Hong Kong film star Maggie Cheung has settled down in Beijing and turned a new page in her life with German architect boyfriend. "I'm quite happy nowadays even when I've got no work to do." Maggie said on Wednesday in a fashion event as the spokesperson of a luxurious brand, Beijing Times reports. "I can stay home for a whole week, do nothing but cook. And, believe it or not, I can make both Chinese and western style food, such as fried eggplant, steamed ribs, beefsteak and salad." Maggie Cheung said. Although she owns properties in Beijing, Hong Kong and Paris, Maggie chose to live in Beijing, where she met her latest beau in June last year. They were introduced to each other at a party and the two hit it off at first sight. At the time Maggie, 43, just broke up with former boyfriend of four years, French businessman Guillaume Brochard. Ole Scheeren, 36, a partner in Dutch firm Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), is leading the design of the new headquarters building of China Central Television in Beijing. He was also behind the Prada Epicenter store projects in New York and Los Angeles. He is said to be a film buff. "Besides being tall and handsome, Ole is sweet and considerate," said a friend of the pair, "They both love films and photography, and seem to have endless topics." Maggie, who has starred in 75 films, expressed her will to be an ordinary house wife, saying that "family and love matter the most." When asked about her next film, she said "I don't know when."

Conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa (0013) said yesterday 2007 net profit rose 53 percent to HK$30.6 billion, generally in line with expectations, after losses shrank in its 3 Group mobile business and it booked a one-off gain on the sale of its Indian mobile business.

Cheung Kong (Holdings) (0001) said last year's underlying profit grew 73 percent to HK$10.4 billion, as strong investment gains covered stagnant property sales results. Attributable profit, which includes revaluation gains and contribution from 49.9 percent associate Hutchison Whampoa (0013), rose 53 percent to HK$27.7 billion, or HK$11.95 per share. Cheung Kong will pay HK$1.95 per share as final dividend, compared to HK$1.74 a year ago. From investment and finance, largely equity disposal, the company reaped HK$4.94 billion, versus HK$1.08 billion in 2006. While property development profits were stagnant at HK$5.63 billion, earnings from leasing, hotel and property management together grew 35 percent to HK$1.87 billion. The latter parts are better than expected, Macquarie analyst Eva Lee said. In 2008, Cheung Kong plans to complete 21 projects in Greater China with 17.2 million sq ft of floor area, including The Capitol in Tseung Kwan O, a project which was virtually pre-sold within a day and a half last month, with prices just on par with the secondary market. Asked if the relatively low selling prices achieved with The Capitol reflect Cheung Kong's bleak outlook for the property market, deputy chairman Victor Li Tzar-kuoi said yesterday: "If we didn't have a bright outlook, we wouldn't go on land hunting. Our logic is to sell as quickly as possible."

CITIC International Financial Holdings (0183), which owns CITIC Ka Wah Bank, yesterday reported a net operating loss of HK$24.86 million for 2007 after writing down HK$1.31 billion to cover its structured investment vehicle holdings which have lost value.

New diver drama may end tragic tug search - Fire services rescuers are considering ending search operations for 16 seamen trapped in a sunken Ukrainian tugboat off Lantau Island after another diver got his air tube entangled in debris underwater. The development came on the heels of news that Asia's largest floating derrick, which could salvage the 2,700-tonne shipwreck, was not expected to arrive this weekend as planned. Director of Fire Services Lo Chun- hung admitted for the first time since the accident happened last Saturday that the chances of survival of the missing Ukrainian seamen were slim while the danger for the divers continued to escalate. "If the rescue operations underwater become too dangerous, putting our divers under excessive threat, then we would make the decision [to cease the operation]," he said. "The 32 rooms in the tugboat vary in size and after searching them, we may have to search them over again. Everyone should understand that the environment in which we are operating is completely different from that when you go scuba-diving to see the coral." Lo said the divers, who had now completed more than 40 dives to the wreck, had searched six rooms of the sunken tugboat, one more than Wednesday's total. He added the safety time limit for divers to stay underwater had already been extended by 10 minutes to half an hour. The endangered diver, the third in two days, had his air tube tangled in debris and had to be assisted to safety by a standby diver. His stay underwater exceeded the safety limit by five minutes. Meanwhile, salvage operations were dealt a blow yesterday when a spokesman for the Guangzhou Salvage Bureau said the 4,000-tonne floating derrick Hua Tian Long would not arrive over the weekend as planned. The spokesman said preparatory salvage work underwater had not been completed and thus it would be futile even if the derrick entered Hong Kong waters. An engineer of an Ukrainian delegation led by vice minister of transport and communication Shevchenko Vasyl Vasylyovych arrived at the scene yesterday to observe operations. He did not take questions from reporters. A source said a marine police squad will head out to sea along with the divers to immediately perform check ups if bodies are recovered. The 80-meter-long Ukrainian tugboat sank upside down at a depth of 37 meters after a collision with mainland cargo ship Yao Hai last Saturday. The tugboat's captain and six of his crew were rescued after the collision. Two bodies were recovered early Wednesday.

Democratic Party founding member Martin Lee Chu-ming confirmed on Friday that he would step down from the Legislative Council when his term ends in July. The decision by veteran democrat Martin Lee Chu-ming not to seek re-election is likely to remove uncertainty over whether former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang stands. With Mr Lee out of the picture, Mrs Chan's participation would be crucial to the pan-democratic camp's ambition of gaining four of the six Hong Kong Island seats in the September Legco polls, Democratic Party sources said. Mrs Chan, who won the by-election for the seat of late Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong leader Ma Lik, has yet to say if she will run in September. She is not a member of the Democratic Party but can be counted as a democrat. Meanwhile, the sources said Mr Lee, former chairman of the Democratic Party, had made up his mind only in the past few days. They said some political heavyweights, who were not party members, had urged him to stay on, while other politicians had urged him to step down to make room for new blood. "His family always wanted him to step down. I would say that was an important concern for Mr Lee in coming to his decision," a source close to the former chairman said. Party popularity polls showing Mr Lee ranked around halfway down the list of potential Hong Kong Island candidates was another factor, a veteran party member said. This emerged in at least two polls conducted by the party to help in its planning, one last year and one early this month. The sources said Mr Lee's decision had greatly increased the possibility of Mrs Chan standing, which they said would give the camp its only chance of securing four seats. The likely candidates from the pan-democratic camp include Central and Western district councillor Kam Nai-wai, former Democratic Party chairman Yeung Sum and Audrey Eu Yuet-mee and Tanya Chan Suk-chong of the Civic Party. It is not clear whether Mrs Chan and Mr Kam would be on a joint ticket, which is seen as the best way to secure Mr Kam a seat in the legislature. A party source said it became urgent for Mr Lee to make up his mind before Sunday, when the party will endorse the lists for the forthcoming election. If Mr Lee had made his declaration then it would have overshadowed the meeting, the source said.

Shares in Hong Kong-based trading firm Li & Fung (SEHK: 0494), which sources goods for Wal-Mart, fell nearly 10 per cent on Friday after its full-year results missed expectations due to a slowdown in orders from its dominant United States market. Shares ended 9.89 per cent lower at HK$28.70 while the Hang Seng Index rose 2.74 per cent. On Thursday, Li & Fung reported a 39 per cent rise in full-year net profit to HK$3.06 billion but that fell short of an average forecast of HK$3.34 billion, according to analysts polled by Reuters Estimates. Merrill Lynch downgraded the stock to neutral from buy, and Cazenove cut the stock to in-line from outperform. “Given the market’s high expectations and the stock’s 42 per cent rebound from its January low, we think the market is unlikely to look through this miss,” Merrill said in a research note.

Social networking site Facebook had closed a second US$60 million investment round with Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing through his foundation, a source familiar with the deal confirmed late on Thursday. The source said the deal, which boosted Mr Li’s holdings in Facebook to US$120 million, including an earlier US$60 million round late last year, was valued on the same US$15 billion terms as a US$240 million stake Microsoft took in October. Mr Li’s investment was made by the Li Ka Shing Foundation. His companies such as Hutchison Whampoa (SEHK: 0013) and TOM Group (SEHK: 2383) were not involved, the source said. The stake boosted Mr Li’s holdings to a 0.8 per cent share of Facebook while Microsoft’s holds a further 1.6 per cent. A Facebook spokesman declined to comment on Mr Li’s stake. MarketWatch broke details of the story earlier out of Hong Kong, quoting Mr Li as saying “I may raise my investment in Facebook - anything is possible” during an earnings conference call for his company Hutchison Whampoa. But the report did not detail the scope of his investment. Founded in 1980, the Li Ka Shing Foundation has focused on funding a variety of health, education and environmental projects in recent years. In prior rounds dating back to 2004, Facebook has taken about US$40.7 million from venture capital investors including PayPal co-founder and former chief executive Peter Thiel along with Accel Partners, Greylock Partners and Meritech Capital Partners.

Li Ka-shing dismisses need for 10th terminal - Tycoon Li Ka-shing, whose business empire spans a string of Chinese imports, including Hong Kong's, has poured cold water on government plans to develop a 10th container terminal. The Hutchison Whampoa (SEHK: 0013) chairman said those who assumed that expanding the port and building a cross-border bridge would boost the city's cargo business were guilty of "wishful thinking". Reiterating comments made in past years, Hong Kong's richest man predicted Shenzhen would overtake Hong Kong within four years as the world's third-busiest cargo port. "Other ports are growing fast, and their terminals are continuously being developed," Mr Li said at a meeting announcing Hutchinson's annual results. By cargo tonnage, or the total weight of goods loaded at a port, Shanghai ranked first, with 560 million tonnes in 2007, followed by Singapore with 483.4 million tons. Measured by 20ft equivalent units (TEUs) of container throughput, Singapore is the world's largest, with about 28 million, and Shanghai second, with more than 26 million. Hong Kong handled 245.4 million tonnes of cargo and 24 million TEUs last year. The government is eyeing southwestern Tsing Yi as a possible site to build Container Terminal 10. It cites forecasts container throughput will continue to increase. A spokesman for the Transport and Housing Bureau said a new berth would be needed by as early as 2015. But Mr Li said: "At Zhuhai's container terminals in Gaolan, the fees for handling cargo are cheaper than in Hong Kong. Even if the cargo leaves via Hong Kong, it would still be cheaper than if the cargo was handled here. We cannot compete." Mr Li's companies hold lucrative stakes in mainland ports. If built, Container Terminal 10 would boost Hong Kong's port capacity and employ the latest labor-saving technology, which could improve the city's cost competitiveness. New port facilities and a cross-border bridge could thus affect Mr Li's mainland port business. Hutchison Whampoa generated 15 per cent of its revenue last year from port-related business, which earned it HK$37.89 billion, up from HK$33.04 billion in 2006.

China Unicom says no operational overhaul yet - It is still too early for China Unicom (SEHK: 0762, announcements, news) to overhaul its operations in anticipation of a restructuring of the mainland telecommunications sector, chairman Chang Xiaobing said in Hong Kong yesterday. The nation's smallest mobile operator is tipped to be one of the parties most affected by the restructuring. Rumours have indicated that Unicom's GSM mobile network could be merged with China Netcom Group (SEHK: 0906) Corp, while its smaller CDMA mobile business could be sold to China Telecom Corp (SEHK: 0728). "I don't have anything new on the restructuring to tell you," Mr Chang said. "It's too early to talk about our plans and our 3G mobile-phone strategy post-restructuring. I think China is ready for 3G services and I hope the government will issue a licence as soon as possible." Unicom president Shang Bing yesterday denied rumours that the company had stopped marketing activities for its CDMA business before a possible sale of assets to China Telecom. "We haven't stopped our CDMA business," Mr Shang said. "We will develop CDMA as usual and aim to increase high-tier users this year." Unicom plans 30.95 billion yuan (HK$34.32 billion) in capital spending this year, up 20 per cent from 25.72 billion yuan last year. Of this, 73 per cent would be spent on expanding its GSM network, he said. Net profit for the year to December reached 9.29 billion yuan, up from 3.8 billion yuan in 2006. Revenue increased 4.4 per cent to 99.54 billion yuan, up from 95.34 billion yuan a year earlier. The surge in net profit was due to a government tax refund on reinvestment in a subsidiary of 2.78 billion yuan. Adjusted net profit, which excludes the impact per share of convertible bonds issued to SK Telecom and the tax refund, rose 14.4 per cent to 7.09 billion yuan. The market had expected Unicom's adjusted net profit to be between 7.16 billion yuan and 8 billion yuan. "Initial guidance for this year appears weak," said Macquarie Research analyst Tim Smart in a research note. "The company may face pressure to keep the profit margin due to competitive pressure on the GSM business." Earnings per share were 71.3 fen, up from 30.2 fen in the previous year. The company will pay a final dividend of 20 fen per share. Unicom's debts fell 84.9 per cent to 3.86 billion yuan last year and the company generated free cash flow of 6.61 billion yuan. Unicom shares fell 1.02 per cent to close at HK$17.54 yesterday.

China: Thirty-three Museums in Beijing, 20 museums in the northwestern Gansu Province and nine museums in the southern Guangdong Province started to open to visitors for free on Friday. Earlier, some museums had already stopped charging admissions. According to the government's plan, the number of free entry museums across the country will reach 600 by April 1 this year. They will be joined by 800 museums next year. "I believe the free admission policy will attract more people to enter the museums, which will help improve the public's cultural awareness," said Xiao Yonggao, a visitor from northeastern Liaoning Province, at Beijing's Capital Museum on Friday. The Capital Museum, which opened at the end of 2005, received far fewer visitors than its capacity of 3,000 people per day before Friday when it charged 30 yuan (4.3 U.S. dollars) for entry. More than 5,000 people made reservations online or by phone to visit the museum on Friday, said Kong Fansi, head of the Beijing Municipal Administration of Cultural Heritage. The museum will impose an upper limit for visitors every day by distributing a certain number of tickets. Kong predicted more than3,000 people will visit the museum the whole day. Historical architecture and sites like the Forbidden City are not on the list of free admission venues. Beijing has 143 museums, of which 69 are run by the municipal government. The government will earmark 120 million yuan (17 million U.S. dollars) to the museums a year for the free admission. Gansu Province will open another 20 museums and memorial halls this year and its remaining 82 museums will be open for free next year. Vice Minister of Finance Zhang Shaochun said in February that the operating expenses of all national museums and memorial halls would be covered from the central budget, while institutions at the provincial level would be jointly supported by central and local budgets. The central government will invest 1.2 billion yuan (171 million U.S. dollars) to free museums, memorial halls and patriotic educational bases, according to the central government's budget report in March. "The free entry of museums and memorial halls must be guaranteed and should in no way be hampered by fund shortages," he said. China issued a circular on Jan. 23 saying that all museums, memorial halls and national patriotism education bases would offer free admission by 2009, excluding some cultural relics and historical sites. China has more than 2,300 museums, which received 150 million people last year, according to Zhang Bai, deputy director of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage.

Tang Qingyan, a worker in Yishion clothing store where five sales assistants were burned to death in an arson attack by the rioters, tells the details of the atrocity as journalists listen during an interview in Lhasa, capital of southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, March 27, 2008. Reporters, from 19 media organizations including the US-based Associated Press, Britain's Financial Times and the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong, were touring the Tibetan capital on a three-day trip following the recent riots.

A model is showing ABB's energy-saving products to visitors at the China International Industry Fair 2007 in Shanghai on November 8, 2007. The company opened a global transformer design center in Chongqing yesterday.

Foreign diplomats set to visit Lhasa - A group of Beijing-based foreign diplomats were scheduled to leave for Tibet’s riot-hit capital Lhasa on Friday for a two-day trip organized by the Chinese government, embassy officials here said. Diplomats from a number of countries including the United States, Britain, France, Australia and Italy were to participate in the trip, which came on the heels of another government-arranged tour for foreign journalists. “I suppose the objective of the Chinese foreign ministry is to basically answer the international calls including from the Australian government to have diplomatic access to Tibet,” said Janaline Oh, an Australian embassy official. She said embassies in Beijing were only informed about the planned trip on Thursday, while an Italian embassy spokeswoman said the representatives were expected back on Saturday night. One diplomat said that the embassies had been allowed to send one official each, although there was no official comment on the trip from Beijing and it was not clear how many countries were going or had been invited. In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack welcomed the move, but said it was not enough. “We see this as a step in the right direction, but it’s not a substitute for the ability of our diplomats, as well as others, to travel not only to Lhasa, but into the surrounding area specifically,” he told reporters. China took a foreign media delegation to Lhasa on Wednesday for a three-day trip following international pressure to allow independent reporting from the Tibetan capital after it was sealed off due to the unrest. AFP and some other major news organizations were not invited. Two weeks of deadly demonstrations against China’s rule of Tibet have put China under international pressure as it prepares to host the Olympics in August. China has insisted its response to the protests, the biggest challenge to its rule of Tibet in decades, has been restrained and that it has brought the situation under control.

Tibetan doctor protected Han boy from mob, Ambulance attacked as rioters demanded child - Lobsang Tsering, a 36-year-old Tibetan emergency doctor, still believes he did the right thing when he risked his life to save a Han Chinese father and his son. March 14 was a busy day for the emergency medical staff, and Dr Lobsang was in an ambulance with a Tibetan nurse responding to a request for help. The ambulance stopped when the crew saw a desperate Han Chinese man holding an unconscious boy whose face was blackened by smoke. The boy's life was at risk from smoke inhalation. When they helped the pair into the ambulance, they suddenly found themselves surrounded by an angry mob demanding the boy. The Tibetan nurse begged the mob to spare the ambulance, telling them they were only saving lives, but the rioters smashed the window and jumped onto the vehicle. According to the boy's father, Wu Guangming, Dr Lobsang gave him his helmet and asked him to get down on the floor, fearing the rioters would kill him if they found out he was a Han Chinese. Dr Lobsang held the boy in his arms as he was battered on his head, jaw and back with stones and clubs. Speaking in a frail voice from his bed yesterday, the Tibetan doctor, who has worked at local hospitals and the emergency centre for 12 years, said he was targeted because he refused to hand over the boy. "Others [colleagues] were not injured," he said. "They only attacked me because I refused to give up the boy. I believed they were after the boy." He said he had no idea what made the mob hate the boy so much, and he was still grappling with the shock. "It is unbelievable. I am really sad about it. It is something that should not have happened."

Digital China pins hopes on EMC ties to drive expansion, Joint venture to offer information infrastructure solutions - Digital China Holdings, the mainland's largest information technology products distributor and systems integrator, is stepping up its expansion efforts through a strategic joint venture with United States-based EMC Corp, the world's biggest supplier of enterprise data-storage systems. Guo Wei, chairman, president and chief executive of Hong Kong-listed Digital China, expects the alliance with EMC to help foster the mainland firm's ability to explore new domestic business opportunities and target international information technology investments. The two partners will jointly manage and have equal shares in the mainland joint venture, called EMC DC Solutions, which will offer information infrastructure solutions initially to domestic companies and later to enterprises across the Greater China region. Financial terms were not given. Before unveiling their joint venture last week, Digital China had been one of EMC's largest product distributors and hardware maintenance service providers on the mainland the past seven years. "This joint venture will expand Digital China's ability to provide information infrastructure consulting services with the flexibility to address customers' specific requirements," said Mr Guo, who led last year's successful takeover of Digital China by management and venture capital firms in a HK$1.32 billion deal. Management has more incentive to improve the company's fundamentals after the buyout because their interests are now consistent with those of the shareholders, according to a research note from China International Capital Corp (CICC). "The company expects the services business to break even this fiscal year and begin to make a profit contribution from next year," CICC analyst Zhu Wei said. Digital China - which has technology products distribution, systems integration and technology services as its core businesses - posted a 39.11 per cent increase in revenue to HK$26.41 billion for the first nine months of its fiscal year to March, from HK$18.98 billion a year ago. The company is projected to record HK$38.13 billion in revenue for the year to March, up 49.99 per cent from HK$25.42 billion the previous year, according to a consensus estimate gathered by Thomson Financial from a survey of brokers. With EMC as partner, Digital China aims to tap into the country's rapidly growing demand for new information-management offerings. "Despite the current global economic uncertainties, the disk-storage systems market is benefiting from a wide variety of drivers - ranging from the simple need to store ever-increasing volumes of business data to the more sophisticated objectives around consolidation, virtualisation, and ease of management," said Brad Nisbet, research manager at US-based research firm International Data Corp. IDC says the total data-storage system capacity needed on the mainland will reach nearly four exabytes (4,000 petabytes) by 2011 from 132 petabytes in 2006 - representing a 30-fold increase over five years. A petabyte is a unit of storage worth about one million gigabytes, which could hold 500 billion pages of standard printed text. An exabyte is equivalent to one billion gigabytes. "Managing the complexity and diversity of that information explosion creates new challenges for businesses and individuals. EMC DC Solutions is being established to help businesses address these growing information-management challenges," said Steven Leonard, president of EMC's Asia-Pacific and Japan operations. The expanded relationship with Digital China followed EMC's commitment in November to invest US$1 billion over five years to boost its growth initiatives on the mainland. New York-listed EMC, which entered the mainland in 1996, will provide inter-operability testing and integration of storage hardware and software with solutions from the Digital China joint venture at EMC's technology centres in Beijing and Shanghai, which are manned by about 1,000 local engineers.

March 29, 2008

Hong Kong: The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government on Thursday officially launched a Wi-Fi program to give free access to hotspots, which an official said would help sharpen the city's competitive edge. The GovWiFi program now gives free access to wireless Internet at over 30 government buildings and will have put in place around 2,000 hotspots to cover about 350 locations by mid-2009, said Frederick Ma, secretary for commerce and economic development. "The provision of public Wi-Fi services will continue to expand, maintaining Hong Kong's position among the leading cities in the world," Ma said at the launching ceremony. The program will cover libraries, government offices, job centers, public inquiry centers, sports, cultural and recreation centers, community centers and parks. Ma said the provision of public Wi-Fi services was booming, with over 1,000 hotspots installed in just the first two months of 2008. "Our lives are now tightly coupled with information and communications technology, which also helps build our digital economy and enhance the competitiveness of Hong Kong. Wireless and mobile technology are applied in the pillar industries," he said. One of the world's freest economies and an international financial and aviation hub, Hong Kong now leads among even the developed cities in wireless Internet access. Ma said local mobile financial services grew about 60 percent year on year in 2007. The information and communications technology industry should ride on the expanding user base to develop more mobile financial and banking services, he said, adding that the HKSAR government would continue to help introduce innovative services.

Hong Kong Institute of Education plans to divert funding to a handful of key areas to produce "world-leading" research centres, its president announced yesterday. Anthony Cheung Bing-leung revealed the idea after a ceremony to officially install him in his post, which he took up in January. "We will choose some fields where we have an advantage, concentrate our resources on them and make them leading units internationally," Professor Cheung said, adding that the plan was the result of a recently launched exercise to make better use of resources to enhance the institute's research capability. The institute had not yet decided on which areas to focus, but he named four frontrunners - comparative education, assessment, citizenship education and leadership in education. "We also want to enhance our studies on education on the mainland," he added. Professor Cheung also said a global search for chair professors had so far attracted 130 candidates from around the world. At the installation ceremony, at which Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen officiated, Professor Cheung reiterated his priorities for his term in office, which include attaining university status for the institute and strengthening its teaching quality. "Driven by our vision to become a university of education, we champion an `education plus' concept, where subject disciplines are being enhanced in addition to achieving excellence in professional education studies," he said. He cited a plan to launch double-degree programmes in collaboration with local universities over the coming three years as a way to implement the concept. A working group under the University Grants Committee is studying the institute's application for full university status and is expected to make its recommendations to the government by the end of the year. This month, the HKIEd unveiled plans for collaborations with the University of London and Cambridge University focusing on postgraduate research. Professor Cheung succeeds Professor Paul Morris.

Company directors will face criminal liability if they intentionally hide information from their auditors, according to a proposed law change released by the government yesterday. The new proposal replaces a suggestion made in a government consultation paper last year requiring all directors to declare that they had given auditors all relevant information. The paper was released last March for a three-month consultation. It included a wide range of suggestions by a government working group in charge of rewriting the Companies Ordinance, which was last updated in the 1980s. In a report summarising the consultation, the government said yesterday that most of the paper's proposals had gained support. They would be put into a White Bill next year for detailed consultation. The proposals include compulsory disclosure of the fees paid to company directors, along with their names, and permission for small firms to use simplified accounting forms to reduce their costs. But some suggestions were dropped as a result of opposition from respondents. They included the requirement for directors to declare their full disclosure to auditors. Many accounting bodies complained that such a disclosure would be "too onerous for those directors who were non-accountants or were not in a position to handle financial reporting directly", and would increase their potential liabilities substantially, the report said. Mike Wong Ming-wai, chief executive of The Chamber of Hong Kong Listed Companies, welcomed the changes. "The new proposals are more reasonable," he said. "However, the new proposed law change, if implemented, may not be easily enforced as it is difficult to show if anyone is intentionally trying to hide information." The government also dropped a suggested law change that would have allowed more company staff - such as secretaries and managers - to inspect companies' accounting records. Respondents were concerned about giving too many people access to such sensitive information. The government also dropped a proposal to require directors' reports to reflect any significant market valuation changes in a company's assets. Opposition to some points, however, failed to change the government's mind. It insisted on keeping a proposed change that will require companies to give more forward-looking analysis in their financial statements in order to provide shareholders with more information.

After its shares surged as much as 111 percent yesterday, Henderson Investment (0097) announced it plans to sell some assets to a joint-venture partner, prompting renewed speculation of a delisting.

Hong Kong & China Gas (0003), better known as Towngas, yesterday said its net profit last year jumped 58 percent on one-off gains, property sale and revaluation gain from investment properties.

Jiangxi Copper (0358), China's second largest copper producer, says it plans to invest an additional US$1.4 billion (HK$10.92 billion) in a joint venture project in Peru with China Minmental Corporation.

Hutchison Whampoa (SEHK: 0013), billionaire Li Ka-shing’s ports-to-telecoms flagship, posted a 50 per cent rise in second-half earnings boosted by its Canadian Husky Energy unit but lagged forecasts because of higher-than-expected telecoms losses in Asia and Europe. Analysts cheered hints of a turnaround at the firm’s long loss-making third-generation (3G) mobile telecoms business in western Europe this year or next year after cutting losses substantially in the second half of last year. This year could mark a slowdown in the firm’s notoriously furious pace of asset sales, as the firm rides out a global downturn that is depressing prices worldwide. But Mr Li said acquisitions were likely as valuations became more attractive. “It is highly likely that we will buy, definitely we will buy, when opportunities arise,” Mr Li, known in Hong Kong as “Superman” for his deal-making prowess, told reporters. Hutchison’s shares trimmed early gains to close 0.9 per cent higher at HK$73.70 but outperformed a 0.2 per cent rise on the blue-chip Hang Seng index. “The Hutchison results came below expectation but its 3G turned EBITDA positive in the second half which triggered some bargain hunting on the stock since its relatively cheap,” said Alex Tang, research director at Core Pacific-Yamaichi International. The firm’s shares trade at less than 10 times this year’s earnings versus the market’s roughly 14 times, and just above one time its book value. Hutchison, the world’s largest container ports operator with large investments in retail, energy and property, reported a net profit of HK$1.84 billion in the second half, lagging the average forecast of HK$3.15 billion polled by Reuters Estimates. Last year, it made provisions of about HK$11.74 billion in provisions and write-offs for investments in Thailand, Britain and Italy. Its 3G loss before interest and taxes narrowed to HK$6.62 billion in the six months to December from HK$11.32 billion in the first half of last year. “We will raise the dividend payout when 3G turns P&L positive,” Mr Li said. But he did not give a timeframe for when the service, which has run at a loss since it was launched in Britain in 2003, will become profitable. Hutchison reported a net profit of HK$30.6 billion for the full year last year, up 53 per cent from HK$20.03 billion a year ago and slightly lagging the average forecast of HK$31.91 billion. The net included an exceptional gain of HK$35.8 billion from the sale of its Indian mobile phone network in the first half. Expectations for an economic downturn could put pressure on Hutchison’s world-leading container ports business and sprawling retail operations, while further forestalling its long-discussed spinoff of Italian telecoms unit 3 Italia. But an expected breakeven in its 3G arm and higher contributions from Husky Energy should result in a net profit of HK$10.9 billion for Hutchison this year, analysts said. Depressed by its US$25 billion 3G investment that has yet to bear fruit or even yield market spin-offs, Hutchison shares rose just 14 per cent in the second half of last year versus a 28 per cent gain in the broader market. Shares of sister firm and property developer Cheung Kong rose 41 per cent in the same period. Hutchison underperformed Cheung Kong (Holdings) (SEHK: 0001), which posted a 56 per cent jump in the second-half earnings. The firms are the twin flagships of Mr Li’s multi-billion dollar empire. Cheung Kong, which holds nearly 50 per cent of Hutchison, posted a net profit of HK$9.14 billion in the six months to December 31 on the back of higher property sales, stronger investment gains and contributions from Hutchison. The results, which compared with a profit of HK$5.86 billion in the same period in 2006, beat the consensus forecast of HK$7.32 billion according to 11 analysts polled by Reuters Estimates. For the whole of last year, Cheung Kong earned HK$27.68 billion, up 53 per cent and was higher than the consensus forecast of HK$25.86 billion. A slowing global economy and looming US recession could put a lid on Hong Kong property prices in the short term, as underscored by slowing property sales in the first quarter of this year. But Cheung Kong’s vast land bank spanning Hong Kong and China should help to offset that, analysts said.

A former store supervisor and a head chef of a popular hotpot restaurant chain were yesterday charged with bribery in relation to food supplies to the restaurant. In addition to Chiu Chak-man, 52, a former store supervisor at Little Sheep Hong Kong Holdings, and Ma Ka-wo, 37, a head chef, tea leaf supplier Elvy Wong Wing-wah, 43, was also charged. Little Sheep, a popular Mongolia- based hotpot restaurant in the mainland, has four outlets in Hong Kong. Chiu faces three counts of accepting an advantage while Ma is charged with one similar offense. Wong faces one count of offering an advantage to an agent. The defendants will appear in Kwun Tong Magistrates' Court at 9.30am tomorrow for mention. Two of the charges allege Chiu had accepted a watch worth HK$16,380 and a bribe of HK$20,000 from a supplier of beef and seafood in June and August, respectively, as a reward for placing purchase orders with the supplier.

The perils of the rescue and salvage mission on a sunken tugboat off Tuen Mun were underscored yesterday when two divers were caught in dangerous situations on a day when the first two bodies were recovered. The incidents were disclosed by marine officials, who said the recovery of the Ukrainian supply tugboat Neftegaz-67 from the muddy seabed could take more than a week. The bodies of two of 18 missing seamen were found early yesterday after the divers for the first time gained access to the hull. One body was found in the auxiliary engine room at about midnight and the other in the locker room at 2.20am. The tug's Ukrainian owner, Chernomorneftegaz, identified the two men as Alexander Piskunov, 33, and Alexander Kardash, 31. Piskunov, from Chernomorskoye, was a motor mechanic, and Kardash, from Nikolayev, was a sailor. Both are survived by their wives and Piskunov also by a daughter, born in 1996. Chief fire officer Chow Wing-tak said only five of 32 cabins had been searched and the further the divers went, the more dangerous it became. One diver's air hose became entangled in floating objects inside the hull yesterday afternoon, and he had to be released by his standby diver. "The time he stayed in the water exceeded the safety limit, and he had to undergo decompression for 50 minutes before reaching the surface," Mr Chow said. "It is very fortunate that his condition is OK, and he resumed his part in the rescue operation later." In the morning, another diver developed decompression sickness while searching for bodies. He received treatment in a decompression chamber on a fireboat and was later sent to a clinic to be examined. The marine officials could not say how long it would take to search all the cabins on the 80-metre vessel. Divers can enter the water only four times in 24 hours when the tides turn and the powerful currents sweeping the seabed become weaker. Each "window" can accommodate up to three diving operations. Diving coach Steve Chan said it was important for the divers to be safe as the situation inside the cabin was very dangerous. "It is no more a rescue operation, so it's not worth jeopardising the lives of our divers," he said. "The wreck should first be lifted up, and then get the bodies out." Thirty-two diving attempts had been made between the collision last Saturday and yesterday afternoon. Director of Marine Roger Tupper said an agreement was being worked on with the owner of the sunken ship and the salvage operator to lift the wreck from the seabed. "But these operations take time, and we are looking at at least seven days - possibly 10 - if things go smoothly to get the [salvage] vessel on station. That is the advice from the salvage contractor," Mr Tupper said. Chernomorneftegaz said the two recovered bodies would be taken home soon. Surviving crew members who escaped harm would leave Hong Kong for the company's home base of Krym, the company said. A fund for the families of the victims has been formed under the company's name.

Hong Kong had 410,000 people with liquid assets worth HK$1 million or more by the end of last year, Citibank Global Consumer Group said on Thursday. Citibank chief operating officer Weber Lo said the bank had interviewed more than 4,000 clients during a survey between October 20 until November 14. He said Hong Kong’s stock market had been booming at the time. “The survey found there were 410,000 people in Hong Kong who had HK$1,000,000 in liquid assets in their bank accounts,” Mr Lo said. This number is equivalent to about 8 per cent of Hong Kong’s total adult population. “It means there were 140,000 more millionaires compared with a year before, when there were only 270,000 millionaires,” said Mr Lo. The average number of millionaires throughout last year was 350,000 people. “About 10 per cent of them were very young and under 40 years old,” he said. According to the survey, most Hong Kong millionaires work in the area of financial services, followed by insurance agents, and government officials. The survey found most millionaires lived on Hong Kong Island. “One out of seven adults who live on Hong Kong Island are millionaires.” Mr Lo explained that most of them lived in Wan Chai. By the end of last year, the district had approximately 20,000 millionaires. “In Kowloon, one out of 15 adults was a millionaire and one out of 17 people living in the New Territories was millionaire,” he noted. The survey found that the large increase in millionaires was mainly due a bullish run on the stock market in 2007. But Mr Lo predicted the number of millionaires in Hong Kong would fall in future with a volatile, more bearish share market performance recently. “According to a survey conducted in mid-February, the number of millionaires decreased to 350,000 as the stock market became volatile and more people put their assets into the property market,” Mr Lo explained. He warned young people to manage their money prudently, advising them to diversify, and choose lower-risk investments.

China: Huaneng Power International, the mainland's largest electricity producer, posted a disappointing 1.48 percent rise in profit in 2007 as price curbs prevented the company from passing the rise in coal costs to consumers.

The country's "Go West" policy to develop the lagging western regions is gaining ground, a United Nations report has shown. The heartening signs are largely from government efforts to improve trade and investment, the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific said.

KFC wins Chinese 'Teadog' lawsuit - A Beijing court has rejected the claim of a Chinese man and his grandson for reputation damage in consuming a KFC "teadog set meal", the local media reported on Thursday. Tongzhou District court ruled on Tuesday that the two plaintiffs surnamed Jin would not get compensation from the KFC fast-food chain as they couldn't provide substantive evidence to prove the set meal had led to a "lower social evaluation" and reputation damage to them, as they claimed. According to The Beijing News, the Jins bought a "teadog set meal" in a KFC store in the capital's east Tongzhou District on Dec. 15. The two had found an advert in the shop promoting the set meal, which the elder Jin thought meant man and dog sharing the meal. He then sued KFC for insulting consumers, because "according to the advertisement, my grandson has eaten dog food and we two have become 'dog friends'", -- a term that means "a dissolute company" in Chinese. Representatives for KFC, however, said the set meal was so named because consumers could get a calendar featuring teadogs, a Japanese cartoon image, if they paid extra money through a promotion. KFC argued the advertisement was meant to convey the message that teadogs were men's good friends, and the advert itself didn't break the law.

Chinese President Hu Jintao expressed his views on the Taiwan and Tibet issues to his U.S. counterpart George W. Bush during talks over the telephone held Wednesday.

The emblem and mascot of the 2009 World Stamp Exhibition were unveiled in China on Wednesday, under the theme "A gathering in the City of Peonies". The emblem, with a stamp-shaped blue background, features an ancient city gate of Luoyang, the host city, below a blooming peony with its seven petals in the shape of pigeons. The emblem symbolizes the host city's long history, profound culture and distinctive regional characteristics, according to the sponsors. The mascot, called the "Peony Messenger", is a flying pink peony with a green message on its hand, which extends the host city's warm welcome to guests from home and abroad. According to the organizing committee, 63 countries had applied to participate the seven-day exhibition with another 40 countries and regions to come. The exhibition is to receive an estimated 600,000 visitors from China and overseas. Jointly sponsored by the State Post Bureau, the China Post Group and the All China Philatelic Federation and the People's Government of Henan Province, the 2009 World Stamp Exhibition willopen in Luoyang City, Henan, on April 10, 2009.

Passengers walk in the new Terminal 2 of the Pudong International Airport on its first operating day in Shanghai, East China, March 26, 2008.

Farmers sow in Yichang, Hubei province on March 26, 2008. China promised yesterday to raise financial support for agricultural production as part of a larger effort to cool an inflation surge blamed on food shortage.

Nestle opened a new ice cream plant in south China on Wednesday, demonstrating its aim to further develop the Chinese market. The 22,000-sq-m factory, in Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong Province, will increase the food and drink giant's annual ice cream productivity to 64 million liters, three times the output from its old facilities. The plant, involving 250 million yuan ($35.6 million) in investment, will help Nestle to promote its high-end ice cream brand in south China and meet the growing consumer desire for ice cream products, said Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, Chairman and CEO of the Nestle Group worldwide at the opening ceremony. Nestle, the world's largest food company, has opened 20 factories in 17 regions across China since it entered the market two decades ago, employing more than 13,000 people. The Swiss-headquartered group said earlier this month that it expected underlying sales to rise in 2008 at a similar rate to 7.4 percent last year, a big jump from its long-term growth target of between 5 and 6 percent.

The former Communist Party chief of Shanghai who was sacked in one of the biggest corruption scandals to hit the ruling Communist Party in recent years has gone on trial, his lawyer said yesterday. The one-day trial of Chen Liangyu, 61, was held in the northern city of Tianjin on Tuesday, lawyer Gao Zicheng said. Gao said he did not know when the verdict would be delivered and the exact charges that Chen faced. Press reports earlier this month said Chen was likely to be charged with bribery and abuse of power and could be sentenced to death. Chen, a former member of the Communist Party's elite politburo, was ousted in 2006 after a probe found US$480 million (HK$3.74 billion) from the city's retirement fund was illegally spent on speculative real estate and road projects. The scandal implicated at least 20 other officials and businessmen. It was the biggest corruption scandal for the Chinese government since former Beijing mayor Chen Xitong was removed from his post in 1995 and sentenced to 16 years in jail. Phone calls to the Tianjin court where Chen was tried went unanswered. A spokeswoman with the Shanghai Municipal government declined to comment.

Guangdong environmental authorities say they will not stand in the way of a controversial US$5 billion oil refinery and petrochemical plant in Nansha despite opposition on ecological grounds. Chen Guangrong, deputy director of the provincial environmental watchdog, said on Tuesday that the provincial authorities supported plans for the Sinopec (SEHK: 0386)-Kuwait Petroleum Corporation plant. Mr Chen said the plant would have "significant strategic meaning" in securing the province's energy supply and would fit in with Guangdong's industrial strategy. But he said the Ministry of Environmental Protection had to give the final approval for the plant, a project that would also have a "significant impact on Guangdong's environment". "As far as I know, the plant has not yet obtained the environmental impact assessment approval from the national watchdog, and won't be allowed to start construction without it," Mr Chen said. However, mainland media reported that land requisition for the project had been under way in Nansha, a southern district of Guangzhou, since June. The Southern Metropolis News suggested the project was proceeding against national regulations that all planned petrochemical projects must have an environmental impact assessment, as well as feedback from the public and experts. The controversial plant was listed as a priority project in the province's annual economic and social development programme in January but 14 Guangdong legislators have jointly urged the government to shelve the project because of environmental concerns. Guangzhou Mayor Zhang Guangning said the government would reduce the plant's output of pollutants with advanced equipment that met international standards. "The reason we support this project is it helps control pollution and protect the environment," Mr Zhang said. He said the new technology applied at the Nansha plant could cut sulfur dioxide emissions by 80 per cent compared with existing petrochemical plants in Guangzhou. Meanwhile, Guangdong's environmental bureau said 14 cities in the province were afflicted with acid rain. In Guangzhou, 80 per cent of its rainfall was acidic. The province's pollution-reduction efforts were well short of targets. The Sinopec-Kuwait Petroleum plant, said to be the nation's biggest joint venture, will emit 6,000 tons of sulfur dioxide every year in a region that is already notorious for its air pollution. It is designed to be able to process 15 million tonnes of petroleum and 1 million tons of ethylene a year.

March 28, 2008

Hong Kong: Hong Kong recorded a surplus of 114.5 billion HK dollars (14.68 billion U.S. dollars) in its balance of payments account in 2007, representing 7.1 percent of its gross domestic product, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government said Tuesday. A balance of payments (BoP) account is an integrated statistical statement of an economy's external transactions with the rest of the world, the Census and Statistics Department of the HKSAR government explained in a press release. Hong Kong, a special administrative region in southern China often taken as a separate economy, recorded a surplus of 46.7 billion HK dollars (5.99 billion U.S. dollars) in its BoP account in 2006, or 3.2 percent of its GDP, it added. The free trade hub had a surplus of 78.3 billion HK dollars (10.04 billion U.S. dollars) in the fourth quarter of 2007, representing 17.5 percent of its GDP in the same period, as compared with 13.9 billion HK dollars for the third quarter. Reserve assets correspondingly added 78.3 billion HK dollars in the fourth quarter. For 2007 as a whole, the current account surplus was 213.7 billion HK dollars (27.4 billion U.S. dollars), with the visible trade deficit rising to 153.7 billion HK dollars and the invisible trade surplus growing to 325.2 billion HK dollars. The current account surplus for the fourth quarter was 59 billion HK dollars. (7.8 HK dollars = 1 U.S. dollar)

Hong Yizhong, head coach of Chinese Taipei's baseball team, presents a signed bat during a celebration honoring Chinese Taiwan's baseball qualification for the Olympic Games in Taipei, March 24, 2008. Taiwan's newly elected leader Ma Ying-jeou will root for the island's baseball team during the Beijing Olympic Games, according to the local news agency udn.com. "Please be assured. And I will try my best to support the island's sporting cause," Ma said on Monday during a celebration honoring Taipei's baseball qualification for the Olympic Games. "The policy is unchanged with regards to having Taiwan's team go to the Olympics," added Ma when giving his best wishes to the team. Ma attended the celebration less than 72 hours after he defeated Frank Hsieh of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in the island's leadership election with a landslide victory on March 22. Ma got 7.6587 million ballots, or 58.45 percent of the vote with his running mate Vincent Siew, while Hsieh got 5.4452 million ballots, or 41.55 percent of the votes. During Monday's event, Ma took a group photo with the baseball team including the 19 players who helped the local team beat Australia and South Africa at the qualifying tournament in Taipei on March 14. "The Olympic qualifying tournament was held during the Taiwan election. Whenever I had a break, I watched the TV broadcasts," udn.com cited Ma, who was pleased to see Taiwan's baseball team qualify for the Games. Reports also say that Ma is a big sports fan, including baseball. When he was mayor of Taipei, he spearheaded the construction of sports facilities like the Skydome for baseball.

BOC Hong Kong (Holdings) (2388) yesterday said net profit last year rose 10.3 percent despite an impairment charge of HK$1.5 billion for its subprime-related investment in asset- backed debt securities. Earnings per share were HK$1.46 and a final dividend of 48.7 HK cents per share was declared. BOCHK chief financial officer Raymond Lee Wing-hung said the bank booked impairment allowances of HK$1.253 billion for its subprime investment last year. A further loss of HK$260 million was incurred when the bank sold some of the subprime-related ABS. As at the end of 2007, BOCHK's subprime investment stood at HK$4.118 billion after deducting the above charges. It declined to HK$2.1 billion last month. "Prices of subprime- related bonds have stabilized recently but it is difficult to tell if the worst situation has passed or not," said Lee. BOCHK's net profit rose 10.3 percent to HK$15.4 billion last year on strong growth in its core businesses. Net interest income increased by 22.5 percent to HK$19.4 billion on widened net interest margin. NIM increased to 2.07 percent from 1.9 percent in 2006. Net fees and commission income surged 68.8 percent to HK$6.27 billion, driven by strong stock market activity last year. Including the subprime-related losses, BOCHK booked an aggregate HK$2.133 billion in impairment allowances on its ABS portfolio. Excluding this, operating profit was up 32 percent to HK$19.5 billion. BOCHK chief executive He Guangbei said the bank will continue to increase its investment in the mainland business. "We hope mainland business will become the bank's growth engine in the long run," he said. Last year, operating profit before impairment allowances on BOCHK's mainland business jumped 53.5 percent to HK$200 million.

China Netcom (0906) reported net profit for 2007 inched up 0.2 percent to 10.58 billion yuan (HK$11.64 billion), casting aside analyst expectations of a decline, as a jump in revenues from value-added services offset a decline in the firm's traditional fixed-line business. Turnover, excluding upfront connection fees, rose 0.9 percent to 82.5 billion yuan. "The increase of broadband users entered a stage of explosive growth in 2007," chairman Zhang Chunjiang said yesterday. Analysts had expected net profit at the smaller of China's two fixed-line operators to fall 6.5 percent to 9.87 billion yuan, according to a Bloomberg survey of 24 analysts. The profit figures include net profit of 624 million yuan from discontinued operations, but exclude amortized upfront connection fees of 1.52 billion yuan. Net profit including upfront connection fees fell 6.7 percent to 12.1 billion yuan. Revenues from traditional fixed-line business fell 14 percent to 43.22 billion yuan, as the firm lost 3.2 million customers and fixed-line average revenue per user fell 9.6 percent to 36.6 yuan per month. But revenues from newer non-voice business segments, including ring tones, internet, and consulting services, surged 39 percent to 28.656 billion yuan. Revenues from broadband services jumped 39.5 percent to 13.835 billion yuan, from 9.916 billion yuan in 2006. Average revenue per user for broadband rose 3.9 percent to 67.4 yuan monthly. The firm's advertising and media division reported revenues skyrocketed 692 percent to 380 million yuan after it got a display advertising license from the government and focused on growing its yellow pages, voice search, and online advertising businesses. Netcom said it has signed more contracts to handle call and data center services for government agencies and corporates, leading revenues for its IT consulting and outsourcing business to soar 367 percent to 3.99 billion yuan. Capital expenditures declined 15.8 percent to 20.684 billion yuan, a figure 316 million yuan less than the previous guidance provided by management. Free cash flow climbed 57 percent to 11.8 billion yuan. Netcom declared a final dividend of 59.2 HK cents, up 7.1 percent from 55.3 HK cents in 2006.

Li Ning, chairman of China's largest sportswear retailer Li Ning Company (2331), is selling up to HK$408 million worth of his shares in the firm, according to a term sheet sent to investors.

The Hong Kong Jockey Club yesterday awarded three-year scholarships to 30 undergraduates, including 10 from the mainland. Each student will get HK$290,000 spread over three years to cover academic expenses and living costs.

Watchdog unveils proposed rules for exit pollsters - People conducting exit polls in Hong Kong elections would have to first tell interviewees "I am not from the government", and say who they work for, under proposed revisions by the elections watchdog.

Hong Kong Disneyland will unveil its newest drawcard on April 27 - the first big addition to its roster of attractions since it opened 2-1/2 years ago - a Disneyland source revealed. Park bosses hope to capitalise on the crowds expected over the Labour Day holiday in May with the opening of "it's a small world" - a standard feature of other Disney parks around the world. The park will stay open an extra 90 minutes, until 9pm, on the day of the unveiling. The park, built at Sunny Bay on Lantau at a cost of HK$27 billion, saw attendance last year drop more than 20 per cent to 4.15 million, behind the city's other theme park, Ocean Park. The government owns 57 per cent of the Disney park. Construction of the new attraction is already complete and preparatory works, such as beautifying the surrounding area, and staff training, are under way. A spokesman confirmed the theme park expected to open the ride late next month. The attraction is a boat ride featuring audio-animatronic dolls representing countries of the world, which sing the ride's title track, It's a Small World (After All), which has world peace as its theme. For Hong Kong, Disney has added more than 30 characters, including Peter Pan, Aladdin and Mulan. Landmarks such as the Great Wall of China, the Temple of Heaven and Hong Kong's skyline are featured and there is a new American scene. John Ap, Polytechnic University's associate professor of tourism, said: "I think `it's a small world' will work. It's not tied to a typical western fairytale. But it remains to be seen to what extent the new attraction will boost attendance and business."

China: A burger meal with a cup of Pepsi will cost more now. Fast food chain KFC yesterday increased prices of certain products in China, such as hamburger, beverage and breakfast, by 0.5 to 1.5 yuan.

Yum! Brands Inc China, which operates KFC and Pizza Hut in China, on Tuesday published a white paper on its food safety policy, outlining its domestic suppliers' status and their efforts in safeguarding food security. Sam Su, Yum! Brands Inc Global vice president said the company had full confidence in its Chinese suppliers. The paper said after years of continuous hard work, "the overall quality of Chinese food has improved steadily, together with the food safety status". Yum! Brands has more than 500 suppliers in China, covering chicken, vegetables, bread and facilities, among others. The statistics showed that chicken sold in all of its KFC and Pizza Huts, in addition to 90 percent of other foodstuffs, was provided by Chinese suppliers within the country. "All the food ingredient suppliers in China can reach the standard set by the Yum!", said Su, adding the paper was a commitment to the Chinese society on the food safety issue. Yum! was also willing to receive the supervision of the government, consumers and the media, said Su, also the president of the company's China operation. The company has more than 35,000 chain restaurants in 110 countries, including 2,500 in China.

Celien Dion, driven by power of love, to debut in China - Canadian songstress Celine Dion has been an international superstar for decades and along the way there have been trials, tribulations and criticism. But she is back once again, and she has promised a show next month.

The Chinese currency, the yuan, recorded its second high in as many days on Wednesday against the weakening dollar, breaking the 7.03 mark.

China's Ding Junhui plays a shot during the first round game against Joe Parry from England at the 2008 World Snooker China Open in Beijing March 25, 2008. The Chinese hopeful advanced into the last 16 5-3 with match breaks of 71, 71, 63, 90 and 55.

The suspense of who would be the first Chinese torchbearer for the Beijing Olympics gradually built up over the past month. Yesterday, it ended with Olympic champion Luo Xuejuan chosen for the glory. After the Olympic flame was ignited yesterday evening Beijing time, the Athens 100m breaststroke gold medalist received the torch from the first torchbearer, Greek athlete Alexandros Nikolaidis, and ran 200m from the grove of Pierre De Coubertin. "To be the first Chinese torchbearer is a great honor," said the 24-year-old Luo. "The honor is not just for me, but for all the Chinese athletes, for Beijing and for China." Luo became the national champion when she was only 16 and won the 50m and the 100m breaststroke gold medals at the 2001 World Championships. Before retiring last year because of severe heart problems, Luo had established herself as the top Chinese swimmer in the world, winning one Olympic gold, five world championship titles and numerous Asian and national titles. Luo, who was nominated by Volkswagen, the supplier of the Beijing 2008 Olympic torch relay, said she was as happy as winning gold medals when she heard about the privilege. "Through passing the flame, I hope I can also pass to the whole world the Chinese people's enthusiasm toward the Olympics," she said. A Volkswagen official listed several reasons as to why Luo was chosen. "At the Athens Games, Luo was the only swimming gold medalist from China," said Ye Wen, communication director of Volkswagen. "After retirement, she chose to study to further improve herself and contributed a lot in public activities, which set a good example." Luo, a student of Peking University, said: "Retiring was a hard decision for me, and after that I was always thinking of making some contribution to the Beijing Games Now I have realized my dream." It was especially sweet given it came true in the same country she won Olympic glory.

Another 20 airlines began operations on Wednesday at Beijing airport's new terminal, an expansion project for the anticipated passenger surge during the Olympics. The new terminal will be able to handle 60 percent of the airport's total capacity. Starting at 10 p.m. on Tuesday, more than 70 planes from various carriers, including Air China and Shanghai Airlines, were moved to Terminal 3 of the Beijing Capital International Airport, the Beijing Morning Post reported on Wednesday. Since it opened on February 29, about 5,000 passengers on 40 flights have been moved through the airport daily by the first six airlines to use the facility, China's Sichuan Airlines and Shandong Airlines and from abroad, Qatar Airlines, Qantas Airways, British Airways and El Al Israel Airlines. These six carriers and the 20 new ones will together raise the daily capacity of the world's largest air terminal to about 80,000 passengers on almost 500 flights. With a floor space of 986,000 square meters, the new building more than doubled the total area of the first two terminals. "The full operation of Terminal 3 will greatly ease overloading at the airport," said a BCIA official. The airport, already the country's largest and busiest, will be able to handle 1,800 daily flights, up from the current 1,000. It is expected to receive 5.56 million people during the Olympic Games in August. The airport handled 53.47 million passengers in 2007.

Filling stations on the booming east coast were rationing diesel, staff at the facilities said yesterday, despite Beijing's insistence that its refiners will ensure supplies at unprofitable state-set prices. "The line outside our station is at least one kilometer long," said a station manager in Fujian province. Other stations said they had sold out of the day's supply by noon and did not know if a delivery would arrive today. In Guangzhou, diesel was rationed to 300 yuan (HK$331) for cash sales - enough for a family car but just a small portion of a truck tank - and vehicles were stuck in queues for up to 20 minutes. The government said that fuel supplies were adequate and that reports of rationing reflected only sporadic problems caused by demand from farmers planting their spring crops and the lingering impact of unusually severe weather. But as rationing and queues spread inland and to the country's financial center, Shanghai, there were echoes of last October's supply crisis, China's worst in four years. Last year, in the face of large refining losses, majors PetroChina (0857) and Sinopec (0386) slowed deliveries and cut supplies to the market, creating shortages across the nation.

Argentina’s farmers’ strike has triggered a force majeure in soya and soya oil shipments to China, prompting worries over a possible shortage in May in the world’s top importer of the oilseed. Traders and industry officials on Wednesday said several suppliers of Argentine soya and soya oil declared force majeure on cargoes to China following a similar move on meal cargoes to Europe as a result of the strike. Up to one million tons of soya exports to China and about five cargoes of soyaoil have been affected, as the strike in the world’s No3 soya exporter began at the start of the South American season. “Suppliers told us the cargoes will be delayed indefinitely,” said an executive with Chinatex Grains & Oils Import & Export, a leading soya importer. “I think more than 15 cargoes, or about one million tons of soya beans to China, were interrupted ... Some cargoes will be substituted with US soybeans, but the costs are higher,” added the Chinatex executive, without elaborating. Force majeure,/i> is a contract clause allowing a supplier to forego their obligation to supply in extreme unforeseen circumstances. While 300,000 to 500,000 tons of the total had been switched to US soy, the US and Brazil cannot take up all the orders from China, with their physical prices are already surging due to the strikes. Chicago Board of Trade soy futures rose by their daily limit in early Asian trade on Wednesday, boosted by the Argentine strike that caused a switch to US cargoes. Several thousand protesters took to the streets of Argentina’s capital on Tuesday after President Cristina Fernandez refused to rescind a tax increase that sparked a two-week strike by farmers. The soya market in Argentina, the world’s number-three exporter after the United States and Brazil, has been frozen, with the leaders of the four groups taking part in the protest announcing that the strike would continue for “as long as necessary”. China needs to import between two million and three million tons of soya each month. With domestic vegetable oils prices surging to records, China has been an aggressive buyer of soya oil, booking about 300,000 tons a month. Beijing has also made the purchases for state reserves to try to tame inflation, currently running at a 12-year high. On the impact in China, an executive at a crusher in the south said: “There are a lot of beans that have been bought and are supposed to come in. Maybe that’s good that ... the cargoes will not come so closely together. “But if the strike does not get resolved until mid- to late April, yes, there will definitely be a shortage ... Oil demand may be a bit sluggish but demand is there. Meal demand is OK.” An executive at one of the leading international houses agreed: “Demand is there. Buyers have not been active because of the recent setback on CBOT. But when they come back ... there will be a new round in the rally.”

Plane crew rewarded for foiling attackers - China Southern Airlines has given a 400,000 yuan (HK$442,000) cash reward to staff for foiling a “terrorist” attack on a domestic flight earlier this month.

A second terminal opens at Shanghai's international airport today, as part of a 20 billion yuan (HK$22.09 billion) expansion that aims to make the city a leading global aviation hub by 2010. Terminal Two is the final part of a project that includes a third runway and a new cargo-handling centre. The expansion will allow Pudong International Airport to handle 60 million passengers annually, double its existing capacity. Shanghai Airport Authority chairman Wu Nianzu said the expansion was planned to ease pressure at the airport and handle a surge of visitors for the Olympics this year and the World Expo in 2010. "The target is to make the airport the key hub of Asia's air traffic," he said on Monday. Along with Beijing's Capital International Airport and Guangzhou's new Baiyun International Airport, Pudong is one of the country's three airports destined to become major air traffic hubs, a national blueprint issued by the government in 2002 said. It has experienced rapid passenger growth since it opened more than a decade ago, reaching nearly 29 million passengers last year. By 2015 it will be able to handle 80 million passengers a year with the possibility of a third terminal, Mr Wu said. The wave-shaped Terminal Two has 540,000 square meters of space in a three-storey building, nearly twice as large as Terminal One. Yet officials promised it would reduce the transfer time to less than 20 minutes for domestic flights and around 30 minutes for international ones. Among the "people-oriented" design features are 20,000 square meters for retailers, 54 baby-care rooms, free wireless internet access and assistance for disabled people. A total of 33 airline companies will operate in Terminal Two. The first 15 companies - Shanghai Airlines and 14 foreign airlines - will open today, while 18 carriers will follow on April 29. British Airways' China manager Sara Thorley said the opening would allow the company to increase its number of flights, given growing passenger demand. The airport tested its third runway two weeks ago. At 3.4km long and 60 meters wide, it will be able to handle a combined 60 take-offs and landings per hour. Officials said Pudong planned to build two more runways. This year the airport's cargo volume will rise to 2.9 million tons from 2.5 million tonnes last year. A new cargo-handling centre, which also opens today, will boost the capacity of the airport to 4.2 million tons annually.

March 27, 2008

Hong Kong: Hong Kong stocks surged 6.43 per cent on Tuesday, the biggest one-day percentage gain in two months, tracking Wall Street gains on improved investor confidence after JP Morgan’s raised offer for Bear Stearns. The benchmark Hang Seng Index ended at 22,464.52 and the H-share index rose 8.22 per cent to 11,727. Mainland stocks ended higher on Tuesday, led by property and airline shares, as the main stock index rebounded from technical support to close almost unchanged after tumbling near a nine-month low in early trade. The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index, which sank 4.49 per cent on Monday, ended Tuesday up 0.09 per cent at 3,629.619 points. It hit an intra-day low of 3,521.528 in the morning, just off last Thursday’s nine-month low of 3,516.330. Rising Shanghai shares outnumbered falling stocks 639 to 242, but turnover in Shanghai A shares shrank to a one-week low of 77.6 billion yuan (HK$86 billion) from Monday’s 88.3 billion.

Lawyers representing Lily Chiang Lai-lei - the former chairwoman of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce who is facing fraud charges - said on Tuesday she might launch a judicial review. This is to challenge Secretary of Justice Wong Yan Lung’s refusal to let her be tried for fraud before a High Court jury. The ICAC charges against Chiang in connection with an alleged HK$7.5 million share options fraud was heard in the Eastern Magistracy on Tuesday morning. Chiang’s lawyers wanted the case to be tried before a jury in the High Court. But they said they have received a letter from Mr Wong last Thursday, who has refused their application to put the case to trial before a jury in the High Court. In the letter, Mr Wong argued that the charges faced by Chiang would carry a maximum jail term of less than seven years if she was found guilty. Consequently, the case should be tried in the District Court, he reasoned. But Chiang’s defence barrister Hectar Pun-hei said she was considering launching a judicial review. Principal Magistrate Garry Tallentire had adjourned the case until May 6 and has extended Chiang’s bail to HK$1 million. The charges arise from the listing of Eco-Tek Holdings on the Growth Enterprise Market. Chiang, a former chairwoman of Eco-Tek Holdings, had earlier been charged, along with former executive director Shah Tahir Hussain. They were charged with conspiracy to defraud and making two false statements over the granting of share options to employees of the company in 2002. The anti-graft body said Chiang faced two new fraud charges on March 4. The ICAC said Chiang and Pau Kwok-ping, 54, former chief executive of Eco-Tek Holdings. They were accused of conspiring to defraud the stock exchange by falsely representing share interests during the listing of the company in 2001 and authorising the issue of a prospectus containing an untrue statement in November 2001. Hectar Pun-hei said he opposed the new charges. Moreover, Chiang had not been interviewed about the new allegations, he added.

In a further sign that Hong Kong’s economy is staying robust, gross domestic product expanded 6.7 per cent in real terms in the fourth quarter compared with the same period a year earlier, government figures released on Tuesday showed. The Census and Statistics Department found services output rose 7.6 per cent year on year in the fourth quarter and 7.2 per cent last year as a whole. Net output in wholesale, retail and import and export trades, and restaurants and hotels sector grew 7.1 per cent in the fourth quarter and 7.2 per cent last year, the figures showed. “The rise came from consumer spending, inbound tourism and continuous growth in external and offshore trade,” a department spokesman said. Net output in transport, storage and communications sectors rose 7.4 per cent in real terms in the fourth quarter and 5.8 per cent last year. “Net output in the financing, insurance, real estate and business-services sector grew 15.5 per cent in real terms in the fourth quarter and 14.6 per cent last year,” the spokesman said. GDP is the total market value of all final goods and services produced in a country or territory each year. Hong Kong’s economy is enjoying strong domestic demand and its external sector has also performed well. Unemployment is also falling, while retail sales and exports are also enjoying steady growth. Some 28.2 million visitors visited Hong Kong in 2007 — representing a 11.6% increase from a year earlier. However, inflation has been edging up — consumer prices rose by 2 per cent in 2007 and increased 3.2 per cent in January this year.

Total employment in Hong Kong’s private sector increased by 2.1 per cent or 50,600 people in December 2007 compared with a year earlier, latest figures released on Tuesday showed.

The Hong Kong Flower Show attracted over 548,000 visitors this year – 21,000 more than last year, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department said on Tuesday.

Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing has been dead for five years but the love from friends and fans is still alive as thousands - including more than 1,000 from overseas - are expected to join a series of anniversary events starting on Saturday. The singer-actor jumped off the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Central on April 1, 2003. Fans coming to the city this week included 400 from the mainland, 200 from Japan and some from Canada and the United States, said Lee Wai-hung, spokeswoman of fan club Red Mission. Some of the mainland fans were from remote villages or provinces as far away as Heilongjiang and Xinjiang , Ms Lee said. She said it would be the biggest gathering of overseas fans in Hong Kong for memorial events for Cheung, affectionately known as Gor Gor. And these were only those who had asked the fan club to reserve tickets to memorial concerts. "The actual number is expected to be bigger as many of them do not seek help from us," Ms Lee said. "It is very moving to see so many of them coming to Hong Kong for the occasion because a lot of them have to save up for a long time to pay for this trip." The memorial spirit will peak on April 1 - the fifth anniversary of Cheung's suicide - with a charity concert entitled "Miss You Much Leslie" at the Coliseum. Concert organiser Florence Chan Suk-fan said more than 10 of Cheung's singer friends, including Jacky Cheung Hok-yau and Eliza Chan Kit-ling, would perform. It was also reported that Tony Leung Chiu-wai, who worked with Cheung on the movie Happy Together, and Joyce Cheng Yan-yee, daughter of late comedienne Lydia Sum Tin-ha, whom Cheung thanked in his suicide note, would turn up. Ms Chan said tickets were sold out in two hours and tickets to an extra March 31 show would go on sale tomorrow. She said the concerts would be followed by more in September and the money raised would go to charity. Separately, independent singer-songwriter Joey Lo is organising a free concert for Sunday at the Avenue of Stars to pay tribute to his idol. Angel Leung On-kay, director of Skymelody, which is handling the production of the concert, said: "Compared to the concerts at the Hong Kong Coliseum, this is a very down-to-earth show initiated by fans." She said a candlelight vigil would be held during the concert. Fans may also lay flowers at the wax statue of Cheung at Madame Tussauds Hong Kong and at the Ice House Street outdoor area of the Mandarin Oriental.

Ocean Park has pulled ahead of Hong Kong Disneyland in global rankings of the most-visited theme parks last year. Ocean Park, which reported record attendance last year, was listed at No 16, with 4.92 million visitors. In 2006 it had 4.38 million visitors and was ranked 21st on the list. Hong Kong Disneyland, which opened in September 2005, slipped to 21st place last year from number 18 in 2006 as attendance dropped to 4.15 million from 5.2 million, a decline of 20.2 per cent. Disney's Magic Kingdom in Florida topped the rankings with attendance of more than 17 million last year, up from 16.64 million in 2006. The figures in the Themed Entertainment Association/Economics Research Associates' Attraction Attendance Report are based on a calendar year. "Hong Kong Disneyland, in its second [full] year of operation, experienced a sophomore slump, down more than 20 per cent from its opening year," ERA principal Christian Aaen said in the report. "Ocean Park, which caters heavily to the Chinese tourist market, displayed strong attendance growth at more than 12 per cent, leading to a record season." Among theme parks in Asia, Ocean Park was ranked fifth, up from eighth place in 2006. Hong Kong Disneyland stayed put at seventh place. Ocean Park, which is the only facility outside the Americas to be accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, is spending about HK$5.5 billion to redevelop its facilities.

China: A Chinese-born engineer convicted of conspiracy to export US defence technology to China was sentenced Monday to 24½ years in federal prison. Chi Mak, 67, who worked on naval propulsion systems, also was convicted of acting as an unregistered foreign agent, attempting to violate export control laws and making false statements to the FBI. Federal prosecutors asked for 30 years, while Mak’s defence team proposed 10 years. Mak asked US District Judge Cormac J. Carney for leniency before sentencing. Four of Mak’s relatives, including his wife, pleaded guilty last year to related offences in exchange for leniency. “I don’t know so much about the law, but I feel I never intend to violate any law at all. I never intend to hurt my country. I love this country. I don’t believe I hurt this country,” Mak told the judge. “The truth is not like the one the prosecutor says. I still hope for justice.” The judge said Mak, who has US citizenship, lied on immigration and government security clearance forms and perjured himself on the witness stand. “I do believe a high-end sentence is appropriate here. Mr. Mak sadly, I believe, betrayed the United States... I really don’t know how much damage he’s done to us,” Mr Carney said. Mak’s attorney, Ronald Kaye, said he would file an appeal within 10 days. He accused prosecutors of being overly harsh with his client to make a point to the international espionage community and to China. “We believe that history will prove the facts of this case differently,” Mr Kaye said outside court. “They essentially have sentenced him as if he’s a trophy rather than a human being.” Mak, who has been in custody since his arrest, was allowed to hug his attorneys before being returned to the Metropolitan Detention Centre in Los Angeles. Kaye asked that he be placed in a minimum security prison in Lompoc, California, and the court agreed to recommend that to federal prison officials. Mak, who worked for Anaheim-based naval defence contractor Power Paragon, was arrested in late 2005 after FBI agents stopped his brother and sister-in-law as they boarded a flight to Hong Kong and Guangzhou, China. Investigators said they found three encrypted CDs in the couple’s luggage that contained documents on a submarine propulsion system, a solid-state power switch for ships and a PowerPoint presentation on the future of power electronics. During a month-long trial last year, Mak’s attorneys argued that the information he gathered was not classified and was often made public at industry conferences that were attended by engineers from all over the world, including China. They also argued that the information that Mak was accused of trying to pass to China was outdated and so far from being a functional technology that China could have done little with it. Mak’s wife, Rebecca Laiwah Chiu, pleaded guilty last year on the eve of her trial to one count of acting as a foreign agent without registering with the US government. She is serving three years in federal prison and will be deported upon release. His brother, Mak Tai, pleaded guilty last year to conspiring to violate export control laws in exchange for a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. Mak Tai’s wife, Li Fuk, pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the violation of export control laws and received three years of probation. “Billy” Mak Yui, the son of Mak Tai and Li Fuk pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the violation of export control laws and was sentenced to time already served. The three will also be deported.

Fuel stations on the mainland’s booming east coast were rationing diesel, pump attendants said on Tuesday, despite the central government’s insistence that its refiners would ensure supplies at unprofitable state-set prices. “The line outside our station is at least one kilometre long,” said one Fujian station manager who declined to be named as fuel supplies are a sensitive issue. Other stations said they had sold out of the day’s supply by noon and did not know if a delivery would arrive on Wednesday. Down the coast in Guangzhou diesel was rationed to 300 yuan (HK$332) for cash sales - enough to fill up a family car but just a small portion of a truck tank - and there were queues lasting as long as 20 minutes. The government said late on Monday that fuel supplies were adequate and reports of rationing reflected only sporadic problems caused by demand from farmers planting spring crops and the lingering impact of unusually severe winter weather. “Supply tightness, even queues and rationing, in southern China was partly due to rising needs in the spring season as well as more demand after the harsh winter weather,” the National Development and Reform Commission said in a statement. Hoarding in expectation of price rises may have exacerbated shortages but overall supplies were good as domestic oil product stocks had risen 28 per cent from the start of the year, and the country’s leading oil firms would ensure supplies, the commission added. But as rationing and queues spread inland and to the country’s financial centre, Shanghai, there were echoes of the supply crisis in October last year, the mainland’s worst in four years. Last year, in the face of large refining losses, majors PetroChina (SEHK: 0857, announcements, news) and Sinopec (SEHK: 0386) curbed runs and cut supplies to the market, creating shortages across the nation that forced the government to increase state-set fuel prices. With international crude prices climbing briefly above US$110 a barrel this month, refiners were again selling at tens of dollars below the level that would allow them to break even on processing. But the central government is reluctant to raise fuel prices because inflation is at its highest in more than a decade, and earlier this month promised there would be no increases in the short-term. In Shanghai more than half of 15 PetroChina or Sinopec branded stations contacted by Reuters, in both the city centre and suburbs, said they were rationing sales or had run out of diesel entirely and were not expecting new deliveries. “Diesel shipments are spotty. Now we are out and don’t know when the next one will arrive,” said one downtown attendant. Some retailers from inland Anhui province said they had not recovered from the supply crisis last year, while others were once again rationing or sold out of diesel. “We haven’t sold diesel since last year’s shortage,” said a staffer at an independent station in the provincial capital Hefei. Even in the capital, which the top oil firms usually try to shield from shortages because it is the seat of government power, pumps of at least two PetroChina stations had run dry by mid-afternoon. “Our diesel stocks ran out in the afternoon after some 20 large trucks rushed in for it,” an attendant said at one. “We only have some reserved for prepaid customers.” In neighboring Hebei there were shortages too. “Due to tight resources, we allow only 200 yuan each fill for nearly two weeks,” said an attendant at a Sinopec station near the provincial capital Shijiazhuang. In central Henan, drivers faced even lower quotas, with some Sinopec stations in the capital Zhengzhou allowing only 100 yuan for each fill paid in cash.

ICBC's 2007 profit up 65% on loans growth, fee income - Profit rose to 82.3 billion yuan (11.7 billion U.S. dollars), or 0.24 yuan per share, China's biggest lender said in its annual financial statement. Its board of directors suggested offering 0.133 yuan of cash dividend for per share.

China's Hainan Airlines almost quadruples profit in 2007 - Hainan Airlines, China's fourth biggest carrier, said Tuesday its net profit almost quadrupled last year, buoyed by a booming domestic industry and the stronger Chinese currency. Net income reached 651.4 million yuan (91.7 million U.S. dollars) or 0.18 yuan per share, up from 166.8 million yuan or 0.06 yuan in 2006, the Haikou-based airline said in a statement to the Shanghai Stock Exchange. Operating revenue rose 6.1 percent from a year earlier to 13.6 billion yuan last year, it said. The airline reaped 11.3 billion yuan from passenger transport last year, after carrying 14.5 million passengers, up 0.7 percent. But cargo transport volume declined 0.5 percent to 197,800 tons. China, the world's second largest air transporter after the United States, reported an improved profitability of its civil aviation industry last year as transport capacity expanded, market demand rose and the domestic currency appreciated, the statement said. Chinese airlines carried 185 million passengers last year, up 15.9 percent, while cargo volume surged 13.3 percent to 3.96 million tons, according to government estimates. Hainan Airlines planned to raise passenger numbers by 16 percent to 16.75 million in 2008. "Considerable appreciation of the yuan led to a sharp shrinkage of U.S. dollar-denominated debts that the company paid back in 2007," it said. China moved its currency, the yuan, away from a pegged exchange rate to the U.S. dollar in July 2005 and has allowed it to appreciate by about 14 percent since then. Hainan Airlines added eight aircraft to its fleet last year, bringing the total to 66, including 58 Boeing 737s. The airline will invest 9.8 billion yuan this year in transport capacity expansion. Another 17 new aircraft will join in this year, including the purchase of 10 Boeing 737-800s for about 3.5 billion yuan.

A woman walks by a store of luxurious bags in Shanghai on October 12, 2007. As per capita GDP exceeded $2,000, China is turning into a nation of spenders.

March 26, 2008

Hong Kong: The Lok Ma Chau Loop between Hong Kong and Shenzhen can be turned into a base for the development of innovative technology, according to Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen. "The development cost of the loop will be high so we must do something which has value added," Tang told The Standard in an interview. Tang, who is responsible for cooperation between Guangdong and Hong Kong, said foreign investors are hesitant about investing in similar schemes in the mainland even though the technological expertise is available since the protection of intellectual property rights there is weak. "But since Hong Kong will be responsible for the management of the loop, Hong Kong's intellectual property rights legislation will be applied," Tang said. There are currently 11 innovative technology areas, according to the Innovation and Technology Commission. These are automotive parts and accessory systems; biotechnology; Chinese medicine; communication technologies; consumer electronics; environmental technology; integrated circuit design; logistics and supply chain management enabling technologies; nanotechnology and advanced materials; optoelectronics and textiles and clothing. Tang said he saw no point in developing financial services in the loop as some have suggested as most deals now can be concluded through the internet. Last week Executive Council convener Leung Chun-ying suggested turning the Frontier Closed Area, instead of the loop, into an economic zone since the latter was bogged down by "historical issues." Leung said the zone, to which mainlanders should be given free access, could be developed into an exhibition and convention center together with medical and educational facilities plus shopping. Tang said the ownership issues of the loop could be solved. "Both sides were not proactive enough in the past," he said. "If both sides have a strong will to develop the loop, I am sure we can solve the problems." Tang said he did not know much about Leung's proposal. "We have to have a clear goal of the development of the Loop. Shenzhen already has a big exhibition center." Shenzhen mayor Xu Zongheng said earlier this month he has his own ideas about the Loop but it was too early to reveal them. "The Loop can provide new investment opportunities for Hong Kong people," Tang said. Shenzhen and Hong Kong are considering developing the two cities into a world-class metropolis. Three working groups have been set up by the two governments to look into development of the Loop and the control point at Liantang-Heung Yuen Wai. Tang said to carry out the synergy effect of the regional economy, it is important to improve the infrastructure and border in order to facilitate the movement of people and cargo. He said Liantang will be the fifth control point between the two cities. "Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link will be the next exciting project. It will only take us an hour to get to Guangzhou and then three hours to places outside Guangdong province such as Fujian, Hubei, Jiangxi, Sichuan, Zhejiang." Tang added the railway will also bring mainlanders to Hong Kong to take international flights. "The best thing is to attract mainlanders to invest and buy property in Hong Kong. It is a status symbol for mainlanders to have property in Hong Kong," he said. With the improvement of cross- border infrastructure, Tang suggested the setting up of a pilot scheme under which local transportation companies could operate in Guangdong. "Some companies have moved part of their production lines away from Guangdong province. As such there may be business opportunities as people need to move goods across provinces," Tang said. Meanwhile, Tang said the government has not made up its mind on who to appoint as chairman of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority. "I can only say we need a different quality of person at each stage," Tang said. He also hinted giant international museums such as Pompidou and Guggenheim will not be invited to share the management of the cultural hub, although the government has been discussing with international and mainland museums about borrowing art collections.

In a bid to ease inflationary pressures on local residents, the Macao Special Administrative Region (SAR) government recently launched a special subsidy program which will cost it over 800 million patacas (around 1 million U.S. dollars), but public opinions showed that the government still need to do more to help the socially disadvantaged through the lean periods of high inflation. Starting from April 2008 to March of next year, electricity fee and income subsidies will be granted respectively to some 180,000 households in the city, and about 16,000 local full-time employees who, aged over 40, were paid less than 4,000 patacas (500 U.S. dollars) a month, according to the program, which was firstly revealed by the SAR government on March 12. The 150-pataca (19 U.S. dollars) monthly electricity fee subsidy will in effect exempt 55, 000 households, or 30 percent of the total, whose monthly electricity bills amounted to less than 150 patacas, from paying electricity charges for the period, said Francis Tam Pak Yuen, secretary for economy and finance of the SAR government. Meanwhile, the income subsidies were aimed to ensure that the beneficiary could earn at least 4,000 patacas a month, or about half of the officially measured median monthly employment earnings, which stood at 7,926 patacas in the fourth quarter of last year, according to the secretary.

Ebullient after a decisive victory in Saturday's election, Ma said Sunday in Taibei that he would try to reach agreement with the mainland on a wide range of delicate issues because, unlike the independence-minded Chen Shuibian of the DPP, he is willing to do the practical things to improve ties on all fronts. During an interview with the Washington Post, Ma seemed confident of his ability to move forward with Beijing on agreements covering direct airline flights, increased tourism from the better-off mainlanders, closer business ties, confidence-building military arrangements and even a formal end to the state of hostility in effect since Chiang Kai-shek fled to Taiwan in 1949 with his Kuomintang or Nationalist followers, the Post reported. Speaking at a packed news conference, Ma agreed he was setting out on a course that would be impossible to navigate without equal determination from the mainland. "These are very ambitious plans," he said. "They require the other side's goodwill." A spokesman for the Taiwan Affairs Office in Beijing, addressing a Taiwanese television crew in Beijing, expressed satisfaction that Taiwan voters rejected a pro-independence referendum at the same time as the vote on Saturday. "It is the hope of the people on both sides of the strait to develop peaceful cross-strait relations," said the spokesman, Li Weiyi. "Therefore, all of us should work hard on it." According to the Washington Post, Ma said that he based his confidence on three years of contacts between his Nationalist Party and the Communist Party of China (CPC) discussions that bypassed Chen Shuibian’ administration and Chen’s relentless emphasis on Taiwanese independence. Those talks have led him to believe that President Hu Jintao and Beijing are ready for dramatic changes now that Chen will no longer be Taiwan's leader, Ma said. In particular, he cited a statement by President Hu in November in which he expressed readiness to seek a peace accord with Taiwan under certain conditions. They could begin talks, Ma said, by returning to an understanding reached in 1992 that was repudiated by the Chen Shui-bian government. Beijing said that the "one-China principle" -- there is only one China in the world -- as a prerequisite for any talks. Taiwan endorsed the principle in 1992, when Kuomintang Party was in power, and said that both sides interpret the principle differently. Ma said the first subject of discussion should be direct charter flights to and from mainland cities, which he predicted could be in operation every weekend by July. From there, he said, negotiations could begin about regular flights and increasing the number of mainland tourists allowed to visit Taiwan. Within a short time, he predicted, Taiwan could draw as many as 3,000 mainland visitors a day, providing a boost to the island's economy and eroding the enmity built up over the last half-century of hostility. Under Taiwan's present restrictions, only 230,000 mainlanders visited the island in 2007. "If everything goes right," he said, "I think that will significantly change the Taiwanese attitude toward the mainland." At the same time, Ma said he wanted to open negotiations on a comprehensive agreement regulating economic ties between the two sides, particularly the nearly $125 billion a year in trade and the growing level of investment by Taiwanese businesses in the mainland. "The rules of the game, of the economic game, mean that the two sides have to get together," Ma said. Negotiations should also be held on confidence-building measures between the two militaries, he said. Specifically, he suggested that military officers could meet to exchange advance information on deployments and troop movements to avoid misinterpretations and accidental alarms. More broadly, he said, talks could get underway for the accord suggested by President Hu Jintao to set aside the hostility that has made the strait one of the world's most volatile flash points.

Continued weakness in the mainland market - where indexes dropped more than 4 percent yesterday - and lingering concern over the state of the US economy are expected to put pressure on Hong Kong stocks this week.

Hong Kong Disneyland has plunged nearly to the bottom of the world's 25 most popular theme parks last year - five places behind major rival Ocean Park - according to a survey by Themed Entertainment Association and Economics Research Associates. Locally, Mickey Mouse and his friends dropped from 18th place in 2006 to 21st last year. Ocean Park, ranked 21st in 2006, jumped to 16th. The survey assessed various theme parks internationally by attendance. Ranked in the world's top five are Magic Kingdom in Florida (17 million visitors), followed by Disneyland in California (14.8 million), Tokyo Disneyland (13.9 million), Tokyo DisneySea (12.4 million), and Disneyland Paris (12 million). Hong Kong Disneyland recorded just over four million visitors from October 2006 to last September, compared with 5.2 million in the first year after its launch on September 12, 2005. The 23 percent drop raised concerns among both lawmakers and the Hong Kong government. The TEA and ERA report also identified a significant decline in attendance at Hong Kong Disneyland as Ocean Park saw sizeable increases. "Hong Kong Disneyland in its second [full] year of operation experienced a sophomore slump, down more than 20 percent from its opening year," the report said. Meanwhile, it noted that Ocean Park, which caters heavily to the mainland tourist market, showed strong attendance growth at more than 12 percent, leading to a record season. Travel Industry Council executive director Joseph Tung Yao-chung criticized the facilities at Hong Kong Disneyland for being "too primitive" and for not bringing in the latest attractions from their overseas counterparts. "The facilities and games in Hong Kong Disneyland are like the first- generation US Disney theme parks. But Ocean Park has been very aggressive in making changes from time to time to give visitors a fresh experience," Tung said. Hong Kong Disneyland was designed to revive the tourist industry, which slumped following the 2003 SARS outbreak. In November last year, Walt Disney Co admitted for the first time that the poor performance of Hong Kong Disneyland was dragging down its results, prompting calls from the SAR government for the park's management to improve its operations. Hong Kong Disneyland's worsening performance has left the park unable to meet performance promises to its lenders and the American entertainment giant has asked creditors to temporarily remove the covenants on its US$294 million (HK$2.29 billion) revolving- credit facility. TEA is the leading trade alliance for creators of themed experiences such as museums, zoos and theme parks, while ERA is a top global consulting firm providing economic analysis for the entertainment and leisure industry.

Octopus card led to arrest in sex killing - Police investigating the murder of a North Point sex worker tracked down a 30-year-old jobless man through an Octopus card that belonged to the victim.

Hongkongers look across border to cash in on yuan - Inquiries about how to open a yuan account have become common at Shenzhen banks near the Lo Wu checkpoint, especially since the latest rate cut in Hong Kong brought near-zero interest rates last week.

China: China is turning into a nation of spenders as its per capita GDP exceeded the 2,000 U.S. dollar mark, which leaves room for bulging domestic demand, a senior official said Monday. Ballooning domestic consumption and upgrading consumption structure since the reform and opening up in 1978 have made China the world's biggest markets for mobile phones, tourism and broadband services, said Yu Guangzhou, vice minister of commerce, at the China Economic Development Forum. China's domestic consumption has continued to grow at 13.1 percent per annum in the past five years, and it accounted for a bigger slice of GDP growth than investment and export in 2007, for the first time in seven years. China's per capita GDP reached 2,456 U.S. dollars in 2007. However, consumption still took up less than 50 percent of the GDP,28 percentage pints lower than the world average. China's monthly trade surplus shrank to 8.56 billion U.S. dollars in February, roughly one third of the level in the same month last year, mainly due to weakening U.S. demand. Experts say total exports figures will continue to flatten this year as a result of a stronger yuan and the rising cost introduced by tougher labor laws from Jan. 1. That will make its role in GDP growth less important. Yu reckoned China will jump to be the biggest market for luxury goods, from the current third place, by 2014, snatching 23 percent of the world share. Domestic tourist figure will hit 2.8 billion persons by 2015, while outbound travelers will total 100 million, the fourth largest source of tourists in the world, he said. The opening Chinese market will benefit the world economy, Yu said. Citing figures from the World Bank, the official said that China contributed to 13 percent of world economic growth in the past five years. After China's accession to the World Trade Organization, the country's import volume has surged by an annual growth rate of 26 percent on the average.

China had 565 million mobile phone users by the end of last month, up from 556 million in January and 547 million in December, the ministry said in a statement.

Classic French opera "Le Roi d'Ys" will run April 3-6 at Beijing's National Center for the Performing Arts. The opera, premiered in 1888, had its last two performances held 23 years apart, in 1984 and 2007, for complex staging requirements, considered a mysterious pearl buried under the dust.

China's Olympic champions and Beijing Olympic Games torchbearers, table tennis player Deng Yaping (L) and swimmer Luo Xuejuan participate in a tree-planting activity in front of the tomb of Pierre de Coubertin, the chief founder of the modern Olympics Games in ancient Olympia, Greece March 23, 2008.

China Life Insurance, the nation's largest insurer, said it invested US$300 million (HK$2.34 billion) in Visa Inc's initial public offering, and plans further investments in the US and Europe to diversify its portfolio.

March 25, 2008

Hong Kong: PCCW (SEHK: 0008), the city's largest telecommunications firm, will shy away from making an aggressive overseas push despite winning a full licence in Saudi Arabia, according to group managing director Alex Arena. PCCW and Saudi conglomerate Mawarid won a licence to provide full telecommunications services including fixed line, broadband and wireless broadband in the Middle East country. "Our approach is to keep it minimal," Mr Arena said. "PCCW will export our skills in overseas markets like Saudi Arabia, and some others are in discussions. It takes a long time to make the overseas investments substantial." The consortium was working on the budget for the business plan, and would seek an initial public offering in the stock market to meet the licence requirement, he said. "It is long way from Hong Kong," Mr Arena said, referring to the desert kingdom. "We still internally focus on Hong Kong." He said PCCW, as a foreign company, would limit its exposure in Saudi Arabia as it would face some cultural differences. But the company would look at other markets, and had set up a team in the international project division with more than 10 staff members. PCCW's earlier overseas expansion included a nationwide wireless broadband licence in Britain, which is operating at a loss. He said the company would not sell the British business as it was still at an initial stage, and it was looking for new technological developments such as WiMax. On the mainland, Mr Arena said the company's expansion was hindered by possible industry restructuring. "Our business in China has no doubt slowed down because of the restructuring." Even so, PCCW had a team of 3,000 on the mainland to explore opportunities, and "ultimately, it would be a substantial business in China", he said. In Hong Kong, the firm needed to protect the HK$7 billion earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation, Mr Arena said. Now TV and the mobile business were the two growth engines for PCCW, he added. However, investors were surprised that Now TV missed its break-even target last year because of spending on the 24-hour News Channel. "It's a correct decision for the company to set up the news channel. We saw the opportunity there to take better control of the programmes and generate advertising revenue. "It's a long-term decision."

Divers working against odds to reach trapped seamen - Decompression risks, poor visibility and strong current make it tough to penetrate upturned hull, officials say - Professional divers and fire service officials cited low visibility in the water and strong currents for difficulties in the rescue operation involving the Ukrainian tug that sank off Tuen Mun. Stephen Au Siu-kin, of the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, said the water at the scene was murky and visibility low. "It is difficult to search for survivors in such circumstances," the diving coach said, adding that strong currents made it even harder. Divers had, by late last night, been unsuccessful in penetrating the upturned hull of the Neftegaz-67 - which sank 37 metres after colliding with the China-registered Yaohai cargo ship on Saturday night - and reaching anyone who might be alive inside. Mr Au, who has 15 years' diving experience, said divers could stay only about 20 minutes at that depth. "It is so dark and murky underwater. Divers could easily be cut by the wreckage and something inside the ship might collapse any time," he said. "They cannot dive for too long each time or they will suffer from decompression sickness, which can lead to shock and possibly death." Fire Services commanders said any underwater rescue attempt was difficult and dangerous. Chow Wing-tak, chief fire officer (Hong Kong Island, Islands and Marine Command), agreed that his divers could stay underwater for only 20 minutes because they faced decompression problems. "The rescue mission is difficult because the water is turbulent and visibility underwater is poor," Mr Chow said. "The strong current also pushes our divers away from the wreck." Mr Chow said the current had been even stronger than usual on Saturday because it was the middle of the lunar month and a full-moon night. Director of Fire Services Lo Chun-hung said an attempt was being made to lift the tug and drag it into shallower water so divers could work on it underwater without facing decompression risks. Fire Services division commander (Marine and Offshore Islands) Wong Chung-shing would not speculate on the chances of finding more survivors. "When the boat turned upside down, there might have been some air trapped in the cabins," he said. "The seamen could rely on the air in the cabins for a while, depending on the number of people and the volume of air." Crew members were believed to be in cabins and the engine room at the time of the accident. Divers had received no response to attempts to communicate with anyone who might be trapped, Mr Wong said. "We can only send two divers to work underwater each time," he said. "If we send too many divers, their breathing tubes might get tangled. That would be very dangerous for them. Also, the water current is too strong and the entry into the boat is too narrow." Divers were first deployed about midnight on Saturday. "We could not locate the boat with information given to us from the marine police as the strong water current had swept it 400 metres from the site where the collision occurred," Mr Wong explained. "We had to rely on the Marine Department to help us locate the boat." Government Flying Service assistant manager Lo Yiu-wah said helicopters had made four sea searches for survivors but had found nothing. "Visibility was only about 2 to 4km. It was very poor," he said. The search had also been made more difficult because it was at night. "Two inspections were conducted in the morning, and we could only see some debris floating in the sea."

Taiwan's former economic minister Chiang Ping-kung is widely expected to head Ma Ying-jeou's cabinet once the president-elect is inaugurated on May 20. The 75-year-old is known for his economic expertise, which observers say means he could help Mr Ma realise his promise to improve livelihoods. An economic consultant to Mr Ma during his campaign, Mr Chiang has been described by local media as the best choice for the cabinet post to resolve various economic and financial problems left by the government of independence-leaning President Chen Shui-bian. According to official statistics, the Chen administration is leaving close to NT$4 trillion (HK$1.02 trillion) in debt for the incoming government. However, some economists said if hidden categories were included, the figure would amount to NT$8.3 trillion. Because Mr Ma, who brought the Kuomintang back to power with his victory in Saturday's presidential election, has campaigned on a pledge to revive the sagging economy and deliver Taiwanese people a better life, he would need economic and financial experts to help him, pundits said. "If Ma Ying-jeou is unable to keep his promise, voters will vote against him," political commentator Cheng Tsun-chi said. Mr Ma yesterday declined to say whether he had anyone in mind to be the next premier. Mr Chiang said: "It is still too early to discuss the issue. After all, we just had the election on Saturday. It would too abrupt to ask this question." A KMT vice-chairman, Mr Chiang is also currently vice-speaker of the legislature. He had served as economic minister for president Lee Teng-hui, and was Mr Lee's envoy at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summits in 1998 and 1999. In 2005, he acted as the advance party's chief for then KMT chairman Lien Chan to pave the way for a historic visit by Mr Lien to Beijing that ushered in reconciliation between the KMT and the Chinese Communist Party.

China: The central government has the confidence and ability to take effective austerity measures to avoid wild swings in economic development, Vice-Premier Li Keqiang said yesterday, in his first public speech in the new post. "Under the circumstances of a complex world economy, China's fast and stable economic development is particularly important," he said at a forum held in Beijing over the weekend. Mr Li, who is tipped to succeed Premier Wen Jiabao when he retires in 2013, said the government would keep macroeconomic controls at a reasonable level in accordance with "new situations and new problems". The mainland made curbing inflation its top priority this year after inflation hit a near 12-year high of 8.7 per cent last month. However, with the unfolding global economic uncertainties induced by the United States subprime crisis, leaders have become more alert to offshore risks that could trigger an economic slowdown as the mainland became more integrated with the global economy. Despite difficulties such as the slowing US economy and a falling US dollar, Mr Li said the mainland itself was a huge market that provided a buffer against external pressures.

Shanghai villagers told to make way for Disney park - Work on Shanghai's Disneyland - set to pose serious competition to the struggling Hong Kong Disney park for the crucial mainland tourist trade - could begin as early as the first half of next year, villagers living on the site have been told. This emerged little more than two weeks after the city's mayor, Han Zheng , announced that Beijing's approval had been sought for the park to go ahead. If the start date is confirmed it would mean the first phase would be operating soon after the 2010 World Expo shoves the city into international spotlight. About 4 sq km of land belonging to four villages in the Chuansha area of Pudong have been earmarked for the park, according to villagers who have been told they will have to move to nearby Shilong. About 3,200 families, many of them farmers, live in the four villages - Qigan, Zhaoxing, Jiajia and Xueqiao, about 40 minutes' drive from the city centre. Residents said leaders of their village production teams, who told them about the plans, had said Qigan and Zhaoxing were earmarked for the first phase and they would have to go by early next year. The Hong Kong government would not comment on whether it knew of the plan before Mr Han's disclosure on March 6. A non-executive director of Hong Kong Disneyland is understood to have been told informally during a visit to Shanghai in February. The Shanghai city government was also non-committal, with a spokesman saying: "We don't have any particular department to deal with questions about Disney." Alannah Hall-Smith, Disney's vice-president for corporate communications in Asia Pacific, said: "There is no deal and there is no announcement." A Qigan resident, giving his name only as Mr Hua - the village's clan name - pointed to a field in front of him, saying: "This is where they said a Disneyland will be built. The whole area, about 4 sq km." He said he had "no special feeling" about the plans, although he didn't want to move. "They've been talking about it for 10 years but nothing has happened so far," he said. A woman said most people did not want to move. "We have a quiet and inexpensive life here," she said. "We farm and eat what we produce, and things are also cheap here. They said the Disneyland in Hong Kong was too crowded and a new one was needed to be built in Shanghai. Is it true?" Despite the imminent move, villagers say there has been no word on compensation. Mr Han broke the news about the Disney plan on the sidelines of the National People's Congress meeting in Beijing. He said the project would be divided into several stages to reduce commercial risk and avoid any extreme impact on the Disneyland in Hong Kong, which is battling to meet its attendance targets. Mr Han made a similar announcement in Beijing in 2006 but the plan was put on hold after the then-Shanghai party chief Chen Liangyu was implicated later that year in a corruption scandal involving social security funds. Apo Leong, director of Asia Monitor Resources Centre, said: "Disney should comply with international standard on resettling those affected. It should discuss it with the people, instead of just telling them to leave. It also needs to comply with international environmental standards."

China online game company NetDragon Websoft (SEHK: 8288) posted an eightfold profit increase on the rising popularity of its games. The company reported net income of 374.8 million yuan (HK$412.99 million) for last year, up from 42.9 million yuan in 2006. Sales increased 428.6 per cent to 645.2 million yuan. The company declared 40 fen per share dividend. "Growth was mainly driven by our existing games Eudemons Online and Conquer Online," said chairman Liu Dejian. The company's top game, Eudemons Online, contributed 448.6 million yuan in revenue last year, from 69.5 million yuan a year earlier. Conquer Online contributed 135.3 million yuan, up from 51.1 million in 2006. Revenue from Tou Ming Zhuang, a title launched last December to tie in with a movie of the same name, reached 1.8 million yuan. However, due to the uncertain nature of the online game industry, Mr Liu was not confident that the company's performance could be repeated this year. "It will be difficult to increase revenue five times again this year," said Mr Liu, "We target a 20 to 30 per cent increase in revenue and net profit, which is the industry norm." The mainland online game market is expected to grow to US$3.05 billion in 2011, from 815.5 million in 2005, an annual growth rate of 30.2 per cent, according to market research firm, IDC. NetDragon will launch three more new games this year, including Heroes of Might and Magic Online, a game co-developed with French game company Ubisoft. It is also working on a game with United States entertainment giant Disney - Disney Fantasy World - which will be launched next year. The firm was considering buying a number of game studios this year to strengthen its development team, said Mr Liu, without elaborating.

Greek actress Maria Nafpliotou, playing the role of the High Priestess, passes a torchbearer an olive branch at the dress rehearsal for the Olympic flame lighting ceremony for the Beijing 2008 Games at the site of ancient Olympia in Greece on Saturday.

March 24, 2008

Hong Kong: The daily flight movement record at the Hong Kong International Airport has been broken twice in two days, with 906 and 945 flight movements handled Thursday and Friday respectively, said the Civil Aviation Department of Hong Kong Saturday. The Civil Aviation Department of Hong Kong said Friday's flight movements exceeded the daily average of 810 movements by 16.7 percent. There were also 451 flights operated through the Hong Kong Flight Information Region Friday. The department expects the steady growth in air traffic to strengthen Hong Kong's status as an international and regional aviation hub. This Easter, most of the extra flights were destined for Northeast Asia, the Chinese mainland and Southeast Asia. Taipei was the most popular destination, followed by Fukushima and Okinawa.

Ma Ying-jeou, the candidate representing Taiwan's Kuomintang (KMT), won the island's leadership election on Saturday, according to Taiwan media reports. Ma, former KMT party chairman, and Vincent Siew, got 7.6587 million ballots, or 58.45 percent of the votes, whereas Frank Hsieh of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and his running mate Su Tseng-chang got 5.4452 million ballots, or 41.55 percent of the votes. Taiwan residents began voting in the leadership election at 8 a.m., voting ended at 4 p.m.. Results are expected at 9.30 p.m. About 17.3 million people voted at 14,401 polling stations, said the Taiwan authority. Taiwan residents also voted on Saturday in two "referendums" on launching a bid to join the United Nations, one put forward by the DPP and one by the KMT. Both were rejected by Taiwan residents. In January, the KMT won 81 of the 113 seats in Taiwan's "legislature" elections, scoring a landslide victory over the DPP, which got 27 seats. Pan-democrats and Beijing loyalists in Hong Kong welcomed the election of the first president born in the city, Ma Ying-jeou. Democratic Party chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan, an election observer in Taipei, said he expected better relations between Hong Kong and Taiwan after Mr Ma took the helm. "Mr Ma has sincere emotions for Hong Kong - after all he was born in the city. Compared with the lukewarm interactions between Hong Kong and Taiwan during the eight years under the Democratic Progressive Party's rule, I guess there must be an improvement in the relationship. "The presidential election ran in such a smooth way; it showed that democracy in Taiwan is becoming more and more mature, which can be an inspiration for both the mainland and Hong Kong. I'm sure Hongkongers will have a stronger desire to fight for democracy in 2012." Ip Kwok-him, a vice-chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said he was born in the same Hong Kong hospital as Mr Ma. "Mr Ma was born in Kwong Wah Hospital, so was I," Mr Ip said. "As far as I know, Mr Ma is a man of integrity, which is rarely seen in Taiwanese political circles nowadays." Pointing out that the Kuomintang was different from the DPP, especially in its opposition to Taiwanese independence, Mr Ip said he believed communications between the island and Hong Kong and the mainland would soon be improved. Mr Ma moved to Taiwan with his family when he was a year old.

Taiwan residents on Saturday vetoed "UN membership referendum" pursued by Chen Shui-bian authorities, according to results of the votes count on Saturday. Only 35.8 percent in Taiwan cast their ballots on Saturday for the "UN membership referendum" under the name "Taiwan", proposed by the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). The result showed clearly the Taiwan residents' dissatisfaction with Chen, said Wang Hsiao-Po, a professor with Taiwan University. Voting on the proposed "referendum" was held simultaneously with the leadership poll. Su Chia-hung, a political expert from Kaohsiung, said the failure of the "referendum" proved that the people's will should never be overlooked. It was the common aspiration of the compatriots from across the Taiwan Straits to maintain peace and stability, he said. Chen's "UN membership referendum" has met opposition and condemnation from both within the Taiwan island and the international community ever since it was proposed. More than 100 countries and regions including the United States, the European Union and Russia previously had all voiced their opposition to the proposal and reiterated their adherence to the One China policy.

The 3rd Hong Kong Music Fair opened here Wednesday with more than 70 exhibitors taking part in the three-day fair. The fair will continue until March 19 with exhibitors from the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong, Germany, South Korea and Singapore. Record companies, new media content providers, music portals, mobile and hardware manufacturers, along with music industry artists and other professionals joined the fair. Jointly organized by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council(TDC) and the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) (Hong Kong Group), the fair caters to business as well as public interests, promoting music products and raising awareness of legal downloads. "Thanks to the 10 German companies joining us for the first time, our fair is more international than ever," said Benjamin Chau, TDC assistant executive director, speaking at the opening ceremony. "With the development of new media, music's business model can no longer focus solely on the sales of CDs and other traditional music products. That makes artist management, including concert management and celebrity endorsements, an even more important aspect of the industry," he added. A series of seminars will be staged on March 20, with artist managers from all over Asia sharing their management secrets. Among the other new features this year is the Talent Showcase, giving promising singers and composers from Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland a chance to be discovered by industry professionals. The Hong Kong Music Fair is one of the events of Entertainment Expo Hong Kong.

HK looks forward to era of co-operation - Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Stephen Lam Sui-lung hopes Taipei will start a new era of improved cross-strait relations under Ma Ying-jeou and prepare to implement the "three links" - direct trade, transport and communications. Mr Lam said Hong Kong had been promoting ties with Taiwan across a spectrum of political contacts. "Our hope is that, following this election, the Taiwanese side will actively promote cross-strait relations and be positive towards the idea of the three direct links being introduced," he said. "As far as Hong Kong is concerned, we may in the short term see a slight reduction in tourism arrivals from Taiwan. "But in the long run, if the economy across the Taiwan Strait expands, there will be additional opportunities for Hong Kong." About 100 members of the Hong Kong Back-up Group for Ah-jeou, which supported Mr Ma, celebrated his success in Fanling last night. The group plans to visit the island in late May, when the inauguration ceremony takes place.

Hong Kong has lost out to Thailand as the location for the filming of the period piece Shanghai because the territory lacks a colonial-era atmosphere. US movie mogul Harvey Weinstein has moved the filming after a forced exit from China, settling on Thailand for the bulk of the shooting. Hong Kong doesn't have the colonial-era setting we need. It's difficult to find a building there less than 50 stories high, so we'll be going to Thailand and, believe it or not, England," Weinstein said. Among stars lined up for the movie are Hong Kong's Chow Yun-fat, American John Cusack, China's Gong Li and Japan's Ken Watanabe. Chinese film officials last month said they were blocking Shanghai from shooting in the mainland over concerns about its script. The movie is about an American who is investigating his friend's death in Japanese-occupied Shanghai during the World War II era. "The decision has everything to do with [Chinese authorities] not liking the script, especially elements about collaboration," Weinstein said. "Of course we'll be in China in the future with films like [the remakes of] Avenging Eagle and Iron Monkey. We respect [China's] rules. And if things are too sensitive or too difficult, we'll simply locate production elsewhere." Japan's invasion of China is a sensitive topic. Chinese are still angry about Japanese atrocities - the worst among them in Nanking, now Nanjing.

China: Tens of thousands of netizens have answered calls to condemn CNN and a few other western media organizations for distorting facts in covering the riot in Lhasa, capital city of China's Tibet Autonomous Region. "The fairness and objectivity of CNN is cropped," said one of the postings at the online forum of www.china.com., referring to a CNN website picture showing people running in front of a military truck. The original picture uploaded by Chinese netizens, however, actually also shows mobsters throwing stones at the truck. "CNN has cut the part of mobsters attacking the military truck. That's misleading the public," said a posting by Sanfeng. The netizens say that CNN and some western media organizations have intentionally neglected cruelties of the mobsters, revealing the hypocrisy of "objectivity and fairness" they had flaunted. A CNN caption of another picture on its website said that some "Tibetan youths" were attacking a "Chinese". "Aren't Tibetan youths also Chinese? I doubt whether the editor has ever studied history," said one of the postings. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) released a picture on its website showing Chinese Armed Police officers helping medical staff move a wounded person into an ambulance. The website's caption said that "there is a heavy military presence in Lhasa", neglecting the obvious First Aid and red cross signs on the ambulance. German newspaper Berlin Morning post posted a picture on its website in which police in Lhasa rescued a young man of Han nationality assaulted by rioters. But the caption said "insurrectionist taken away by police". American Fox TV said in a picture's caption on its website that Chinese military dragged some protestors onto a vehicle but actually the uniformed people were Indian police. N-TV, headquartered in Germany, used TV footage showing police with captured protestors in a report on the Tibet riots. The footage had been shot in Nepal, the police were Nepalese. Netizens at the online forum www.huanqiu.com  said that to destroy the reputation of the Chinese government with unfounded material has been a frequently used tactic by some overseas media. One netizen said a Canadian traveller who witnessed the riot in Lhasa wrote in his blog: those rioters assaulted civilians and policemen. This would have been cracked down on more severely if it had happened in Western countries. "Why has no major overseas media cited these words?" the netizen complained. The Canadian traveller also put in his blog a photograph he had taken of Chinese Armed Police building a wall of shields to defend against stones and bricks thrown by rioters. Although the picture has been published by the New York Times on its front page, the caption made no mention of the attack by the rioters. "Many friends working in western media consulted me to know more about the truth of the riot in Lhasa and sent me some western media reports," Liu Na, professor with College of Journalism and Mass Medium at Wuhan University said in an interview with Global Times. "Bias and even prejudice still exist in some western media coverage about China because of old ways of thinking and different values," said Liu, who is also a cultural scholar at the University of Birmingham. Xinhua has tried to contact CNN Beijing Bureau for a comment but has so far not succeeded, because the telephone is either busy or is not answered. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said at a press conference held on March 18 that China will consider the possibility of organizing foreign media to Lhasa and see on the ground what happened there. Qin Gang, spokesman with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said at a regular press conference held on March 20 that efforts to organize such a trip are under way. According to the Manchester Guardian, a slideshow on YouTube accuses CNN, Der Spiegel (a German newspaper), and other media of cropping pictures to show Chinese military while screening out rioters.

China's diving queen Guo Jingjing smiles after winning with her partner Wu Minxia the women's three-meter synchro springboard event at the 2008 National Diving Championships in Hefei, East China's Anhui Province, March 23, 2008.

Japanese media visited Chinese export food factories and quality supervision institutions on Wednesday and Thursday as China sought mutual trust on the food trade after dumpling poisoning.

U.S. companies are expected to invest another 17 billion U.S. dollars over the next three years in south China, the Guangdong Daily reported on Saturday. China's new Labor Contract Law, which came into effect on Jan. 1 this year, has increased labor cost, especially for labor-intensive industries, Harley Seyedin, the President of the American Chamber of Commerce in South China, was quoted as saying. However, Seyedin said, U.S. firms are less badly hit because they mostly recruit technical and managing staff and pay them higher salaries than required by the law. Seyedin made the remarks at a meeting with the Guangdong Provincial Labor and Social Security Department. Foreign-funded enterprises have invested 2.11 trillion U.S. dollars in China as of the end of last year, the State Administration For Industry and Commerce (SAFIC) said on March 11.The cumulative total dates back to 1978, when China began its reform and opening-up policies.

Movie star Zhang Ziyi arrives in Athens yesterday. She will attend the Beijing Olympic torch-lighting ceremony at the Ancient Olympia site tomorrow. According to the Hellenic Olympic Committee, the mother flame obtained at the ceremony will be divided between three lanterns: two will be brought back to Beijing, and one will remain with the HOC until the flame safely reaches Beijing.

ORGANIZERS of 11th Shanghai International Film Festival are seeking another prominent film maker as jury chairman following the sudden death of Oscar-winning British director Anthony Minghella. The committee is compiling a list of candidates for the position but so far no decision has been made. "We are looking for another film maker of fame to head the jury panel," said Tang Lijun, a member of the organizing committee for the June 14-22 festival. "That is not an easy job, as Minghella's death was so sudden. We need to check each candidate's schedule." Tang, who declined to reveal the candidates' names, said Minghella's death was a big loss to the festival and to world cinema. Minghella opened the British panorama section of the Shanghai festival in 2006, and talked to up-and-coming Chinese directors. Tang said she was deeply impressed by his wonderful mind and great personality. She said the director had confessed his envy for Chinese film makers, because they had a long, brilliant culture and history that inspired their creations. This year's Shanghai International Film Festival will include a special screening of some of his films. His family and Chinese friends, including mainland director Chen Kaige and actress Xu Jinglei, will be invited.

HIGH-QUALITY property developers are always encouraged to raise funds through both initial public offerings or buying into listed companies, also known as back-door listings, to further expand their business, a senior official with China Securities Regulatory Commission has said. He was clarifying earlier market speculation that regulatory approvals for such IPOs and additional public share sales have been stopped. Meanwhile, IPO applications by property companies that intend to use the funds raised to buy yet-to-be-developed land will be rejected, and the securities watchdog will also ban IPO fund raising to hoard land and housing, Xi Longsheng, an official at CSRC's Department of Public Offering Supervision, told a conference in Beijing. "There were concerns it might be difficult for domestic real estate developers to launch IPOs or sell additional shares but now it has been clarified officially," said Wei Bo, an industry analyst with Central China Securities Co. China's real-estate market has been considered overheated for the past few years during which both land and home prices have been soaring. While raising funds directly from the capital market has been widely agreed among industry experts as an important approach for real estate developers to boost their presence after tougher credit control policies were introduced, it is also sometimes blamed for continuously rising land and property prices. "It seems that it did take rather longer time for real estate companies to get a green light for their financing applications, including both IPOs and additional share sales, from the CSRC since last September," said an industry insider. "But it is rather understandable as it could be viewed as one of the central government efforts to cool down the red-hot real estate market." At the moment, financing applications by real estate companies are treated normally at CSRC, Xi said. So far this year, two IPO plans submitted by property firms have been approved, and five are under review. And in terms of refinancing, four developers have successfully raised a total of 13.2 billion yuan (US$1.86 billion) from the domestic stock market. Three others have received nods and 15 more are now under the process. About 120 real estate firms of the total of 50,000 nationwide, have issued yuan-denominated shares on the two stock exchanges on China's mainland, accounting for 7.5 percent of all A-share listed firms.

March 22 - 23, 2008

Hong Kong: Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Ltd (ICBC) and Standard Chartered Plc may bid for a majority stake in Hong Kong's family-controlled Wing Lung Bank Ltd, sources said. Chairman Michael Wu and his family are considering selling their combined 53 percent stake, the company said in a statement to the Hong Kong exchange yesterday. An ICBC booth at an exhibition in Zhengzhou, Henan province. China Merchants Bank Co, China Construction Bank Corp and Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd are also among possible suitors, the sources said, declining to be identified before a public announcement. A takeover would be the first of a Hong Kong-traded bank in more than four years and may prompt other family-run lenders such as Wing Hang Bank Ltd to seek buyers. Under Hong Kong law, a buyer of the Wu family stake would be required to make a full tender offer for the 75-year-old bank, valued at $3.4 billion after surging 11 percent in local trading yesterday. "A successful sale sends a good signal and may increase the availability of willing sellers," said Ivan Li, an analyst at Kim Eng Securities in Hong Kong. "It makes sense for mainland banks seeking to make inroads into international markets like Hong Kong, and they're more confident in doing so." Wu, his extended family and associates together control 63 percent of the stock, according to the bank's 2007 annual report. Shares of Wing Lung Bank jumped 9.4 percent on Wednesday before being suspended, after Apple Daily said the bank's major shareholders hired UBS AG and Credit Suisse Group to sell their stake. The stock closed at a record HK$114 yesterday after trading resumed. A combination of rising employment, higher property prices and falling interest rates has driven a credit boom in Hong Kong. Lending rose 20 percent in January from a year earlier, according to the Hong Kong Monetary Authority. Hong Kong's publicly traded, family-run banks include Wing Lung, Wing Hang Bank Ltd, Dah Sing Banking Group Ltd and Chong Hing Bank Ltd. All are valued at less than $4.1 billion. Bank of East Asia Ltd, controlled by the family of CEO David Li, has a market capitalization of $7.4 billion. The city of 7 million people has 142 fully licensed banks. As bigger rivals like ICBC expand, smaller family-run lenders may struggle to stay independent, said Wayne Yu, an associate finance professor at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. "Size is everything, global reach is the name of the game," said Yu. "The end is coming for many family-owned banks. How long it will take will depend on their determination to keep going." Wing Lung, established in 1933 as Wing Lung Ngan Ho, suspended operations in Hong Kong when the territory was occupied by the Japanese in 1941 and resumed business in the city in 1945. The company went public in 1980, and set up its first overseas branch in California four years later. It entered the mainland in 1994 by setting up a representative office in Guangzhou.

Hong Kong was regarded as the best platform for reaching the Chinese mainland and Asian film and entertainment markets, according to an industry survey released here Thursday. The survey was conducted by an independent company commissioned by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council. It interviewed 338 exhibitors and buyers attending the Hong Kong International Film and TV Market (FILMART) and the Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum(HAF). Seventy-seven percent of them agreed that Hong Kong is a major Asian content production, distribution, trading and film financing center. Hong Kong's favorable factor include creative talent, a strong distribution network in Asia, world-class industry events, state- of-the-art technology and internationally acclaimed producers and actors, according to the survey. Another driver is the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement ( CEPA), which gives Hong Kong companies greater access to the mainland market, the survey said. More than 90 percent of the respondents agree that co- production is the latest trend. About 55 percent believe that Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland will build the region's closest co- production partnership. More than half of the respondents have acquired content from Hong Kong, followed by the Chinese mainland, Japan, South Korea and Thailand. Hong Kong is also recognized as the hub for buying and selling Chinese film and TV dramas.

Macao logged over 4.7 million visitor arrivals in the first two months of 2008, up 13.9 percent year-on-year, according to statistics released by the Macao Special Administrative Region (SAR). Visitor arrivals reached more than 2.4 million in February this year, an increase of 11.6 percent compared with the previous month, among which the majority came from the Chinese Mainland and Hong Kong, which accounted for 57.7 percent and 28.4 percent respectively, according to the figures released by the SAR government's Statistics and Census Service (DSEC). The Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), in its recent report, placed the SAR as the third most popular tourism destination in the Asia Pacific region, with projected international arrivals standing at 38 million by 2010, only after the United States and the Chinese Mainland. In addition, analyzed by mode of transport, DSEC said visitors to Macao mainly use land transport, which went up by 16.8 percent year-on-year to over 2.9 million in February of 2008, while those by sea and air stood at over 1.5 million and 260,000 respectively.

Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen has proposed strengthening ties with the mainland so as to encourage more arts and entertainment troupes to visit the future West Kowloon cultural hub to entertain local audiences.

Evergrande Real Estate Group (SEHK: 3333) and Wing Fat Printing have become the latest companies to pull their Hong Kong initial public share offerings amid unstable market conditions and volatile global capital markets. Guangzhou-based developer Evergrande failed to attract enough orders from institutional and retail investors for its HK$16.5 billion public offering, which was expected to be the second-largest fund-raising in Hong Kong and the third-largest in Asia. So far this year, China Railway Construction (SEHK: 1186) Corp's dual listing worth US$5.5 billion in Hong Kong and Shanghai is the world's largest offering. A smaller listing candidate, Wing Fat, a spin-off of Hong Kong-listed Shanghai Industrial Holdings, yesterday abandoned its planned HK$690 million offering because of unfavourable valuations, sources said. The company tried to sell shares late last year but delayed the offering because it said the valuations were unattractive. On Wednesday, Far East Consortium International (SEHK: 0035, announcements, news) , a Hong Kong-based developer, said that it had decided to postpone the proposed listing of its hotel assets through a real estate investment trust, blaming choppy markets. The deal could fetch as much as US$400 million, sources said earlier. Earlier this month, mainland insurance company China Pacific Insurance postponed its US$3 billion H-share offering in Hong Kong. Despite China Railway (SEHK: 0390) Construction's mega offering, global initial public offering volumes have fallen 52.6 per cent to US$15.3 billion from US$32.3 billion in the same period last year, according to Thomson Financial. This year, Hong Kong's initial public offering market has been hard hit by the global credit crunch, prompting eight listing candidates to postpone their plans to raise funds in the capital markets in January. Bankers said the poor sentiment would probably last into the second half because the credit crunch would not be resolved overnight. Weakening market demand had diminished companies' and arrangers' bargaining power in offerings, said Ronald Wan, a managing director at Bocom International, the investment bank of Bank of Communications (SEHK: 3328). A syndicate banker said: "God only knows what it will take to turn this market around. If we knew, we wouldn't be so troubled. We're thinking the second half may be better. We need a couple of good IPOs and market sentiment to turn better." Meanwhile, two small to medium-sized companies have drawn enough orders to go ahead with their share offerings due to attractive valuations. Solargiga Energy Holdings and Xingfa Aluminium Holdings (SEHK: 0098) have raised a combined HK$1.4 billion after pricing the shares at a lower valuation compared with their listed peers. The two stocks will start trading on March 31.

Hong Kong needs a vibrant international school sector to maintain its competitive edge and global outlook. The government has the resources to develop a flexible system that can cater to local and expatriate families. What is needed is direction and leadership. It is therefore a welcome development that the Education Bureau has taken up Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's pledge in his policy speech to expand the international school sector. A list of greenfield sites and vacant land has been drawn up for nonprofit-making international schools to bid for. Successful bidders will be given interest-free loans to build campuses and nominal rent to occupy the land. At the moment, most international schools have long waiting lists and their student populations have outgrown facilities. Many expatriate families have trouble finding school places for their children and this is deterring some overseas professionals from moving to Hong Kong. More local families are placing their children in international schools for their perceived better quality or because they exert less academic pressure. All these factors have created a premium on top international schools, some of which have debentures that are now worth millions of dollars. This is unhealthy, unfair and unsustainable. Most of the sites on offer are in the New Territories and Kowloon. Traditionally, the most prestigious international schools are on Hong Kong Island, so their first reaction may be disappointment. But land supply is tight on the island. More importantly, the government is right to spread out the locations of international schools. The earmarked sites are on prime land in their respective districts. The Tuen Mun site is near the Gold Coast, which has a growing expatriate population, as does the one in Sai Kung. The presence of international schools in these fast developing districts - and in older areas such as Lai Chi Kok and Chai Wan - will help boost their status by attracting middle-class families and professionals to move in. This opportunity for international schools to expand should also be a chance for the city to benefit as a whole.

China: Bush says Olympics are about athletes not politics - U.S. President George W. Bush is not to cancel his attendance at the Beijing Olympics this summer, said the White House here on Thursday. "The president's position about the Olympics has been that this is not a political event but a chance for athletes to compete at the top of their class, " said presidential spokeswoman Dana Perino, asked whether the president would rethink his plans to go to this summer's Olympics after the recent riot in Tibet. She added that Bush's position is "that this should be about the athletes and not necessarily about politics." Bush agreed to go to the Olympics during a meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao in Australia last September during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. A month ago, Bush told the BBC in an interview that he would attend the Beijing Olympics as scheduled. "I'm going to the Olympics. I view the Olympics as a sporting event," he said.

Luo Xuejuan, China's Olympic torch bearer, is interviewed in Beijing, March 20, 2008. Luo will leave for Athens to participate in the ceremony of Olympic Holy Flame Relay in a few days.

Through ads put out in elevators, supermarkets and cell phones, the Shanghai-based, NASDAQ-listed company Focus Media became a runaway success and has maintained more than 150 percent revenue growth annually.

Regulator bans IPOs that fund land purchase - The securities regulator would continue to support the expansion of qualified property firms via IPOs, but wouldn't allow them to buy commercial land with the funds raised.

March 21, 2008

Hong Kong: Surging food prices helped push consumer prices in Hong Kong to a year on year growth of 6.3 percent in February, the highest inflation rate in 10.5 years, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government said Thursday. The reading was affected by a number of one-off factors, including a cut of public housing rentals for February 2007 and a lesser rates concession for January to March 2008, the Census and Statistics Department of the HKSAR government said. "Netting out the effects of all these one-off factors, the year- on-year increase in the composite CPI, or the underlying inflation rate, was 5.1 percent, larger than the corresponding underlying inflation rate of 4.3 percent in January," it said. The Census and Statistics Department attributed the rise in consumer price mainly to rising food prices on the back of a damaging snow storm across much of southern China. Larger increases in cost of meals brought away from home and private housing rentals also contributed to the rise in consumer prices, a government spokesman said. The price of pork rose the most by 56 percent, followed by a rise of 49 percent for beef, 32.7 percent for fresh vegetables, 31. 6 percent for canned meat. "The build-up of inflationary pressures reflected to a certain extent the strong consumption demand supported by the vibrant economic growth over the past few years," a government spokesman was quoted as saying, noting that inflation was largely global. Housing price in February went up 9.2 percent from a year earlier. The price for electricity, gas and water went up 7.4 percent. Price for meals brought away from home added 5.5 percent while miscellaneous goods price went up 4.1 percent. Clothing and footwear prices were up 0.6 percent, alcohol and tobacco prices edged up 0.9 percent while service price rose 1.4 percent. The price of durable goods recorded a year-on-year decline of 3. 7 percent. For the quarter ending February the composite consumer price index rose 4.4 percent over a year earlier. For the 12 months ending February, the index on average was 2.6 percent higher than in the preceding 12-month period. Looking ahead, the government spokesman said the global food price inflation, elevated energy prices, gradual appreciation of the Chinese yuan and a weak Hong Kong dollar, which has been pegged to the U.S. dollar, would continue to pose upside risks. The sustained labor productivity growth, nevertheless, should help to contain some of the upward price pressures, he said.

Foreign nations voiced their support for China's legitimate actions to handle the violence in Lhasa in recent days, expressing their opposition to the secessionist activities and the politicization of the Beijing Olympics. According to a press release issued here Thursday from the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Russian, Belarusian and Vietnamese foreign ministry spokesmen all expressed their support for China's efforts to stop the unlawful activities in an aim to restore local peace and stability and their confidence in China's capability of hosting the Olympic Games. Pakistani and Mauritania foreign ministries issued statements on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively applauding Beijing's commitment to host the Olympic event, stressing that their countries oppose to any attempts to sabotage or politicize the Beijing Olympics, as well as the conspiracies to undermine China's sovereignty and territory integrity. Singapore's Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Vivian Balakrishnan said, "It is vital to keep sporting competitions and politics separate. We must not let politics obstruct the sports." On the same day, Lesotho Foreign Minister Mohlabi Kenneth Tsekoa said in his meeting with Chinese ambassador that Lesotho will back China's efforts to safeguard national sovereignty and territory integrity, stressing that the handling of the Lhasa riot was China's internal affairs and no other countries have the right to make irresponsible remarks on the issue. The press release also said that ambassadors in Beijing from Arabian nations all expressed their shock to the violence that occurred in Lhasa, saying that their countries support China's approaches to safeguard national security and restore social stability, and would continue to adhere to the one-China policy. On the same day, Indian foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee urged Dalai Lama and his followers to stay away from any political activities. Cote d'Ivoire's Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohlabi Kenneth Tsekoa and the Republic of Congo (ROC) Foreign Affairs Minister Basile Ikouebe all expressed their firm supports for China and its efforts to hold a successful Olympic Games in Beijing, the press release added.

Battered by the poor market sentiment, Hong Kong Hotel Real Estate Investment Trust has postponed its initial public offering, while two other listing candidates are agonizing over whether to shelve their IPOs.

After more than four years of trading suspension, eCyberChina Holdings (0254) is back on track tapping the outdoor advertising market in China by acquiring exclusive rights to outdoor ads at Olympic venues in Beijing. "The government encourages internal consumption which will bring advantages to the advertising industry," said company director Joseph Lau Chi- yuen. Including property development, financing and investment holding, motorcycle manufacturing, and information technology, the core businesses of eCyberChina have been evolving over time since the group first listed in November 1972. During the IT boom, the company produced and sold equipment and accessories for broadband cable television. However, the business did not run smoothly and the share price plunged when the IT bubble burst in 2000. During the penny stock crisis in 2002, there was forced liquidation of eCyberchina, with the share price once plummeting 85 percent within an hour. Consequently, the company started its lengthy trading suspension in 2003 after the penny-stock crisis and it withdrew from the IT business. "There wasn't a white knight who was willing to rescue the company," Lau recalled. In March 2007, eCyberChina announced a series of share reorganizations, among other measures, cutting the par value per share from HK$20 to 1 HK cent. The share reorganization was completed before Lau became the largest shareholder in October 2007. After transformation of its core business, eCyberChina will change its name to China Outdoor Media Group. This year, eCyberChina acquired two advertising companies, namely China Olympics Thinker International Culture Communication, and Shanghai Winmedia Advertising Media. "The acquisition of China Olympics Thinker can be described as a great bargain," said Lau. The deal saw eCyberChina purchasing an 80 percent interest in China Olympics Thinker by issuing consideration shares of less than HK$20 million with a revenue guarantee of a minimum 13 million yuan (HK$14.25 million) in this financial year. "China Olympics Thinker is the sole advertising agent in the main 2008 Beijing Olympic Games coliseum, and the surrounding area such as the Olympic Park and the Beijing Underground City, which cover outdoor media advertising space of 12,500 square meters," said Lau. "All billboards are booked during the Olympic Games." Giant corporations like Coca-Cola, Nike and Siemens have already rented outdoor billboards in the main coliseum. "There is not enough space to even allot to sponsors," said Lau. While the market is concerned about the situation after the Summer Games, Lau is not concerned. "The Chinese government has invested a lot on the Games and it hopes to get some return. Therefore the stadiums will be utilized after the Olympics." Lau said the Beijing Olympics Exhibition Center will be turned into an Olympics museum after the Games, with China Olympics Thinker likely to retain its management position there. China Olympics Thinker was established in January 2007 in Beijing as an advertising agent to distribute advertisements for local and foreign companies to publish in China. It also organizes exhibitions and provides public relations consultancy services. Furthermore, it has formed a strategic alliance with Beijing New Olympic Group, Beijing Xinao Property Management, and Beijing New Olympics Media. It reported a net profit of approximately HK$7 million by the end of 2007. "China Olympics Thinker planned to list in the mainland where an application may take a long time to be approved," Lau said. "Therefore, it accepted our company's stake acquisition so that it will become a listed company through the deal." Another major acquisition for eCyberChina is an outdoor advertising company, Shanghai Winmedia. Lau said the founder of Shanghai Winmedia is well-known in the mainland's outdoor advertising industry, and has launched a magazine called Asian Outdoor. Shanghai Winmedia has cultivated a stable of clients including Nokia, Konica Minolta, and China Mobile. Established last May, Shanghai Winmedia reported turnover and profit after tax of about 44.9 million yuan and 16.8 million yuan respectively by the end of December 2007. Total cost of the acquisition is about HK$190 million, with HK$40 million to be financed through issuance of new shares and HK$150 million payable in cash. Lau said eCyberChina now has about HK$20 million cash. "The company has not decided by which means to raise funds, but we won't borrow from banks," he said, adding that eCyberChina plans to acquire other companies through Shanghai Winmedia.

The Town Planning Board has proposed wide-ranging height limits on buildings in Mid-Levels in a move that could ease the area's severe congestion problems. But it would deal a blow to owners of older buildings hoping to reap a windfall from redevelopment. The proposals are aimed at keeping the area's development density at existing levels, preventing new high-rises from blocking the view of the Hong Kong Island ridgeline and allowing airflows to sweep down from The Peak to Central. They have emerged from a review believed to be the last to be conducted on prime urban districts. Similar reviews have already been carried out on North Point, Happy Valley and Ho Man Tin. Government planners insist the proposed height restrictions would not undermine property owners' rights. They say restrictions on plot ratios - the formula that determines development density - and gross floor area could also be introduced if the public endorses the idea. Jones Lang LaSalle international director Lau Chun-kong said it was good news for residents who enjoyed living in Mid-Levels as it would prevent overdevelopment and congestion and preserve the view. "But to the owners of old buildings who planned to sell their units to developers, it is bad news," he said. "The owners will see the redevelopment potential of their properties decline." A source in the Planning Department said that under the new rules, all buildings could be redeveloped to their present heights except the landmark 69-storey Tower Three of the luxurious Tregunter development, once the tallest residential building in Asia. If it was redeveloped, the maximum height would be 35 storeys, although the same plot ratio would be allowed. The proposals announced yesterday cover 230 hectares in Mid-Levels West. The area is bound by Bonham Road, Caine Road and Kennedy Road to the north; Bowen Road to the east; Pok Fu Lam Road to the west and the Pok Fu Lam Country Park to the south. Height restrictions ranging from 115 metres to 320 metres above sea level are to be introduced to the commercial and residential sites in the area. Higher buildings are generally allowed on sites to the north of Robinson Road, which is more densely populated. An air ventilation assessment was carried out to assess the existing wind flow and the likely impact of the proposed building heights on wind flow for pedestrians. "The study shows that we must maintain at least three green paths to allow the air to flow to Central," the source said, referring to areas around the Botanical and Zoological Garden, the University of Hong Kong campus and the Peak Tram. Congestion has posed a mounting threat to the environment of one of the city's most expensive residential areas, despite a so-called moratorium imposed in 1972 aimed at keeping development in line with traffic capacity. Traffic flow in the area is consistently the heaviest in the Transport Department's annual review of 11 districts and is expected to worsen when 15 new developments are completed. Savills investment department director Gabriel Cheng Hon-wah said developers would no longer offer aggressive prices to buy flats in old buildings like Merry Terrace. Green Sense president Roy Tam Hoi-pong said the proposals provided guidelines for future urban renewal in the district. But he said some height restrictions were still too high, allowing buildings of 30 storeys. He also worried that rezoning some government sites for residential use would further increase the development density. Central and Western District councillor Cheng Lai-king said the changes would help to improve living conditions in the area.

The proposed Central to Wan Chai Bypass faces uncertainty and delays after a court ruled that temporary reclamation was covered by the Protection of the Harbor Ordinance. Experts predict the government's plans for the harbor front relief road - intended to reduce traffic congestion on Hong Kong Island - could be delayed by up to four years after yesterday's ruling in the Court of First Instance. Mr Justice Michael Hartmann granted an application by the Society for the Protection of the Harbor for a declaration that 10.7 hectares of temporary reclamation in and around Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter is subject to the 1997 ordinance, which established a strong presumption against reclamation of the harbor. The government is planning to reclaim temporarily 8.3 hectares of harbor near the promenade to build a road tunnel that will link the bypass to the Island Eastern Corridor, and to build a 2.4 hectare temporary breakwater 420 metres offshore. But the society claims the plans will damage the harbor. Further, they say, it will fail to meet the requirements of the ordinance and a 2004 Court of Final Appeal ruling - that any reclamation must satisfy the test of "overriding public need" and be supported by "cogent and convincing materials". Adviser Winston Chu Ka-sun welcomed the judgment yesterday as a "landmark ruling" and a victory for society and the public in the latest stage of its 14-year battle to protect the harbor from an "open season" of government reclamation. "The ruling shows that the harbor is still under legal protection, and the importance of the rule of law for Hong Kong," he said. The government must consult the public, he said, and show that there was an overriding public need for its plans, that reclamation would be kept to a minimum and there was no reasonable alternative. Society director Hardy Lok Kung-chin said: "We would like to see the temporary breakwater removed from the plans, and the government needs to go back and consider all the technical options for building the tunnel." In his judgment, Mr Justice Hartmann rejected the government's first argument, that the temporary reclamation was not affected by the ordinance. He declined to rule on its second argument - that, in any case, an overriding public need for the works had been demonstrated. He did not grant a request by government counsel Jat Sew-tong to refer in the ruling to the "strong public interest in progressing with the project". A spokesman for the Transport and Planning Bureau said it would study the judgment and decide whether to appeal. "We will implement the project in a lawful and reasonable manner as early as practicable." In the original plan, the completion date was 2016. Greg Wong Chak-yan, a geotechnical engineer and member of the Harbor front Enhancement Committee, said the ruling would cause a delay to the bypass of one to four years. Andrew Leung Yee-tak, chair professor in building and construction at City University, said the delay would be between two and four years.

HK Resort to ask for higher plot ratio on 650-hectare site - Plans by Discovery Bay developer Hong Kong Resort to build a HK$1 billion hotel and an upmarket commercial complex triggered angry protests when they were announced seven years ago.

China: The United States is opposed to Taiwan authorities' attempt to hold a referendum on joining the United Nations, U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said Wednesday.

On March 19, AmCham Shanghai's Healthcare Committee held a roundtable discussion with Dr. Xu Jianguang, the recently appointed Director General of the Shanghai Municipal Health Bureau. During this meeting, Dr. Xu outlined the key healthcare challenges affecting Shanghai today. He went on to describe his immediate priorities to improve the quality and accessibility of medical care in Shanghai, including the migrant population and expatriates. During the dialogue that followed, the Healthcare Committee was invited to contribute its collective expertise to support of the Health Bureau's priorities and to identify potential areas of future collaboration between AmCham Shanghai and Dr. Xu��s office. The Healthcare Committee is delighted with the success of this! initial meeting and looks forward to building a strong dialogue between Shanghai's U.S. business community and the health care priorities of the Shanghai government.

Chinese President Hu Jintao (L) hosts a welcoming ceremony for his Peruvian counterpart Alan Garcia on Wednesday afternoon in Beijing. China and Peru on Wednesday vowed to push forward all-round cooperative partnership, and be good friends and partners. China and Peru on Wednesday vowed to push forward all-round cooperative partnership, and be good friends and partners. The two countries also signed a series of agreements on bilateral cooperation in economics, technology, cultural exchanges, quarantine and media. During the meeting with the Peruvian President Alan Garcia on Wednesday afternoon, Chinese President Hu Jintao sang highly of the China-Peru relations over the past 37 years since the two countries established diplomatic ties, describing bilateral relationship as healthy and stable, mutual high-level visits as frequent, cooperation in various fields as ever expanding and two sides as taking cooperative attitude in dealing with international or regional affairs.

The central parity rate of the yuan, or Renminbi (RMB), gained another 136 basis points to 7.0512 against the dollar in the wake of the big interest rate cut by the Federal Reserve.

The pictures made by Zhang Wei, a Chinese contemporary artiest, combine Qi Baishi's fanciful watercolor figures and voluptuous images of Marilyn Monroe.

Computer maker Dell yesterday unveiled a plan to buy US$23 billion worth of technology components and related products from the mainland this year, topping its purchasing commitment to mark 10 years of doing business in the country. The world's second-largest computer supplier's latest sourcing program represented a 28 per cent increase from US$18 billion last year, reflecting a growth trend that would continue, chief executive Michael Dell said in Beijing. "Including last year, this year and expected purchases next year, Dell will purchase US$70 billion worth of computer-related supplies and equipment from China," Mr Dell said. "We've become the third-largest computer-systems company in China, and are growing rapidly." Dell still faces strong competition from Lenovo Group (SEHK: 0992, announcements, news) , the country's top personal computer supplier, and global market leader Hewlett-Packard, which is the No.2 vendor on the mainland. With more than 6,000 employees in that market, Dell has responded to the challenge by boosting manufacturing operations in Xiamen, growing its design centre in Shanghai, and increasing points of sale to 1,000 cities from about 45 cities last year. Despite a restructuring and new retail partnerships worldwide, including with mainland consumer electronics giant Gome Electrical (SEHK: 0493) Appliance Holdings, Dell saw its global net profit for its fiscal fourth quarter to last month fall to US$679 million from US$726 million a year earlier. "We remain neutral on Dell, as there is still a long way to go to turn around its operations," analysts at United States investment bank Cowen said in a research note. Mr Dell yesterday pledged to invest 1.7 million yuan (HK$1.87 million) in new Dell Learning Centres for rural migrant children and to give one million yuan to plant trees in the capital's Chaoyang district. A 2005 Peking University study estimated that Dell's spending on the mainland this year would contribute more than US$50 billion to the country's gross domestic product and support more than two million jobs.

March 20, 2008

Hong Kong: Hong Kong's Monetary Authority announced here Wednesday to slice its base rate by three quarters of a percentage point to 3.75 percent after the U.S. Federal Reserve's overnight rate cut. Joseph Yam, chief executive of the city's de facto central bank, said local banks in Hong Kong will make their own decisions whether to follow the U.S. rate cut or not, adding it is understandable if they do not make the same reduction as the savings rate is already rather low in the city. The U.S. central bank cut its benchmark fed funds rate by 75 basis points to 2.25 percent on Tuesday, the lowest level in over three years. The Hong Kong interbank offered rate will be lowered, Yam said, expressing his belief the cuts will benefit the local economy. Yam said as the United States and the Chinese mainland are Hong Kong's two major markets, their economic situations will have an impact on the city. Since both are facing high inflation, Hong Kong's inflationary rate will also remain high, he said. Hong Kong's base rate is currently set at either 150 basis points above the prevailing U.S. federal funds target rate or the average of the five-day moving averages of the overnight and one- month Hong Kong Interbank Offer Rate (HIBOR), whichever is higher.

Hong Kong bank customers will be earning virtually no money on their deposits as lenders slashed their rates in wake of the US Federal Reserve's move to cut its key interest rate, bringing their saving rates practically to zero percent. Two of the city's major lenders, Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corp, and Hang Seng Bank (0011), will offer an interest rate of 0.01 percent for deposits of more than HK$5,000. This means that, starting from today, their customers will receive HK$1 interest a year on a deposit of HK$10,000 or HK$100 on HK$1 million. And, at HSBC, depositors whose monthly balances are less than HK$5,000 will not only receive no interest at all, they will be charged a monthly fee of HK$50 to boot. Senior citizens over 65 or recipients of the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance Scheme will be exempted from the charge. Standard Chartered Bank (Hong Kong) and others offer slightly better deposit rates. Standard Chartered will pay 0.05 percent interest for deposits under HK$500,000. Although depositors will feel squeezed by the lower savings rates, homeowners will rejoice, as banks have lowered their prime lending rates by half a percentage point. Citi economist Joe Lo estimates 25 percent of Hong Kong's households have mortgages. The latest lending rate cut came after the US Federal Reserve shaved its key interest rate by 75 basis points yesterday morning. In turn, local banks trimmed their savings rates by just 50 basis points or less as they were already very low. Hang Seng, HSBC and Bank of China (Hong Kong) (2388) lowered their best lending rate by to 5.25 percent from 5.75 percent, while Standard Chartered, DBS Bank (Hong Kong), and others cut their prime rates by 50 basis points to between 5.5 percent and 5.75 percent. The new rates come into effect today. With saving rates virtually at zero, senior bankers said local lenders may not lower their prime rates again - even if the United States drops its Fed Funds Rate further. The market is expecting the Fed to lower the benchmark interest rate by another 50 basis points at its next meeting on April 29-30. Bank of East Asia (0023) chairman David Li Kwok-po said Hong Kong's prime rates will remain at the current level for quite some time following yesterday's cuts. So far this year, the city's banks have lowered their prime rates by 150 basis points. Now that savings rates are effectively zero, it will be unlikely that banks will be cutting prime rates, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (Asia) (0349) director Stanley Wong Yuen-fai told The Standard. Citi's Lo concurred. With savings deposit rates near zero, banks would not cut lending rates unless they accept lower net interest margins, he said.

Hong Kong stocks gained yesterday in line with other Asian markets, tracking an overnight rally on Wall Street, after the US Federal Reserve lowered its key policy rate by 75 basis points, bringing it to a three-year low of 2.25 percent.

China Merchants Bank (3968), the mainland's sixth-largest lender, said loan and deposit growth will decline to 11 percent and 6 percent this year, amid tighter monetary policy and the worsening international economic environment. Its better-than-expected 2007 result and higher net interest margin growth surprised analysts - and most revised upwards their 2008 earnings forecasts for the Shenzhen lender - although president Ma Huihua admitted there could be stiff challenges this year including more nonperforming loans. "Certain enterprises may have credit risks and incurring possible increase in nonperforming loans, we will adjust our portfolio accordingly," Ma said yesterday. There may also be an impact on fee- based income, said company chairman Qin Xiao. China Merchants said it will respond to the situation partly by looking to diversify internationally and expand its product range, said Qin. "The bank is looking for acquisition opportunities in Asia including Hong Kong," Qin said. But he declined to comment on reports the mainland bank was eyeing small Hong Kong lender Wing Lung Bank (0096), which suspended trading yesterday. On Tuesday, Merchants Bank reported net income growth of 124 percent to 15.243 billion yuan (HK$16.77 billion), with net interest income up 57.6 percent and fee income increasing 1.56 percent. The bank's ratio of nonperforming loans against total lending dropped to 1.54 percent in 2007 from 2.12 percent in 2006. But "special mention" loans, which the bank classifies as those that need to be watched closely for default, rose by 0.1 percent to 2.13 percent and totaled 14.34 billion yuan. JPMorgan raised its earnings forecast for Merchants Bank by 7 percent this year and 3 percent for 2009. "The low exposure to property development loans and more exposure to the transportation sector means less asset-quality stress in the near term," said JPMorgan banking analyst Samuel Chen. Merchants Bank H shares rose 10.98 percent in intraday trading before closing up 5.37 percent at HK$22.55.

Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels (0045), which operates the Peninsula chain, said recurring profit last year rose 20 percent to HK$1.09 billion on the back of buoyant travel demand, but that its performance outlook was clouded by world economic and market uncertainty.

Administration fees for mandatory health insurance schemes would be capped at 7 percent if the community chose that option in the medical financing revamp, a government source said yesterday.

Overall employee turnover and vacancy rates last year hit a five- year high of 14.69 and 3.63 percent, respectively, while the unemployment rate hit a 10-year low of 3.3 percent, according to the Hong Kong Institute of Human Resource Management. A survey by the institute, conducted across 109 companies with 130,421 employees during the fourth quarter of last year, showed a net growth of 1.12 percent in new positions - 0.29 percent higher than the third quarter and 0.35 percentage points higher than in the corresponding period in 2006. The turnover rate for the fourth quarter last year was 3.08 percent, 1.46 percentage points lower than in the previous quarter, but still 0.42 points higher than the same period in 2006. "The slight dip was largely due to the traditional seasonal slowdown in which employees stay on for the year-end bonus," said institute president Lai Kam-tong. The yearly turnover was highest in the retail industry, which reached 31.1 percent. Second highest was in the property development/real estate/ construction sector (26.92 percent). Wholesale, import/ export and trading came in third (24.08 percent) followed by business/ professional service at 23.68 percent. In terms of people on the move, the highest turnover rate was among clerical/frontline staff (15.65 percent) followed by middle management/non- managerial professional staff. The results reflect a strong economy in which more jobs are created and more employees are sourcing better career development, Lai said, adding that the results were in line with the continuing decline in the unemployment rate over the past years. Although Lai said he expects the trend to continue this year in the wake of the strong local economy, external factors such as the US credit crunch, macro- control in China and rising gas prices could affect job prospects in sectors involved in mortgages, investments and finance. He also urged companies to compare their internal data with the survey results and establish a plan to retain talent by studying the income, seniority and the time of resignation of departing staff. Long-term career advancement and development opportunities are also key to staff retention. The institute predicts that the overall pay rise this year will be in the vicinity of 4 percent.

The Independent Commission Against Corruption will add listed companies to its watching brief and send them an anti-corruption guide later this year, ICAC commissioner Timothy Tong Hin-ming said yesterday. Tong said his three major goals are to maintain a graftless election, provide more anti-corruption guides for different sectors such as insurance, building repairs and maintenance, and to promote Hong Kong's economic development as a "clean" society. "We will set up working groups to review the past corruption cases in relation to listed companies, and provide guidelines to the industry to minimize the opportunities for corruption. We hope it will be available by the end of this year," Tong told tea gathering for the media. "For the coming Legislative Council election, we will take the initiative to contact all political parties and professional bodies to provide anti-corruption guidance." Tong is also working with Guangdong province to set up anti-bribery guidelines for Hong Kong's small and medium enterprises trading in the mainland. This will be available in April. He said foreign observers had feared Hong Kong's cleanliness would have been adversely affected after the handover, but that the tide of corruption never arrived. Last year Hong Kong was ranked 14th on a list of least corrupt cities in the world by the Transparency International's annual Corruption Perceptions Index, its highest position since the handover. The media was given a guided tour of the new ICAC headquarters in North Point which opened last October. Two of the 30 video interview rooms were opened for press to inspect the new technology. The first local law enforcement agency to record interviews of suspects and involved parties since 1990, the ICAC now uses specially ordered DVD recorders instead of VHS tapes. The new devices, with built-in serial numbers, can record interviews as long as three hours though the discs are used only once to prevent tampering.

Executive councillor Leung Chun-ying has suggested giving mainland residents visa-free access to the proposed border development zone between Hong Kong and Shenzhen, where he said they should also be allowed to study and work. He was speaking during a radio program in Hong Kong yesterday. There were several areas in the zone with potential for development, according to a Planning Department paper released two years ago, such as Heung Yuen Wai, Kong Nga Po and Lok Ma Chau Loop. Mr Leung, who has put much effort into promoting closer Hong Kong-mainland ties, said an area of 20 sq km could be developed and another border checkpoint created at its southern end, but green belts should be retained. Exhibition and convention businesses, schools, medical services and high-end technology industries could also be developed in the zone, where mainland residents could enjoy services of the standard enjoyed in Hong Kong. "Mainland residents could enjoy Hong Kong medical services with no visa barrier," Mr Leung said, adding that the development zone should be managed under Hong Kong law and mainland residents could work and study there under certain restrictions. They would be allowed to work in certain industries and study at certain schools, but he gave no further details. Several proposals for the development of the area have been made in the past, and the Bauhinia Foundation, a think-tank with close ties to the administration, delivered a comprehensive proposal last year. The foundation suggested that a "special region within special regions" be established within the Lok Ma Chau Loop as a part of the Hong Kong-Shenzhen metropolis plan. The proposal would allow for the free flow of people into and out of the area to facilitate business activities. The think-tank even suggested setting up an authority to manage the zone, with 50 per cent of officials from Hong Kong and 50 per cent from Shenzhen.

China: Housing prices in major cities gained 10.9 percent year-on-year in February, with second-tier cities such as Urumqi, Ningbo and Haikou leading the climb, official figures showed. Despite talk of a slowdown in the property sector, home prices have continued to rise in the past month, up 0.2 percent on January, according to the National Development and Reform Commission, which tracks housing prices in 70 large and medium-sized cities. New apartment prices last month rose 11.8 percent year-on-year, but the growth rate dropped 0.4 of a percentage point from a month earlier. Second-tier cities such as Urumqi in Xinjiang, Ningbo in Zhejiang and Haikou in Hainan led the price rise, up 24.2 percent, 18.3 percent and 18.9 percent. "Prices in second-tier cities have grown much faster over the past year," Duan Hairui, an analyst with CITIC Securities, said. "Although the government is increasing low-cost housing in these regions, the trend may continue in 2008."

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Wednesday China was making big efforts on tackling climate change issue, calling for more support from developed countries to developing countries on clean technology transfer.

China to launch 1st jumbo jet company - China's first jumbo passenger aircraft company, with a registered capital of 20 billion yuan ($2.82 billion), is set to launch in Shanghai. The company will be set up next week or sometime before May, depending on when it can finish registration, Wednesday's China Securities Journal cited sources close to the matter as saying. Major shareholders, including the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission, the Shanghai government, aviation companies and other state-owned enterprises will gather in Shanghai for the first board meeting on Friday. Each of the three state-owned firms, namely the country's major metal producers, Baosteel and Chinalco, as well as Sinochem Co, will invest 1 billion yuan for a 5 percent stake. China's top two aircraft producers, the China Aviation Industry Corporation I (AVIC I) and the China Aviation Industry Corporation II (AVIC II), will mainly invest in the form of production assets they now have. Earlier reports said AVIC I and AVIC II would hold an equal stake. The actual figure was unavailable. The new company will be responsible for project management, design, test flights, sales and after service, said Jin Xingming, the aviation administration of Shanghai director. China plans to fly its first jumbo plane in 15 years. It usually takes 10 to 20 years of research and development to develop such a company, an Avic I source said. According to the source, China will pump about 60 billion yuan in the research and development of jumbo planes. The establishment of the jumbo passenger plane company was approved in February 2007 by the State Council, China's cabinet. This was to make the country capable of building aircraft with a take-off weight of more than 100 tons, or planes with more than 150 seats.

China vowed yesterday to take the Olympic torch to Tibet despite riots there and warned against international protests over its crackdown in the Himalayan region that are certain to dog the run-up to the Games. "The situation in Tibet has essentially stabilized, the Olympic torch relay will proceed as scheduled," said Jiang Xiaoyu, executive vice president of the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games. The crackdown in Tibet and nearby provinces, following riots that may have killed dozens, have sparked calls for a boycott of the August Beijing Games, which China wants to turn into a celebration of its emergence as a world power. "We hold the opinion that those activities [international protests] are a challenge to the Olympic Charter, a challenge to all those who love the Olympic movement around the world," Jiang told a news conference. "Those activities will not win the hearts and minds of people and are doomed to failure. The message we are trying to convey through the torch relay is peace, friendship and harmony." Mainland officials again blasted exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama. Tibet's Communist Party secretary Zhang Qingli said: "We are engaged in a fierce battle of blood and fire with the Dalai clique, a life-and-death struggle between the foe and us." The Dalai Lama has denied that he masterminded the protests - which culminated last Friday in a riot in Lhasa. His government-in-exile says 99 people died when security force
s moved to quell the riot. Beijing says at least 16 died, mostly "innocent" civilians. The official China News Service reported that 160 Lhasa rioters had so far given themselves up to the authorities. The Tibet government set a deadline of midnight Monday for those involved to surrender or face harsh punishment. The Dalai Lama has appealed to world leaders for help in resolving the dispute over Tibet through "dialogue" with China and to press Beijing to show "restraint" in dealing with unrest there. Canadian TV reported that more than 1,000 Tibetans, some on horseback, charged into a remote Chinese town, attacking a government building and hoisting their national flag. CTV carried the dramatic footage of the mounted Tibetans, cheering wildly as they galloped into the unnamed town in Gansu province, demanding, the report said, an independent Tibet.

China Mobile (SEHK: 0941, announcements, news) , the country's No1 mobile-telephone operator, aims to sign up more than 80 million new customers this year to maintain its strong growth before an expected industry restructuring starts. Top executives, who were in Hong Kong yesterday, disclosed their target after announcing better than expected earnings results for last year. They said net profit for the year to December totalled 87 billion yuan (HK$95.57 billion), up 31.9 per cent from 2006, and operating revenue rose to 356.9 billion yuan, 20.9 per cent higher than the previous year. Earnings per share rose to 4.35 yuan from 3.32 yuan. China Mobile will distribute a final dividend of HK$1.16 per share and a special final dividend of 1.6 HK cents, taking its dividend for last year to HK$2.098 per share. Chairman and chief executive Wang Jianzhou said China Mobile would pay out only 43 per cent of its net profit as dividends this year as it needed cash in case investment opportunities arose. "China Mobile's results are slightly better than I had forecast, but they're no surprise," said Marvin Lo, a telecommunications analyst at Daiwa Institute of Research. But he was disappointed the company had not raised its dividend payout ratio. Strong growth last year was driven by its subscriber base expanding 22.6 per cent to 369.3 million. Net additional subscribers increased 28 per cent to 68.1 million from 53.2 million at the end of 2006. Although about 50 per cent of the new subscribers came from low-spending rural areas, the average revenue per user dipped just 1 yuan to 89 yuan last year. To maintain fast subscriber growth, China Mobile has budgeted 127 billion yuan for capital spending, up from 105.1 billion yuan, with about 55 per cent of it going to expanding core networks, said executive director Li Yue. "Our target is to gain 80 million subscribers this year. We expect voice traffic to continue to grow about 45 per cent this year," he said. China Mobile added a record of more than seven million subscribers last month. Yesterday, Mr Wang vowed to maintain the pace of new customer growth, saying the penetration rate in rural areas was still low. "Our growth engines include new subscribers from rural villages, where mobile penetration is only 19 per cent, compared with almost 40 per cent in the cities," he said. "Some urban users also have more than one phone number, while more business applications delivered through the mobile network are also driving our business." The industry restructuring was on track and unlikely to be affected by the establishment of the Ministry of Industry and Information, Mr Wang said. "The restructuring should not be affected as the new ministry would help push the macro-regulatory work in the market," he said. "The industry restructuring aims to make better use of resources. It's positive for the market. In fact, there is room for all operators to explore in the future. The companies should be well-prepared to compete globally with their own branding." He said he did not know when the restructuring would begin.

March 19, 2008

Hong Kong: Chinese President Hu Jintao on Tuesday met with the chief executives of the Hong Kong and Macao special administrative regions (SAR) and urged them and their governments to further promote economic and social development in the two regions. Hong Kong SAR's Donald Tsang and Macao SAR's Edmund Ho Hau Wah, attended the just-concluded annual session of the National People's Congress (NPC) as non-voting delegates. During his meeting with Tsang, Hu acknowledged that Hong Kong has maintained good momentum in development, which is the result of the common efforts of the Hong Kong SAR government and all sectors of Hong Kong. "The central government believes you and the Hong Kong SAR government will do your utmost to make the region strong and prosperous and govern the region according to the law," he said. Hu urged the Hong Kong SAR government to make progress in economic development, improve people's livelihood, promote democracy and harmony and make further contributions to the successful practice of the "one country, two systems" policy in Hong Kong. During his meeting with Ho, the president said it is a common aspiration of people in Macao to maintain the region's development momentum and deal properly with "new situations" and "new problems" the region faces in its development. Hu said he hoped that the Macao SAR government will govern according to the law and unite the people in Macao to press ahead with economic development, maintain social stability and strive for a better future of Macao. Vice President Xi Jinping was present at the meetings.

Hong Kong's total exports to the Chinese mainland, mainland for outwards processing, rose 10 percent to about 451.5 billion HK dollars (about 57.88 billion U.S. dollars), revealed the Census and Statistics Department here Tuesday. Meanwhile, Hong Kong's imports from the Chinese mainland related to outward processing grew 1 percent to 780 billion HK dollars (100 billion U.S. dollars), according to the Census and Statistics Department. About 841 billion HK dollars (107.82 billion U.S. dollars) of Hong Kong's re-exports of Chinese mainland origin to other places were produced through outward processing in China's mainland, up 3percent on a year earlier. In the fourth quarter, about 119.2 billion HK dollars (15.28 billion U.S. dollars) of Hong Kong's total exports to the Chinese mainland were for outward processing, up 13 percent over the same period in 2006.

New World Development's (0017) interim core earnings soared 162 percent to HK$1.73 billion, boosted by more apartment sales in Hong Kong and the mainland. The property-to-infrastructure conglomerate also recorded some HK$2.4 billion worth of extraordinary profits, including proceeds of HK$1.6 billion from spinning off New World Department Store China (0825) last July. Meanwhile, the parent group's share for the sale of half of Harbour Place in Hung Hom - a major project completed last year in partnership with Sun Hung Kai Properties (0016) - was HK$1.02 billion. Those proceeds came under construction and services arm NWS Holdings (0659), whose interim net profit jumped 144 percent to HK$22.3 billion. "In the pipeline, the group will launch four more projects with some 1,200 units, including a Hanoi Road redevelopment project in Tsim Sha Tsui," said NWD managing director Henry Cheng Kar-shun. "These projects can be booked in a year or two." Asked whether the group is interested in bidding for the Hong Kong- Zhuhai-Macau bridge mega-project, Cheng said a 36-year recoup period makes it "unattractive for investors." Meanwhile, interim net profit for mainland property arm New World China Land (0917) jumped 126 percent to HK$920 million on more completions of residential projects. Cheng said NWCL is looking at floating some of its assets on mainland bourses. For the six months ended December 31, NWD's net profit, including one- off income and property revaluation gains, more than quadrupled to HK$5.64 billion.

The Mandatory Provident Fund Schemes Authority has given Sing Pao Daily News 21 days to settle outstanding MPF contributions totalling HK$4.2 million or face a winding-up petition.

There were words of encouragement from President Hu Jintao when he met Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam- kuen in Beijing yesterday. At their meeting in the Zhongnanhai leadership compound, Hu told Tsang he believes the Hong Kong government will continue to achieve good results in developing the city's economy, improving people's livelihood, and promoting democracy and social harmony. Also present were vice president Xi Jiping, state councillor Liu Yandong, director of the general office of the Communist Party's central committee Ling Jihua, and Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office director Liao Hui. "With efforts made by the SAR government and society, Hong Kong is developing in a good and right direction," Hu told Tsang. "The central government believes you and the SAR government can make great efforts to build a strong state, to administer according to legislation, [and] have new achievements in terms of economic and democratic development, improving people's livelihood and building harmony." Tsang gave an account of the latest situation in Hong Kong, saying the budget announced last month lists out different measures to stimulate the economy, create more job opportunities and improve livelihood. "The government introduced tax relief and other measures to return wealth to the public as the government had a surplus last year," Tsang said. He congratulated Hu for being re-elected president, adding the National People's Congress and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference meetings had been successful. Tsang also met People's Bank of China governor Zhou Xiaochuan and China Securities Regulatory Commission chairman Shang Fulin. Hu also met Macau Chief Executive Edmund Ho Hau-wah, with the president saying he hoped Ho can maintain the well-being of Macau. "The central government believes you and the government can unite Macau people and continue to make society prosperous and stable," Hu told Ho.

The Hong Kong Monetary Authority on Wednesday cut the base rate charged through its overnight discount window 75 basis points to 3.75 per cent.

Eurasian actress Isabella Leong Lok-si is not living in a HK$150,000-a-month villa in Pok Fu Lam's Residence Bel-Air, she says. The luxurious development in Cyberport is owned by telecoms tycoon Richard Li Tzar-kai's company, PCCW (SEHK: 0008), with whom the 19-year-old has been rumoured to be romantically involved. But the actress released a statement last night denying she had ever stayed in such a villa, although admitting she rented a more humble flat in the exclusive enclave for two years before moving out last July. "Many media have published inaccurate reports about me, for example [they] reported that I lived in an independent house in Residence Bel-Air, but this is not true," the statement says, adding she will not list other inaccuracies in media reports. Leong's name has been linked with Mr Li, chairman and chief executive of PCCW and son of the city's richest man, Li Ka-shing, in many recent magazine and newspaper reports. They claim fellow actress Michelle Yeoh Choo-kheng introduced Leong to the 42-year-old bachelor in Shanghai last year when Leong was filming The Mummy 3. The actress then rented the 5,000 sq ft house for HK$150,000 a month, the reports claim. Mr Li, sometimes called "Super Diamond Bachelor" in the tabloid media, has already denied reports of an affair with Leong or that he had paid out HK$100 million to Emperor Entertainment Group to redeem her contract. He has reportedly split with girlfriend Rachel Lloyd. Leong's statement also says an Emperor Entertainment Group announcement on March 12, which says the two parties have a good relationship, is not entirely true and she was not consulted before its release. A PCCW spokesman said the company would not comment on personal issues.

Duties as high as 180,000 yuan (HK$198,000) per film have hindered the import of Hong Kong movies to Guangdong despite relaxed rules on screening Cantonese-language films. Guangdong film distributors said yesterday that only two movies had succeeded in making it to the big screen since 2006, when stage three of the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement was implemented to allow Hong Kong-made Cantonese productions to be shown in the province. The relaxation exempted Hong Kong film companies from providing a Putonghua version of movies for the authorities' examination. But the distributors said the import duties on a Hong Kong film, including the value-added tax, were as high as 180,000 yuan. On top of that, distributors have to pay US$2,000 per copy of the film, a slice of the royalties to the Hong Kong companies and promotional expenses. If a film has been processed overseas, Guangdong distributors have to pay an extra tariff. "It is very difficult for distributors to make money out of it," Jiang Baoshan, of Guangdong Film Company, said at the annual Filmart fair. "All these fees together can add up to as much as 1 million yuan to bring in just one film. It's impossible to show a film that we are not confident with at the box office." Shenzhen had a huge demand for Hong Kong movies, said Cai Xinmu of Shenzhen Film Distribution and Screening. Mr Cai said his company had shortlisted 30 films for the Guangdong market. Six films were approved, he said, but only The Heavenly Kings directed by Daniel Wu Yin-cho and My Mother is a Belly Dancer by Lee Kung-lok were released in 2006. The rest of the approved films had been put on hold because of prohibitive costs, he said. Liu Zhoukeng, deputy director of the Shenzhen Municipal Bureau of Radio, Film and Television, said the two movies should be evaluated in order to seek solutions and make recommendations for future projects. Mr Liu added that he hoped films could be examined faster and that they could be checked in Guangdong instead of Beijing.

China: Central bank raises reserve ratio to 15.5% - The central bank yesterday announced that it would raise the reserve requirement ratio, or proportion of funds lenders must hold in reserve, by 0.5 percentage point to mop up liquidity and anchor prices.

More than 260 lots of Chinese paintings will be offered at Sotheby's Spring Sale 2008 Auction on April 8, announced Sotheby's Hong Kong on Tuesday. The art works of famous Chinese artists from various collectors in Europe include a private collection of Fu Baoshi from France, a European collection of four late works by Qi Baishi, a Southeast Asian private collection of Xu Beihong as well as a private collection of Huang Junbi. "Cross-Island Highway, Taiwan" by Zhang Daqiang, one of the best-known Chinese artist of the 20th century, is estimated at 4 to 6 million HK dollars (about 514,138 U.S. dollars). It is considered to be one of the most representative splashed ink and color on paper paintings in Zhang's later artistic career. Another painting by Zhang Daqian offered in this auction is " Recluse in the Spring Mountain". The lot is an emulation of a masterpiece of the same name by Wang Meng, a master of ink painting of Yuan dynasty, and is considered to be the best imitation Zhang ever accomplished. It is estimated at 2.5 to 3.5 million HK dollars (about 321,336 to 449,871 U.S. dollars). A selection of antique Chinese classical paintings will also be offered in the auction. "Landscape After Wang Meng" by Wu Li, an artist in early-Qing dynasty, was accomplished during the height of Wu's artistic career. It is estimated at 3.8 to 5 million HK dollars (about 488,432 to 642,674 U.S. dollars).

Lenovo chairman Yang Yuanqing at the launch of the ThinkPad X300 laptop in Beijing. Lenovo hopes the new product will help the company regain ThinkPad's reputation and help it compete with HP, Dell, Acer and Apple.

Premier Wen Jiabao said yesterday that curbing inflation remains the main task this year and during the remainder of his second five-year term. He also expressed concern that the potential global economic slowdown caused by the US subprime crisis would make it harder to beat back inflation. "This year will be the most difficult year for our economy," Wen said, adding that it would be difficult to keep inflation within the government's 4.8 percent target. Speaking after theclosing session of the National People's Congress, he said: "We have food reserves of between 150 million and 200 million tonnes, indicating the situation of oversupply has not changed. We are confident when the appropriate measures are implemented consumer price rises can be controlled." The premier acknowledged the growing cries of concern from citizens worried about rising prices. He was concerned about the falling US dollar, and the increasing uncertainties over credit caused by the US subprime turmoil. The US dollar yesterday dropped to its lowest against the yuan in 13 years, closing at 7.08 yuan. Despite pressure from China's trading partners, Wen did not clearly address Beijing's stance on yuan appreciation in curbing inflation. "The Chinese currency has risen 15 percent against the dollar since it was de-pegged in July 2005," he said. "I am closely watching the global economic situation and am deeply worried. "It will pose a challenge for China to meet a balance in economic growth and keep inflation, excess investment and credit growth under control. China is a developing country of 1.3 billion people. We need to maintain fast economic development to resolve employment pressures." He added: "Global economic developments will have an impact on China, but internal matters will be more crucial."

Alibaba profit surges 340pc but stock falls - Shares of Alibaba.com, the mainland's largest e-commerce company, plunged to a record low yesterday, even though the company reported a fourfold increase in profit.

March 14 - 18, 2008

Hong Kong: ICC's Int'l Court of Arbitration to open office in HK - Hong Kong on Wednesday welcomed the announcement by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) of its decision to open a branch of the Secretariat of its International Court of Arbitration in Hong Kong. The branch secretariat, the first in Asia, will have a case management team to administer cases in the region under the ICC Rules of Arbitration. It is expected to be fully operational by the end of the year. "The International Chamber of Commerce's decision to set up branch of the Secretariat of the Court in Hong Kong is an endorsement of our position as a premier center for international arbitration services. Its presence will enhance the provision of arbitration services in Hong Kong, " said Wong Yan Lung, secretary for Justice of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government. The ICC International Court of Arbitration is one of the world's top international dispute resolution institutions. It is assisted by a secretariat located at the ICC headquarters in Paris. In 2007, it handled 599 domestic and international arbitration cases. The Court oversees the ICC arbitration process and, among other things, is responsible for appointing arbitrators and scrutinizing and approving all arbitral awards.

Hong Kong's business receipts in all service industries grew in value terms in 2007, according to statistics released by Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department. Hong Kong's financing-industry business receipts grew 68.8 percent and those for real estate and banking industries rose 39.1percent and 38.4 percent on the previous year, the department said. The Census and Statistics Department said the rise for the financing (except banking) industry was due to the buoyant local stock market, while that of the real estate industry was attributable to the brisk trading activities in the property market. The business receipts rise of the banking industry was mainly due to continuous growth in non-interest income, the department said. Business receipts of the tourism, convention and exhibition services domain and the computer and information services domain rose 17.1 percent and 6.5 percent. Business receipts of all service industries increased in the fourth quarter compared with a year earlier. Larger rises were recorded in the financing (except banking) (up 83.1 percent), real estate (up 66.8 percent), banking (up 45.3 percent), insurance (up34.0 percent), wholesale and retail (up 17.2 percent), hotels (up 17.0 percent), communications (up 15.5 percent), restaurants (up 15.1 percent), transport (up 14.6 percent) and business services ( up 14.2 percent) industries, said the department.

The government of Macao Special Administrative Region (SAR) Tuesday announced that it will spend over 800 million patacas ($100 million) to subsidize local residents.

Director Ang Lee's protege, Tang Wei, is expected to attend the Asian Film Awards in Hong Kong next week despite a reported media ban against her, organisers said on Tuesday. Mainland media reported recently that regulators had ordered TV stations to stop reporting on the actress and pull ads featuring her. The ban has not been officially announced and its reasons were unclear. But Tang’s breakthrough role came in the recent Lee movie Lust, Caution which has drawn attention for portraying explicit sex and allegedly unpatriotic behavior. In the movie, Tang plays a student activist who gives away the plot to assassinate a Japanese-allied Chinese intelligence official in second world war Shanghai. It was released in the mainland after heavy editing. Tang is up for best actress for Lust, Caution. Rosa Li, a spokeswoman for the Asian Film Awards, said Tang has been asked to present an award at the ceremony Monday, and that organisers expect her to show up. Ang Lee won best director Oscar for the gay romance Brokeback Mountain last year. His kung fu hit Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon won best foreign film for Taiwan in 2001.

While Macau's once-restricted air transport market continues to transform, the chief executive of Viva Macau has called on the special administrative region's aviation regulators to revisit policies that are hindering the low-cost carrier's growth and also impeding tourism expansion.

The Hong Kong Observatory would support the Beijing Olympic Games with detailed weather information for the Equestrian Events, observatory director Lam Chiu-ying said.

The government had published a set of guidelines on the proper use of the internet, Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Frederick Ma Si-hang said on Wednesday. Mr Ma was replying to information technology sector legislator Sin Chung-kai, who had asked how the government’s review of the Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance had been progressing. Mr Ma said the public would be consulted about the ordinance later this year. “The government plans to consult the public in the second half of 2008 on ways to amend the ordinance in order to keep pace with the development of our society,” he said. Mr Ma said part of this review examined the role being played by the internet. “To help equip the public with some general knowledge about the proper use of the internet, for instance, good on-line practices and related legislations, we have published a set of guidelines on ‘Acceptable Use of Internet’,” Mr Ma said. The guidelines are now available on the government’s InfoSec website (www.infosec.gov.hk). “However, the guidelines, which are meant to provide reference for the public, are not legally binding,” the commerce secretary said. How people use the internet has become a salient issue in Hong Kong in the wake of the recent nude photo scandal. This resulted in hundreds of sexually explicit photographs involving leading Hong Kong celebrities being loaded on to the internet. This was done without the consent of the photos’ owner, actor-singer Edison Chen Koon-hei. The scandal has raised questions about Hong Kong’s obscenity laws, the right to privacy, as well as the role of the internet and the police. “In the light of the recent public concern over the dissemination of information on the internet, the government is considering with the information technology sector how to update the guidelines,” Mr Ma said. This would to include some relevant cases in people’s daily lives and frequently asked questions. “This is to provide the industry and the public with more information about computer or cyber crimes,” Mr Ma added. Mr Sin has raised a motion in the Legislative Council calling for additional resources to strengthen moral and sex education programmes in schools. He said the nude photos controversy had raised concern among educators and parents. Mr Sin said children could access pornographic material circulating on the internet but were often denied adequate teaching about sexual issues at school. “Topics such as sex abuse, contraception, sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy are only taught in the context of biology. They are not taught in separate sessions,” he said. “It is not a must to have a separate course or exams, but at least we should consider making it mandatory for schools to teach sex knowledge on a regular basis,” Mr Sin said. A set of guidelines to schools issued by the then Education and Manpower Bureau in 1997 cover all aspects of the teaching of sex education, but schools are not obliged to follow them. Adjudicators of the Obscene Articles Tribunal last month called for reforms to the classification mechanism after controversy over the celebrity sex photos.

Expected returns for the government on its HK$37.4 billion investment on the Sha Tin to Central rail link may be relatively small, but academics say the administration has made a clever choice on the model adopted for the line. Under an agreement between the government and the MTR Corporation (SEHK: 0066), the administration is expected to receive a total rent of HK$91.8 billion from the MTR for a 50-year lease for the operating rights. Secretary for Transport and Housing Eva Cheng said the amount of rent was calculated on a formula under which, after deducting the MTR Corp's operating and ongoing capital costs from the total revenue of the line, the government would enjoy 90 per cent of the net profit. But traffic expert and civil engineer Greg Wong Chak-yan said the government's income - subject to variations in the number of travelers, the line's operating cost and fares - might not be as high as HK$91.8 billion. "My experience has been, 90 per cent of the world's railways suffer losses, not gains," Mr Wong said. "The government will enjoy 90 per cent of whatever the line earns, but what if it doesn't make a profit?" The estimate is based on a forecast that the line will attract 1 million passengers a day by 2021. Financial analyst Raymond So Wai-man also believed the line's profit outlook was less rosy than government expectations. However, both academics said the government had made the right decision in adopting a service concession approach, instead of the usual rail-plus-property funding model. "By retaining the ownership of the rail line, the government obviously enjoys a lot more freedom over the line's financial arrangement and construction works, and that will speed up the process," Mr Wong said. "It is good news to every commuter." As a listed company, the MTR Corp saw the property-based model as the best option for its shareholders, a government source said. But other sources said the capital injection and land-subsidy approach was not suitable for the link, as it involved a huge sum of capital and a lack of attractive land for development along the line. A senior government official said the administration could afford to build the rail link itself when public coffers were full and it would enhance community development. Although some legislators are expected to oppose using huge sums of public money to build the link, the government is confident of securing sufficient support for the financing application to be passed. A senior official said the line passed through several geographical constituencies and lawmakers would not want to vote it down in an election year.

Hong Kong property developers have shown a cool response to the government's move to allocate 10 sites in non-core areas for hotel projects. They say the sites may not generate acceptable returns on their investment. Forecasting low single-digit investment returns on development costs that are expected to be 50 per cent higher than for residential projects, major developers say they are not keen on bidding for the sites. A source at Sun Hung Kai Properties (SEHK: 0016), Hong Kong's largest developer by market value, said the hotel sites would not be attractive to most players because of their inferior location. He said hotels built on those sites would provide rental yields of just between 5 and 6 per cent. The new land application list released last month contains 62 sites up for sale, of which 10 are designated for hotel development as the government's response to the tourism industry's call for more hotel supply. The sites are in North Point, Wan Chai, Central, Kwun Tong, Tin Shui Wai, Tsuen Wan, Sai Kung, Hung Hom Bay reclamation area, and Kowloon Bay, where there are two. "If a hotel development doesn't work, we could simply convert it into other uses," the source said. "But the 10 sites on the land application list are for hotel use only. We have to take on higher investment risk and will suffer if the project doesn't work."

China: The Three Gorges Dam, the world's largest, could attract at least 1.18 million tourists this year when the entire hydropower project is basically completed, tourism developers said on Wednesday. As China's largest industrial tourist site, the dam had seen its annual visitors exceed 1 million for three consecutive years, with 2007 seeing a record high of 1.25 million. "The 15 square-meter dam area will have a tourist boom this year thanks to the Olympic Games in August and the basic completion of the Three Gorges Project by the end of the year," said Chen Mengjiong, manager of the Three Gorges Tourism Development Co. Ltd. (TGTDC) Builders completed construction of the 2,309-meter-long, 185-meter-high dam in 2006. Power transmission facilities were completed in 2007. The relocation of 1.2 million people in the region would be finished before the summer flood season started on the Yangtze River, making it possible to raise the water level in the reservoir to 172-175 meters.

Couples plant trees in an activity in Rizhao, Shandong Province, March 11, 2008. The annual Tree-planting Day falls on March 12.

Foreign-funded enterprises have invested a total of 2.11 trillion US dollars in China as of the end of last year, up 23.5 percent year-on-year, the State Administration For Industry and Commerce (SAFIC) said on Tuesday.

A model poses by a Citroen sports car on an auto show in Shanghai on April 20, 2007. PSA Peugeot Citroen plans to boost its sourcing of spare parts from China this year, according to its local venture.

China’s Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on Wednesday said that the mainland had yet to receive a formal application from the United States to allow the USS Kitty Hawk and a US navy battle group to visit Hong Kong. “If we receive the application from the US consular officials, we will then... decide whether the battle group would be allowed to enter Hong Kong,” Mr Yang said. Earlier reports said the US was poised to ask Beijing to allow the Kitty Hawk battle group to visit in mid-April. When the Kitty Hawk request is made, it will be the first since Beijing refused permission for the aircraft carrier to enter local waters for Thanksgiving last November. To enter Hong Kong, US consular officials must formally pass on a Pentagon request to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong, They must give more than the required 30 days’ notice. Port visits are usually only announced 24 hours in advance. The last-minute rejection of November’s port visit rattled Washington. It placed Sino-US relations at their lowest ebb since the collision between a US Navy spy plane and a PLA jet fighter over the South China Sea in 2001. Hundreds of US military families had flown to Hong Kong in anticipation of 2007 Thanksgiving holiday with relatives in the navy. Thanksgiving is one of the most important holidays in the US. Beijing later reversed its decision, allowing the Kitty Hawk to enter Hong Kong for humanitarian reasons. But Washington said the reversal had come too late. The Kitty Hawk and the battle group were already sailing northwards from Hong Kong through the Taiwan Strait. The head of the US Pacific Command, Admiral Timothy Keating, subsequently visited Beijing to appeal for greater co-operation. This helped secure permission for the USS Blue Ridge to make a port visit to Hong Kong in late January. Beijing has yet to confirm the reason for the November rejection, which came shortly after moves by Washington to upgrade Patriot missile batteries in Taiwan and a meeting between US President George W. Bush and exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

Beijing warned foreign groups on Wednesday not to use the Summer Olympics to pressure Beijing, presenting the nation as a responsible but poor power eager to end rows over trade, pollution and human rights. China has been buffeted ahead of the games by worries over dirty air and international protests over human rights, Tibet, Sudan’s Darfur and other controversies that often irk Chinese diplomats. Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi told critics to back off, accusing them of violating the Olympic Games charter keeping politics away from sports. “I don’t believe that the international community wants to politicise the Beijing Olympics. That’s a handful of individuals and forces extremely unfriendly to China and bearing massive prejudices,” Mr Yang told reporters. China welcomed “well-intentioned” criticism of the games, he said. “But those who want to tarnish China – and hear me, I said China – won’t succeed.” The scholarly-looking diplomat made the comments in a news conference coinciding with the annual national parliament, and carefully answered questions on the United States, Japan and European Union, arguing that China wanted co-operation, not contention. But his comments also came after a slew of news that underscored the headaches China faces in holding the huge, live-to-air sporting spectacle that starts on August 8. In February, Oscar-winning film director Steven Spielberg quit as an artistic adviser to the games, claiming that China had failed to use enough sway in Sudan to seek an end to bloodshed in Darfur. This week has seen protest marches against the Games by Tibetan refugees. Ethiopia’s marathon world record holder Haile Gebrselassie announced he will not race in Beijing because of health fears from pollution. And officials announced a domestic flight from the restive western region of Xinjiang was grounded over fears of a terrorist attack, stirring concern about security around the games. But Mr Yang said the capital would be safe and clean for visitors and the event would seal, not sour, friendly ties. “The international community and governments, leaders and the publics of countries across the world warmly support a successful Olympics, showing their deep friendly feeling for the Chinese people,” Mr Yang said. “China of course is one of the safest places in the world”,” he added. Beijing’s games have been presented as a chance for China to brandish its growing prosperity and pride, with the government pouring billions into new subway lines and shining stadiums. But in response to questions about Africa and climate change policy, Yang also said China was still a poor country, too focused on its own development to bear too much of an international burden, especially in cutting greenhouse gas pollution. “China is a responsible member of the international community,” Mr Yang said. “At the same time, as a developing country, frankly, China cannot assume international responsibilities beyond its own capacity to bear.” China is set to surpass the United States as the world’s top emitter of carbon dioxide, but says it will not accept fixed caps on emissions and the burden in fighting climate change should fall on rich countries, who create much more pollution per head. “It’s like there is one person who eats three slices of bread for breakfast, and there are three of them who eat only one slice. Who should be on a diet?”, Mr Yang said. He also said “transfer emissions” – the environmental costs of products produced in one country and then exported to – should be considered in emissions calculations. Asked about US criticisms of China’s strict leash on citizens’ political activities, Mr Yang accompanied a call for more friendly dialogue with a prickly warning. “We resolutely oppose clinging to a cold war mentality and drawing an ideological line to engage in confrontation and double standards,” he said.

March 13, 2008

Hong Kong: MTR Corp (0066) beat market expectations to report a 43.8 percent jump in core earnings last year as profit from property development soared.

Hong Kong Monetary Authority chief executive Joseph Yam Chi- kwong said yesterday that local lenders have limited room to further lower interest rates.

The government will fund the HK$37.4 billion construction of a new rail link between Sha Tin and Central that will carry one million passengers per day, it was announced yesterday. The 17-kilometer link will be leased to the MTRC for HK$91.8 billion over a period of 50 years and will reap an additional annual economic benefit of HK$4 billion in savings on travel times, the government said. Nine stations will be built under the two-phase scheme, six of which will be interchange stations creating two east- west and north-south railway corridors. Work on the first stage from Tai Wai to Hung Hom, which was endorsed by the Executive Council yesterday, will start in 2010 and be completed in 2015. The second cross-harbor phase, linking Hung Hom with Admiralty, will be finished by 2019. Explaining the government's decision to pay for the scheme, Transport and Housing secretary Eva Cheng Yu- wah said overall ownership will allow the government to maintain a beneficial financial position. She added ownership would also place the government in a better position to negotiate with the MTRC, when its lease expires, on parts which used to be part of the former KCRC network before the rail merger. The new line, which will slash travel time from 29 to 17 minutes, will not extend to the Central station due to the lack of a suitable site. Cheng said previous sites mooted for a Central station were not appropriate since the Botanical Gardens was too far while the area to the west of Wyndham Street had problems with soil quality. She said a review of land use in Central would be carried out once the government moved to the Tamar site. About 11,000 jobs will be created during the construction of the project while a further 9,600 workers will be needed to operate the link. Transport and housing deputy secretary Philip Yung Wai-hung said the project was divided into two phases to avoid impacting on the Central-Wan Chai bypass reclamation work. The MTRC yesterday also unveiled plans to extend the Kwun Tong Line to serve the Whampoa and Hung Hom areas, costing the MTRC HK$4.2 billion. In return the MTRC will benefit from property development rights along the line.

The Urban Renewal Authority is offering a record HK$7,012 per square foot to flat owners at the Sneakers Street redevelopment in Mong Kok after interested owners vowed to escalate their opposition to the project. Offers for the 175 property interests include record-high compensation for ground-level shops, ranging from more than HK$20,000 per square foot on Sai Yee Street to about HK$200,000 psf on Nelson Street. The authority has faced staunch resistance since December from owners who have refused to budge and vowed to continue their businesses. They recently joined forces with a developer and proposed a counter-offer at a 10 percent premium to the authority's offer. The authority is offering HK$7,012 psf for domestic property compared to HK$7,713. Some owners have also applied to redevelop their own buildings. Of three plans submitted so far, a plan to redevelop 94-96 Fa Yuen Street into a 31-story commercial and residential building with a clubhouse was approved in January. Salina Tsang Hing-lan, who has been running a sporting goods shop on Fa Yuen Street for a decade, is one of the proposers of the approved plan. She said they were forced into action by the authority, and expected a long battle. "Rather than wait for acquisition, we choose to redevelop ourselves. The compensation is not the most important thing - we just want to continue our businesses," she said. The K28 Sneakers Street Concern Group will unveil a new "six-win" self-redevelopment plan tomorrow, which proposes that ground-level shops continue business after the redevelopment is finished. Last year, the authority rejected a proposal to renovate the buildings while keeping ground-level shops operational. The authority's HK$3.14 billion plan is to develop the site into a sports retail shopping mall to be topped by a 30-story residential tower by 2013, with owners renting space inside the arcade. The authority's managing director Quinn Law Yee-kwun did not rule out the possibility that redevelopment could be carried out with owners' participation but said the current system had no provision for such cooperation. He said the top priority was to improve living conditions and that the booming property market has led to the cost of acquiring the site rising 25 percent, with an estimated loss capped at about HK$1 billion.

Universal suffrage will not solve the often strained working relationship between Hong Kong's chief executive and the legislature, according to outgoing British consul-general Stephen Bradley.

Internet users will be able to view live and recorded Olympic action free in August, Cable TV announced yesterday. Cable TV, the official "new media broadcaster" in Hong Kong for the Olympics, said four streaming internet channels would be devoted to the Games, including live coverage of Hong Kong and mainland athletes. It is also discussing with mobile phone operators the possibility of extending the service to all its users that have a WiFi connection. "Hong Kong's comprehensive telecommunications network and proliferation of mobile audio-visual devices will provide an effective platform for us to distribute our programs to everyone at every corner, around the clock," said Cable TV executive director Benjamin Tong. "You can watch the Olympic programs anywhere, anytime. "There will be over 4,000 hours of live coverage from the Beijing Games broadcaster, which should accommodate all action with Hong Kong athletes. We have employed a team of sports experts, most of them retired athletes, for live commentary." Mr Tang said his company had made a significant investment in improving its equipment to avoid congestion on the internet when viewers accessed the programs. Charles Mok, chairman of the Internet Society, said with the government opening wireless internet connections in public facilities this summer, more of Hong Kong's 5 million internet users were set to watch the Games through the new media platform. Of the four channels, one will focus on Hong Kong and mainland athletes and one on other international competitors. The remaining channels will feature highlights. The commentary will be in Cantonese. Users will also be able to access a library of footage, enabling them to watch interviews and related coverage inside and outside the venues. Cable TV has also secured exclusive TV and new media broadcasting rights for the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

Actor urges promotion of quality migrant scheme - Award-winning mainland actor Hu Jun will soon be one of Hong Kong's newest residents thanks to the Quality Migrant Admission Scheme.

Renowned industrialist Chiang Chen, often described as one of Hong Kong's model patriots, has expressed sympathy for beleaguered singer-actor Edison Chen Koon-hei, saying he will come out of his current troubles a better man. "Chen Koon-hei is a young man. Young people will make mistakes," he said. "Making mistakes is an education, and this will help him." Mr Chiang, 85, received an honorary degree from the University of Hong Kong yesterday. His life story has often been hailed as a model example of how hard work and ethical living can overcome all sorts of obstacles. Having arrived in the city with nothing in 1949 at the age of 26, the Shandong native has built the world's largest manufacturer of injection moulding machines, Chen Hsong Holdings, and founded the Chiang Chen Industrial Charity Foundation. Without English, Cantonese or Shanghainese skills, and with only four years of education, Mr Chiang began as a laborer on a dock, then worked in a cotton mill and mine. However, he insists that comparisons cannot be made between present society and his experience, since times have changed. "I have never tried to teach people how to live their lives." Nevertheless, he had words of wisdom to pass on to the younger generation, urging them not to fear competition, pressure or criticism, and to learn from their mistakes. "Criticism is normal ... Only after criticism, do you set out to improve." Chen last month admitted he had taken pictures of female celebrities engaged in sex acts, which were stolen from his computer and circulated on the internet. He said: "I hope this matter will teach everyone a lesson. To all the young people and our community, let this be a lesson for you all." Chen added that he would dedicate his time to charity and community work, and use the "opportunity to heal myself and to search my soul". One of Mr Chiang's six children, Lily Chiang Lai-lei, is having her own troubles - she has been charged by the Independent Commission Against Corruption over an alleged HK$7.5 million share-option fraud. Mr Chiang said he believed she would also learn from adversity. "She'll come out the better after this ordeal," he said. Other recipients of honorary degrees included Monetary Authority chief Joseph Yam Chi-kwong, scientist Mak Tak-wah and former president of Lingnan University Edward Chen Kwan-yiu.

Beijing's top man in Hong Kong is tipped as a second Hong Kong-based candidate for membership on the National People's Congress Standing Committee. Ng Hong-mun, former local deputy to the NPC who stepped down as the new annual session opened this month, wrote in his column in Ming Pao yesterday that Gao Siren, 64, might join the Standing Committee alongside Legislative Council president Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai. Mr Gao is widely expected to retire as director of the central government's Hong Kong liaison office this year. He and Mrs Fan were selected as members of the NPC presidium. Candidates for the Standing Committee are usually picked from the presidium. The election is scheduled for Saturday. "If Gao Siren is also considered a 'Hongkonger', then it can be said there will be two" local members on the Standing Committee, Mr Ng wrote. A source familiar with the situation said it would not be surprising for Mr Gao to become a Standing Committee member, as many top mainland officials at the provincial and ministry levels joined the nation's top legislature after retiring from the government. Citing Mr Gao's predecessor, Jiang Enzhu, as a precedent, the source noted that Mr Jiang was selected as a member of the Standing Committee and chairman of the NPC foreign affairs committee in 2003, after stepping down as the liaison office chief in 2002. Although Mr Gao is a deputy from Guangdong, the source said Mr Gao's membership in the Standing Committee would reflect the importance attached by Beijing to Hong Kong affairs. "Although he was not elected by the Hong Kong election panel for the NPC deputies, he has been carrying out his NPC activities in the Hong Kong delegation in the past five years," the source said. NPC vice-chairman Xu Jialu said on March 4 that Hong Kong should be given an extra seat on the Standing Committee, saying that the city's extensive international connections and experience in the rule of law and administration could serve as the country's reference.

China: As a sponsor of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Tsingtao Beer is preparing to raise its glass in a toast to the entire world. The Olympics provides a rare chance for Chinese brands to gain world appreciation and build the image of 'made in China'," said Jin Zhiguo, chairman of Tsingtao Brewery Co Ltd. Tsingtao Brewery launched its Olympics branding strategy the moment it became a sponsor of the Games, including a pledge to supply high-quality products for the Games, publicizing its home city and namesake Qingdao and preparing to pass along the Olympics spirit after the world's biggest sporting event is over, Jin said. "We will incorporate the spirit of the Olympics into our marketing strategy for Tsingtao beer," he noted. "We are confident that we can provide better service to the Olympics than any other international brand." Tsingtao Beer, founded more than 100 years ago, has developed into a global brand with exports to more than 70 countries and regions. It is China's top brewery in sales, export revenue, brand value and market share. It now has 50 breweries in 18 provinces or cities and 13 percent of the market in the world's most populous country. To spread the Olympics spirit, the brewery collaborated with Hunan TV for a series about the Games launched in 2006. The program attracted tens of thousands participants in six cities - Nanning, Fuzhou, Shenyang, Guangzhou, Changsha and Nanjing - and was one of the most influential Olympics-related events in the year. In partnership with CCTV2, Tsingtao Brewery also organized a series to introduce China's most beautiful cities to the world. Broadcast by more than 120 media outlets, the program enhanced the image of Chinese cities globally. Olympics caravans begun by the brewery in 2006 have to date visited more than 180 cities across the nation to further enhance enthusiasm for the Games. The company has popularized the sporting spirit as a sponsor of other international events such as the China Tennis Open and the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Torino, Italy. In addition to building the image of its beer, the company also values pursuit of continuing innovation of its corporate structure, operations and technology, Jin said. Tsingtao Brewery has invested more than 60 million yuan to implement environmentally responsible technology and ways to reduce energy consumption - and is now at the forefront of the domestic brewing industry.

China has become the third largest export destination for Panama, whose exports to China soared almost 80 percent last year, the latest official statistics from the Central American country show. China was only the 17th largest export destination for Panama in 2006, but jumped to third place last year after its exports to China grew to 62.9 million U.S. dollars, a 78.6-percent rise over the previous year, media reports said Sunday. China now ranks third in terms of imports from Panama, next only to the United States and the Netherlands, importing mainly scrap iron, coffee and chicken from that country. Bao Esheng, a Chinese trade official, said China's rapid economic growth guarantees the development of trade between the two countries. About 40 percent of Panama's exports go to the United States and some 33 percent end up in Europe. With an economic slowdown in the United States, Panamanian exporters are seeking to explore other markets.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) will oversee food and drug safety by taking over the State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA), a government institutional restructuring draft bill presented to the NPC stated on Tuesday.

Beijing plans to set up an Energy Commission to develop national strategy but will keep an existing bureau to administer the sector, potentially undermining the desire to improve handling of demand and security.

Many people are likely to assume that the current tensions between the US and China are firmly centerd in Asia - with Taiwan, North Korea or Central Asia as the likely area for any future conflict. But another less-headline-grabbing continent is starting to dominate Sino-American rivalries: Africa. Echoing the struggle between European colonial powers over African territory and resources in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there is once again a "scramble for Africa". Last week, US President George W. Bush embarked on a multistate African tour, a very visible sign of America's growing recognition of the strategic and economic importance of the continent, and its determination to catch up with China. China's investment in Africa in the past few years has been little short of remarkable. China-Africa trade has increased tenfold from 1999 to 2006, to US$55.5 billion, according to the most recent official Chinese figures. China also satisfies just short of one-third of its oil needs from Africa. The US has been slower to embrace Africa and is now playing catch-up. Yet Mr Bush was last week at pains to play down Sino-American rivalries on the continent, assuring local leaders and the media that America's intentions are honorable.

March 12, 2008

Hong Kong: Hong Kong is working to achieve a 25 percent reduction in energy intensity by 2030, the top environment official of Hong Kong said here Monday. "Apart from cost-saving, energy conservation is one of the main measures to sustain development and build a green Hong Kong," said Edward Yau, secretary for Environment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government, when officiating at the 2nd Hong Kong Energy Efficiency Awards presentation ceremony. To meet the target, the bureau has implemented measures to promote energy conservation and the use of clean energy, he said. The efficiency competition attracted more than 1,400 entries from January to August last year. The winners in the Common Areas category achieved energy savings of 34 percent, compared with the same period in the preceding year. For the Households and Tenants categories, winners saved more than 40 percent and 20 percent energy. The competition was organized to encourage the public to save energy, promote best practices, and commend those who made efforts, innovations and achievements in energy efficiency and conservation.

More than 60 shipping experts from nine world class ports attended the World Ports Summit at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center on Tuesday to discuss port security, safety and environmental protection issues. The two-day summit, hosted by Hong Kong Marine Department, aims to provide an international forum for world class port authorities to gather together for sharing their experiences and come up with a communique for the reference of the international maritime world. The nine ports participating in the conference are Shanghai, Shenzhen, Rotterdam, Singapore, Los Angeles, Seattle, Melbourne, Busan and Hong Kong. Representatives from the Hong Kong Ship Owners Association and the Hong Kong Shipper's Council also attended the event. According to a press release from the Information Services Department of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government, Hong Kong Secretary for Transport and Housing Eva Cheng and the President of China Merchants Group Ltd Yuning Fu will give a keynote speech at Tuesday's session.

Hong Kong will play host to a world assembly of consumer leaders and advocates in 2011, Hong Kong Consumer Council said Tuesday. The consumer delegates will converge in Hong Kong for the four-day 19th World Congress of the Consumers International (CI), the independent global campaigning voice for consumers with over 220 member organizations in 115 countries. "We are highly honored to be selected to host this world congress of great significance to world consumers. Holding the event in Hong Kong will also have special significance to the 1.3 billion consumers in the mainland of China," said Hong Kong Consumer Council's Chairman Anthony Cheung. The CI World Congress is held every four years. The last one was held in Sydney, Australia, in November 2007. A Selection Committee of CI, including its President, Director General and CI Council members, was set up specifically for the venue selection of the next assembly and finally voted in favor of Hong Kong.

Jet Li said he has changed the script of his upcoming movie with fellow action star Jackie Chan to better suit Western tastes, an online news site reported. Li said "The Forbidden Kingdom" was conceived as a film about Chinese mythology's monkey king and he thought the idea of a kung fu fighting monkey was too far-fetched for Western viewers, according to an interview transcript posted on the Chinese news website Sina.com. Li said he altered the script, inspired by the classic Chinese novel "Journey to the West," to turn the story into a child's dream about Chinese mythology. He said this would make characters with special powers like the monkey king more believable to a Western audience. "The West can't accept a traditional interpretation of 'Journey to the West.' Westerners can understand Superman, Batman, but not this — a monkey that's so dominating," the actor was quoted as saying. "The Forbidden Kingdom," scheduled to be released in the United States this spring, follows an American teenager's fantasy journey to ancient China to rescue a mythological monkey king. Li plays the monkey king and a silent monk, while Chan plays another monk called T'sa-Ho. Li attributed the failure of many Chinese movies to break into the U.S. market to differences in Chinese and American perceptions about Chinese culture. "We like shark's fin and abalone. We think this is the best food and treat friends to it. But Westerners may think that the best Chinese food is fried spring rolls and sweet and sour pork, or hot and sour soup," Li said.

Thirteen developers have expressed interest in an MTRC (0066) project - worth up to HK$6 billion - above Che Kung Temple station in Sha Tin. Sources said Cheung Kong Holdings (0001), Henderson Land Development (0012), Sun Hung Kai properties (0016), New World Development (0017), Wheelock Properties (0049), Sino Land (0083), K Wah International (0173), HKR International (0480), Nan Fung Development and four unidentified developers expressed interest. MTRC property director Thomas Ho Hang-kwong said after applications closed yesterday he was satisfied with the response. Tenders will open soon after agreement on the land premium with the Lands Department. Surveyors expect the premium to be between HK$3,100 and HK$4,000 per square foot, and developers would make a reasonable profit by selling at HK$6,500 psf. Ho said the MTRC would consider absorbing half the premium to attract smaller developers, but refused to say if the financial concessions will result in a higher profit-sharing ratio. The development on the Ma On Shan line station has a gross floor area of 975,448 sq ft, and consists of four towers with 1,240 apartments. Concern group Green Sense said the project may lead to poor ventilation in the already densely populated district, and advised the MTRC to leave three ventilation corridors between the towers, lower its plot ratio to four from five, and limit the tower height to 110 meters. Ho said if the planning needs adjustment in regard to any "wall effect," negotiations will be held with the Town Planning Board. He added the company will also offer two more projects atop Tsuen Wan West station in the next 12 months, providing 5,026 apartments. Lohas Park Phase 4 will be delayed until next year, Ho said, as the three projects so far will satisfy demand. Net profit from underlying businesses attributable to equity shareholders was HK$8.57 billion, 43.8 per cent higher than 2006.The calculation of share earnings is based on the weighted average of 5,573.74 million shares in issue during the year vs 5,510.35 million shares in issue during the last year. Total dividend for the year is 45 H.K. cents (including interim dividend of 14 cents) versus 42 cents. The consensus (mean) forecast, according to a poll by Reuters, was for net profit of HK$7.07 billion for the year.

Three working groups between the Hong Kong and Shenzhen governments were set up yesterday aiming to start discussions this year on how to develop the 100 hectares of land at the restricted area of the Lok Ma Chau Loop.

Yesterday's agreements between Hong Kong and Guangdong confirm growing mutual interest in cross-border co-operation. A joint taskforce to study possible uses of the Lok Ma Chau Loop and a decision on the border crossing at Liantang follow the green light for the Hong Kong-Macau-Zhuhai bridge and last year's opening of the Western Corridor. Guangdong, having become prosperous as the "factory of the world" with the support of investment from Hong Kong, has tended to give the impression that it no longer needs this city. The bridge, for example, won the support of Beijing and Hong Kong long before Guangdong came on board. Traffic on the Western Corridor crossing remains sparse because of cross-border license restrictions on the other side. Nonetheless, the hardware of greater integration is slowly falling into place. Lately, leaders across the border have conveyed a more positive approach. New provincial party secretary Wang Yang has emerged as a supporter of a "special co-operation zone" between Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau with lower customs barriers and a liberalized flow of goods, people and funds. Provincial Governor Huang Huahua says Hong Kong and Shenzhen should consider forming twin cities. Shenzhen Mayor Xu Zongheng has called for a consensus on development of the Lok Ma Chau Loop. The long-standing interest in such closer links expressed by Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen is being reciprocated. The change in mindset reflects the stiffer competition being felt by the Pearl River Delta, especially from the Yangtze River Delta. Industry is defecting from the delta in the face of soaring costs of raw materials and labor and tougher pollution controls, not to mention worsening power cuts and government policies aimed at transforming the mainland into a service-based economy. In these circumstances, greater cross-border integration is an ideal whose time may be drawing closer than it seemed. The ultimate goal of a Hong Kong-Shenzhen world-class metropolis surfaced in Mr Tsang's plan for a strategic partnership in his election platform last year. That calls for a degree of institutional integration that remains a long way off. But now that the infrastructure for closer links is taking shape, it is time for political leaders on both sides of the border to address practical obstacles to integration. For example, we should be planning for a time when vehicles from both sides can cross the border more easily. The present restrictions on people from Shenzhen coming to Hong Kong could not be maintained in a twin-city metropolis. A gradual liberalization of the flow of people, such as extended visits to Hong Kong and a limited right to work, would extend our city's virtual boundary ahead of integration. With the "one country, two systems" policy guaranteed until 2047, some experts, officials and businesspeople have understandably adopted a cautious approach to integration. But if it is going to happen eventually, it is in our interests to at least start thinking seriously now about putting sound stepping stones in place.

Budget carrier AirAsia will finally make its debut in Hong Kong on May 15, with a daily service to Kuala Lumpur for as little as HK$99 one-way. The move is expected to boost competition and passenger traffic in the region. "I believe Hong Kong, if we can get the right slots and times, will be a very big route for us," AirAsia chief executive Tony Fernandes said in Kuala Lumpur. The daily flight will depart Kuala Lumpur at 7am and arrive in Hong Kong at 11am before turning around about 30 minutes later. The carrier hopes to add evening departures soon to cater to business travellers. Mr Fernandes said the Hong Kong-Kuala Lumpur route could easily grow to four or five flights a day. The budget carrier is the largest in Southeast Asia. It uses the Airbus A320, which has 180 seats. The route is now dominated by Cathay Pacific Airways (SEHK: 0293), with three daily departures, and Malaysia Airlines, which flies twice daily. A Cathay Pacific spokesman said the airline offered promotional fares on various routes to reflect seasonal cycles. The latest promotion, which ended yesterday, carried fares from HK$990 to HK$1,990. "Aviation is already a competitive industry. Our fares are entirely market-driven," the spokesman said. Halimy Mahmood, Hong Kong area manager for Malaysia Airlines, was not available for comment. Mr Fernandes said AirAsia had been working on flying to Hong Kong for the past four years, but had only got as close as Macau until now. Relatively higher operating costs in Hong Kong had largely resulted in Macau capturing more of the budget air travel market. A year ago, the Airport Authority announced it would invest more than HK$1 billion to build a 10-stand satellite concourse targeting small aircraft and carriers with a quick turnaround, like budget airlines. AirAsia's turnaround is usually 25 minutes. "What we've done in Macau has probably excited Hong Kong airport," Mr Fernandes said. "We've gone from no flights to now 12 flights a day. In four years, we are now the second-largest airline in Macau and we're not far away from Air Macau. So the potential [for] growing business in Hong Kong is very good. There's no reason a Hong Kong destination couldn't have 12, if not more flights a day from AirAsia." Through Kuala Lumpur, AirAsia was also looking to connect Hong Kong to other destinations like Bangkok, Jakarta, Kota Kinabalu and Penang, he said. Mirza Mohammad Taiyab, director general of the Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board, said with the new AirAsia route, the number of Hong Kong visitors to Malaysia could rise by more than 30 per cent in the next few years. He wanted to increase the percentage of business travellers to Malaysia from 4.6 per cent of total arrivals in 2006 to 10 per cent in five years' time.

Macau casino to stage Miss International - It may be a case of beauty meets the beast, but Macau's monster casino resorts are set to play host to something a little more stimulating than the usual business conventions and trade shows. Starting in September, the Venetian Macao will be setting the stage for beauty pageants. Hong Kong-listed media firm Sun Innovation Holdings yesterday announced a US$15 million, five-year deal to host the annual Miss International Pageant in Macau. The event, to be staged in November and supported by a unit of Japan's foreign ministry, is touted as a "festival of beauty" and the world's third-largest beauty pageant after Miss Universe and Miss World, based on Hainan Island. In addition, the company will bring back the annual Miss Macau pageant, to be hosted in September at the Venetian and co-sponsored by the Macau Government Tourist Organisation, Hong Kong's TVB (SEHK: 0511) and Macau broadcaster TDM. "All the beauty pageants want to be in Asia," Sun Innovation chairman Michele Matsuda said yesterday. "Miss World is in Sanya and Miss Universe will be in Vietnam this year. Obviously, because Macau is an expanding market, we wanted to take advantage of the tremendous growth going on there." Gaming magnate Stanley Ho Hung-sun launched the first Miss Macau pageant in 1972.

China: China will build a railway linking Beijing to the southeastern province of Fujian to boost the economic development of the coastal region close to Taiwan. The two-track railway would be able to accommodate trains running at more than 300 kilometers per hour. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2010, under a memo signed by the Ministry of Railways and the Fujian Provincial People's Government in Beijing during the on-going parliamentary session. The railway will start from Bengbu City in eastern Anhui Province, where it will also join the Beijing-Shanghai Railway. It will then cross Anhui and Jiangxi provinces via Hefei, Huangshan and Shangrao before entering Fujian, where it will terminate in Fuzhou, the provincial capital. The line is part of a 4,800-km rail network that China plans to build along the western coast of the Taiwan Straits over the next five to 10 years. Fujian, just across the straits from Taiwan, has begun to build a new economic zone that is intended to accelerate cross-straits economic ties. The zone, also covering parts of the neighboring provinces of Jiangxi and Guangdong, is part of the country's regional development strategy for coastal China. The Pearl River Delta in the south, the Yangtze River Delta in the east and the economic zone around the Bohai Sea have already become development engines.

  China's consumer price index (CPI), the main inflation indicator, rose 8.7 percent in February over the same time last year, the highest monthly increase in nearly 12 years, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said on Tuesday.

Chinese singer Li Yuchun performs at her solo concert held at the Shanghai Grand Stage on Sunday, March 9, 2008, ahead of her 24th birthday on Monday. At the show, Li Yuchun shed light on "Cha Sheng" ("Bad Student"), her first single this year which she co-wrote and also directed its music video. Emerging on the scene by winning the 2005 Super Girl, a singing competition similar to American Idol, the former tomboy has already had two full-length albums to her name.

Magnolia flowers blossom on the riverbank opposite of the Lujiazui financial area in Shanghai, as temperatures surpassed 20 degrees Celsius, March 11, 2008.

Containers to be monitored through homegrown technology are being loaded on a ship in Shanghai March 10, 2008. The e-tags attached on the containers will send warning signals if they are opened without authorization during the journey.

A joint-stock oil refinery involving a total investment of $5 billion will be built in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, a local official said in Beijing on Monday.

Beijing is expected to start the construction of a second international airport in 2010, a top civil aviation official said on Saturday. The General Administration of Civil Aviation (CAAC) said late January that it had submitted a report to the central government on the selection of a site for a second international airport of Beijing to ease traffic pressure. "The final result of the site selection will be announced the year after next, and the construction will begin that year," said Yang Guoqing, deputy head of CAAC. Already with the Beijing Capital International Airport in the north of the city, it seems very hard to find an ideal place for the new airport. The western area is not appropriate due to complicated terrain, said Yang on the sideline of the annual session of the country's top political advisory body, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). The eastern part is not suitable, either, because another airport has been in operation in Tianjin, a coastal city very close to Beijing, he said. Taking into account of terrain and airflow factors, the southern part is a relatively favorable choice, he said. "But we have to consider keeping coordinated development among different regions. Therefore, the final site will not be necessarily be located in an area under Beijing's jurisdiction," he added. Geographically, Beijing and Tianjian are almost completely surrounded by Hebei Province. Yang said late January that Beijing is expected to put the second international airport into use around 2015. The Beijing Capital International Airport, China's busiest, handled 53.47 million passengers last year, putting it among the world's 10 busiest. The airport opened its new Terminal 3 just a week ago, which is a major expansion project in preparation for the passenger surge during the Olympic Games in August. With a floor space of 986,000 square meters -- more than double the total area of the first two terminals -- the new building could be the largest of its kind in the world. The dragon-shaped building, built at a cost of 27 billion yuan ($3.8 billion), was designed by leading British architect Lord Foster and started construction on March 28, 2004. It will give the airport a handling capacity of 76 million passengers a year, more than double the previous 36 million. The airport is expected to receive about 5.56 million people during the Olympics period.

China Railway Construction shares disappointed on their Shanghai debut yesterday, dampening sentiment in the already-jittery mainland markets.

China Courts struggling to meet public's rising demands - China confronts a big gap between citizens' rising demands for legal protection and a court system struggling with inefficiency and poorly trained judges. Supreme People's Court president Xiao Yang listed the courts' achievements in the past five years but said serious problems remained. "We must also soberly understand that there remains quite a stark contradiction at present between people's constantly growing demands on the judiciary and the abilities of the people's courts," he said. Under the Communist Party, there is no independence for the courts, prosecutors, police or judges, who answer to local party chiefs. But citizens are becoming increasingly vocal about their rights and in calls for accountability. Xiao said "the legal environment" had to be improved continuously to give more independence to courts, which are funded and effectively controlled by local governments. "We should repel all kinds of disruption to ensure the people's courts can hear cases independently, fairly and according to law," Xiao said.

Hostesses pose for a photo outside the Great Hall of the People as the National People's Congress meeting continued yesterday. While fun went on outside, delegates inside were considering weighty issues such as China's responsibilities on the global stage and domestic crime.

March 11, 2008

Hong Kong: Charlie Chan, Hong Kong movie star Jackie Chan's father, was laid buried in Gungahlin Cemetery in north Canberra Saturday noon after a funeral was held in the morning in the DC Vine Function Center in Canberra. Jackie Chan and his family members, Charlie's friends and relatives and local celebrities attended the funeral. Charge d'affaires of Chinese Embassy Li Jiangning was also present. At the funeral service, Jackie Chan recalled his father's love to him and thanked the friends and relatives for the attendance of the funeral. The guests viewed Charlie Chan's life history in photographs and short screening of his life presented by Jackie Chan. Charlie Chan migrated to Australia from Hong Kong in late 1950s but left his young son Jackie in Hong Kong to continue his study. Charlie Chan passed away in Hong Kong on Feb. 26 at the age of 93.

Guo Qingping (right), chief of Bank of China Tianjin branch, talks to reporters yesterday in Beijing after the Tianjin delegation's panel discussion at the 11th NPC. Investors told HK stock trial "on track". Tianjin's mayor assured investors Sunday that the city's pilot program, allowing mainlanders to invest in Hong Kong-listed shares, is on track. "There's a lot of preparation involved. Risk assessment and research is under way to open the door for mainlanders to invest in the Hong Kong stock market," Huang Xingguo, mayor of Tianjin, said Sunday. "The project's going smoothly, but timing depends on central government approval. I can assure you that Tianjin's status as a pilot city (for financial reform) will not change," he said. The scheme is in line with the nation's economic development and investor demand and will be an effective way to bring in conversion of the renminbi via capital accounts, Guo Qingping, chief of Bank of China's (BOC) Tianjin branch, said on the sidelines of yesterday's NPC session. But authorities are cautious about rushing the program through, due to its complexity and risk. "One risk is hot money flowing into and out of the mainland," Guo said. BOC was originally expected to be the only financial institution providing the program, but Guo said the details are still being ironed out. The trial scheme was announced in August last year as a way to diversify mainland investor channels. But it's been put on hold amid the unfolding US subprime crisis and global stock market uncertainty. Preparation for the program includes payment systems, renminbi conversion, regulation changes as well as extensive risk assessment, Huang said. Liu Mingkang, chairman of the China Banking Regulatory Commission, told China Daily earlier that no timetable has been set for the pilot scheme, which will allow mainlanders to invest directly in Hong Kong-listed shares. The regulator stressed that more research into the system is needed. Meanwhile, a timetable is not yet available for Tianjin's new offshore financial center, which is also subject to further research, according to Guo from BOC.

Jackie Chan (2nd L) carries a portrait of his father Charlie as his son Jaycee (R) follows carrying a fishing rod, hat and pipe after a funeral service in Canberra March 8, 2008. Chan returned to his Australian roots on Saturday to bury his father alongside his mother almost six years after she died in Australia's capital. Chan's father Charlie died in a Hong Kong hospital on Feb. 26, aged 93, after battling prostate cancer. Chan brought his body back to Canberra to be laid to rest beside Lee Lee Chan, who died in 2002.

Shenzhen and Hong Kong have the potential to become the largest, most powerful metropolitan innovative zone in China, according to Shenzhen mayor Xu Zongheng. "There are many possibilities for cooperation between the two cities, especially in finance and boundary- crossing facilities," Xu said. The two cities could form an influential zone at regional and international levels, making the duo more competitive, along the lines of San Francisco and Boston in the United States. Cooperation between the two cities, he added, would be implemented in keeping with the "one country two systems" principle. Guangdong governor Huang Huahua, drawing a parallel between New York and New Jersey, described Shenzhen and Hong Kong as twin cities. Noting the completion of the environmental assessment of the Lok Ma Chau loop, Xu said: "It's time for the two governments to come up with development plans. I have my own ideas, but it's not appropriate for me to reveal much at this stage." He added there had been different proposals on development before, including those on hi-tech, software and finance. Both governments had claimed land ownership of the loop, but the issue has never been resolved, he said. In fact, the central government has been studying a Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau cooperation zone. Guangdong secretary Wang Yang had discussed the idea with the special administrative regions' chief executives last week in Beijing. Wang has been leading a study group on cooperation on trading, social and cultural aspects. Meanwhile, Xu admitted that, with the large transitional population of Shenzhen, he has difficulty in managing the city's public security because of the heavy flow of people and vehicles. "Our target is to make it the world's safest city," said Xu. Hopewell Holdings chairman Gordon Wu Ying-sheung said yesterday he cannot tell whether the 42.2 billion yuan (HK$46.2 billion), suggested by Guangdong governor Huang, is enough to build the Hong Kong-Zhuhai- Macau Bridge. However, he said that the bridge toll should be less than HK$300. On whether the developers need to take 36 years to recoup, Wu said he cannot tell as it would depend on traffic flow and the toll. "I am interested in investing in it, even if it takes 300 years to recoup," Wu said. Huang on Saturday revealed projections on the construction cost of the bridge and toll fees. The 42.2 billion yuan figure - which does not include the construction cost and operating boundary-crossing facilities and connecting roads - is higher than earlier estimates.

The annual civil service pension payment has doubled to more than HK$16 billion over the past decade, raising calls for reform to ease the burden on taxpayers.

Passengers feel the crush after fare reductions - The MTR's Admiralty station has always been packed during evening peak hours, but passengers say it is more so now.

China: China Communications Construction (SEHK: 1800) Co, the mainland's biggest port construction and design company, has targeted a fivefold increase in direct investment assets over the next five to 10 years to develop new earnings drivers. Beijing-based China Communications Construction would invest in infrastructure, land reclamation, property, mineral resources and pre-initial public offering projects, chairman Zhou Jichang said. "The company aims to have 100 billion yuan worth of direct investment assets over the next five to 10 years, from 20 billion yuan at present," Mr Zhou said. "Existing core businesses such as infrastructure design, infrastructure construction, dredging and the manufacture of port machinery will continue to provide stable income. But we're looking for direct investments that can generate higher returns," he said. China Communications Construction would invest in infrastructure projects under a build-transfer model in future, Mr Zhou said. This would involve selling the projects to the government after completion, as well as a build-operate-transfer model, in which it would run the projects for a while before the sale, he said. The new models will require the company to fund the construction and retrieve the capital and profit when the projects are sold. It also plans to invest in land reclamation and resale and is in talks to invest in several mining projects on the mainland and overseas, Mr Zhou said. "These types of investments are related to our existing business. For example, mining projects also involve the construction of infrastructure such as roads and ports, in which we have expertise and experience," he said. The new investments could generate medium to long-term returns Mr Zhou said, with build-transfer projects typically paying back investments over five years, land reclamation projects over two to three years, and build-operate-transfer or mining projects up to 10 years. The company will also make some pre-initial public offering investments by buying minority stakes in companies that are preparing to go public. "We've made such pre-listing investments before, such as in China Merchants Bank (SEHK: 3968) and Bank of China, which reaped handsome profits," Mr Zhou said. However, such pre-listing investments would comprise only 5 per cent of total direct investment assets, while long-term investment would make up 40 to 50 per cent and the remainder would be allocated to medium-term investment, he said. The company was also interested in investing in the cross-delta bridge linking Hong Kong, Macau and Zhuhai, Mr Zhou said. Last month, the three governments involved in the project finally agreed on funding arrangements to cover any shortfall between construction costs and investment by the private developer that wins the bid to build the bridge, 25 years after the idea was first proposed. "We could take part in the consortium or only bid as a builder, but we still need more details," Mr Zhou said. The five-year investment programme would require additional funding to be raised, Mr Zhou said. However, the company had no concrete fund-raising plans in place, he said.

Private entities urged to invest in railways - Minister of Railways has encouraged overseas and domestic private investors to get a share in the railways' as China accelerates the construction and reconstruction of its railway network.

Passengers check flight departure time at Shanghai Pudong International Airport on January 29. Domestic airports handled 387.59 million passengers in 2007, a growth of 16.8 percent year-on-year.

China's Liu Xiang runs with a national flag to celebrate his win of the men's 60m hurdles final at the 12th IAAF World Indoor Athletics Championship in Valencia March 8, 2008. Liu clocked 7.46 seconds to claim his first indoor title.

Protectionism was behind rising fears overseas over the set-up of China's sovereign wealth fund, the vice general manager of China Investment Corp, Jesse Wong Jianxi, told The Standard. Wang for the first time addressed the latest criticisms facing the sovereign fund of the world's fastest-growing economy. CIC manages the mainland's US$200 billion (HK$1.56 trillion) sovereign wealth fund. He said the mainland's fund is very similar to other foreign public pension funds or college pension funds, adopting a diversified, long-term and passive investment strategy. "You cannot compare us with hedge funds. Our investments in Blackstone and Morgan Stanley demonstrated our policy," he said. Wang, who accompanied CIC chairman Lou Jiwei on trips to the United States and Europe last year, said he saw no rules limiting SWF investments during the visits. But the doubts and queries from foreign governments on SWFs sparked by CIC's buying of a stake in Blackstone made him suspect they were somewhat related to protectionism. Meanwhile, despite the sovereign fund needing to make its first interest payment due February 29, Wang denied CIC has any plans to sell its stakes in three major mainland banks. "The stakes in Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (1398), Bank of China (3988) and China Construction Bank (0939) will remain as long-term investments, according to the State Council, and I see no changes to the policy so far," Wang said. CIC currently holds a 35.3 percent interest in ICBC, a 67.49 percent stake in BOC and 67.98 percent of CCB. It also indirectly holds stakes in eight securities firms, including CITIC Securities and Shenyin Wanguo. For the 1.55 trillion yuan (HK$1.7 trillion) that CIC borrowed from China's central bank and the market last year for operating capital, annual interest payment would be about US$8 billion. With only the bank shares, the market estimates that CIC is entitled to dividends amounting up to 55 billion yuan, or US$7.8 billion - almost enough to cover the interest payment - after the valuation of those lenders tripled. However, Wang has not denied the sovereign wealth fund manager might have plans to sell its stakes in the securities firms, held through CIC subsidiary Central Huijin.

China's labor minister admitted yesterday the booming economy faced a "very severe" unemployment situation as millions of new job seekers join the market every year. The flood of new entrants in both urban and rural areas will continue for a long time, Labor and Social Security Minister Tian Chengping said. "The employment situation that we are currently facing is very severe. The main reason is that 20 million new job seekers emerge every year in the countryside and in the cities. This will continue for a very long time." Tian said measures to deal with the problem included encouraging more start-ups and providing retraining for workers with outdated skills. Premier Wen Jiabao has called for more measures to increase jobs, saying the urban jobless rate should be kept below 4.5 percent this year, compared with a 4.6 percent target last year. "We must redouble our efforts to increase employment, a matter that is crucial to people's well-being," Wen said in his annual work report. Unemployment and inflation are the two top priorities for policy makers, because they affect, or threaten to affect, a large proportion of the population. The main reason the government is targeting at least 8 percent growth every year is to ensure enough new jobs will be created to avoid social unrest. There is no clear picture of the extent of the jobless issue, as unemployment statistics are notoriously unreliable, and probably higher than the 4 percent reported for the end of last year. They tend to understate the true scale of the problem by, for instance, not counting rural unemployment or workers fired from state-owned firms.

China's stock market may have come off the boil but hot money is still likely to be attracted by the appreciating currency and comparatively high interest rates, senior officials said. Last year, China abandoned its strategy of keeping yuan interest rates below those of the US dollar in an attempt to cool down stock and property markets that were sucking in money. But the weak outlook for other markets because of the US subprime crisis, combined with aggressive US rate cuts, have made mainland markets attractive again. "Though China's stock market also suffered some losses due to the global turbulence, I think people in the market, by making comparisons, will prefer to put their money in places where the impact is relatively small," Sun Gongsheng, head of the Nanjing branches of the People's Bank of China and the State Administration of Foreign Exchange, said on the NPC sidelines. China's robust economic outlook also makes it attractive to international speculators. The central bank raised benchmark interest rates six times last year, which, together with other cooling policies, has brought the main stock index down 30 percent from its October 16 peak. China's foreign exchange reserves jumped by a record US$61.6 billion (HK$480.48 billion) in January to reach US$1.59 trillion, renewing the debate on whether Beijing is attracting new flows of speculative money. The increase was twice as great as the combined inflows from the trade surplus and foreign direct investment in the month. There is now about US$500 billion of hot money in China, former statistics chief Li Deshui has estimated. "Many new changes have happened recently on the global market. And Chinese stocks and property are still one of the few harbors for global capital," Li said. "We still haven't dampened overexpectations on the yuan's rise and have not effectively controlled large amounts of illegal hot money inflows. Otherwise, our international payments imbalance and excess liquidity will get worse.

Manufacturers were wrong to blame the new labour contract law for the rising cost of production, Vice-Minister of Labour Sun Baoshu said yesterday. Mr Sun rejected calls to amend the legislation, which came into effect in January, and said the issue now had the "full enforcement" of the law. Speaking on the sidelines of the National People's Congress, Mr Sun said manufacturers complained of pressure only because they had violated the legal rights of their workers for years and misunderstood the law. "There are companies that sought to maximise their profits by cutting costs," he said, adding that in the process these companies had exploited workers. "This is not good, and [in some cases they have] broken the law," he said. For example, he said the provision that required employers to sign open-ended contracts with staff did not mean employers must offer them "iron rice bowls" - a job for life. "The open-term contract is by no means an iron rice bowl," he said. "It will not lead to rigidity in the labour market. "I think these concerns are a result of incomplete or inaccurate understanding," Mr Sun said. "It won't affect the investment environment. On the contrary, it will improve it." Investors and manufacturers have expressed strong concern about the labour contract law, saying it will lead to bankruptcies and business closures. Zhang Yin , one of the mainland's richest businesswomen and a delegate to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, has formally asked the NPC to amend the clause on open-ended contracts and replace it with fixed-term labour contracts. Yesterday, Ms Zhang declined to comment on Mr Sun's remarks, saying she was only expressing her view as an entrepreneur with her proposal to the NPC. Mr Sun said the government would step up public education about the new law and strengthen supervision of its implementation and arbitration relating to it. The Guangdong People's Congress chairman, Ou Guangyuan , said yesterday in Beijing that Guangdong province - a key centre for overseas and Hong Kong manufacturers - would soon promulgate detailed rules for implementation of the labour contract law. Speaking at the same press conference as Mr Sun, Minister of Labour and Social Security Tian Chengping said finding enough posts for job seekers remained a formidable challenge for his ministry. He said the mainland each year saw more than 20 million new job seekers - school leavers and rural migrants seeking work in cities - competing for about 12 million vacancies. He said he expected to reduce the urban registered unemployment rate to 4.5 per cent this year, a 0.5 per cent year on year rise when compared with 2007.

March 10, 2008

Hong Kong: The cargo throughput handled by Hong Kong in 2007 rose 3 percent year on year to 245.4 million tons, the Census and Statistics Department of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government said Friday. Within this total, inward port cargo recorded little change at 141.3 million tons, while outward port cargo grew by 8 percent to 104.1 million tons, the Census and Statistics Department said. Total port cargo throughput in the fourth quarter rose 7 percent year on year to 65 million tons, within which inward cargo rose by 2 percent to 36.7 million tons, while outward port cargo added 13 percent to 28.3 million tons.

The foreign currency reserves of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) rose to US$160.3 billion at the end of February, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority said Friday. The latest figure, representing an increase of US$0.4 billion from a month earlier, made Hong Kong the ninth largest holder of foreign reserves among the world's economies, after the Chinese mainland, Japan, Russia, India, Taiwan, South Korea, Brazil and Singapore. Hong Kong and Taiwan, both Chinese territories, are taken as separate economies. The current foreign reserves were about 7 times the currency in circulation in Hong Kong, or 38 percent of the HK dollar M3, the broadest measure used by economists to estimate the entire money supply within an economy. Hong Kong has been maintaining a currency peg to the US dollar for quite a long time at the fixed rate of HK$7.8 to 1 US dollar.

Wine lovers are lapping up the government's no-duty rule, drinking New Zealand's Feltan Road Pinot Noir 2006 at HK$365 a bottle instead of HK$458. Watson's Wine Cellar, in a full-page ad in The Standard yesterday, urged wine lovers to enjoy more of their favorite wine for less. But the drop in wine duty from 80 percent to zero has sent shocks through wine retailers still sitting on duty-paid inventory. "Those with dutied stock bought before the wine tax reduction will have a tough time," Annett Pocklington of hotel and restaurant supplier Kedington Wines said. While retailers able to offload stock the minute it arrived can comfortably lower prices, those stuck with inventory bought under the previous 40 percent and 80 percent duties are having trouble keeping up with the price cuts, she said. Gregory De'eb of Crown Wine Cellars said the pressure to keep up with competitors for those still holding on to dutied inventory meant that some merchants will have to write off 20 percent of their income this year, with many taking huge losses. Boris De Vroomen, co-chairman of the Hong Kong Wine and Spirits Industry Coalition and managing director of Moet Hennessy Diageo Hong Kong, said many members are in the same position, but stressed the problem is only short term. Head sommelier Cedric Bilien of the Four Seasons Hotel said his hotel is still reworking prices. With only a week passed since the no-tax announcement, retailers across the city have lowered prices. Farr Vintners Hong Kong has reduced prices for its array of fine Bordeaux by 15 percent to 30 percent while Berry Brothers & Rudd has an across- the-board price cut of 22 percent. ParknShop has also cut prices on all wines by 28 percent and Watson's Wine Cellar from 20 percent to 25 percent. Retail shop Ponti is offering discounts of up to 45 percent and Kedington Wines is planning to reduce some prices by 20 percent. Watson's Wine Cellar fine wine manager Eric Desgouttes said the territory is well on its way to becoming the only real duty-free wine zone in the world. The territory's recent move to remove its wine tax has also drawn immense international interest. New York auction house Acker Merral & Condit is planning a wine auction at the Island Shangri-La Hotel on May 31, billed as the biggest auction in Asia, De Vroomen said. The wine collection is estimated at over HK$20 million. British auction house Bonhams will also be holding an event next month, showcasing a magnum of Screaming Eagle 1992 valued at just under HK$70,000.

China's central government gives all-out support to Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and Edmund Ho Hau Wah, chief executives of the Hong Kong and Macao special administrative regions (SAR), and their government work, top legislator Wu Bangguo said Friday. Wu, chairman of the Standing Committee of the 10th National People's Congress (NPC), made the remarks while joining a panel discussion of NPC deputies from Hong Kong and Macao at the parliamentary session. "The central government will continue implementing the 'one country, two systems' policy unwaveringly, enhance communication with the two SARs, and help them pursue a better future," he said. Noting that Hong Kong and Macao have made great economic, social and democratic progress, Wu urged Hong Kong and Macao people to support their governments' work and boost social harmony.

Several leading Hong Kong developers had made bids for the tender to develop part of the former Kai Tak airport site as a cruise terminal, Hong Kong media reported on Friday. Details on who had won the tender were not available immediately after the tender deadline passed on Friday afternoon. The project aims to create a world-class cruise terminal. A number of well-known companies were believed to be interested, government sources, quoted in the local media, said. Sun Hung Kai Properties (SEHK: 0016) wanted to team up with Star Cruises (SEHK: 0678), VXL Capital and Nan Fung Development to bid for the Kai Tak cruise terminal, SHKP executive director Mick Wong Chik-wing confirmed on Thursday. Another developer, Cheung Kong (Holdings) (SEHK: 0001), had joined up with Ceres Terminals Inc (CTI) in a separate bid, according to media reports. CTI is one of the largest stevedores and marine terminal operators in North America. A statement from Cheung Kong said CTI would manage terminal operations if they won the tender. Government sources said a number of developers had bid for the tender. It is understood that besides the large developers, some medium-sized developers and a United States cruise company, Royal Caribbean, had also shown interest. Bidders were expected to have a minimum of three years’ direct experience in running a cruise terminal. At least, 200,000 people are expected to be arriving and departing as passengers at the terminal each year. The government will adopt a two-pronged tender approach, with a 70 per cent weighting given to the quality aspects and 30 per cent to land premium aspects in assessing the bids. Situated at the tip of the old Kai Tak airport runway, the first phase of the terminal is scheduled to be completed by 2012. The terminal will include customs and baggage handling areas and three landscaped decks. The project will feature a cruise terminal building for hotels, convention halls, offices, shops and dining locations with a floor area of not more than 50,000 square metres (550,000 square feet). There would also be about 30,000 square metres of space for baggage handling, passenger waiting and queuing, customs, immigration and a health quarantine area, the Lands Department has said. The government has estimated that construction costs of the terminal building wouls be about HK$3.2 billion. Tenders will have to pay premium for a 50-year lease and the right to operate. The successful bidder would design, build and operate the new cruise facilities for 50 years, starting with the first berth in February 2012.

Hong Kong blue chips fell sharply on Friday, joining other Asian markets in recording heavy losses as more negative news from the United States on Thursday spooked investors, who sought to lighten their exposure before the weekend. The benchmark Hang Seng Index ended 3.6 per cent lower at 22,501.33, nearly matching February 11’s sharp decline. The H-share index finished 3.5 per cent lower at 12,606.83. Buyers were few before the scheduled release later in the day of US non-farm payrolls data. Heavyweight global bank HSBC Holdings (SEHK: 0005, announcements, news) tracked global financials lower, as the US mortgage market woes piled higher and the resulting credit crunch worsened. Private equity groups dealt with margin calls and mortgage lenders struggled with their financing. Asian stocks as a whole fell nearly 3 per cent on Friday, heading for their biggest weekly slide this year, weighed on by credit-related losses, a record low dollar and the US economy’s fall towards recession. Some analysts now say a recession in Japan is not far behind. The country’s central bank on Friday lowered its assessment of the world’s second-biggest economy, a challenge that newly proposed Bank of Japan Governor Toshiro Muto may have to face. The US dollar hit all-time lows against the euro and a basket of currencies and a three-year low against the yen, with some traders even speculating on emergency US rate cuts from the Federal Reserve. Making it worse, oil prices held near a record US$106 per barrel on the back of the falling US currency, reinforcing concerns that surging commodity prices will fuel inflationary pressures at a time of slowing global growth. Bonds across the region gained, with Japanese government bond futures hitting a two and a half-year high as investors opted for safety. “There is a huge element of panic out there,” said Angus Gluskie, portfolio manager at White Funds Management in Sydney. “Previously the concerns were broadly on financials but people are now latching on the fact that there are significant global growth issues that we are up against.” The MSCI measure of Asia-Pacific stocks excluding Japan touched its lowest since February 12, and was trading down 2.8 per cent in afternoon trade. The index had lost 5.6 per cent this week as of late trade on Friday, heading towards its worst weekly loss since mid-August. Asian stocks have lost about 14 per cent this year, managing a gain in only two out of 10 trading weeks. Japan’s benchmark Nikkei average hit a six-week low, ending down 3.3 per cent, while shares in India and Australia were also down more than 3 per cent each. Hong Kong stocks were down 2.9 per cent. Shares in South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, and China were down 1 per cent to 2 per cent each. Shares of financial firms dropped, with Japan’s Mitsubishi UFJ down 4.2 per cent, after Thornburg Mortgage said it failed to meet a margin call, sparking fears the high-profile US mortgage lender might go bankrupt. Exporters such as Toyota Motor were also pressured as Asian currencies firmed against the ailing dollar, which can hit earnings from abroad when converted into Japanese yen or South Korean won, and erode export competitiveness. Concerns about a slowing global economy are being compounded by surging commodity prices, leaving some central banks around the world dealing with the prospects of slowing growth yet rising inflation, known as stagflation. The Federal Reserve ran the risk of feeding inflation if it concentrated too much on protecting the US economy from a slowdown, St Louis Federal Reserve President William Poole said on Thursday. The problem is being felt in Asia as well. South Korea’s central bank unleashed a barrage of warnings on inflation after holding interest rates steady on Friday. As widely expected, the BOJ left its interest rate target unchanged at 0.5 per cent at Governor Toshihiko Fukui’s last policy meeting, with his ambition for higher rates stymied by the global credit mess. Mr Muto, who was proposed as the government on Friday as Mr Fukui’s replacement, may now have to face these challenges, though his appointment is uncertain given an opposition wary of his close government ties. The euro pushed up to a record high of US$1.5405 to the dollar on Friday, its highest level since its launch in 1999, after the European Central Bank played down the prospects of an interest rate cut. The dollar also fell to an all-time low of 72.812 against a trade-weighted basket of leading currencies and a new three-year low of 102.45 yen. US crude futures were steady at US$105.55 in Asian trade, close to the record US$105.97 hit on Thursday, on the back of a weak dollar and a decision by the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to hold output steady. But bonds gained, as they tend to do in uncertain times, with Japan’s March 10-year futures rising as high as 139.50, their highest since September 2005.

The head of British-based bank Standard Chartered on Friday said he saw the present global market turbulence continuing for several more months. “The financial markets’ problems are starting to affect the real economy,” Peter Sands, chief executive of the London-based bank, told a news conference, adding that “many problems” still needed to be resolved in that regard. But Mr Sands said Standard Chartered would keep looking at further opportunities to for acquisitions. “We will keep investing to continue rapid growth,” he said. Standard Chartered beat forecasts with a 27 per cent rise in profits for last year announced last week. The bank took a US$300 million write-down on its exposure to risky assets for last year, a modest total compared to losses at other major banks. The write-down included a US$116 million hit on its Whistlejacket structured investment vehicle. “We now have minimal financial exposure to Whistlejacket,” Mr Sands said on Friday. Mr Sands also said the company did not plan to re-list Seoul-based SC First Bank, which it acquired in 2005 for US$3.3 billion. South Korea, where Standard Chartered made its biggest-ever acquisition in 2005, remained a problem area last year, with profits tumbling 29 per cent. The Korean results were the one blemish in an otherwise stellar year. Profits from Hong Kong jumped one-third last year while earnings in the mainland rose 72 per cent and Indian profits 71 per cent. Mr Sands reiterated his confidence in the Korean unit. “I see SC First Bank as being a really sustained source of strong profit growth for the group,” he said. Standard Chartered in January bought a mutual savings bank from Korea’s government restructuring agency for a reported sum of about US$160 million. Standard Chartered is also reported to have bid for Hannuri Investment and Securities and LIG Life Insurance last year. Both were snapped up by rivals. Mr Sands reiterated his group’s interest in forming a holding company in Korea as part of efforts to strengthen brokerage and insurance businesses. A holding company format would help sell financial products and transfer staff under the group, and be in line with government wishes, the company has said in the past.

Taiwan's presidential hopefuls face off on Sunday in their final debate before the March 22 vote, with frontrunner Ma Ying-jeou likely to come under fire for favoring closer ties with China, analysts say. Mr Ma, a former Taipei mayor standing for the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) party, has a comfortable 20-point lead over former premier Frank Hsieh of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), latest polls show. The Hong Kong-born and Harvard-educated Ma is heavily favored to succeed outgoing independence-leaning President Chen Shui-bian, especially after the Kuomintang crushed Chen’s DPP in January parliamentary elections. But analysts say Mr Hsieh is hoping to use the debate, less than two weeks before the presidential polls, to cut into Ma’s lead by slamming his plans for stronger trade ties with China, which sees Taiwan as part of its territory. “Hsieh may target the KMT presidential ticket’s proposal for setting up a ‘common market’ with China,” said Liu Bih-rong, a political science professor at Soochow University. Mr Ma says the plan is aimed at revitalizing the island’s flagging economy – a key concern for voters – but Hsieh has said it would be tantamount to creating a single “China market” that would undermine Taiwan’s sovereignty. “The 200 million jobless Chinese could flock to Taiwan... and lots of people here would lose their jobs,” Mr Hsieh told supporters at a rally in Taipei this week. Lee Shiao-feng, a professor at the National Taipei University of Education, agreed that Hsieh’s best bet on Sunday will be to attack Ma on his China policy, in a bid to win over pro-independence voters. He said the DPP’s television ad on the “common market” had “impressed a lot of people because they realized the issue could affect how they live in the future.” “Hsieh may also continue to question Ma’s integrity and his loyalty towards Taiwan,” Mr Liu noted. Mr Ma has pledged to make the economy the focus of the debate – a shrewd strategy, analysts say, as the KMT rode promises of improved growth and job creation to victory in January, winning an overwhelming parliamentary majority. Mr Ma has promised annual growth of six per cent, up from the current estimated 4.5 per cent, and a three per cent drop in unemployment within eight years if elected. He and running mate Vincent Siew have pledged to bolster economic, trade, tourism and civic exchanges with mainland China. Beijing and Taipei have been bitter rivals since their split in 1949 at the end of a civil war. Taiwan has since banned direct trade and transport exchanges but began liberalizing mainland-bound investments in the early 1990s. Mr Ma has pledged to allow more Chinese tourists to visit the island, and vowed to seek talks with Beijing on re-establishing direct air links soon after taking office if elected. The two candidates will answer questions from journalists before grilling each other during the 2.5-hour debate, organizers said. “Since Ma has gained the upper hand in the race, he is not going to go on the offensive in the debate or in the last days of campaigning,” predicted George Tsai, a political science professor at Chinese Culture University. “All he has to do is to defend his gains.” Mr Chen will retire after his second and last four-year term ends in May.

China: A selection of 21 recent French films will be shown at the Fifth French Film Panorama, which is to open in Beijing on April 10, according to the French Embassy to China. The program will include nine long movies, such as "Asterix auxJeux Olympiques," directed by Thomas Langmann and Frederic Forestier; "Ce que mes yeux ont vu," directed by Laurent de Bartillat; "Chasseurs de Dragons," directed by Arthur Qwak and Guillaume Iverne and "L'Heure Zero," directed by Pascal Thomas. Twelve short films will also be shown, including Cyril Paris's "Un bisou pour le monde," Brunon Danan's "Bonne nuit Malik," Yohann Gloaguen's "Comme un air" and Alice Winocour's "Kitchen". The films will be in French language with Chinese subtitles. A delegation of a dozen French directors and actors, as well as film distributors and producers, will visit China during the festival to promote the films and meet the press and the Chinese audience. The annual event, co-organized by Unifrance, which promotes French cinema worldwide, along with the French Embassy to China and the French Cultural Center, will close in Shanghai on April 21.

China faces growing pressure for prices to rise due to food shortages and a credit boom, but financial officials are confident inflation can be held to its target of 4.8 percent this year. "We will face increasing pressure for price rises, and they need to have our full attention because they have a direct bearing on the performance of our economy," Ma Kai, chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission, said yesterday. Inflation "will be the No1 item on our agenda. We have the means to achieve the targets." Analysts are skeptical that Beijing can meet the goal announced by Premier Wen Jiabao on Wednesday after inflation soared to 7.1 percent in January, its highest level in 11 years. Party leaders worry about any possible fallout from rapid price rises, especially for food, that have battered consumers and threaten to erode rising living standards. Beijing will maintain a tight monetary policy while trying to ensure food supplies, said Ma, who appeared with Finance Minister Xie Xuren and the governor of the central bank, Zhou Xiaochuan. "We will use finance and taxation as leverage to vigorously support production of grain, meat, cooking oil and vegetables, ensure the supply of daily necessities and hold down price rises." This year's snowstorms have worsened food shortages, adding to price pressure and inflation worries. Beijing has yet to report February inflation, but the deputy director of the statistics agency, Lin Xianyu, said it is likely to match January's rate. Deutsche Bank's Jun Ma said February's rate should top 8 percent, while full-year inflation should hit 6.4 percent. "We think the government is too optimistic," Ma said. "We believe that the government is still underestimating the risk of inflation - as it did in the past six months." Monetary policy "remains overly relaxed" and the central bank could raise interest rates once February data are reported, Ma added. Beijing has hiked rates repeatedly over the past two years to tackle a boom in bank lending and investment that helped to drive economic growth to 11.4 percent last year.

Chinese President Hu Jintao met here on Friday with former U.S. President George Bush. Hailing the progress of China-U.S. relations in recent years, Hu said that to develop healthy, stable bilateral ties was in the common interest of both sides and had great significance for peace and development of the Asian-Pacific region and the world at large. China was willing to properly handle divergence and major concerns through dialogue and beef up bilateral exchanges and cooperation on the basis of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit, Hu said. He said that he appreciated Bush's efforts to boost China-U.S. friendship. He also briefed the former U.S. leader about China's stance on the Taiwan issue and its preparations for the Beijing Olympic Games. Calling U.S.-China relations one of the world's most important bilateral ties, Bush said that he was happy with the development of the progress of bilateral relations and expressed confidence that there would be even closer ties with China. As the honorary president of the U.S. delegation for the Olympic Games, Bush said he expected to be back in China in August to watch the Games. Calling the Olympics a world sports festival, Bush said that he opposed politicizing the event and expected a complete success for the Games.

Australian’s AED Oil, which has struggled with falling production and unpaid debt, on Friday said it had sold a 60 per cent interest in its assets to Sinopec (SEHK: 0386) for A$600 million (HK$4.3 billion). AED said in a statement that the deal valued all its assets, which include the Puffin and Talbot oil fields off northwest Australia, at about A$1 billion. “It looks like a good deal, good enough to get them out of jail because they were really stuck between a rock and a hard place with their poor production rates and overdue debts,” said Johan Hedstrom, a resource analyst at Bell Potter Securities. “I’m sure the share price will react positively to the news but it probably won’t be euphoric because AED will be a much smaller company and they won’t be calling the shots anymore.” Sinopec, Asia’s top oil refiner and a wholly owned unit of state-owned China Petrochemical Corp, would be the operator of the joint venture, AED said. Shares in Hong-Kong listed Sinopec were down 7.2 per cent at HK$7.59 in early trade. The fall came after Goldman Sachs downgraded the stock to neutral from buy, citing margins squeeze as adjustments to domestic refined products are seen lagging projected oil price increases. Prospects for oil product price increases in China this year were ”improbable” as inflation remained a top concern for Beijing this year, the bank said in a research report dated Friday. AED became an investor favourite last year after it said it was likely to have as much as 100 million barrels of recoverable oil at Puffin and Talbot, up sharply from an earlier estimate of 40 million barrels. But its stock has plunged from a record A$11.40 in October as technical problems slashed output from Puffin North East to just 6,000 to 10,000 barrels per day, well short of its initial forecast of 30,000 bpd. The stock took a further hit after Norwegian oil services firm AGR Group last month saidAED was overdue in paying an AGR subsidiary about A$41.5 million. The shares, which have been on a trading halt since February 28, last traded at A$1.85. Trade will resume on Monday. “AED will utilise the funds received from the transaction to retire debt, settle its creditors and fund its joint venture interest and development opportunities,” AED said in a statement. AED said it also planned to work with Sinopec to seek other project opportunities in the region. The deal is subject to regulatory approvals from the Chinese government and from the government of Australia’s Northern Territory.

Chinese basketball superstar Yao Ming promised his countrymen he would do his utmost to recover from a broken foot that has cast doubt on his role at the Beijing Olympics. “I will definitely make the greatest effort possible to recover from this difficulty and don the national uniform in the best possible physical condition for the Beijing 2008 Olympics campaign,” the Houston Rockets centre said in a letter issued through Chinese media. On Monday, Yao underwent surgery on the stress fracture in his left foot, which the Rockets described as successful. He is expected to have to wait three to four months before beginning rehab, leaving little over a month to prepare for the Games which open on August 8. The injury has caused much hand-wringing in China amid fears that the lynchpin of the nation’s basketball medal hopes might not be at his best during the Games. China also had been promoting the globally popular Yao as one of the key faces of the Olympics. Yao has said he hopes to be ready in time. “So far, the operation has been a great success and soon I will begin physical therapy and rehabilitation,” Yao said. He added that his confidence was buoyed by the timely discovery of the injury and the top-quality care he has been provided by the Rockets. The self-effacing Yao also thanked Chinese fans for their support, calling it a crucial part of his success. “You have not hesitated to give me tremendous support and encouragement, constantly driving me forward. Amid this, I want to say to everyone: thanks for your concern and support.” The Rockets had won 12 games in a row before Yao’s injury was discovered, but the absence of their star centre hasn’t slowed them one bit. Houston stretched that streak to 17 with a 116-110 win over Western Conference rivals the Dallas Mavericks on Friday (Hong Kong time).

Shanghai has applied to the central government to build its own Disneyland, Mayor Han Zheng said on Thursday, ending long-standing speculation on whether it would opt for such a park. It would be the third Disneyland in Asia after Japan and Hong Kong. Plans for a Shanghai Disneyland emerged in 2005 but were suspended when the city’s Communist Party boss, Chen Liangyu, was implicated in a corruption investigation in 2006. Recent state media reports had said that while Shanghai still planned to build a major theme park by 2020, it had yet to decide on any specific project. “We have applied to the National Development and Reform Commission [the economic planning agency], but so far we have not received any notice of approval,” Mr Han told reporters on the sidelines of the annual session of parliament. “Any big-scale project of this kind has to receive central government approval, and Shanghai will of course abide by the central government’s decision,” he said, adding that the location of the proposed park was not yet fixed. Walt Disney Company signed a statement of intent to build a Disneyland on the mainland in 2002, and then set up a venture to develop the site, which would be about 4.7 times the size of Hong Kong’s Disneyland. The plan was soon suspended, partly because of concerns that the Hong Kong park, which opened in 2005, would suffer, state-owned newspapers have reported. Hong Kong’s Disneyland has struggled since opening in 2005, falling well short of attendance targets. The park had around four million visitors in its second year of operation, a drop of more than 20 per cent from its first year.

Mao Zedong's family and descendants still command great media attention at the annual meeting of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. Replacing his mother - Mao's daughter-in-law Shao Hua - as a CPPCC delegate, 38-year-old Mao Xinyu was mobbed by reporters yesterday as he attended a CPPCC discussion group for the first time. Senior Colonel Mao, a researcher at the Academy of Military Science, walked and talked casually. But he appeared uncomfortable when confronted by dozens of microphones and cameras. He said improving the military's weaponry was one of his areas of concern. And he emphasised the importance of following principles set down by his grandfather. "It was a wise decision of Chairman Mao to propel technological development through defence build-up. We should deepen development based on the foundation of current achievements," he said. Senior Colonel Mao stressed the need for China to continue developing space technology, since space would be a very important battleground in the future.

Beijing citizens planning to celebrate the "People's Olympics" by becoming the first to stage an event in the showpiece Bird's Nest stadium had their dreams dashed yesterday. The Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (Bocog) announced further delays to the opening date, citing finishing touches. But officials guaranteed the scheduled test events, including a competitive marathon and an athletics meeting in late April and May would go ahead. However, 20,000 Beijingers planning to finish a fun run on the newly laid track to celebrate the stadium's completion will miss their chance to make history. "The main structure's completed but the finishing touches and the requirements of the opening and closing ceremonies mean it will be not be ready until April," said Sun Weide, of Bocog. He added: "But it will be ready for the first test event." The 91,000-seater stadium was due for completion along with the other 35 venues by the end of last year, but preparations for the opening and closing ceremonies caused an initial delay until the end of March. Zhang Hengli, the deputy general manager of the company that owns the HK$3 billion-plus property, also assured the test events would not be affected. But he ruled out the planned public event that was due to take place in early April. "Other than two April test events and a further one in May, we will not be playing host to any other events in the run-up to the Games," Zhang told the SCMP last night. Sun Kanglin, the chief of the Beijing Municipal Sports Administration, said in January that more than 20,000 Beijing residents would be allowed access into the Bird's Nest for the final laps of their fun marathon, an event, he said, that was to symbolise the People's Olympics theme.

Children wrap dumplings together with their moms at the Golden Dock Bilingual Art Kindergarten in Caohu, East China's Anhui Province, March 6, 2008.

March 8 - 9, 2008

Hong Kong: Hongkong Electric Holdings (0006), benefiting from higher than expected electricity sales and investment income last year, recorded an 8.9 percent increase in net profit to HK$7.45 billion, or HK$3.49 per share.

President Hu Jintao Thursday urged Hong Kong and Macao to seek further progress in economic and democratic development. He made the remarks while meeting 280 deputies to the National People's Congress and members of the National Committee of Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) from the two special administrative regions at the Great Hall of the People. Both governments should "work hard with local people to concentrate on developing their economies, effectively improve people's livelihood, advance democracy step by step and promote social harmony in a tolerant atmosphere", he said. "History has proved that the principle of 'one country, two systems' ... is absolutely correct, and our compatriots from Hong Kong and Macao have the wisdom and capability to pursue a better future," he said. "A strong motherland will always provide strong backing for the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong and Macao," Hu said. He stressed that all central government policies toward Hong Kong and Macao are for the good of the two regions, their residents, and for their future well-being. The president also extended his gratitude to Hong Kong and Macao people for their contributions in helping the mainland combat this year's winter disasters, saying it proves that "blood is thicker than water". Jia Qinglin, chairman of the CPPCC National Committee, joined panel discussions with political advisors from Hong Kong and Macao in the morning. He said maintaining long-term prosperity and stability in the two regions is an important task the Communist Party of China faces in the new era, which is closely connected to the basic interests of Hong Kong and Macao compatriots.

Tung Chee-Hwa (L), vice chairman of the 10th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and former and the first chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), joins in the panel discussion of Hong Kong delegation on the opening day of the First Session of the 11th NPC in Beijing, China, March 5, 2008.

Bucking tradition, Sun Hung Kai Properties (0016) held its results announcement yesterday with all three Kwok brothers conspicuous by their absence. Whether the absence of Walter, Thomas and Raymond Kwok was the right move from a public relations perspective, an expert in the field said a no- show at such a critical moment may cause some damage to SHKP's corporate image by arousing even more doubts and speculation. "But it may be too risky otherwise as the Kwoks' reaction to potentially irritating questions is totally unpredictable," one PR expert told The Standard. However, he added: "This is all they can do for now." Another PR expert said the brothers' refusal to front the results announcement might prove to be the best strategy for damage control. The news briefing to announce a 17 percent growth in the city's largest developer's half-year core earnings was held at 5pm yesterday, but SHKP was unable to confirm the go-ahead until just three hours earlier. Director Thomas Chan Kui-yuen hosted the conference on behalf of Walter Kwok Ping-sheung, the chairman who is on leave. Last month, The Standard exclusively revealed Kwok was forced to take a sabbatical by his mother over the increasing influence of a female friend in the company. To explain the three siblings' absence, director Michael Wong Yick- kam said the developer wanted to clearly separate company matters from personal issues. "The board has passed a resolution that the two vice chairmen, Raymond and Thomas, would step aside from the event," Wong said. The company apologized for the briefing's arrangement, but emphasized its operations are not affected by the controversy surrounding Walter Kwok. But, as expected, reporters threw questions about the missing targets, including requests for clarification to reports that SHKP had made some suspicious deals that strayed from its known conservative strategy. In particular, as Wong confirmed, the company was the purchaser in September of Oterprise Square, an office-retail complex in Tsim Sha Tsui, paying HK$2 billion - more than what market watchers thought the property was worth. Wong stressed it was the Kwok family - and not SHKP - that acquired the Express by Holiday Inn Hotel in Causeway Bay late last year for HK$1.58 billion. "Buying a completed hotel is not our strategy," he added. In its interim results, the company posted a 24.9 percent increase in net profit to HK$13.63 billion, or HK$17.26 per share, for the six months ended December 31, buoyed by investment valuation gains. Underlying profit was a better-than- expected HK$6.2 billion, attributable to the sale of flats at higher margins and strong rental income. SHKP will pay an interim dividend of 80 HK cents per share, up 10 HK cents from last year.

PCCW (0008) reported net profit rose 20 percent to HK$1.503 billion, broadly in line with forecasts, after its mobile business broke even a year ahead of schedule. Revenue at billionaire Richard Li Tzar-kai's telecoms flagship fell 7 percent to HK$23.715 billion on lower contributions from property unit Pacific Century Premium Developments (0432). Revenue from PCCW's core businesses, which excludes the PCPD contributions, rose 12 percent to HK$20.581 billion. Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization at PCCW's fixed-line business rose 6 percent to HK$7.435 billion after it maintained market share and raised prices for business customers. PCCW's mobile unit swung to an Ebitda gain in the second half of the year and exactly broke even for the year, improving from the HK$186 million Ebitda loss recorded in 2006. The company's pay-TV unit, Now TV, increased its number of customers by 16 percent to 882,000 as of the end of December. The number of subscribers paying for TV content rose 25 percent to 628,000. A final dividend of 13.5 HK cents per share was declared. Net profit at property unit Pacific Century Regional Developments fell 19 percent to HK$784 million. PCPD declared no final dividend. Group managing director Alex Arena confirmed a consortium including PCCW received a fixed-line license last week from the Saudi Arabian government. PCCW is the operating partner and has a minority stake in the venture, he said. Broadband Internet services will "definitely" be part of the company's offerings in Saudi Arabia, he added. "We do have some good prospects, not only domestically," Arena said.

Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen will lead a trade mission to three northeastern provinces in the second half of the year. Yesterday, he met Northeast Revitalisation Office director Zhang Guobao in Beijing to discuss preparations for the mission. He said afterwards that the region was a fast-growing economy and Hong Kong could explore opportunities of trade, financing and investment there. He also met Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu , Commerce Minister Chen Deming and director of the General Administration of Sport Liu Peng before returning to Hong Kong on the same day. Mr Tsang made no direct response when asked whether he, Guangdong governor Huang Huahua and provincial party secretary Wang Yang had discussed creating a Pearl River Delta megalopolis including Hong Kong when they met on Wednesday.

China: The Chinese and South Korean golf associations have added their weight to a proposed new regional "Super Tour", even as the Asian Tour stressed it would not be rushed into signing up and would withstand any encroachment on its patch. The Japan Golf Tour Organisation and the PGA Tour of Australasia penned a memorandum of understanding in October to create the OneAsia Tour, an elite schedule of events stretching from India to New Zealand, from as early as next year. The Korea Golf Association and the China Golf Association have also put their name to the agreement, according to Ben Sellenger, the PGA of Australasia's chief executive officer. "Korea and China are on board and signed up," Sellenger said. "We are still in discussions with other parties to come on board." National bodies from Thailand and India are also considering joining the tour. Officials of the Asian Tour, the officially sanctioned regional body, met Sellenger in New Delhi last weekend. Kyi Hla Han, head of the player-run Asian Tour, said "nothing was resolved". "OneAsia, two entities in Asia: It wouldn't work, it's too confusing for the marketplace," Kyi Hla Han said. "The players are behind me 100 per cent." Kyi Hla Han said confusion over the OneAsia Tour had resulted in the loss of a potential sponsor. Kyi Hla Han likened the OneAsia Tour's approaches to national bodies to the European Tour's ploy of holding its own events in South Korea and India this year. Europe eventually co-sanctioned the tournaments with the Asian Tour following Kyi Hla Han's protests. "It's disturbing for me," Kyi Hla Han added. "But if we can withstand the European Tour going market by market, I can say confidently we'll see what's in the interest of Asian golf." Another developmental tour in Southeast Asia this week announced an increased scheduled of 10 tournaments and a sponsorship agreement with Mercedes-Benz. Singapore-based World Sport Group, which is a marketing partner of the Asian and Australasian Tours, set up the Asean Tour. "If we feel it's threatening, we'll let the players choose and I know they'll go with us," Kyi Hla Han said. "But if it's extra opportunities for players then we'll wait and see." Talks were held in Shenzhen last week between the parties that signed the OneAsia Tour memorandum of understanding, Sellenger said. Even without all the tours on board, he said OneAsia may begin next year. The tour plans to offer more top-class tournaments and lure more of the world's best golfers. The existing tours would act as feeders to an annual schedule of as many as 40 events eventually, officials said. Japan and Australia have struggled to maintain domestic sponsorships and see greater commercial opportunities by uniting the region. Japan's tour staged 24 events last year, compared with 34 a decade ago, while the Australasian Tour lost its biggest tournament in 2006. "It's not that our tour is dying," Kyi Hla Han added. "If anything, it's Japan and Australia that's going down."

A scale-model of the Olympic Village is displayed in Beijing, capital of China, March 5, 2008. Olympic Village Covering an area of 66 hectares, the village has 42 buildings and will house 16,000 athletes, coaches and officials during the Beijing Olympic Games. The village will be officially opened on July 27 for the Olympics and August 30 for the Paralympics.

A model poses with a miniature replica of the official Beijing Olympic Torch during its launch in Beijing March 6, 2008. The replica is 29cm long, representing the 29th modern Olympic Games, and is made from excess steel left over from the construction of the National Stadium also known as Bird's Nest.

A ship carrying 5,668 containers started its voyage from Yantai toward the Middle East on Monday, marking the inauguration of a new shipping line for the Yantai Port.

Guangdong will order about 10 types of energy-consuming industries to disconnect from the power grid to overcome the province's worst electricity crisis in 30 years, a senior government official says. Guangdong Development and Reform Commission deputy director Li Miaojuan warned that smaller steel mills, electroplating factories and dyeing plants would have to stop production to cut power consumption after the snowstorm disaster added to power shortages in the manufacturing hub. The move, which follows existing power rationing across the region, is expected to darken the prospects of tens of thousands Hong Kong manufacturers across the border, as well as the skies over the Pearl River Delta, because they will be forced to generate their own electricity by using more costly and dirty diesel-fired generators. "Ten energy-consuming industries must stop production completely, when necessary, as the snowstorm has aggravated the shortage problem," Ms Li said yesterday during the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference meeting. "The problem will get worse in the summer peak season." Without revealing exactly when the power suspensions would take place, Ms Li said manufacturers would be informed "a day" in advance. She added existing rationing and energy-saving initiatives targeting manufacturers would continue for some time because residential needs were a priority. Factories in manufacturing hubs such as Dongguan and Longgang have to suspend operations for two to three days a week due to power rationing. She did not think the new measure would kill off Hong Kong factory owners, which were mainly engaged in producing and processing consumer goods. More than 10,000 factories in the Pearl River Delta have folded in the past few months as a combined result of higher production costs, wages, power shortages, a stronger yuan and new labour and tax laws. The tragic snowstorms in southern China downed power transmission grids and caused the province's power shortage to worsen to about 10 million kW this year compared with the original estimate of about 6 million kW, she said. Anticipating a power shortage of about 6 million kW in each of the next three years, Ms Li said the central government had agreed to speed up approval on new power projects. New projects involving nuclear and renewable sources would be given priority, she said. "We have negotiated with state power producers and grid companies that once the downed infrastructure is fixed between Hunan and the Three Gorges, the supply to Guangdong will resume," Ms Li said. However, some analysts said the electricity crisis would linger for a while because of the severe destruction of power grids in southern and western parts of the country.

Shanghai has launched a unified land-trading market aimed at helping stem corruption in transactions across the city. The Shanghai Municipal Land Trading Market was inaugurated on Saturday with 3,000 square metres of space in the Lujiazui area of Pudong New District. Its main concerns are transfers and leases of land-use rights for commercial developments or industrial purposes, division and transfer of the use rights of large patches of land for development, housing construction and the transfer of land accompanying it. The market is connected to land trading departments in the city's 19 urban districts and suburban counties. In these departments, potential buyers can obtain information about all land resources put up for trading on the market, according to Shanghai Municipal Real Estate Trading Centre director Ma Ren. "The Shanghai Municipal Land Trading Market will serve as a platform through which all information is released in a unified way," Mr Ma said. "Trading can be done according to the same rule standards, so supervision will become easier." While addressing a function to mark the launch, Land and Resources vice-minister Wang Shiyuan said the new market would play a role in increasing trading opportunities and bringing down costs. "With this platform, market forces will be allowed to play a fundamental role in the mobilisation of land resources," Mr Wang said. "There will be less human interference, which will improve the transparency and credibility of land administrative departments. "This platform will help the government analyse information about the land market in a timely manner and improve relevant control measures." Shanghai's land transfer market is extremely lucrative. In the past, trading was not conducted openly, but often in a substandard manner leading to widespread corruption. The previously unregulated nature of the market led to the downfall of a number officials, including Yin Guoyuan, a former Shanghai Housing, Land and Resources Bureau deputy director, and Zhu Wenjin, chief of the bureau's land-utilisation management section. Prosecutors have accused Yin of accepting 36.7 million yuan (HK$40.3 million) and failing to account for 8.1 million yuan and US$40,000 found in his possession. Yin and his wife allegedly accepted bribes from real estate development companies in return for favourable treatment in land-use applications from 2000 to 2006, the Shanghai People's Procuratorate No1 Branch said. Mr Zhu is under investigation for "abusing his position by allowing others to profit in exchange for cash and expensive gifts" since April. No new progress has been reported about that investigation.

March 7, 2008

Hong Kong: Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific Airways on Wednesday announced a record high net profit of 7,023 million HK dollars (900 million U.S. dollars) for 2007, which was 71.8 percent higher compared with the previous year. The annual results, for the first time included a full year's contribution from wholly-owned subsidiary Dragonair. "We are very pleased with our 2007 result, which was driven largely by consistently strong passenger demand," said group chairman Christopher Pratt. Pratt said he believed the synergy between Cathay Pacific and Dragonair had helped further develop Hong Kong's role as Asia's leading international aviation hub for both passenger and cargo traffic. Cathay Pacific carried a record 17.8 million passengers in 2007,up 6.2 percent year on year, thanks to the high passenger demand throughout the year. There was a further expansion to the freighter fleet and the increased capacity helped Cathay Pacific carry a record 1,353,000 tons of freight, the company said. High fuel prices continued to have a significant impact on the airline, particularly in the second half of the year, and the fuel bill rose by 21.8 percent to 24,624 million Hong Kong dollars (3, 157 million U.S. dollars), the company said. The fuel bill was partially offset by fuel surcharges. Unit cost excluding fuel fell slightly as the airline tried to increase productivity and reduce controllable overheads. Pratt said the he expected more competition and continued impacts from high and volatile fuel prices, adding that any slowdown in economic activity would have an impact on the group's business, too.

Landmark ruling means ex-wives get half the family wealth - A man's "better half" is worth exactly that, the Court of Appeal ruled yesterday. In a landmark decision, the panel of appeal judges overturned a June 30, 2006, decision by a deputy district judge to grant the wife one-third of her husband's assets of HK$4.6 million in a divorce ruling - which amounted to HK$1.5 million. In yesterday's judgment, appeal judge Peter Cheung Chak-yau embraced the notion of equality in division and said the former one-third rule had been disapproved of in one case as far back as the 1980s. "On marriage, the parties commit to sharing their lives. It is a partnership of equals. The husband may work while the wife may stay at home to take care of the family. Their contributions are nonetheless equal," the judge said. "In divorce, the principle and spirit underlining the union should be reflected in the division of the family assets. "The division should proceed on the basis of fairness and this necessarily means there is no room for discrimination between husband and wife." Cheung said the "reasonable requirements" matrimonial principle that had served Hong Kong for nearly two decades should be disregarded and replaced by the new approach. "The equality principle is fully embraced in the Basic law and Bill of Rights of Hong Kong. One cannot see any discernible difference in the social and economic context of these two places which may justify a retention of the former matrimonial practice which is no longer applied in the United Kingdom," he said. "In my view one can safely reject the notion that appeared in some previous cases that equality in treatment does not necessarily mean equality in division." Another appeal judge, Johnson Lam Man-hon, agreed the reasonable requirement principle was outdated. The couple, both in their 40s, were married in Hong Kong in 1996. They had no children. They jointly applied for divorce in June 2003. In a joint application, the pair also asked the court to make the terms of an agreement reached between them on the division of the matrimonial assets an order of the court. Three months later, in September 2003, a divorce decree nisi was pronounced but the financial arrangement was adjourned. The wife later alleged there was non- disclosure by the husband when they entered into the agreement and therefore she refused to comply with the terms they had reached earlier. The husband is a businessman while the wife, a former mainland resident and a graduate of Tsinghua University, left her job and became a housewife after they were married. The wife said she had, at one time, suffered from depression and had an operation in 2002 to remove a tumor in her uterus.

Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing (0388) beat analysts' estimates to post a record net profit of HK$6.17 billion last year on soaring trading volume. For the year ended December 31, 2007, the local bourse operator's net income jumped 145 percent from HK$2.52 billion in 2006, capping a fourth consecutive year of record earnings. Earning per share rose to HK$5.78 from HK$2.37, and it declared a final dividend of HK$3.40 per share, making its total dividend for 2007 HK$5.19, a 144 percent rise from 2006. The revenue of Asia's third largest bourse operator more than doubled to HK$8.39 billion, bolstered by turnover- related income, which jumped 121 percent to HK$5.29 billion. Average daily turnover of local stocks soared 160 percent to HK$88.1 billion, fuelled by hopes of inflows from the mainland after Beijing said in mid- August that it would let Chinese citizens invest directly in the Hong Kong stocks. Analysts doubt HKEx will be able to generate similar income this year, citing shrinking turnover amid mounting subprime-related losses and the prospect of recession in the US. "We believe the macro headwinds in China- high inflation and tightening measures- and the US will likely dampen market sentiment," Goldman Sachs said, cutting its rating for HKEx to "neutral" from "buy" and its target price by 51 percent to HK$147. Eighty-three new companies listed on the main board last year, up 46 percent from 2006, while 6,312 warrants were listed in the derivatives market, a jump of 124 percent, helping to raise the income from listing fees by 48 percent to HK$688.53 million.

Container shipping line operator Orient Overseas (International) (0316) reported yesterday full-year net profit skyrocketed 338.68 percent, boosted by its exceptional net gain of US$1.99 billion (HK$15.52 billion) from the sale of four North America container ports.

Four top central government leaders will meet the entire 200-member contingent of Hong Kong and Macau National People's Congress deputies and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference members in Beijing today. President Hu Jintao, NPC chairman Wu Bangguo, CPPCC chairman Jia Qinlin and Xi Jinping, top-ranked Communist Party of China Secretariat member, will meet the contingent this afternoon in the Great Hall of the People. Hu is expected to give a speech. There will be a group photo session which will include Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen. It was in 2003 when the four top leaders met all the NPC and CPPCC members from the two territories. It is, in fact, the first time for Xi, who has been tipped to replace vice president Zeng Qinghong, to meet all the local NPC deputies and CPPCC representatives. Xi will head the Central Leading Group on Hong Kong and Macao Affairs, as announced last year. Change of personnel is expected gradually among central government officials who are responsible for the two special administrative regions' affairs. Chen Zuoer, deputy director of the State Council's Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, said yesterday he reached retirement age last December when asked whether he will retire.

Sun Hung Kai Properties (SEHK: 0016), Asia’s top developer by market value, reported a 17 per cent jump in half-year earnings on Thursday, beating forecasts thanks to wider profit margins in a Hong Kong property market upswing. The firm also said in a statement that it would consider selling some non-core Hong Kong commercial property but executives told a news conference that a property trust spin-off was not planned because of tough stock market conditions. Eric Chow, executive director of SHKP’s property agency unit, said the firm expected to sell 2,000 flats in Hong Kong and 1,000 in the mainland in calendar this year, generating sales of HK$23 billion. “We’re still optimistic because of low interest rates, strong purchasing power and limited supply,” Mr Chow said of the Hong Kong market, predicting at least a 10 per cent price rise this year. Average home prices have risen a fifth in the past year.

Hong Kong has 26 billionaires this year on Forbes magazine’s annual rich list – five more than last year. The number of billionaires in Asia increased more than 30 per cent from last year, according to Forbes magazine’s annual billionaires’ list, released on Thursday, showed. The mainland and Hong Kong had 42 and 26 billionaires, respectively. If grouped together, they lead the Asian list. Asians accounted for 211 people on the list, up from 160 last year, with India counting 53, up from 36 in 2007, and the mainland, which had just 20 billionaires last year, now claiming 42. In total, there are around 1,125 people around the world making the list this year, up from 946 last year, representing a total net worth of US$4.4 trillion (HK$34.2 trillion) and a dramatic increase from US$3.5 trillion in 2007. “A lot of the fortunes in China and Asia in general are in real estate and infrastructure development as the booming economies basically build up to handle all of the growth,” said Forbes’ senior editor Luisa Kroll. Hong Kong businessman Li Ka-shing was the highest-placed billionaire from eastern Asia and ranked 11 out of 20 among world’s richest billionaires, with a fortune of US$26.5 billion, followed by the three Kwok brothers – Walter, Thomas Kwok Ping-kwong and Raymond Kwok Ping-lue ranked 23rd, with a fortune of US$19.9 billion. Also making the top 40 billionaire list was Lee Shau Kee, the property developer and majority owner of Henderson Land Development (SEHK: 0012) ranked 29th with a fortune of US$19 billion. China’s Yang Hui-yan was the top placed figure in China. The 26-year-old Yang inherited her US$7.4-billion wealth when her father transferred his shares in the Country Garden Holdings property company he founded into his daughter’s name. Japan, which last year lost Asia’s leading spot after 20 years at the top, by contrast counted only 24 tycoons on the list, unchanged from last year and down from 27 in 2006. India placed third in the world for the number of billionaires, trailing the United States, which easily led the rankings with 469 billionaires up from 415 last year, and Russia with 87. Four Indians figured in the top 10, with steel giant Lakshmi Mittal placed fourth with US$45 billion, followed by petrochemicals tycoon Mukesh Ambani with US$43 billion dollars and his estranged brother Anil Ambani on US$42 billion. Property magnate K.P. Singh came in eighth on the list, with a fortune estimated at US$30 billion. Gautam Adani, an Indian college dropout who made his money building Mundra Port – a private sector port on India’s west coast, was the richest newcomer in Asia with a personal fortune of US$9.3 billion. Australia counted the most billionaires in the Asia-Pacific region with 14, followed by South Korea with 12 and Malaysia with eight. Taiwan had seven, Indonesia and Singapore both counted five, while Thailand had three and the Philippines two. According to Forbes annual billionaire’s list, Warren Buffett has overtaken Bill Gates as the world’s richest man. The 77-year-old chief of the Berkshire Hathaway holding company, saw his wealth jump from US$52 billion last year to US$62 billion, pushing Microsoft co-founder Gates into third position after 13 years at the top. Mexico’s telecom mogul Carlos Slim Helu grabbed second place with a tidy nest egg of US$60 billion, up from US$49 billion last year.

Growing bilateral trade between Hong Kong and Japan was worth more than US$52 billion (HK$404 billion) in 2007, a government trade representative revealed on Thursday. Jennie Chok, principal representative of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in Tokyo, said about 70 per cent of this bilateral trade consisted of Japanese exports to Hong Kong. Mrs Chok, was speaking at a business seminar in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture. Japan is Hong Kong’s third largest trading partner in the world, and second largest trading partner in Asia. Hong Kong is Japan’s ninth largest trading partner. “Between 2003 and 2007, average annual bilateral trade between our two economies grew by 7.2 per cent” she said. On economic ties between Aichi Prefecture and Hong Kong, Mrs Chok said merchandise trade between the two places exceeded 384 billion yen in 2006. This represented a growth of five per cent over the previous year. “As a matter of interest, Hong Kong is Aichi’s 10th largest export market and that more than 97 per cent of our bilateral trade actually consists of exports from Aichi to Hong Kong,” she explained. “No doubt Toyota cars make up an important part of those exports, as almost all the taxis that run in Hong Kong are Toyota LPG five-seater saloons,” noted Mrs Chok. She said currently some 3,900 international companies maintained regional headquarters or offices in Hong Kong. Among these, around 750 were established by Japanese enterprises. Their businesses covered electronics, banking, transportation and retail services. Mrs Chok told her Japanese audience Hong Kong’s gross domestic product (GDP) grew by an average of 7.7 per cent per annum in real terms between 2004 and 2006. “As announced by our financial secretary in Hong Kong last week, there was a 6.3 per cent increase in our real GDP last year, and Hong Kong’s economy is forecast to grow by 4-5 per cent this year,” she said. Mrs Chok urged more Japanese companies to use Hong Kong as a base to access the China market. The seminar was jointly organised by the HKETO and the Hong Kong Tourism Board.

China: The Olympic Village for the Beijing Olympic Games is energy-saving and environmentally friendly, said the organizers here on Wednesday. Liu Rong from the Beijing Guoao Investment Development Co. Ltd which was entrusted to build the Olympic Village and the National Indoor Stadium, said the 66-hektare village in north Beijing materialized the three Beijing Olympics concepts of Green Olympics, People's Olympics and Hi-tech Olympics. "We have been pursuing the harmony between the structures and the environment," Liu said. She said the Village, playing home to 16,000 athletes and officials during the Olympic Games and 7,000 during the Paralympics, will be operated partly through solar energy to reduce the use of electricity. "Our resources-recycling system will make use of the waste water and solar energy to run the air-conditioners and provide hot water for the 16,000 athletes and officials during the Games time and 2,000 residents after the Games," said Liu. The Olympic Village will be modified to become residential area in 2009. "Through the system, five million kWh of electricity will be saved each year," she said. Domestic wastewater and rainwater are also useful in the Village. "We set up pipes to collect rainwater and recycle domestic wastewater as supplies for places like the lake and irrigation," she said. The Olympic Village will formally open on July 27, less than two weeks before the Aug. 8-24 Olympic Games and continue to serve the Paralympics until Sept. 20.

China's banking regulator said it would continue to push for the local incorporation of foreign banks here on Thursday. The China Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC) also urged locally incorporated foreign banks to build a so-called Chinese Wall separating themselves from parent banks and remaining Chinese branches. They should also set up independent risk control, accounting and IT systems to prevent overseas risk overflow, a statement on its website said. The CBRC will "pay close attention to the branches and subsidiary institutions of the subprime-affected foreign banks, and take more prudent supervision measures," said the statement. Foreign banks have been increasing steadily in assets, profits, deposits and loans. Outstanding non-performing loans were reduced by 45 million U.S. dollars year-on-year, said the statement. In total, 21 of these banks -- including the Standard Chartered Bank, the Bank of East Asia and the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corp. -- have been approved to transform their Chinese mainland branches into locally-incorporated banks registered on the mainland by last year. Among them, six have been approved to provide renminbi services and five will be able to issue bank cards. Since foreign institutional investors were first allowed to invest in Chinese banks starting in 1996, 35 overseas banks have acquired stakes in 23 Chinese banks with a total investment of 21 billion U.S. dollars by October. Among them, the main business of the locally-incorporated banks had already accounted for 70 percent of the business of all foreign banks in 2007, the statement said.

Japanese tourists sit on the Waikiki Trolley as they travel down Kalakaua Ave. in Honolulu, Hawaii, Friday afternoon, April 30, 2004. Hawaii tourism officials are looking to China and South Korea to help offset continuing declines in the number of visitors from Japan. Hawaii tourism officials are looking to China and South Korea to help offset continuing declines in the number of visitors from Japan, the state's largest source of foreign tourists. The interest in those markets comes at a time when the overall number of tourists to Hawaii is also declining. Nearly 7.4 million visitors came to the islands last year, a drop of 1.2 percent from 2006. While arrivals in January increased over the same month last year, the number of visitors in 2008 is expected to decline by 1.4 percent. "I wouldn't bet the mortgage on the fact that January is going to continue," said Rex Johnson, head of the Hawaii Tourism Authority. While January saw a surge in Canadian visitors, arrivals from Japan dropped by 5.2 percent. More than 1.3 million Japanese visited Hawaii last year. Marsha Wienert, state tourism liaison, said more Japanese visitors are not returning to Hawaii after their first trip in favor of new, cheaper destinations. Increased fuel costs are leading to higher ticket prices, she said. While state tourism officials are trying to increase tourism from Japan, they are also turning to China and South Korea. South Korean tourist arrivals have been hovering at around 35,000 a year - far below the high of 123,000 in 1996. Visitors from the country must currently apply for a visa in person at the US Embassy in Seoul before they leave for the United States. Short-term visitors from Japan and selected other nations, in contrast, may enter the United States without obtaining a visa in advance. Tourism officials say they hope South Koreans will be able to do the same by the end of 2008 or the beginning of next year under a law signed by US President Bush last year that allows more countries to qualify for visa waivers. "We are very optimistic once Korea becomes a visa waiver country ... that Hawaii will reap major benefits where tourism is concerned," Wienert said. She added that Hawaii also expects to see increases in visitors from China, where the islands could not actively promote themselves until recently. But Frank Haas, assistant dean of the school of travel industry management at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, said the Chinese face many obstacles in traveling to Hawaii. They must apply for visas in person and don't have convenient flights to the state, he said. He added that while the country has a growing middle class, it does not have the spending power of Japan. "It's just easier, less expensive and less of a hassle for them to go somewhere else," he said.

A security guard at a high-speed train in Qingdao in December last year. Qingdao is building such trains with highest speed of 300km an hour, the first of its kind made in China.

Flowers bloom near Slim West Lake, an icon of Yangzhou. Gu ren xi ci huang he lou, Yan hua san yue xia yang zhou. (An old friend left Huanghe Tower, To visit Yangzhou in the lovely spring.). These lines were penned by the poet Li Bai in the 7th century. Fourteen centuries later, they capture the allure of Yangzhou's refined beauty. Its elegant landscape and the aesthetic lifestyle have made the ancient eastern city a perfect testament to how crafty the art of enjoying life can be. I arrived in Yangzhou in early February, just as the weather was getting warmer after weeks of heavy snow. Steady drops of water glistened in the morning sun as the melting snow dripped down the centuries-old pavilion-style eaves curling to the skies. I was born in this town of Jiangsu province. Although I never spent much time here, I've always felt connected with it in indefinable ways, and I usually spend the holidays with my relatives here. Before the Chinese New Year festivities kicked into gear, I found some time to revisit the gardens where I'd roamed as a child. I started with Slim West Lake (Shou Xihu) park, an icon of the city's southern beauty. The park is the epitome of a Chinese garden, and mentioning its name to Yangzhou locals invokes images such as sunlight sifting through weeping willows, a hidden corner of a rock garden, and a secret cave view of the moon. I rented a boat and paddled under five-pavilion bridge and along the narrow waterway (hence the "slim"). It is said the bridge was designed so that five reflections of the moon can be seen under the five arches when the moon is full.

Premier Wen Jiabao warned yesterday that overheating remains the nation's top economic foe even as global growth softens, vowing a tough fight against price rises and feverish investment. In his annual "state of the nation" report to parliament, Wen targeted pollution, misgovernment and the gulf between the urban rich and farming poor as China prepares to go on show at the Olympic Games. But he mostly dwelt on the risks that heady inflation poses to China's social fabric and double-digit growth, which has transformed the country into the world's fourth-biggest economy. "The current price hikes and increasing inflationary pressures are the biggest concern of the people," Wen told the National People's Congress. As Wen and President Hu Jintao head into a second five-year term, they have vowed to build a "harmonious society" freed of strains over inequality and noxious air and water. Yet Wen's speech underscored how deeply Beijing remains preoccupied with generating jobs and lifting incomes, especially for hundreds of millions of poor farmers, while also taming hectic industrial expansion that has bucked cooling measures. "The primary task for macroeconomic regulation this year is to prevent fast economic growth from becoming overheated growth and keep structural price increases from turning into significant inflation," Wen said. "Because factors driving prices up are still at work, upward pressure on prices will remain great this year," he went on, vowing "powerful measures" to counter inflation, including support for boosting food and grain production. Wen's report was a warning to local officials, many newly promoted and keen to stand out with big-spending projects, that fighting inflation should be their priority, said Mao Shoulong, a public policy expert at the People's University of China. "Inflation is a test of the government's ability to enforce macroeconomic controls, and Premier Wen wanted to warn these local officials to take this test seriously - for economic reasons and for social stability," Mao said. By contrast, Wen made only glancing reference to the credit crunch and global economic slowdown that have spooked the United States and Europe, saying that China would watch developments and "take prompt and flexible measures." Wen sought to turn some attention to longer-term worries over pollution, inequality and corruption. To a long burst of applause, he also warned Taiwan, which holds its presidential election on March 22, that China would never abandon its demands for "one China." Heavy polluters would be a target of government efforts to stifle excessive investment, Wen said. He also promised more spending on sewage treatment, clean energy, and repairing polluted rivers and lakes. The parliament is due to pass a government reorganization plan intended to cut red-tape and corruption. "Oversight mechanisms and checks on government authority are not strong enough," Wen told the delegates, most of them Communist Party members and state officials.

March 6, 2008

Hong Kong: As the world's fourth-largest fine jewelry exporter, Hong Kong saw jewelry exports growing 17 percent in 2007, with significant growth in emerging markets, Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC)'s Jewelry Advisory Committee said Tuesday. Hong Kong jewelry exports jumped by 17 percent to 33.8 billion HK dollars (4.3 billion U.S. dollars) in 2007, with the United States and the European Union as the biggest markets, Chairman of the Jewelry Advisory Committee Charles Chan said at the opening ceremony of the Hong Kong International Jewelry Show Tuesday. He said "it's also encouraging to see good growth from such mature and discerning markets as Italy and the United Kingdom." Emerging markets marked significant growth. He said, "Russia grew by 177 percent, and the United Arab Emirates was up 39 percent in 2007. India and the Chinese mainland were up 45 percent and 13.5 percent respectively last year." According to the statistics provided by the HKTDC, The United States, the United Kingdom and Switzerland top the major markets list of Hong Kong's jewelry exports, with market shares of 44.6 percent, 23.5 percent and 7.6 percent respectively in January to November of 2007. Exports to South Africa and Greece also saw growth of 61 percent and 40 percent respectively. The Hong Kong International Jewelry Show, the third largest of its kind, opened Tuesday at Hong Kong Convention and Exhibitions Center with a new fair record of 2,306 exhibitors from all around the world. Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC), organizer of Hong Kong International Jewelry Show, set up seven special zones at the fair as well as 22 group pavilions from the Chinese mainland, India, Italy, Thailand, the United States and other countries and regions, including special pavilions for the Antwerp World Diamond Center, the International Colored Gemstone Association, the Israel Diamond Institute and other international organizations. A wide range of activities, including seminars, jewelry parades and networking cocktails will be launched to expand the fair's portfolio and strengthen Hong Kong's status as the world's major jewelry sourcing center.

China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) officials quashed the rumor the country had dropped the scheme allowing mainland investors to tap the Hong Kong stock market here on Monday.

David Chiu Tat-cheong is very proud of the fact that his family-owned business, Far East Consortium International (0035), is completely run by professionals. The son of former Asia Television chairman Deacon Chiu Te-ken, David Chiu started his career at his father's company Far East Consortium - the predecessor of Far East Consortium International. "After graduating in the 70s, I felt that I needed to help manage the family business, so I did not think of working in other companies," Chiu recalls. At that time, Chiu worked as a project manager at Lai Chi Kok Amusement Park, which was bought by his father in 1961. "Similar to many who founded their own business, my father believes in the family business model. I do not object to family business. Many successful companies in Asia all started as a family business. Cheung Kong Holdings (0001), for example, is managed by Li Ka-shing and his sons. "Yet, when a company has developed to a certain stage, I think there is a need to decentralize part of that power and let professionals manage the company." Chiu says due to differences in views with his father over how much control the family should have on the day-to-day running of the company, Chiu branched out on his own in the 1980s, seeking his fortune in the Malaysian real-estate sector. "My father actually offered to help me but I turned down his offer. If I had taken it, then I would have been just following the family business model," he says. Chiu set up Malaysia Land with HK$30 million, an amount he says was rather modest for starting a property developer. From its first project requiring the building of 88 units Malaysia Land now launches on average about 2,000 units into the market every year. "Spending my years in Malaysia, I experienced one thing - it is alright for a company to have either a completely hands-on or hands-off attitude to management but never let somebody who lacks expertise manage the business simply because he is family," he says. Chiu says family members or their representatives can sit on the board of a company. But actually managing the business is a different ball game. "When a company has developed to a certain scale, it cannot be run by several family members any more as it is no longer a small company. Distributing work systematically is essential," says Chiu. Taking a hands-off approach to management can be easier said than done. When Chiu advised his father it was time to loosen the grips, he refused. Chiu faced a similar dilemma when he decided to quit Malaysia Land - the company that he founded. "I finally understood how my father felt. It is quite extreme - to leave the place where you have been working from nine to five everyday." But Chiu realized Malaysia Land had matured over the years and was best left to professional managers. Even now, the company has a large enough land bank to be able to launch 2,000-3,000 units in Malaysia every year for the next seven years, says Chiu. So in 1999, Chiu returned to Far East. "There is a close tie between Far East and me," says Chiu. "Since I have been back, my father agreed not to meddle in the company's business. He has kept his word and lets me, and those I hire, to run the company." Chiu did not make any big moves right after he returned. He has been scouring around for the right opportunity. "I always believe that the more you work, the more opportunities you create. Just like girls who go shopping. The more time they spend browsing around, the higher their chance will be of securing reasonably-priced good quality goods." His own opportunity, Chiu says, finally came in 2003. That was the year the Hong Kong property and stock markets took a tumble after the territory was hit by the SARS virus. Chiu decided to expand the company's hotel business. Far East has a long way to go, he says. Looking into the future, Chiu hopes 40 percent of Far East's revenue is derived from its hotel business, providing a stable recurring income to the company. In the last fiscal year, 35 percent of the company's revenue - HK$348 million - was generated by its hotels. "If you want to be successful in the hotel industry, you got to understand that not all locations are suitable for a five-star property. You need to match the type of hotels with the location," he says, adding, a five-star hotel in traffic- heavy Causeway Bay would be very unsuitable. "Every time I walk out of that hotel I will be hit with the exhaust from the cars ," says Chiu. "Remember, being professional means you know the location. You will strive for maximizing profits instead of blindly building five-star hotels just to boost your company's prestige."

The Independent Commission Against Corruption laid two additional charges at the Eastern Magistracy on Tuesday against the former chairwoman of the General Chamber of Commerce, Lily Chiang Lai-lei. The ICAC charges are in connection with an alleged share options fraud. Chiang, the former chairwoman of Eco-Tek Holdings, is alleged to have conspired with others to defraud Pacific Challenge between February 1 and August 31, 2002. The anti-graft body said Chiang faced two new charges on Tuesday. The first of these charges was that she did not disclose the share options she held in Eco-Tek Holdings when it was listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange’s Growth Enterprise Market in 2001. Secondly, that Chiang authorised the issue of a prospectus of Eco-Tek Holdings containing a false statement, Hong Kong media reported. The move to lay further charges was opposed in court by her lawyer, who argued that Chiang had not been informed or interviewed about the new charges. Her lawyer also revealed that Chiang wanted the case tried before a jury in the High Court, and that she would seek legal advice from Secretary for Justice Wong Yan-lung. Chiang has been granted bail of HK$1 million. The case will go to trial again on March 25. Chiang, also a former chairwoman of Pacific Challenge Holdings, previously faced one count of conspiracy to defraud and two counts of making false statements over the granting of share options to employees. The charges are jointly laid against her and former executive director Shah Tahir Hussain. They are latest development in a series of controversies surrounding Pacific Challenge. The company has already been the subject of a lengthy investigation by the Securities and Futures Commission over possible breaches of the takeover code. The ICAC also alleges Chiang and Shah, a former executive director of the company, conspired with others to defraud Pacific Challenge between February 1 and August 31, 2002. The charge of conspiracy to defraud alleges they both falsely represented that options were to be granted to subscribe to a total of 23.88 million shares. The pair also allegedly did not disclose that some or all of its employees, in whose names the options would be granted, would not be beneficiaries. The true extent of Chiang’s interest in the share options was kept from the SFC and the stock exchange, the ICAC alleged. The charges of making false statements also state that the pair – with another former executive director – agreed to publish two false written statements on April 22 and June 6, 2002 about the share options. At the time, Chiang was a member of the ICAC’s Advisory Committee on Hong Kong Ethics Development. Pacific Challenge Holdings changed its name to New Times Group Holdings in April 2003.

China: China is working to reform its two-tiered household registration system amid growing calls to allow freer migration between cities and the countryside. "We've been all along studying and pushing ahead the reform," said Wu Heping, spokesman for the Ministry of Public Security. The goal is to establish a unified household registration system, ease the restrictions on migration to eventually lead to a rational and orderly flow of the population, he said. Under the guidance of the State Council, China's Cabinet, consultations are continuing among 14 ministries including Wu's, the National Development and Reform Commission and the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, Wu was quoted Tuesday by the Chinese-language Chengdu Commercial Daily as saying. According to him, a circular of suggestions for the change has been drafted, and pilot reforms have been carried out in some areas. China's household registration system, set up in 1958, divides the population into rural households and non-rural households, and individual interests and rights, such as education, healthcare, housing and employment, are linked to the household registration. Under the system, rural citizens have no access to social welfare in cities, even though they may live and work there. However, since the adoption of the reform and opening-up policy, China has witnessed a huge migration of rural labor to urban areas in search of work. "The system, once playing an important role as a basic data provider and for identification registration, has become neither scientific nor rational given the irresistible trend of migration," said Prof. Duan Chengrong, director of the Research Center for Population and Development under the Renmin University of China.

Photo taken on March 3, 2008 shows the evening view of the National Stadium, nicknamed the Bird's Nest in Beijing, capital of China. The Stadium was on lighting test on Monday, for the Beijing Olympic Games in August.

Yao Ming recovered well after a surgery on his left foot, according to the Houston Rockets team doctor Tom Clanton Monday, who performed the surgery with another doctor. Tom Clanton and Bill McGarvey performed the surgery on the All-Star center to repair a stress fracture in Yao's left foot on Monday morning. After the surgery, Clanton said in a press release, "Yao is comfortable and recovering well after surgery. We will continue to monitor his recovery and begin an aggressive rehabilitation once he is physically deemed ready." Clanton had mentioned the surgery would involve placing screws across the bone to hold it together with a recovery time of about four months. Doctors said they did not expect the injury to keep Yao from playing for China in the upcoming Beijing Olympics in August. "I am very relieved that everything went well with my surgery today," Yao said in the press release, "I am looking forward to getting better and starting my physical rehab as soon as the doctors say I can." "I would like to thank everyone for their kind wishes during this time," Yao continued, "I look forward to the day that I can rejoin my Rockets teammates on the bench." The Houston Rockets have won 15 consecutive games, including three in a row after Yao's season-ending injury.

Beijing plans a 17.6 per cent rise in its defense spending this year, another double-digit increase for a military modernization plan heavily scrutinized by western and regional powers who fear its intent. The planned allocation for the People’s Liberation Army for this year was 417.769 billion yuan (HK$458.3 billion), Jiang Enzhu, spokesman for China’s National People’s Congress, or parliament, told a news conference on Tuesday. Mr Jiang said the money would be used to raise the pay of service personnel and improve training for officers, as well as to upgrade military equipment. “Appropriately increasing spending on equipment upgrading will improve our defensive ability,” Mr Jiang said. The rise follows a 17.8 per cent increase in defence spending for last year, its largest rise in a decade, when the official outlay reached 350.92 billion yuan, or US$45 billion. International experts estimate China’s true spending on the PLA could be as much as triple that. Mr Jiang said that China’s spending on defense was still much lower than other countries, as a percentage of their overall economies. China says it adheres to a path of peaceful development and that it needs to modernize its massive forces with new ships, missiles and fighter planes for the purposes of self-defense only. “China sticks to a defensive national defense policy. China’s limited armed forces are totally for the purpose of safeguarding independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. China will not pose a threat to any country,” Mr Jiang said. But US officials have said its growing might is aimed at Taiwan, the self-ruled island that Beijing claims as its territory and whose March 22 presidential election it will watch closely. China and Taiwan have faced off since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949. Beijing has vowed to bring the island back under its control, and has held out the possibility of using force against it should it move towards formal independence.

The central government on Tuesday said it would not backtrack on a series of recently introduced economic rules, including more rights for workers, even if the legislation had made life more difficult for foreign investors. The new regulatory landscape made doing business in the mainland more predictable and companies needed to adapt to the changes, Jiang Enzhu, spokesman for China’s National People’s Congress, told a news conference on Tuesday. The mainland has unveiled export tax rebate cuts, stiffer pollution controls and a new labour law over the past year, trying to move away from the cheap manufacturing that has driven growth but exacted a toll on the environment. Exporters in the mainland’s industrial heartland in the south have warned in recent weeks that higher costs, propelled by both the new rules and the yuan’s appreciation, may force thousands of smaller firms to close their doors and move to cheaper locales. “Even if some foreign-invested companies and investors can’t get used to China’s policy changes, most have shown understanding,” Mr Jiang said. “From a long-term perspective, these rules will increase competitiveness and promote their healthy development.” Companies have complained loudly about a new labor contract law that makes it tougher to fire employees, although independent economists said its impact on costs would be relatively mild. Mr Jiang conceded that some bosses had skirted the law by making workers accept terms verbally with nothing in writing. “This is because some companies have taken open-ended contracts to mean a lifetime or an iron rice bowl,” he said, using the phrase that described guaranteed employment in the mainland’s command-economy heyday. Mr Jiang was adamant this was not the case, saying companies could still get rid of poorly performing workers or cut staff to save costs. Better protection of workers, along with efforts to rein in the dirtiest industries, are key planks of the “harmonious society”-style development espoused by President Hu Jintao. A with most new legislation in the mainland, though, the labor contract and environmental laws merely lay out broad principles. How those principles are implemented in practice differs widely across the country.

China would build its largest offshore wind farm in Guangdong, media reported on Tuesday, in a bid to alleviate looming power shortages. The facility, covering a sea area of 240 square kilometers, includes a 1,250 megawatt wind farm, an 8,000 megawatt power plant and a dock construction project, the Xinhua news agency said. The city of Lufeng, close to the farm’s planned location, and Guangdong Baolihua New Energy Stock last week signed an agreement on the project, according to earlier media reports, which gave no financial details. A power crunch has plagued Guangdong, the country’s industrial powerhouse, for years, and this year shortages threaten to become the worst in three decades due to demand and also damage to transmission lines caused by prolonged cold weather. Local government officials said the wind farm was expected to “relieve the energy pressure and optimize the energy structure” in the province, according to Xinhua.

March 5, 2008

Hong Kong: London-headquartered banking group Standard Chartered announced in Hong Kong Monday it has acquired the American Express Bank (AEB) from the American Express Company at the cost of 823 million U.S. dollars. Standard Chartered said the acquisition was expected to help it "add capability, scale and momentum in the strategically important financial institutions and private banking businesses," in addition to adding 19 more markets to its operations. Founded in 1919, American Express Bank is the international banking subsidiary of American Express Company and provides services to financial institutions, rich individuals and affluent customers through more than 74 locations in 47 countries. Standard Chartered said it had received all the required approvals. Standard Chartered Chief Executive Peter Sands said the acquisition "brings along an exceptional management team" and he looked forward to them playing an important role. American Express Bank was expected to enhance Standard Chartered's private banking presence in existing markets like Singapore, Hong Kong, India and the middle east, and extend its reach with new centers in Geneva, Monaco, Miami, New York and London. The acquisition would also help Standard Chartered's financial institutions business by doubling its U.S. dollar clearing business and ranking the group sixth globally, in addition to providing it with a direct euro and yen clearing capability. Standard Chartered said it and American Express Company also entered into a put and call option, which enabled it to buy American Express International Deposit Company 18 months from now,at a cost in accordance with the value at the time of the transaction. American Express International Deposit Company is based in the Cayman Islands and issues short-term, fixed rate certificates of deposit to AEB customers. Standard Chartered listed in both London and Hong Kong. It has been operating for over 150 years, with strong presence in Asia, Africa and the middle east.

As several large-scale tourism and gaming facilities entered operations, Macao saw its electricity consumption in 2007 surged by 23.1 percent over 2006, according to the official statistics released on Monday. Information from the Statistics and Census Service indicated that in the fourth quarter of 2007, consumption of electricity rose by 22.9 percent year-on-year respectively, whereas that of fuel oil dropped by 15.1 percent. Macao's Terrestrial Natural Gas Import and transmission System has begun to operate last month, and the natural gas imported is mainly for the generation of electricity. CEM (Macao Electricity Company) predicted that the volume of natural gas for this purpose would reach 90 million to 95 million cubic meters. The natural gas transmitted through terrestrial pipes made its formal arrival at the beginning of 2008, which mainly comes from the liquefied natural gas stations in the neighboring Guangdong province.

Chanel opens futuristic art exhibit in HK - A modern art exhibition consisting of artistic interpretations of the iconic Chanel handbag is open in Hong Kong. The exhibition venue is an art exhibit itself -- a curved pavilion resembling a UFO. The exhibition, called "Mobile art," is in a futuristic, shiny, white pavilion designed by renowned modern architect Zaha Hadid. The artworks inside include a giant sculpture of a black Chanel handbag that encases a video. It's by Swiss artist Sylvie Fleury. There's also a work featuring two stuffed pigs next to encased Chanel handbags. It's called "Jesus Love and 2 Handbags" and it's by Belgian artist Wim Delyoye. Visitors are encouraged to wear headphones to listen to music specifically designed to enhance the artwork. Fabrice Bousteau, Curator of Mobile Art Exhibition said "This exhibition is totally new because it was conceived like a real landscape and a 3-dimensional film which comes to life with visitors and with headphones." The exhibit also features works by artists from South Korea, Iran, Russia and the United States among other countries. Japanese artist Tabaimo designed a black hole with graphic animation. It's her interpretation of unlocking the secrets hidden inside a handbag. Bousteau says the exhibit is intended to be experimental -- and to move art away from the more traditional museum setting. Fabrice Bousteau said "Mobile Art in my view is an expression of utopia and the future. It's a completely weird architectural project because it's the first building in the world which will travel, which will circulate and which is nomadic." The exhibition took four weeks to assemble. It will travel through Asia, the U.S. and Europe. The next stop after Hong Kong is Tokyo.

Hong Kong's Government House will be open on March 9 for the public visitors to enjoy the blossoming azaleas in spring time and to see the places where the Chief Executive holds important official functions and receives dignitaries, a government spokesman said Saturday. "Government House will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on March 9. It is open to the public twice a year. The previous open day on Nov. 11 last year attracted about 5,000 visitors," the spokesman said. The Government House is now used as a venue for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government and the Chief Executive to hold important official functions, such as official banquets in honor of visiting heads of state/government, and honors and awards presentation ceremonies. Government House was formerly the official residence and office of 25 of Hong Kong's 28 governors. Construction work started in 1851, and took four years to complete.

HSBC Holdings (0005) yesterday reported 2007 net profit jumped 21 percent to US$19.133 billion (HK$149.24 billion), near the top end of analyst forecasts, as stellar results in Asia subsidized mounting troubles in its US businesses. Net profit at Asia subsidiary Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corp soared 53.9 percent to HK$58.028 billion, including dilution gains of HK$4.735 billion from investments in its mainland associates. "We believe that HSBC has produced a relatively comforting set of 2007 results," Citi analyst Tom Rayner said. HSBC's London-listed shares rose 1.8 percent in mid-afternoon trading after the results announcement. The London-based lender reported that net operating income climbed 12.7 percent to US$61.751 billion. Net interest income rose 10 percent to US$37.795 billion after net interest margin narrowed to 2.91 percent, from 3.10 percent in 2006. Loan impairment charges jumped 63 percent to US$17.242 billion, mostly concentrated in HSBC's US consumer business. HSBC recorded write downs of US$2.1 billion in its global banking and markets division after dislocations in the credit market drove down the market value of debt held by HSBC. "I do not rule out further asset value reductions," HSBC group chief executive Michael Geoghegan said. The bank said it does not have any "material holdings" of collateralized debt obligations backed by US subprime assets. The company declared a fourth interim dividend of US$0.39 per share. Total dividends for the year rose 11.1 percent to US$0.90 per share. At Hongkong and Shanghai Bank, net operating income improved 38.5 percent to HK$121.204 billion. Net interest income increased 22.8 percent to HK$62.761 billion after net interest margins widened to 2.37 percent, from 2.31 percent in 2006. For the lender's Hong Kong business, profit before tax jumped 41.6 percent to HK$53.792 billion. Net interest income in Hong Kong rose 17 percent to US$5.483 billion, although net interest margin contracted to 2.27 percent, from 2.29 percent in 2006. Group chairman Stephen Green said the outlook for the rest of this year remains uncertain and stressed emerging markets have only partly decoupled from the United States. "The USA will probably get worse before it gets better," Geoghegan said. "Across Asia Pacific generally, there may be a slight slowing of growth, but probably not until 2009." Meanwhile, the HSBC announced non-executive directors Lydia Dunn, Brian Moffat, and Robin Butler will step down from the group board on May 30. Sandy Flockhart, HSBC's Asia chief executive, and Stuart Gulliver, CEO of the global banking and markets division, will join the board on May 1, HSBC said. Oracle Corp president Safra Catz and Infosys Technologies chairman Narayana Murthy will join as non-executive directors.

Hang Seng Bank (0011) yesterday reported that its 2007 net profit jumped 51.5 percent over the previous year to HK$18.2 billion - beating the higher end of market estimates of about HK$17 billion. Earnings per share were HK$9.54, up from HK$6.30. A final dividend of HK$6.30 per share was declared, a rise of HK$1.10 from 2006. Excluding the unrealized gain of HK$1.47 billion on the dilution of Hang Seng's investment in its strategic China partner, Industrial Bank, profit before tax climbed 39 percent to about HK$20 billion, underpinned by strong growth in interest and fee income. Net fee income soared 96.9 percent to HK$6.89 billion, mainly driven by strong growth in its wealth management business. "We doubled wealth management income in 2007," said Hang Seng Bank chief executive Raymond Or Ching-fai. "Capitalizing on positive investor sentiment, we achieved significant success with our investment, insurance and private banking businesses." Securities-related income surged 146.6 percent, while net interest income jumped 25.9 percent to HK$14.7 billion. Net interest margin rose by 21 basis points to 2.23 percent. Or said the margin will remain stable this year. Loan impairment charges and other credit risk provisions last year shot up 118.2 percent to HK$576 million. "The surge has nothing to do with subprime. It was only an individual case caused by a corporate banking client. I am optimistic toward this year's credit quality," Or said. Operating expenses rose 26.9 percent to HK$6.65 billion because of the bank's network expansion plan in China. By 2010, Hang Seng Bank, a subsidiary of HSBC Holdings (0005), expects to increase its number of mainland branches to 50. Hang Seng Bank shares closed yesterday at HK$147.10, falling 2percent.

MTR Corp (0066) yesterday invited developers to submit expressions of interest in a HK$5.8 billion residential project atop Che Kung Temple station in Sha Tin. The development on the Ma On Shan line station would occupy a site of 195,122 square feet of area, on which more than 975,448 sq ft of floor area will be built, accommodating 1,240 apartments in four towers of 36 or 37 stories. The winning developer will be responsible to build a kindergarten. Submissions close on March 10. The railway operator will open a formal tender after the land premium is determined. Most large surveyor firms estimate the premium at HK$3.9 billion, or HK$4,000 psf. CB Richard Ellis believes it would be set at HK$3.02 billion, or HK$3,100 psf. Centaline Surveyors managing director Victor Lai Kin-fai raised his land premium estimate by some 20 percent from more than a year ago, as home values in the district surged in 2007. Flats at City One Sha Tin have jumped nearly 30 percent in half a year to HK$4,200 psf, he said. MTRC said it is considering absorbing half of the land premium. Charles Chan Chiu-kwok, managing director of Savills Valuation and Professional Services, said construction cost would hit HK$2,000 psf, bringing the total investment to HK$5.8 billion. Midland Surveyors director Alvin Lam Tsz-pun expects the completed project to be sold at HK$6,500 psf. Knight Frank executive director Alnwick Chan Chi-hing said while the site does not have a very nice view, and building density is high in the area, he still sees potential as flats at railway stations are popular with homebuyers. The Che Kung Temple station development is the first of three projects MTRC plans to put forward this year. Two other developments will both be on Tsuen Wan West station on West Rail, providing a total of 5,026 units.

The Hong Kong Observatory and Northwest Airlines yesterday unveiled the first-ever uplink of wind-shear alerts to the aircraft cockpits via a Light Detection and Ranging system - called LIDAR - to improve safety. LIDAR, which functions only during fine weather conditions and collects wind data at Chek Lap Kok using infrared light lasers, enables pilots to receive automated information on wind shear - a rapid change in wind direction or speed over a very short distance - 40 minutes, or 370 kilometers, before landing. Each message costs less than HK$1 to transmit. Previously, pilots only received information through verbal communication with the control tower five to 10 minutes before arrival. "It's good for us to know as far ahead of time as possible [about] the weather so that we can make adjustments," said Steve Smith, chief pilot of Northwest Airlines. He said when pilots get information on wind shear they can plan whether to delay landing, hold and circle, or use different runways to land. Northwest meteorology manager Tom Fahey said the threshold for the company is 20 knots of wind shear, one of the conditions pilots consider when landing. They would rule against landing if it is more than 20 knots. The observatory's senior scientific officer Sandy Song Man-kuen said wind shear could affect an aircraft's intended path, reduce its lift or bring turbulence. She said the system, costing HK$18 million and currently semi-operational, has attracted interest from some airlines. Since the airport at Chek Lap Kok opened in 1998, about one in 500 flights had reported significant wind shear, which can cause major problems for pilots on landing and takeoff. Meanwhile, the observatory has also provided the local general aviation community with a website as a platform to share pilots' latest reports on weather observations. Under the scheme, launched this month and joined by the Government Flying Service, Hong Kong Aviation Club, Heliexpress and Heliservices, pilots will report weather information such as visibility, wind speed, cloud base and turbulence after their flights. "The best advantage is that we can share fast and clear information," GFS quality and safety manager Marcus Chan Shu-kei said. Kenny Choi Chi-yuen, flying instructor at the Aviation Club, said they would not take off if the cloud base is reported at 600 meters above sea level. Club president Danny Patterson said pilots previously recorded observations on their own, but now they have a more convenient way of sharing useful information.

We can learn from HK, says health minister - The mainland should learn from Hong Kong when reforming its health-care sector, according to Health Minister Chen Zhu. Speaking on the sidelines of the opening ceremony of the annual session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference yesterday, Dr Chen said Hong Kong had set a good example in providing accessible health care on a reasonable budget. "In order to set up a basic health-care system covering rural and urban areas, places such as Hong Kong have provided good experience," he said. "And medical expenditure in Hong Kong is not too high, it only takes up 5 per cent of the GDP, it is quite good." Mainland officials have previously refrained from pinpointing which system Beijing would use as a model for reforming its ailing health sector. Dr Chen said yesterday there were many good lessons the mainland could learn from Hong Kong. "Big hospitals in Hong Kong are mainly public hospitals. Its community-level health-care services are also good and they are mainly provided by family doctors," he said. Training general practitioners was now an important task for the mainland, he said. However, unlike in Hong Kong, Dr Chen said general practitioners on the mainland should work in government-funded community-level clinics and health-care institutions. "In developed countries, general practitioners earn more [in private practice] than those working in hospitals," he said. "But China cannot afford such high costs and general practitioners should work within the government framework." One of the aims of the upcoming health-care reforms was to shift patient loads to community-level institutions. Beijing had pledged to reform its health-care sector since an official report admitted three years ago that it was a failure. Dr Chen declined to give a firm date for when the reforms would be unveiled except to say that they would be rolled out this year. Although debate is continuing about how to finance public hospitals, Dr Chen said it had been decided that large public hospitals would have to hand their income to the government, which would be in charge of overall distribution of funds. The move aims to force hospitals to wean themselves from relying on medicine prescriptions for revenue. Dr Chen said the government aimed to provide universal medical insurance to the entire population by 2020 and a rough framework was expected to be set up by 2010.

Legislative Council president Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai is on the list for the proposed presidium of the National People's Congress, increasing the likelihood of her election as a member of the NPC Standing Committee. Mrs Fan said she believed she stood a better chance of becoming a Standing Committee member because her name was on the list of the NPC presidium released yesterday. The list, released to deputies, is scheduled to be endorsed at a preparatory session of the NPC this morning. Mrs Fan, tipped to succeed incumbent Tsang Hin-chi, said a candidate had to get the backing of more than 2,900 deputies. "I only recognize a few deputies and the campaign strategy in Hong Kong does not work in this election," she said. Mr Tsang said: "Mrs Fan has rich knowledge about Hong Kong and national affairs and many mainlanders also know her very well." Some NPC deputies had wanted Mrs Fan and Federation of Trade Unions president Cheng Yiu-tong, to be put forward to balance the interests of leftists and pro-Beijingers. Meanwhile, Hong Kong deputies decided to set up three sub-groups - economic, political and legal, and education, science, cultural and social development - to ensure a better division of labor among the deputies. Yuen Mo, a director of Chinese Merchants Group, has been re-elected as head of the Hong Kong delegation, while Ng Chi-fai was re-elected as a deputy head.

HK, Macau, Guangdong should form megalopolis: party boss - Guangdong's new party chief will initiate the establishment of a "special co-operation zone" with Hong Kong and Macau to create the biggest megalopolis in China, according to a media report. In a study on strengthening co-operation between the three administrative regions, Guangdong provincial party secretary Wang Yang , who is also a member of the Communist Party Politburo, will put forward a proposal to enhance economic and cultural exchanges, the pro-Beijing Wen Wei Po reported yesterday. A source said the proposed "special co-operation zone" would assemble a free-trade area with its own tariffs, and administrative limitations under "one country, two systems" would be lifted to enhance the free flow of passengers, goods and funds. A total of 23 provincial departments and research institutes are participating in the project. It covers nine topics, including exploring the possibility of creating a special administrative zone. During last year's CPPCC meeting, delegates tabled 24 motions relating to co-operation between the three places. Guangdong had also sought support from the State Council's research office, the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, the National Development and Reform Commission and the Ministry of Commerce, to carry out the study, the report said. Mr Wang has called for "thought liberalization" and "bolder reforms" to help the province maintain its competitive edge. Priscilla Lau Pui-king, a local deputy to the National People's Congress, agreed that co-operation needed to be enhanced but a megalopolis was only a preliminary idea. "There are still a lot of issues to clear," Professor Lau said. "For example, are there any possible contraventions with the World Trade Organization's regulations if `free-trade arrangements' are introduced? What is the central government's assessment of the effect of the opening up Guangdong's financial market on the whole country?"

Cheung Kong (Holdings) (SEHK: 0001) and MTR Corp have set the average price for the initial batch of units at the Capitol in Tseung Kwan O at HK$5,133 per square foot. The price will be offered to buyers of the 60 units in the fifth block of the project in Lohas Park, a newly developed area near Tseung Kwan O Industrial Estate, that is being launched today. The Capitol is the first phase of the Lohas Park development, the first new project to be launched in Hong Kong this year. The first pre-sale units range between 684 sqft and 960 sqft each, and are priced from HK$3.44 million to HK$5.38 million, if buyers pay in instalments. A 5 per cent discount will be granted to buyers who pay in cash. Prices of the units range between HK$5,021 and HK$5,622 per square foot, about 7.72 per cent higher than the average price achieved in Metro Town in the same area, according to Centaline Property. Metro Town is a mass residential project developed by Cheung Kong and MTR Corp, which was completed last year. The average price at the housing estate was HK$4,765 per square foot. Justin Chiu Kwok-hung, an executive director of Cheung Kong, yesterday said that the company would pre-sell all of the Capitol's 2,096 units before the project is completed in the second quarter of next year. The developer may pre-sell a further 200 units in the next few days if the first batch is well received by the market. Unit sizes at the Capitol range from 683 sqft to 1,116 sqft. The Lohas Park development - on Wan Po Road, north of Tseung Kwan O industrial district - will eventually comprise 50 towers of 46 to 59 floors each, offering 21,500 units with a gross residential floor area of 17.36 million sqft. Shares of Cheung Kong rose 1.26 per cent to end at HK$119.90 yesterday.

China: Bain Capital LLC and China's Huawei Co. plan to resubmit an application seeking U.S. approval for their planned 2.2 billion-U.S. dollar buyout of 3Com Corp. within the next several weeks, The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday. The new transaction under consideration still would leave Huawei with 16.5 percent of the company and Bain holding the rest, the report quoted people familiar with the matter as saying. But the deal would be structured to limit Huawei's access to some core U.S.-related network products, including certain Ethernet technologies, which are essential for the communications between computers, said the report. The purchase price is expected to remain the same. On Sept. 28, 3Com's Board of Director unanimously approved a definitive merger agreement under which the company would be acquired by affiliates of Bain Capital Partners for approximately 2.2 billion dollars in cash. Last week, the parties pulled their application with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States., or CFIUS, a12-agency government panel amid concerns it would be rejected due to the pressure from the Congress.

A fisherman in China's Zhejiang province has netted a fish that, according to local tradition, may sell for over 1 million yuan (about 140,000 U.S. dollars). Li Shaoshuang, from Cangnan county of the coastal province, caught it in his Saturday's first cast while working offshore nearby the Xiangshan harbor. "It is dark brown all over, 1.2-meter long and 15-kg in weight," said the veteran fisherman Li who has already frozen the fish. "It's my first time to see this kind of fish." A fellow 60-year-old fisherman who came with others to Li to get a glance of the fish told him in great surprise that it is Bahaba flavolabiata (Chinese bahaba) which have disappeared from the site for at least 50 years. Due to its extreme scarcity, the air bladder of Chinese bahaba is said to be as expensive as gold in weight. More than a decade ago, another fisherman of the same county caught a Chinese bahaba of less than 3.5 kg but fetched for more than 100,000. Therefore, fishermen on the scene urged Li to ask for at least 1 million for his. To make sure it is a sky-high pricing Chinese bababa, the fishermen sent for an aquatic research institution expert the next day, who uttered the appearance should tell it's a Chinese bahaba no doubt, but, still, a dissection is needed to make sure it is not another species similar to Chinese bahaba. Li declined the expert's suggestion in fear that it would ruin the fish and lower the selling price. He also turned down a fish vendor's offer of 500,000 for this queer fish, making it clear he would not let it go for less than 1 million. In April 2007, a fisherman in Zhanjiang City, Guangdong province, netted a 49-kg Chinese bahaba and sold to a restaurant for 580,000 yuan. The restaurant cooked the fish meat but has kept the dried maw since, tagging it at 2 million yuan with words "not for sale."

Shanghai ranks top in China in terms of capability for sustainable development, a Chinese Academy of Sciences report revealed. The "China's Sustainable Development Strategy 2008" reported that of the top-10 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions, including Shanghai, Beijing, Tianjin and Zhejiang, most were in eastern areas while the vast middle and western regions still lagged behind. The eastern provinces were also pioneers in building a conservation-conscious society, said the report. The top 10, which included Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong Province, were also above the national average for conservation efforts. The environment, however, had deteriorated in most parts of China since 1995, with the exception of Beijing, Shanghai and the eastern Shandong Province, it said.

In a project called Vision Beijing to promote the 2008 Olympic host city, Beijing municipality invited Italian Giuseppe Tornatore, Majid Majidi from Iran, Patrice Leconte of France, Daryl Goodrich of Britain as well as Andrew Lau Wai Keung from Hong Kong to each make a five-minute Olympic promotional film, which were broadcast by television stations inside and outside of China last Thursday. In Leconte's "Beijing-A Film Impressionistic," there is no storyline but like an impressionist painting. There are many images like kites flying in the sky, the Great Wall, the Temple of Heaven, the National Stadium and people performing acrobatics in this impressionistic "painting". In comparison with Leconte's images, Andrew Lau focuses his camera on enticing food in Beijing. In the Hongkonger's five-minute movie, he shows the delicious buffet of food, including Peking duck in fancy restaurants and snack stands along the street. The shots of the food are enough to make any viewer hungry. Following his signature theme of children, Majidi has them in his film to send Beijing's best wishes for the Olympics and hopes for a harmonious world. Named "Colors Fly", the short movie features a group of children who fly balloons in the five colors of the Olympic rings. As the children ride the bicycles on the street, they release the balloons with wishes written on them. Young athletes are the main theme of Goodrich's film. The British director was inspired by a local youth's three questions about China's role in the modern Olympics. The movie answers the queries by affirming China's status in the sporting world and its big contribution to the Olympics. Finally, compared with the other four films, Italian director Giuseppe Tornatore's work is a complete story. His film begins with a busy Beijing morning, when a bus driver surnamed Li recognizes an elderly woman doing tai chi in the park is his former teacher. What follows are scenes of people with various occupations, like construction workers, Peking opera singers and tricycle riders. The story follows with Li writing to her former classmates to organize a reunion with their teacher.

Hundreds of thousands of police, security guards and volunteers patrolled Beijing yesterday, ready to pounce on the slightest hint of dissent in the Olympic host city as the government top advisory body, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, opened its annual session. And with National People's Congress deputies from around the country gathering in the capital for tomorrow's opening of the annual NPC meeting, authorities have left nothing to chance, demanding security forces regard the two-week meeting with the same urgency they would for the Olympics in August. Police were out in force outside the Great Hall of the People, the giant building abutting Tiananmen Square where the two meetings are being held. A few blocks east of the square, grocer Liu Xiang, 33, like many people, could only guess at what the fuss was all about: "I suppose there's some meeting between the leaders. Who knows what they talk about? How would I know? I'm just a common person." Beijing has called on People's Liberation Army troops, the paramilitary People's Armed Police, city police, security guards and urban management officials to fan out across city streets. In and around Tiananmen Square, volunteers with red arm bands stood watch every 100 metres or so in the bright spring sun. More than a million volunteers were to stand at street corners and bus stations, and patrol local communities "as a rehearsal for the Olympics", Xinhua said. Their ranks would include 80,000 Olympic volunteers who would also "assist with urban beautification", the Beijing Youth Daily said. All aviation activity involving "sport, recreation and advertising" within a 200km radius of Tiananmen Square had been put on hold, the Public Security Bureau said in a statement to six provinces surrounding Beijing. Local officials were also asked to keep track of the activities involving "parasailing, paragliders and private light aircraft" in their regions, the bureau said. While government websites have invited internet users to air their grievances, authorities have taken great pains to ensure their complaints are not delivered to NPC deputies and CPPCC delegates in person. Shanghai resident Cai Zhengrong, who has been trying to get compensation after his house was demolished to make way for luxury apartments, said yesterday he was detained shortly after he arrived in Beijing with the intention of petitioning the central government. "When I got off the train today I was forced into an underground room on an unknown street by people whose identities I do not know," Mr Cai said by text message. He was unable to be reached after that.

Top filmmaker Zhang Yimou said director Steven Spielberg's resignation as an adviser to the Beijing Olympics was "quite regrettable", but would not affect the Games, China News Service reported. Zhang and Spielberg were working on the direction team for the opening and closing ceremonies for the August Games, widely expected to be a spectacular affair showcasing the nation's culture. The absence of the three-time Oscar winner, who pulled out last month over Beijing's policy on the conflict in the western Sudanese region of Darfur, would not have any effect on the opening ceremony, the agency quoted Zhang as saying. The 56-year-old gave little else away when entering the Great Hall of the People for the opening of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. Spielberg said Beijing was doing too little to help halt the bloodshed in Darfur, where militia linked to the government in Khartoum have battled rebel groups. "This has been a very difficult decision for me, as I have cherished the relationships with my Chinese counterparts, in particular ... Zhang Yimou, who is a close personal friend," Spielberg said in his resignation statement. Some 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million have been driven from their homes in more than four years of conflict in Darfur, according to estimates by international experts. The Sudanese government puts the death toll at 9,000. Beijing said it was concerned about the humanitarian situation in Darfur and that it had played an active role in pushing forward the peace process, while rejecting all attempts to "politicise the Olympics". Zhang, best known for his Oscar-nominated films Raise the Red Lantern and Hero, said preparations for the opening ceremony on August 8 had reached the stage of "large-scale rehearsals with more than 10,000 performers".

China property developers are setting up real estate fund management units to attract overseas capital as the central government tightens lending. Taking advantage of their expertise in the domestic market, mainland companies have decided to compete with international investment banks such as Morgan Stanley and ING by forming their own private equity fund management arms. State-owned conglomerate China Resources (SEHK: 0291) Holdings is blazing the path for its domestic peers. It has formed a unit, Harvest Capital Partners, to run two private equity real estate funds with a combined size of about US$1 billion, encompassing the Greater China market, including Hong Kong and Macau. China Overseas Holdings, a unit of the country's construction ministry, also plans to set up a private equity real estate fund management unit by the middle of this year. Last month, Shenzhen developer Gemdale Corp said it would form a joint venture with Swiss banking giant UBS to develop projects on the mainland, which is also seen as a way of drawing international funding. Property consultants and analysts believe more mainland companies will follow suit as credit tightens. "Most of the sizeable companies have put this idea on their agenda," said Citic Securities director Wang Deyong. "Developers usually borrow 70 per cent of overall development costs from banks. Developers now have to think of other funding methods as banks are tightening lending." Mainland banks tightened property-related loans to cool the overheating market last year and analysts expect banks will continue to face stricter controls from Beijing on approving property lending this year. "I believe that mainland companies will seek to attract capital from other sources to drive their development programs, especially if debt remains less available," said David Watt, the chairman of DTZ's North Asia division. DTZ is a placement agent for Harvest Capital's real estate fund. Harvest Capital chief executive Ren Rong said the unit was formed as "supplementary to the development capacity of China Resources group." While saying that the group was not a direct result of the tightening credit environment, Mr Ren said: "It is a natural way for developers to maximize their development capacity. "We are a step ahead [among other developers]." Mr Ren said the company, formed in May 2006, had launched two overseas funds, including one focused on Middle East cash. It has invested in seven projects in Beijing, Chongqing, Guiyang and Hong Kong, involving 70 per cent of the raised fund. It will announce more deals in Tianjin and Wuhan shortly. Among the projects, only one is related to China Resources Holdings. Mr Ren expects to see a lot of co-operation with China Resources Land and China Vanke - two real estate arms of China Resources Holdings. "Provided, of course, that those projects would bring good returns to the funds," he said. This private equity fund approach of rasing funds is now being adopted by leading developer China Overseas. Wu Jianbin, the head of China Overseas Finance Investment, a unit of China Overseas, said the company would form a real estate fund to speed up the group's investments on the mainland. "It will be the first task of China Overseas Finance Investment," Mr Wu said, adding that the fund would be launched in the coming months. China Overseas Finance Investment was formed last year as a vehicle to seek opportunities in the global investment and finance markets for the group - including listed units China Overseas Land (SEHK: 0688) & Investment and China State Construction International - according to Mr Wu, who is also the executive director of China Overseas Land & Investment. He said overseas investors, especially from the Middle East, expressed strong interest in the mainland property market. Jones Lang LaSalle regional director Lau Chun-kong said the trend of setting up fund management units showed the strong confidence of developers in the mainland market. "No company would think of such funding method for expansion amid a slowing market," said Mr Lau.

March 4, 2008

Hong Kong: Macau casino magnate Stanley Ho Hung-sun yesterday offered some words of wisdom to the troubled Sun Hung Kai Properties (0016) chairman Walter Kwok Ping-sheung. "When I meet Walter, I will say: 'Listen to your mother and be a good boy.' Walter must repair his relationship with his brothers," Ho said. Ho also "clarified" some of what he said was "misquoted speculation" about Kwok. "It's wrong to say that Kwok chose to give up his empire because of a beauty. Those who think that [Ida Tong] is a beauty, must be suffering from severe shortsightedness." Ho, who has four wives, added: "You just need to give them [women] money." Kwok is to attend the CPPCC session in Beijing along with his wife, Wendy. Delegates said there was no trace of him at preparation meetings yesterday - but The Standard's sister publication Eastweek caught this picture of him on his way to Beijing.

An unscripted drama erupted at a public memorial service for Lydia Shum Din- ha yesterday when a longtime friend of the comedienne launched an attack on Shum's former husband in front of more than 6,000 grieving fans. "Shum's daughter does not have a father," Alan Tang Kwong-wing said on stage to a burst of applause. "Why should the responsibility rest with the uncles and aunts?" Tang also called on Adam Cheng Siu-chau to go on stage and explain why he had not shown up at any of the gatherings for Shum until yesterday's ceremony at the Hong Kong Coliseum. Cheng, who was not scheduled to speak, then went on stage accompanied by daughter Joyce Cheng Yan-yee. When seeking to explain why he missed Shum's funeral service and burial in Canada, he turned toward Joyce and asked if he could reveal the truth. He was interrupted by yells of "shut up" before Joyce shook her head. Cheng said he had tried on many occasions to visit Shum when she was in hospital, but his daughter turned him down, fearing it would further exhaust her mother. He also defended his role as a father, saying he had often invited Joyce for dinner, around Christmas and New Year, though Joyce preferred to spend more time with her mother. As such, their contacts were mainly restricted to the telephone. As he tried explaining his role, Cheng was constantly interrupted with yells of "It's an excuse," until Joyce came to her father's rescue. Joyce said: "I think many of these things were caused by misunderstandings. Today this ceremony is to remember Mommy. Do not allow gossip or those with bad intentions to affect how we remember her." Joyce said it did not matter what people said. More important was for her and her father to understand each other.

Henderson Land (0012) chairman Lee Shau-kee said the Hang Seng Index will linger between 23,000 and 25,000 points in the first half of the year, experience a torrid summer and then improve by September. Speaking in Beijing yesterday, Lee said the HSI will still be affected by the US subprime debacle in the first six months but will remain "stable." "Plunging to 22,000 points was already more than enough. At the current level of around 24,000 points, the index will slowly climb back. The HSI may rebound to 27,000 this spring and reach 30,000 points this year." But Lee warned the bourse will be very volatile in the summer. "If you have money, you should not invest too aggressively [in the summer]." Lee also expects property prices in Hong Kong to jump 10 percent this year on the back of ample liquidity in the global market. "As Hong Kong citizens have much cash on hand, they may want to improve their living conditions. I believe flat prices will go up 10 percent." But mainland prices will not surge because of austerity measures. Meanwhile, Lee denied he used the mainland identity of his younger brother, Li Zhaonan - or Lee Shau-lam - to invest in A shares of Ping An Insurance (2318). It was reported the younger Lee bought 200 million A shares in Ping An, giving the brothers a paper gain of at least HK$15 billion. "I only have some [H] shares in Ping An," said Lee, and most of the Ping An A shares were held by the family trust. "If you want to know whether the family trust will sell the [A] shares, you need to ask Li Zhaonan." He also confirmed that Sun Hung Kai Properties (0016) chairman Walter Kwok Ping-sheung has taken a short leave after his mother stepped in to settle a dispute among the Kwok brothers. "It's common to see brothers having arguments," he said. "But when the disagreement cannot be settled, the mother needs to do something. Yet it's unlikely that Kwok will quit."

Cheung Kong (Holdings) (0001) unloaded more than 1,900 pre-sale units in The Capitol with prices ranging from less- than-expected HK$5,100-HK$5,200 per square foot this weekend - and it will not be selling any more than 100 pre- sale units to the general public.

The through-train program that will allow mainland individuals to invest directly in Hong Kong should not be limited to only one institution, a Hong Kong delegate of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference said yesterday, adding he will propose that smaller securities firms also participate.

Heat on over timing of third runway - The government has come under fire for dragging its feet on planning for a third runway when the two now in service at the Hong Kong International Airport could reach capacity by 2014 - years before a third runway could be ready. The criticism came despite an announcement by Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah that the Airport Authority is to start engineering and environmental feasibility studies some time this year. "We are confident that the capacity of the existing runways can be gradually increased to 68 aircraft movements per hour by 2015," Tsang told lawmakers. That compares with the 54 movements per hour currently, which is expected to be increased to 58 next year. Chinese University's aviation policy and research center associate director Law Cheung-kwok said the government could ill-afford to waste any more time contemplating the construction of a third runway. "It takes about three to four years for a runway's initial planning and design, another four for public consultation, then another four to build it," he said. "It took London's Heathrow 12 years to build a new runway." "If we adopt a 5 percent annual growth rate for air traffic, the airport will reach capacity as early as 2014, or half the time before we can get ourselves a new runway." Law noted that the two existing parallel runways at the airport, considered widely separated, are 1,525 meters apart and each is 3,800 meters long. "The authorities should also consider whether there needs to be a fourth runway in the future," he said. Airport Authority chairman Victor Fung Kwok-king was earlier quoted as saying the authority's top priority was to increase the capacity of the existing runways rather than build a third. A spokeswoman from the Airport Authority argued that the two concepts did not contradict one another, reiterating that feasibility studies will be under way within the year.

Final approval has been given to the first batch of Hong Kong travel agents to run group tours to the city and Macau from Guangdong province. The move is being viewed as a first step for agents outside the mainland to enter the lucrative outbound tourist market across the border. Two leading Hong Kong travel agents, Wing On and Hong Thai, confirmed they had received official approval from the Hong Kong and mainland tourism authorities to organise residents in Guangdong to join group tours to Hong Kong and Macau. This makes them pioneers in a market opened up under supplement III to the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (Cepa) signed between Hong Kong and the mainland in June 2006. The Hong Kong Trade and Industry Department, which is in charge of Cepa applications, confirmed it had approved 10 such applications from the city's travel operators by last month, though it refused to disclose their names. Despite months of waiting, both Wing On and Hong Thai are excited about the door being opened. Lanny Leung Kong-lan, chief executive of Wing On Travel Service, said the company was actively preparing for business in Guangdong, which would be launched in the first quarter of the year. "We will provide some unique travel products that are totally new to this market," Ms Leung said. As well as a joint venture it is running in Guangdong, the company also plans to set up more outlets in Hunan - one of the eight provinces opened up after Guangdong. Hong Thai Travel Service deputy general manager Daniel Chan Kin-pang said the company would soon begin a large-scale promotion across the border. "I am quite optimistic [about this market]," he said. "I think our quality service, wide network and managing experience will help us gain a foothold in the market." Guangdong, with a population of more than 90 million, has long been one of the richest provinces on the mainland. Last year, of the 15 million mainland tourists that travelled to Hong Kong, about half were from the neighbouring province. One of the challenges facing Hong Kong travel agents is that most Guangdong tourists are used to visiting the city individually instead of joining tour groups. Hau Suk-kei, executive member of Hong Kong Inbound Tour Operators' Association, has doubts about market prospects. "I don't think this is a very attractive market. It is not that easy to get tourists to change their travel habits," Mr Hau said. He added that different regional cultures, expensive promotions and lack of experience in running tours in the two destination cities would combine to make it a tough job for ambitious agents. However, Mr Hau said it would be worthwhile for the agents, who regarded this as a good opportunity to prepare for the opening up of the mainland outbound tourist market. "It is a huge market that we are all looking forward to, and it's the biggest ambition for Hong Kong travel agents."

Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing (SEHK: 0388) listing head Richard Williams has hit back at criticism of the soon to be implemented controversial suspension policy, saying the new measures are in line with international practices. The policy, which takes effect next Monday, will not require firms listed on the main board to suspend trading in the morning if they issue price-sensitive announcements on the exchange website between 6am and 9am. Suspension in the afternoon session also will not be required if companies make announcements between 12.30pm and 2pm. Firms can only announce results from 12.30pm to 1.30pm. No takeover deals or other price-sensitive information can be announced at the lunch break unless trading in stocks involved is halted in the afternoon. Some brokers say investors do not have enough time to digest announcements, as they have only 30 minutes of pre-opening session from 9.30am and take their lunch break before trading resumes at 2.30pm. HKEx director David Webb, an investor activist, did not object to the morning rule change, saying investors should be given at least an hour at the lunch break to digest the news. "It is difficult to imagine who would be disadvantaged by a full hour of digestion time - it still gives issuers 90 minutes to file announcements," Mr Webb said on his website. To protect investors, he proposed that if announcements were released at lunchtime, all remaining orders from the morning should be automatically cancelled by the exchange. Mr Williams rejected that idea, saying it might add to market confusion. "The new proposals are in line with international practices. In most other markets, companies can give price-sensitive information during trading hours, with trading halted less than 30 minutes," he said. The United States and Singapore only require firms to suspend trading for 30 minutes while making announcements, while the halt is only 10 minutes in Australia, he said. Britain requires no suspension. "As an international financial centre, institutional investors demand that Hong Kong has less suspensions," Mr Williams said. He said the HKEx could require firms to give investors more time to look at announcements. Some brokers worried that the measures would widen the gap between A and H shares dually listed in Hong Kong and the mainland. "This is not just a problem for A- and H-share companies. For companies such as HSBC (SEHK: 0005, announcements, news) , which is listed in Hong Kong, New York and London, they may also trade in a market while some markets are closed," he said. He said the exchange would wait a year to see how the suspension policy worked before a review of whether it would allow firms to issue announcements during trading hours.

China Pacific Insurance, which withdrew a HK$24 billion initial public offering last month, plans to bring the deal back to market this month and will begin pre-marketing today, sources said. The H-share offering was approved by the Hong Kong stock exchange listing committee on Thursday last week, a source said. UBS, Credit Suisse and China International Capital Corp are arranging the deal. UBS and Credit Suisse analysts would meet fund managers from asset management companies including Fidelity Investments, Invesco and Martin Currie today and tomorrow, sources said. "The meeting is just to test the waters to ascertain how much the fund managers would be willing to pay for China Pacific Insurance," a source said. Pre-marketing will continue until March 21, longer than the usual two week schedule conducted for most initial public offerings. A formal roadshow would be launched depending on the response from fund managers, the sources said. The company was expected to raise about HK$24 billion by selling 900 million H shares after a 30 billion yuan (HK$32.88 billion) listing in Shanghai in December last year. Those shares closed at 35.21 yuan on Friday, 17 per cent up on the offer price. "China Pacific Insurance could have realized a higher valuation had it gone public last year, but not now," said one fund manager who will attend the pre-marketing meeting hosted by UBS. "Mainland insurance stocks have fallen quite a lot amid the massive sell-off in January. It's tough for the arrangers to justify a fair valuation for China Pacific." China Pacific was one of the six mainland companies that delayed or shelved plans for a Hong Kong listing as fallout from the subprime crisis in the United States continued to hang over global markets in January and February.

The Hong Kong Jockey Club estimates it has so far managed to recover at least HK$7 billion to HK$8 billion from illegal bookmakers as a result of reforms to the way the government taxes its betting revenue. Without the betting duty reforms introduced in 2006-07, the club's turnover would probably have fallen to about HK$55 billion or HK$56 billion compared to an estimated HK$67 billion to HK$68 billion currently, its chief executive, Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, said. Some of the growth could be attributed to the robust economy, he said. But around HK$7 billion to HK$8 billion of the revenue increase was generated by the top customer segment - those who qualify for rebates on bets - he said. The club's cash rebate scheme covers 10 per cent of losing bets over HK$10,000. "The reforms are a success in that we think we have definitely clawed back money from the illegal market," he said. "With our rebate programme, which is really targeted at those who are price-sensitive - the people who bet with illegal bookmakers are much more price-sensitive - we have growth in this segment of around 70 per cent. "This 70 per cent has definitely come from the people who were probably enticed by the illegal market or who bet offshore," he said. But despite the initial success, Mr Engelbrecht-Bresges said, the club could compete effectively only by extending the regular 78-meeting racing season by five meetings and gaining more simulcast opportunities. Last week, the Home Affairs Bureau voiced reservations about such a move. But Mr Engelbrecht-Bresges, who is optimistic an agreement can be reached, warned that the club's ability to invest in its facilities and meet its annual HK$1 billion in charitable contributions would suffer without the additional meetings. It is looking to invest between HK$6 billion and HK$8 billion to upgrade its racecourses and facilities in the face of intensifying competition from casinos in Macau. The club also wants to increase its charity handouts, "if we have a sustainable and viable business model". "We are not pressing for something immediately, or that it has to be implemented tomorrow. But I think one has to recognise it is a serious problem which will affect us in the future. We want to take this dialogue forward. And we will, in a way, point out what we think is necessary." In 2005-06, the bureau agreed in principle with the club's position on additional race meetings, he said. Mr Engelbrecht-Bresges also wants the double taxation of bets placed overseas to stop. Overseas betting turnover on Hong Kong races amounts to about HK$3 billion. If only the turnover that came into Hong Kong was taxed, he said, he believed the club could reap as much as HK$6 billion in additional turnover.

Macau's casinos will gain the most from the proposed Hong Kong-Macau-Zhuhai Bridge, for which funding arrangements were decided on Wednesday, gaming magnate Stanley Ho Hung-sun said. Mr Ho, chairman of Shun Tak Holdings (SEHK: 0242, announcements, news) , said yesterday the company would submit a construction tender for the bridge if there was an opportunity. "The project will benefit all three places," he said, "Macau's passenger flow will increase, as the travelling time between there and Hong Kong will be shortened. In the past, even if you took the quickest ferry it would take more than an hour, but in future it will be a 20-minute car ride." Asked who would benefit most from the bridge, Mr Ho said: "The casinos in Macau." The funding arrangement between the three jurisdictions involved was reasonable, he said, and he hoped the bridge would be built as soon as possible. Mr Ho, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference Standing Committee member from Macau, was speaking in Beijing. He also said former Hong Kong chief secretary and newly appointed CPPCC delegate Raphael Hui Si-yan - widely tipped to become a Standing Committee member - was a suitable candidate. "He absolutely has the quality," Mr Ho said. "He was the chief secretary of Hong Kong and should be able to work here, and in Macau too." Mr Hui declined to comment on his CPPCC prospects. And he denied being involved in the standing down of Sun Hung Kai Properties (SEHK: 0016) chairman Walter Kwok Ping-sheung. Mr Ho told reporters he would advise Mr Kwok, a fellow Standing Committee member, to fall in with his mother's wishes and restore good relations with his two brothers, strained in a recent disagreement.

China: Chinese railway carried a record of 196 million passengers during the Spring Festival travel season, an increase of 11.8 percent over the same period a year ago, said the Ministry of Railway on Sunday. Spring Festival is a traditional occasion for family reunion, particularly for millions of China's migrant workers, who take up the dirtiest and cheapest jobs in cities and leave their families behind in the countryside. The travel season, or Chunyun during the Chinese Lunar New Year, is an annual test to China's transportation system. This year, Chunyun lasted 45 days and the traffic peak hit more than five million passengers. During the Chunyun, the Chinese railway network was challenged by unprecedented snow havoc, said the ministry. For example, the ministry transported some 3.5 million stayed passengers in ten days in Guangzhou, capital of China's southern Guangdong province. China was hit by the worst snow and sleet havoc in 50 years during the Chunyun, which cut off traffic and caused millions to stay in the railway stations.

Members of China's men's table tennis team (from L) Chen Qi, Ma Long, Wang Liqin, coach Liu Guoliang, Wang Hao and Ma Lin pose with their trophy on the podium after beating South Korea in the men's final of the World Team Table Tennis Championships in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou March 2.

China's Ma Lin, Wang Hao and Wang Liqin celebrate their victory over their respective South Korean opponents in the men's final game; members of the men's team lift their trophy on the podium at the World Team Table Tennis Championships in Guangzhou of South China March 2, 2008.

Policy bank to gradually go commercial - The China Development Bank (CDB), one of the three policy lenders in China, will mainly serve medium- and long-term national development strategies even after it is transformed into a commercial bank, said Liu Kegu, vice governor of the bank on Sunday.

The largest multilevel garage in Beijing is under construction to ease the traffic congestion near the Panjiayuan second-hand goods market.

The mainland, worried about an ageing population, is studying scrapping its controversial one-child policy but will not do away with family-planning policies altogether, a senior official said late on Thursday. With the world’s biggest population straining scarce land, water and energy resources, China has enforced rules to restrict family size since the 1970s. Rules vary but usually limit families to one child, or two in the countryside. “We want incrementally to have this change,” Vice-Minister of the National Population and Family Planning Commission Zhao Baige told reporters in Beijing. “I cannot answer at what time or how, but this has become a big issue among decision makers,” Mr Zhao said. She added that the current plan was to study the issue seriously and responsibly, but avoid sudden changes that might cause a spike in births. “Minority groups already have two children, even three, and in the cities like Shanghai and Beijing, a lot of only children are already released (to have two), but the most important is those in the middle like in Henan... nearly a hundred million people, but strongly influenced by the classical way, they want a son, and they are already very fragile environmentally.” Teams studying the issue would have to consider the strain of China’s huge population on its scarce resources, popular attitudes, and how much of a social net China can afford to provide without the traditional reliance on large families to care for the aged, she said. Surveys show that 60 percent of Chinese younger than 30 want a maximum of two children, and only a “very small” number want more than three, Zhao said. The average number of children that would be born to a woman over her lifetime has decreased to 1.8 in China today, from 5.8 in the 1970s, and below the replacement rate of 2.1. In recent years, the mainland has sought to soften its draconian and often controversial family control policies, which have included forced abortions and other punitive measures. But local officials remain under intense pressure to keep numbers down, leading to skewed statistics and sometimes brutality. The country is now relying more on education, especially about contraception, said Zhao, in charge of international cooperation, education and communication at the ministry. China says its policies have prevented several hundred million births and boosted prosperity, but experts have warned of a looming social time-bomb from an ageing population and widening gender disparity stemming from a traditional preference for boys. Normally, between 103 and 107 boys are born for every 100 girl infants, but in China, 118 boys are born for every 100 girls, Zhao said. Experimental policies include trying to improve women’s welfare and girls’ access to schooling. Still, the government has previously expressed concern that too many people are flouting the rules. State media said in December that China’s population would grow to 1.5 billion people by 2033, with birth rates set to soar over the next five years. Officials have also cautioned that population controls are being unraveled by the increased mobility of China’s 150 million-odd migrant workers, who travel from poor rural areas to work in more affluent eastern cities. China has vowed to slap heavier fines on wealthy citizens who flout family planning laws, in response to the emergence of an upper class willing to pay standard fines to have more children.

March 3, 2008

Hong Kong: Shareholders of Hopewell Holdings (0054) will enjoy a lucrative special dividend after the company announced interim net profit for the six months ended December 31 nearly quadrupled to HK$5.25 billion from HK$1.34 billion the previous year, thanks to exceptional gains totaling more than HK$4.76 billion.

Standard Chartered (2888) has relocated its Asia CEO office to Hong Kong from Singapore to focus more on its booming Greater China market. "Hong Kong has, and is, and will remain our largest market. Greater China for a long time will be the biggest engine of growth for the bank" and "is the bank's biggest focus," said Jaspal Bindra, chief executive officer for Asia at Standard Chartered. Hong Kong delivered a record net profit of US$1.19 billion (HK$9.28 billion), constituting nearly 30 percent of Standard Chartered's total 2007 net profit. Revenue in China increased 73 percent to US$498 million with a net profit of US$184 million. "If you look at the pace of earnings growth [in China] last year, rebasing the CEO office to Hong Kong makes a lot of sense," said analyst Michael Siu Yiu-han at Lehman Brothers. Standard Chartered has already been appointed underwriter by both the China Banking Regulatory Commission and the People's Bank of China. The lender will underwrite government bonds issued by the finance ministry, and underwrite bills sold by the PBOC. Still in its infancy, Standard Chartered China has "not even started scratching the surface. There is just so much for us to do and achieve." The move to Hong Kong "allows me to be closer to the action," Bindra said. Many Asian sector heads will relocate to Hong Kong along with the CEO office. "Everybody that I need will be in Hong Kong," Bindra said. He vigorously denied that the relocation was a result of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority possibly revoking Standard Chartered's note-issuing status, saying the move to Hong Kong had been planned before any of that came up. Standard Chartered wants to retain its note-issuing status and "I am here to sign notes," he declared.

Leading health-care financing experts from around the world are to attend a high-profile symposium in Hong Kong in April to discuss the long-awaited reform that will be revealed by the government in two weeks.

HSBC Insurance believes it is on to a winner with a new product aimed at the less savvy investor in the Mandatory Provident Fund market, in spite of reservations by some asset management experts. The target fund product, which aims at simplifying employees' MPF investments, was introduced last month by HSBC Insurance (Asia-Pacific). SimpleChoice, the first target fund launched in the MPF market, is composed of three constituent funds, a capital preservation fund, global bond fund and global equity fund. Running with a preset asset allocation system based on the age of scheme members, SimpleChoice designates the MPF savings of employees into the above three funds. Older employees will have more of their MPF savings allocated to a global bond fund which is of lower risk, while younger employees will have more MPF savings invested in a higher risk global equity fund. "SimpleChoice is suitable for investors who are not investment savvy and don't have the time to manage their MPF schemes," said Jason Sadler, managing director of HSBC Insurance Hong Kong. "A number of employers, particularly those with a large workforce that involves more temporary staff or lower- skilled staff, have expressed lots of interest in the product," Sadler added. "SimpleChoice also receives a lot of interest at the individual level, especially from those who are looking for more simple and efficient ways to invest their preserved account money."

Cathay Pacific (SEHK: 0293) chairman Christopher Pratt and the airline's director of engineering were on the flight deck of a new airliner when the pilot performed a Top Gun-style low-flying manoeuvre that led to his sacking. Mr Pratt and Christopher Gibbs were invited to sit in jump seats on the flight deck as chief pilot Ian Wilkinson swooped to within 8.5 meters of a runway in Seattle in a Boeing 777 on January 31, the Sunday Morning Post (SEHK: 0583, announcements, news) has learned. Two Cathay first officers were also standing, unharnessed, inside the cockpit door behind Mr Wilkinson, his co-pilot Ray Middleton and the two executives during the fly-by, which has been criticized by fellow pilots as a dangerous and irresponsible piece of showmanship. Management sources said Mr Pratt had no idea the fly-by was unauthorized. Mr Wilkinson, 55, was pictured in Cathay's in-house magazine toasting the maiden flight with executives and crew members upon its arrival in Hong Kong. It was only when video images of the stunt began circulating among Cathay staff - and later on websites including popular file-sharing site YouTube - that an investigation was launched. It led to the sacking of Mr Wilkinson and the suspension from training duties of Mr Middleton, 47. Cathay has also confirmed there had been two earlier fly-bys - both involving Mr Wilkinson and both unauthorized - during collection of new Boeing 777s from Seattle. The first was in 2001 and was performed by Mr Wilkinson; the second was performed last year by a fleet pilot given permission by fleet commander Mr Wilkinson to execute the manoeuvre. The chief pilot did not have the authority to give that permission, a senior Cathay source said. However, the airline said neither incident was "of the same nature" - meaning the planes did not fly as low as 8.5 meters - and no executives had been on board. An investigation into those fly-bys is understood to be continuing. There have been no other low-flying stunts, the airline said. Mr Wilkinson was fired and Mr Middleton punished after a disciplinary hearing on February 19 which found that although the chief pilot had permission from the Seattle control tower for the fly-by, Cathay's 777 fleet captain did not have the written permission required from the airline. Asked about the role of Mr Pratt, who took over as Cathay chairman in 2005 after nearly 30 years climbing through the ranks of parent company Swire, an airline spokeswoman said he was in no way connected to the decision to perform the fly-by. "There was no request or suggestion from anyone in Cathay Pacific for the fly-by to take place," she said. "The decision was entirely that of the captain in command." The Cathay spokeswoman said it was the first time Mr Pratt had sat on a delivery flight and that he would have assumed the fly-by was authorized. "The chairman is not an aviator and was there in a purely ceremonial role," the source said. The two first officers standing on the flight deck during the fly-by were strapped in during takeoff. In a detailed statement, Cathay described the January 31 fly-by as "inappropriate and regrettable" and said the previous two fly-bys only came to light during investigation of that incident.

A bio-diesel plant that will recycle waste cooking oil from restaurants is to be built in Hong Kong by a Bahrain-based bank. Al Salam Bank-Bahrain has set up a joint-venture company, ASB Bio-diesel (Hong Kong), with six partners to build and run the plant at Tseung Kwan O industrial estate. Negotiations with Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks on a 40-year lease for a HK$42.3 million waterfront site are expected to be clinched within days. The plant - the second of its kind in Hong Kong - will produce up to 100,000 tonnes of bio-diesel per year for sale in Hong Kong and Europe. Dynamic Progress International opened a bio-diesel plant in Tuen Mun last year. Bank chief executive Yousif Taqi said the plant would mainly use cooking oil, waste animal fat and grease-trap waste. This set it apart from the production of bio-diesel from edible vegetable oils, which has caused growing concern over destruction of tropical rainforests. "This is an innovative investment," he said. "It illustrates our bank's strategy to meet clients' expectations for attractive investment opportunities that are differentiated by sector and geography, and to ensure competitive returns to our shareholders. "It also underlines our commitment to identify projects that have the potential to add value to the community and positively impact the environment." Mr Taqi said the project would have three environmental benefits: reducing harmful vehicle emissions and global warming through the use of bio-diesel; using materials that would otherwise go to landfills; and addressing the destruction of rainforests - felled to make way for vast oil-palm plantations grown to produce biofuels. Bio-diesel is not subject to the Dutiable Commodities Ordinance because it is not based on hydrocarbons, and Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen pledged in his October policy address to introduce a duty-free policy on its use. A spokesman for the Environmental Protection Department said: "We are drawing up a specification for the use of bio-diesel as motor- vehicle fuel. Our plan is to introduce a statutory specification on January 1, 2009. [After that date], bio-diesel offered for sale here will have to comply with the specification." The department also plans to require that all conventional diesel sold in Hong Kong meet the Euro V standard, which allows 80 per cent less sulfur than Euro IV diesel, by the same date. Patrick Siu, senior development manager with Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks, said completion of the deal with the joint venture on the 18,000 square metre site was expected within "a day or two". "In Europe, they are increasing the percentage of bio-diesel in diesel oil and together with escalating petroleum prices, it's quite an active area for business," he said. "We have quite a few firms showing interest in setting up bio-diesel plants at Tseung Kwan O." Christian Masset, chairman of green group Clear the Air, said: "If this plant uses exclusively Hong Kong-produced waste, this is a win-win situation. The waste will not end up in the Hong Kong environment and we will reduce noxious emissions from vehicles. But we will be watching the plant closely to see whether it lives up to expectations."

China: China's central government has earmarked 13.5 billion yuan (1.9 billion U.S. dollars) to support the rural compulsory education for this spring term, announced the Ministry of Finance on Friday. Earlier last month, the country allocated 8.6 billion yuan to provide free schoolbooks for rural students and a special fund of 2.14 billion yuan to restore the buildings in rural primary and middle schools. Disaster-hit rural areas should have the priority to enjoy the special fund, according to the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Finance. The fund should be delivered to disaster-stricken counties in 20 workdays. Storms made 3.5 million square meters of school buildings unsafe for further use without repair. The ministry was concerned about the structural safety of schools in snow-stricken areas, said Jiang Peimin, director with the Ministry of Education (MOE) earlier last month. Snow has forced more than 1,300 primary and middle schools in southern and central China to postpone the start of the new semester, affecting more than 280,000 school students, according to the MOE.

The Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) held a symposium in the Great Hall of the People on Friday to mark the 110th birthday of the late Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai. Chinese President Hu Jintao highly praised Zhou's devotion to the Party, the people and the nation, calling on the whole Party members and people to learn from his example in the process of building socialism with Chinese characteristics and completely implement the spirit of the 17th National Congress of CPC. Zhou, born in 1898, was one of the key CPC leaders leading China's revolution and as well as one of the founders of the People's Republic of China and the People's Liberation Army (PLA). Zhou served as Chinese Premier from 1949 to 1976. Hu called Zhou a great Marxist, a great proletarian revolutionist, a great statesman and diplomatist, and an important member of the first-generation central leadership of the CPC with Mao Zedong at the core. "Zhou had devoted his whole life to the Party, the nation and the people, his spirits and deeds will inspire us to work harder in the reform and opening-up on the road of building socialism with Chinese characteristics," Hu said. The symposium was presided over by Premier Wen Jiabao. "Comrade Zhou Enlai has made a life-long selfless devotion to the cause of Chinese revolution and construction. He loved the people as much as the people loved him. His spirit of self-sacrifice devotion will live forever in the people's hearts", Wen said. Other top Chinese leaders Wu Bangguo, Jia Qinglin, Li Changchun, Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang, He Guoqiang, Zhou Yongkang as well as other senior officials and representatives from various departments and organs of the government, CPC, PLA and non-Party organizations attended the symposium.

The Chinese government is strengthening its efforts in building a food produce quality tracing system to ensure food safety, with various food tracing systems applied across the country. In the logistic center of Jifa Farming Development Co. Ltd, the biggest vegetable provider in Qinhuangdao city of Hebei province, the black and white bar code appears on every package of tomatoes, celery and other green vegetables. "The bar code is the 'identity card' of vegetables. You can find information about the producing area, producing date, producer, brand and source of the seed just by scanning the bar code in the supermarket or through phones, internet and the shourt messages, " said Zhao Huan, an pesticide checker of the company on Friday. "Once a food safety incident happens, we can track the producing area of the vegetables through the bar code and solve the problem as quick as possible, " said Zhao. The Jifa company provides more than 200,000 kg vegetable to the neighbouring Beijing, Tianjin and Tangshan cities and is also a major provider for the Olympics. "We have a food safety data tracing center in our city, which covers the major fruits, vegetables, sea food, livestocks and eggs. The food provided for the Olympics will be tracked in all precedures including production, processing, packaging, storing and transporting, " said Chen Rurong, head of the Qinhuangdao Municipal Food Saftey Office. Since 2004, the Agriculture Ministry has explored ways and means on traceability systems for farm produce quality and safety, and conducted trials in eight cities including Beijing, Tianjin and Shanghai for surveillance. The Beijing government has set up a rigorous food tracking and monitoring system for the 2008 Beijing Olympics and food safety for the games was fully guaranteed. All the procedures involving Olympic food, including production, processing, packaging, storing and transporting, will be closely monitored and the information would be incorporated into a database, which would enable food supervisors to be fully aware ofall the procedures and trace the sources in case of any incidents. Tianjin has established a tracking system for pork. In Shouguang city of eastern Shandong province, the largest vegetable provider of Beijing, code bar has been taken as a leading tracing tool for the vegetable safety. As a pesticide checker, Zhao Huan said he couldn't understand why China-made farm produce were regularly questioned and criticized in foreign press. As the upcoming Olympics will draw hundreds of thousands of foreign visitors to Beijing, the agriculture ministry has planned a special campaign to ensure market supply and food quality and safety in the city, said Gao Hongbin, vice minister of agriculturein early January. The campaign, which would be a team effort between the ministry and 13 provincial governments, aims to "further improve the quality and safety of agricultural products", he said. "The long-term goal is not to meet the demand of a single area or a single phase, we want to continuously improve the food safety across the country through the campaign," he said.

China home-grown 3G tech trial successful - Home grown 3G standard TD-SDMA received a boost in China when network trials went off without a hitch.

Beijing airport's new terminal, a major expansion project in preparation for the passenger surge during the Olympics, received its first commercial flight after opening on Friday morning. Journalists visit a scene in Passenger Terminal 3 at the Beijing Capital International Airport, Jan. 29, 2008. More than 10 scenes, most of which bear strong characteristics of classical Beijing imperial architectures, have been constructed inside Terminal 3. As one of the key projects of the Beijing Olympics, Terminal 3 is to go into test operation soon. The first flight took off from the terminal on 9:35 a.m. to Jinan of Shandong Province. The terminal would receive and send 42flights on its first operation day, said Dong Zhiyi, general manager of the Beijing Capital International Airport (BCIA). With a floor space of 986,000 square meters -- more than doubling the total area of the first two terminals -- the new terminal building could be the largest of its kind in the world, said construction project manager Fan Jun. The opening of the dragon-shaped building, which was designed by leading British architect Lord Foster and started construction on March 28, 2004, will enable the capital airport to handle 76 million passengers a year, against 53 million passengers in 2007. The city is expected to receive more than five million people during the 2008 Olympic Games held in August. Three highway roads are also under construction to connect the new terminal to the existing traffic system, and are planned to open before Olympics. Six new airport bus lines were put into operation with 88 new buses. The bus fee remains 16 yuan (about 2.25 U.S. dollars), the same as existing lines. Shuffle vehicles were also equipped to carry passengers between the three terminals. The new terminal will be used by six airlines initially, including Sichuan Airlines, Shandong Airlines, Qatar Airlines, Qantas Airways, British Airways and El Al Israel Airlines. A further 21 airlines companies would start using it on Mar. 29. China is also upgrading several standby airports near Beijing for the Olympics by renovating terminals, enlarging tarmacs, lengthening runways and improving services.

A Baidu booth at a Shanghai exhibition. The Chinese search engine Baidu Inc said on Friday it has started a beta test for its instant message (IM) product, marking the company's formal entry into China's IM market.

China's shipbuilding tonnage jumped 30 percent to 18.93 million tons last year, the country's top economic planning agency said Saturday.

March 2, 2008

Hong Kong: Five people charged by the Securities and Futures Commission with insider trading offenses appeared at the Eastern Magistracy yesterday, as the regulator began its first criminal proceedings for insider dealing since it was made a criminal offense in 2003.

The governments of Hong Kong, Guangdong, and Macau yesterday endorsed the financing scheme for bridges linking the three places and the massive project will soon proceed to public tenders. It is expected a number of state- owned enterprises will play a major role in building the bridges. The Hong Kong listed China Communication Construction Company (1800) and China Railway (0390) have a long history in building infrastructure projects in the mainland, Hong Kong and overseas. China Railway Construction, which will open its retail sales book in Hong Kong today, is also said to have the capability to handle multi-billion-yuan projects. However, neither company responded last night to a question from The Standard whether they were interested in bidding for the project. Hopewell Holdings (0054) co- managing director Thomas Wu Man- sun said Hopewell Highway (0737) could be among the bidders. He said Hopewell Highway had the financial capability, with around HK$6 billion in cash and a further HK$3 billion in borrowing. Wu said his company has had discussions with the three state enterprises on the construction of bridges before but refused to say whether they discussed the Hong Kong- Zhuhai-Macau Bridge. Wu's father, Gordon Wu Ying- sheung, had been advocating the construction of such a bridge since the 1980s. Shun Tak group chairman Stanley Ho Hung-sun said he too is interested in bidding for the project. Under the agreement Hong Kong will meet just over half the total cost, at 50.2 percent, with Guangdong chipping in 35.1 percent and Macau 14.7 percent. The equation takes into account the economic benefits to each side, such as the savings in transport costs and time, as well as the costs to each side in building their own connecting roads. Mainland officials said last year Hong Kong's economic benefits could reach 64 percent compared with 26 percent for Guangdong and 10 percent for Macau. Eva Cheng Yu-way, convenor of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge Advance Work Co-ordination Group said yesterday the main body of the bridge will go to tender in its entirety. "The three sides agreed that the three governments would be responsible for the construction and operation of the boundary crossing facilities and the connecting roads to the bridge within their own territory," Cheng said. She added the connecting roads are about 12.6 kilometers on the Hong Kong side with the mainland responsible for 13.9 kilometers. Under the proposed construction package, the main body of the bridge will be about 29.6km. To the west, it lands on the artificial island off Gongbei, and to the east it lands on the eastern artificial island for the tunnel section just west of the Guangdong boundary. It will be a six-lane expressway allowing for vehicle speeds of 100 kilometers an hour. To ensure unimpeded sea traffic along the main navigation channels towards the Guangzhou and Shenzhen ports, there will be a tunnel linking up the two artificial islands that provide the bridge/tunnel switching facilities. National People's Congress local deputy Cheng Yiu-tong warned the future actual economic benefits may be different from what is expected. He said if vehicles using the bridge have to pay tolls, the profits should be divided along the same percentages as the costs.

Shareholders of Hopewell Holdings (0054) will enjoy a lucrative special dividend after the company announced interim net profit for the six months ended December 31 nearly quadrupled to HK$5.25 billion from HK$1.34 billion the previous year, thanks to exceptional gains totaling more than HK$4.76 billion.

`Santa' Tsang wins battle for hearts - The maiden budget speech of Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah has been ranked the second best since the handover - less than two percentage points behind the 2000 budget prepared by Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, the current chief executive.
A public opinion poll conducted by Hong Kong University found 68.4 percent were satisfied with the budget compared with 70.3 percent who were satisfied with the 2000 budget. The budget with the lowest approval rating in the 10 years since the handover was that prepared by Antony Leung Kam-chung in 2003 - it received only 19.9 percent support. John Tsang's personal popularity surged 12 marks to 67.9 and confidence in him soared 23 percentage points to 58 percent. The university interviewed 1,077 people hours after the budget was announced. "The satisfaction rate has exceeded all four budgets delivered by Henry Tang Ying-yen and was narrowly behind that of Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's in 2000," said poll director Robert Chung Ting-yiu. Despite his instant popularity, John Tsang still came under attack for treating the elderly as "burdens" of society by refusing to increase the old-age allowance to HK$1,000, as suggested by the Legislative Council. The financial secretary defended his position by saying the government had to consider the long-term impact on public spending. Civic Party lawmaker Ronny Tong Ka-wah accused John Tsang of bluffing and using projected figures for 2033 when no one could really say how many old people there would be then. Unionist Lee Cheuk-yan said the financial chief was treating the elderly as burdens to society, a view shared by many callers to yesterday's radio programs. John Tsang said the one-off giveaways would not affect the inflation rate and he believed the HK$1,800 electricity subsidy for all households would not encourage people to waste electricity since it would be given out in three or six installments.

Flagfalls for urban and New Territories taxis rose HK$1 yesterday, just two weeks before talks seeking a further HK$2 increase for urban taxis are due to begin.

The Shenzhen section of a rail link connecting the mainland city's airport with Chek Lap Kok will not start until 2011, Shenzhen Mayor Xu Zongheng said yesterday.

Edison leaves HK after police investigations - A week after apologising for his role in the celebrity sex-photos scandal, Edison Chen Koon-hei left Hong Kong yesterday as police ended their inquiries with him. A statement from his lawyer said Chen wished to inform members of the media that he had given full and helpful co-operation to the police in the past few days since returning to the city to explain his role in the controversy. "The Hong Kong police have informed Mr Chen, through his legal counsel, that the request from the police for Mr Chen's assistance has concluded ... and that no further assistance is required of him in the immediate future," the statement added. There had been media speculation that Chen would face a criminal investigation for his role in the scandal, and suggestions that the case involved more than pictures being stolen from his computer. Last night, police said they had obtained the information they needed at this stage. "Police need time to follow up the information. The case is still being investigated," a police spokesman said. Chen's management company confirmed he had left Hong Kong but declined to reveal his whereabouts. The beleaguered star returned from the United States last Thursday, weeks after the scandal broke. He admitted he had taken the pictures of female celebrities engaging in sex acts with him that had been circulated on the internet around the world. He apologised to Hongkongers and the women involved and announced he would quit the local entertainment scene indefinitely. He has not spoken in public since then and had been staying at the Four Seasons Hotel in Central and giving statements at police headquarters in Wan Chai, accompanied by privately hired and police bodyguards. Lawyer and lawmaker James To Kun-sun said Chen was "cleared from the case for the moment only". "The police state he is now a witness in the case, based on the information they have so far. It does not mean 100 per cent that he is totally free. And Chen may be required to come back to Hong Kong for more investigations or to testify in court later," Mr To said. Two men linked to the scandal are still on bail. Kwok Chun-wai, a 24-year-old clerk, is alleged to have posted two internet hyperlinks to a website from which people could download 100 explicit photographs. Sze Ho-chun, 23, a computer technician, is accused of dishonestly accessing a computer. The prosecution has asked for more time as police work on the case.

The government supports the suggested introduction of water taxis to connect tourist spots in Southern District and Ocean Park, as district councillors said such a service could help ease road traffic in the area. Kinnie Wong Kit-yee, an assistant commissioner at the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau, told a Southern District Council meeting yesterday that one of the major considerations of developing the district into a tourist attraction was to revitalise the area's historic fishing village background. "Bringing the living culture of the old days back is one of the areas we focus on and water taxis fit this idea very well," Miss Wong said, adding that it would be good for visitors to experience a sampan ride. Ocean Park chairman Allan Zeman, who presented hotel projects planned for the theme park at the meeting, also supported the water taxi idea. "It's a good idea to link Aberdeen, Repulse Bay and Stanley. When tourists come it is nice for them to get around in a boat. People still like going on the Star Ferry," he said. "I think it's something that we will continue to discuss with the government and the Transport Department." Mr Zeman said Ocean Park was seeking Town Planning Board approval for three hotels and tenders would be invited once approval was granted. The projects will be presented to the board today. "The developers will have to pay for construction of the hotels and they will have to share their profits with Ocean Park," he said. Meanwhile, Becky Ip Ching-tak, the Tourism Board's director for mainland China, said mainlanders may choose to stay at home during the Beijing Games. She said some mainland travel agencies had forecast the number of visitors to Hong Kong might drop 10 per cent during the Games. Tourism Board executive director Anthony Lau Chun-hon said this summer's two-month shopping promotion would be extended to about 12 weeks. Travel Industry Council chairman Ronnie Ho Pak-ting said he did not think arrivals would be too adversely affected by the Olympics but warned airline seats would be hard to secure.

China: Hollywood steps up involvement in China biz - The world is obsessed with China. And so is Hollywood. Three studios are planning to release large-scale English-language movies filmed in China: Lionsgate and the Weinstein Co. will open Rob Minkoff's $55 million "The Forbidden Kingdom," starring Jet Li and Jackie Chan, on April 18; Universal releases the $160 million sequel "The Mummy: The Tomb of the Dragon Emperor," starring Li, Brendan Fraser and Michelle Yeoh, on Aug. 1. Harvey Weinstein and producer Mike Medavoy are still hoping to gain access to China this April to shoot the $30 million pre-Pearl Harbor mystery "Shanghai," starring John Cusack, Chow Yun-Fat, Ken Watanabe and Gong Li, for year-end release. So far, China has barred the film. And four Asian distributors joined forces to back Hong Kong action maestro John Woo's ambitious $80 million epic "Red Cliff," with "Lust, Caution" star Tony Leung and a cast of thousands. The stakes for these players are huge. With an entry into the rapidly burgeoning Chinese film market, where box office is growing 25% every year, distribs are looking to grab a bigger piece of the pie. (China offers a measly 13% film rental to outsiders.) In 2006, China's B.O. grosses amounted to some $400 million; that's expected to more than double by 2010. Five years ago, China and Hong Kong's theatrical markets were about the same size; now China's is four times as big. "China's middle class is now 250 million," says "Mummy" director Rob Cohen. "We're feeling the buying power of those 250 million people." China and Hong Kong also boast a raft of movie stars with global appeal: Li ("Lethal Weapon 4"), Chan (the "Rush Hour" trilogy), Chow ("Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End"), Yeoh ("Tomorrow Never Dies"), Zhang Ziyi ("Memoirs of a Geisha") and Gong ("Miami Vice") have all starred in Hollywood films as well as toplining Asian pictures. The studios hire these stars to boost their fortunes worldwide, but especially in the mighty Asian market. Ever since 2000, when Sony's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," directed by Ang Lee and starring Chow, Yeoh and Zhang, proved how well a Western-accessible Chinese action film could perform, more studios have been trying to tap the global market for Asian films. The studios would like to gain some of the clout in Asia currently enjoyed by Chinese producer/distrib Bill Kong, whose mission since producing "Crouching Tiger" has been to build a self-sufficient pan-Asian film market. Kong also produced Zhang Yimou's "Hero," "The House of Flying Daggers," and "The Curse of the Golden Flower," as well as Lee's controversially sexy "Lust, Caution," which helped contribute to a recent crackdown by gatekeeper China Film Group. But if you go to China, you play by China's rules: In 2006, Warner Bros. tangled with the China Film Group over requested changes to "The Painted Veil" that the filmmakers and star Edward Norton did not want to make. A compromise eventually was reached. Sony has backed 10 Chinese films in the past eight years, including "Crouching Tiger," Stephen Chow's action comedies "Kung Fu Hustle" and most recently, "CJ7." "There's a strong interest in China in making people aware of what it has to offer," says Sony exec Gareth Wigan. "With the coming Olympic Games, it's their priority to show China as one of the first rank of nations. China is a place where Sony will be making more films, in Chinese and in English." A logjam of movies is awaiting script and final-cut approvals, as well as permits to shoot in China, including Mikael Hafstrom's "Shanghai." Word is that the Chinese harbor a grudge against Harvey Weinstein for reneging on his promise to release Chen Kaige's $35 million epic "The Promise." But Medavoy cites Chinese issues with drug-running and prostitutes in the script, which he compares with "Casablanca." If "Shanghai" never clears the gate, the project will lose some $3 million in Chinese pre-production costs and will have to move to Thailand and/or Hong Kong, says Medavoy, who grew up in Shanghai and has developed this project for a decade. "It's an international movie that should play everywhere. The Asian stars lend luster to it." Kong also helped out on Woo's "Red Cliff," which Columbia was interested in backing early on, before it ultimately balked at the film's bulk, length and potential pricetag. (The budget soared from $35 million to $50 million to $80 million.) Producer Terence Chang assembled the film's initial production funding, taking a bank loan against investments from Korea's Showbox Entertainment, the China Film Group, Taiwan's CMC Entertainment and Japan's Avex Entertainment. Summit Entertainment handled global presales. "There was no other way to do it," Chang says on the phone from Beijing. "It's a Chinese film based on a famous story well-known in Asia that John has wanted to do for 20 years." After Woo's longtime Hong Kong star Chow ditched the film on the first day of shooting on April 14, the company had to destroy a lavish set complete with a running river built at Beijing Studios to make way for Chen Kaige's next film. Leung stepped in for Chow. Woo is editing the first of two films for release in Asia on July 10; he'll unveil some footage at Cannes to launch the film. The second "Red Cliff" installment, which boasts a massive sea battle and 1,000 CG shots by the Orphanage, as well as a two-hour Western combined version, are due at year's end. Only after showing the entire film will the filmmakers seek a North American distributor. China's cash-only below-the-line filmmaking costs about a third of what it would have cost to shoot in the U.S. "Red Cliff" would have run at least $200 million to shoot Stateside, Chang says. When it came to making a third "Mummy" film, this one set in China, Universal co-chairman David Linde turned to Kong, with whom he had worked at Good Machine and Focus Features on many of his films. "We needed Kong to bridge not just the cultural gap but the way different countries operate," says Linde, who plans to operate more directly in Asia through local studio co-productions. Kong submitted script drafts to the China Film Co-production Corp., says director Cohen, who compares brokering a co-production deal with the Chinese to negotiating a nuclear treaty. "We had to depoliticize the script to keep certain things as fantasy and not so historical." A complex co-production deal was hammered out between Universal and China. Elaborate manifests listing every screwdriver, costume, prop and lens cap had to be presented before anything could be brought into the country. "Mummy 3" was able to film all over the country, says Cohen, a long-time martial arts fan and Buddhist who filmed 1973's "Dragon: the Bruce Lee Story." After shooting interiors in Montreal, "The Mummy," which Cohen describes as "an emotional journey into a mystical world that combines ancient Chinese history with a 1946 story about a son estranged from his two parents," spent three months shooting on locations all over China, at an ancient monastery on the western border of Kazhakstan, the pyramids of Ning Xia and near Beijing, where they staged desert battles, built a recreation of the Great Wall and brought an army of Terra Cotta warriors back to life to fight for their immortal emperor, played by Li. Wizardess Yeoh fights Li with her own ghost army of the dead buried under the Great Wall. Cohen and stuntman Vic Armstrong staged an elaborate balletic sword fight for the two martial artists' first-ever onscreen battle, and mounted a car chase with 500 extras inside a huge set replicating Shanghai's wharfside Bund district at Shanghai Studios. While shot on a much lower budget than "Mummy 3," "The Forbidden Kingdom" also took advantage of China's exotic locations. Based on classic Chinese mythology and financed by Ryan Kavanaugh's Relativity Media, the movie focuses on an American kid obsessed with Chinese culture. Director Rob Minkoff, a China fan in his own right, was a good fit. Also facing off for the first time are the somber Li and lighthearted Jackie Chan. Producer Casey Silver brought in "The Matrix" and "Crouching Tiger" choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping and Oscar-winning "Crouching Tiger" cinematographer Peter Pau. "These are Asian heavyweights," says Silver, who sold the film to Lionsgate and China territories before he started filming in the Gobi desert, the Wuyi Mountains in the south and at China's largest studio, Hengdian. Weinstein acquired rights in Latin America, Spain and France and part of North America. "I wanted to bring the craftsmanship of Asian cinema, executed at a high level," says Silver, "and make it understandable to a Western audience." The trick for all of these films will be attaining universal appeal -- without alienating Western or Asian audiences.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband (R) talks with a Chinese student in English in southwest China’s Chongqing Municipality on Feb. 27, 2008. Miliband started his six-day official visit to China on Sunday. He arrived in Beijing on Wednesday afternoon, after visiting Hong Kong, Shanghai and Chongqing.

Popular Japanese rock band L'Arc-en-Ciel, who played a sold-out show in Shanghai in 2005, is staging a comeback show in the eastern Chinese city to kick off its first world tour. The four-member band will begin its "Kiss" tour with a concert at Shanghai's Yuanshen Stadium on April 19, the local Oriental Morning Post reported on Thursday. L'Arc-en-Ciel, founded in 1991, is characterized by high-energy live shows. Their Chinese mainland debut at the Shanghai Grand Stage in 2005 drew a packed house, though tickets sold for as much as 5,000 yuan (698 U.S. dollars). A representative of the Shanghai International Culture and Art Exchange Company, the organizer of the upcoming show, told the Oriental Morning Post that L'Arc-en-Ciel chose to begin their world tour in Shanghai because the group was very impressed during their last visit. "However, despite the success of the 2005 show, the band thinks the indoor Shanghai Grand Stage is not the best venue for their style of rock," the representative said. The band picked Yuanshen Stadium after a long search, so fans can expect an even more explosive show this time around, he added. Around 16,000 tickets will go on sale on Friday, with prices ranging from 150 to 3,000 yuan (21 - 419 dollars). The organizer is already swamped with ticket inquiries, including many from Japan, the report says. Following the Shanghai show, L'Arc-en-Ciel is set to play in Paris, Seoul and Hong Kong. They will return to Japan in late May for shows in Tokyo and Osaka.

Little Swan products displayed at a Beijing department store. Home appliance maker Midea said Thursday it will buy a 24.01 percent stake in Little Swan for $236 million from Wuxi Guolian Development Group.

Shichahai's spring cleaning of Olympic proportions - Liu Yongfu's new home would not have been built without the Beijing Olympics, an epochal event-in-the-making that promises to leave a lasting legacy on the city of 17.5 million including better housing, more extensive public transport and expanded sporting activities. "My family has just moved into our new house," said Liu of Beijing's Shichahai community in Xicheng District. "I am over the moon at how our shabby dwelling has been fully renovated within the space of four months. It looks brand new." Liu lives in Liuhai Hutong, one of the city's preserved neighborhoods of archaic-looking alleyways, among Shichahai's 100,000 residents. The area was earmarked for a cosmetic overhaul ahead of the August 8-24 Games under the Old City Reconstruction Project of the Beijing Municipal Government. "We will be able to use electricity instead of coal to warm the house, as it is clean and more environmental friendly," added Liu. The overhaul cost the family next-to-nothing in relative terms and has come at no inconvenience, her husband chimed in. "It only cost us a few thousand yuan to decorate our new home but it hasn't interfered with our living habits," said Ji Bingzhi. "We even kept the same telephone number." Ji said he was looking forward to showing his foreign friends around his "new" property, with its traditional courtyard, when they stop by for the Beijing Games. The government will invest 1 billion yuan ($130 million) this year to renovate four downtown districts: Dongcheng, Xicheng, Xuanwu and Chongwen. Retired worker Qiu Pumin said the reconstruction work has come as a breath of fresh air, but he doubts it would have happened without the clean-up drive powered by the Olympic juggernaut. "My house is brighter now as the window lets in much more light than before. The messy courtyards are clean, new and flat - all of which is attributable to the hosting of the Beijing Olympic Games," he said. The Olympics has also spurred a colorful new calendar of sporting activities in the city. In the case of Xicheng, it has accelerated measures to install bodybuilding facilities in residential areas there that began several years ago, thanks to increased investment. "We also have dancing, model and chorus teams," said resident Li Yanhong. At the heart of the neighborhood is a square where residents can play table tennis, China's de facto national sport, for four hours a day for free.

China and the European Union (EU) will give each other unrestricted maritime market access as a result of the EU-China Maritime Transport Agreement, which is set to come into force on Saturday. Under the pact concluded in Brussels on December 6, 2002, international cargo transport and logistics operators may extend branches that provide door-to-door multi-modal services, according to a joint statement issued on Thursday. "The agreement has strengthened our maritime relations and cooperation. These close ties have been beneficial for the development of trade and economic activities, not only between China and the EU but also with the world at large," said European Commission Vice-President Jacques Barrot in a letter to the Chinese Minister for Communications, Li Shenglin. Barrot said that the accord would mean increased investment in all segments of maritime transport, and it would also boost cooperation in matters as important as maritime safety and environmentally sustainable shipping. Both sides would also increase investment in ports and logistics infrastructure to avoid costly congestion. The agreement aims to improve the conditions under which maritime cargo transport operations are carried out, based on the principles of freedom to provide maritime transport services, free access to cargoes and cross-trade and non-discriminatory treatment in the use of ports and auxiliary services. About 90 percent of world trade is seaborne, and both the EU and China are major participants in maritime affairs. EU shipping companies control more than 40 percent of the world fleet, and China is the EU's second largest trading partner.

China may scrap one-child policy, official says - The mainland, worried about an ageing population, is studying scrapping its controversial one-child policy but will not do away with family-planning policies altogether, a senior official said late on Thursday. With the world’s biggest population straining scarce land, water and energy resources, China has enforced rules to restrict family size since the 1970s. Rules vary but usually limit families to one child, or two in the countryside. “We want incrementally to have this change,” Vice-Minister of the National Population and Family Planning Commission Zhao Baige told reporters in Beijing. “I cannot answer at what time or how, but this has become a big issue among decision makers,” Mr Zhao said. She added that the current plan was to study the issue seriously and responsibly, but avoid sudden changes that might cause a spike in births. “Minority groups already have two children, even three, and in the cities like Shanghai and Beijing, a lot of only children are already released (to have two), but the most important is those in the middle like in Henan... nearly a hundred million people, but strongly influenced by the classical way, they want a son, and they are already very fragile environmentally.” Teams studying the issue would have to consider the strain of China’s huge population on its scarce resources, popular attitudes, and how much of a social net China can afford to provide without the traditional reliance on large families to care for the aged, she said. Surveys show that 60 percent of Chinese younger than 30 want a maximum of two children, and only a “very small” number want more than three, Zhao said. The average number of children that would be born to a woman over her lifetime has decreased to 1.8 in China today, from 5.8 in the 1970s, and below the replacement rate of 2.1. In recent years, the mainland has sought to soften its draconian and often controversial family control policies, which have included forced abortions and other punitive measures. But local officials remain under intense pressure to keep numbers down, leading to skewed statistics and sometimes brutality. The country is now relying more on education, especially about contraception, said Zhao, in charge of international cooperation, education and communication at the ministry. China says its policies have prevented several hundred million births and boosted prosperity, but experts have warned of a looming social time-bomb from an ageing population and widening gender disparity stemming from a traditional preference for boys. Normally, between 103 and 107 boys are born for every 100 girl infants, but in China, 118 boys are born for every 100 girls, Zhao said. Experimental policies include trying to improve women’s welfare and girls’ access to schooling. Still, the government has previously expressed concern that too many people are flouting the rules. State media said in December that China’s population would grow to 1.5 billion people by 2033, with birth rates set to soar over the next five years. Officials have also cautioned that population controls are being unraveled by the increased mobility of China’s 150 million-odd migrant workers, who travel from poor rural areas to work in more affluent eastern cities. China has vowed to slap heavier fines on wealthy citizens who flout family planning laws, in response to the emergence of an upper class willing to pay standard fines to have more children.

March 1, 2008

Hong Kong: China's central bank said it will actively consider establishing a Hong Kong offshore center for the Renminbi and promote the internationalization of the currency. The People's Bank of China (PBOC) made the statement in reply to a proposal from the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) on the tactics that should be taken in opening up China's financial system. The PBOC did not give any timetable, saying that it would "make the move step by step, together with the opening-up of the domestic capital account and the reform towards Renminbi convertibility, based on the country's overall demand." The CPPCC proposal said China should use Hong Kong as a buffer zone in opening up its financial market and build a market-oriented financial system.
 

A model presents ornaments made of chocolate during a promotion for the opening of a French chocolate shop in Hong Kong, China, Feb. 27, 2008. Many chocolate ornaments exhibited here were shown to public for the first time.

The Government of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) announced Thursday the following senior appointments: Ma Lee-tak, Principal Government Engineer, will assume the post of Director of Water Supplies with effect from March 3, 2008. Peter Lau Ka-keung, Principal Government Engineer, will succeed Wong Chee-keung as Director of Drainage Services with effect from March 10, 2008. Captain Michael Chan Chi-pui, Chief Pilot, will succeed Captain Brian Butt Yiu-ming as Controller, Government Flying Service, with effect from March 27, 2008. Speaking on the appointments, Denise Yue, the Secretary for the Civil Service of Hong Kong said, "The appointees are all seasoned civil servants with profound professional experience and proven leadership and management skills. I have every confidence that they will ably lead their respective departments to face the challenges ahead and continue to serve the community with professionalism and dedication in their new capacities."

Hong Kong's total goods exports values rose 15.8 percent in the past year to 240.1 billion HK dollars (30.8 billion U.S. dollars) in January, while goods imports values climbed 16.9 percent to 247.6 billion HK dollars, the Census and Statistics Department of Hong Kong said Thursday. This resulted in a visible trade deficit of 7.5 billion HK dollars, equivalent to 3 percent of the goods import value. Merchandise exports grew strongly in January mainly due to the robust performance of the Chinese mainland market and other emerging economies. The global trading environment remains rather uncertain, as the U.S. economy continues to weaken and the financial market turmoil has yet to settle. Nevertheless, the strong growth momentum in many emerging economies, particularly the Chinese mainland, should continue to support Hong Kong's trade performance. Among the total exports, the re-export value rose 16.4 percent to 231.6 billion HK dollars while the domestic export value grew 0. 8 percent to 8.5 billion HK dollars. Exports to Asia rose 20 percent, with export values to India up140 percent, to Malaysia up 38 percent, to Indonesia up 37.9 percent, to Thailand up 27 percent and to the Chinese mainland up 20.4 percent. Significant increases were also registered in the values of total exports to other major destinations, in particular to Germany up 17.1 percent and to the Netherlands up 15.7 percent.

Everyone's a winner with $44b handouts - In his maiden budget yesterday, Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah unveiled a HK$44.1 billion windfall. This included one-off handouts and benefits for the elderly and the disadvantaged as well as tax cuts and rebates for the middle class and well- off. The measures, which include HK$1,800 worth of free electricity to 2.4 million households, were announced on the back of a record surplus of HK$115.6 billion, double last year's figures. In a bid to ease inflationary pressures, Tsang pledged more than HK$35 billion in tax breaks. He also announced the widening of tax bands, which was in line with last year's policy address. He attributed the large surplus to stock, property and company tax revenue and the economic buoyancy, but warned inflation and a US-led economic slowdown could curb Hong Kong's growth. Tsang forecast GDP to increase by 4 to 5 percent, lower than the past four years, and the inflation rate to soar to 4.5 percent this year, up from 2.8 percent last year. The budget centered around four themes - economic development, supporting disadvantaged groups, leaving wealth with the people and providing for the future. Economic stimulation was announced with a cash boost of HK$21.8 billion for the government's flagship infrastructure projects - which will create 27,000 new construction jobs. To keep up with Macau's booming tourism, HK$150 million will be doled out to promote Hong Kong as an international convention, exhibition, and tourism capital and the hotel accommodation tax will be waived. But the heart of the budget was to alleviate the hardship of the underprivileged by building a "harmonious, family-based society." A one-off grant of HK$3,000 for Old Age Allowance recipients, which will cost HK$1.5 billion, was revealed. Low-income families who receive social security and disability payments will receive an extra month's payment while those in government housing will receive one-month's rent. The budget saw innovative moves to ease inflationary pressure such as an electricity subsidy of HK$1,800 - allowing 15 percent of households to cover their electricity charges for a year and 20 percent of households to cover charges for six months. Under the banner of "providing for the future" HK$50 billion was earmarked for health-care reform and HK$8.5 billion for a one-off injection of HK$6,000 into the Mandatory Provident Fund account of every employee earning less than HK$10,000 a month. Most major political parties were positive about the budget, saying it responded to all groups and classes and included innovative measures with the MPF handout and electricity subsidy. The standard tax rate was slashed to 15 percent and the profits tax to 16.5 percent while there was a 75 percent waiver of salaries and profits tax, to be capped at HK$25,000. Tsang denied suggestions he gave away too much, saying the HK$7.5 billion deficit predicted for 2008/09 was just 0.4 percent of Hong Kong's HK$1.7 trillion GDP. "As the measures proposed in this budget are mostly one- off or time-limited, they will not have significant implications for future public finances," he said. But Tsang stressed he would be cautious about future spending in the face of global turmoil and inflation, adding: "We should be aware of the possibility that the situation might deteriorate in the near future and that the fallout may be prolonged." Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen praised the budget, saying: "These undertakings all honor the pledges in my election manifesto to leave wealth with the people."

Improved sentiment renews IPO activity - Two firms plan to list in Hong Kong in late March on improved sentiment for initial public offerings in the wake of China Railway Construction Corp's listing activities.

HK agrees to pay 50.2pc of Macau bridge financing - Three regional governments reach financing agreement on ambitious project - Officials from Guangdong, Macau and Hong Kong have reach an agreement on financing arrangements for the ambitious bridge project linking Hong Kong with Macau and Zhuhai. Secretary for Transport and Housing Eva Cheng on Thursday said the governments had made a significant progress in plans for financing the 35 kilometre long Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge. Ms Cheng was speaking after a meeting in Guangzhou with government officials from the three territories. “After the discussion, we have reached an initial agreement that Hong Kong would pay 50.2 per cent of the project cost, the mainland will contribute 35.1 per cent and Macau 14.7 per cent. Of course we hope the governments would not have to pay too many extra costs,” she said. “This was calculated according to the economic benefits each place expected to gain from the project,” she added. Ms Cheng said they would now work on the tendering process and welcomed parties to bid for tender. “It would be joint tender and to economise the benefits and investments, our consultant suggests granting 50 year’s franchise to the licensee,” she said. However, Ms Cheng refused to reveal the cost of the project at this stage. The transport secretary said the design and technical alignment of the bridge was still being worked out. It is estimated that 13,000 to 24,000 vehicles would pass through the bridge each day and by 2030, traffic could be reach 70,000 vehicles a day. Lau Ching-kwong, director of the Civil Engineering Department and president of the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers, said the project’s impact environmentally still needed to be addressed. But Mr Lau agreed the bridge could bring economic benefits to the delta. “Although during the early stage after the bridge had been built, I expected the traffic of the bridge would not be high. But in the long run, I foresee the project can boost the tourism, logistics development and bring economic benefits and increase the competitiveness of the entire delta to the entire delta,” Mr Lau said. The idea of building a superhighway project to link Hong Kong, Zhuhai and Macau was first raised by Hopewell Holdings (SEHK: 0054) chairman Gordon Wu Ying-sheung in 1983.

The government may free up prime sites for office buildings in Wan Chai by moving some of its own offices to Kowloon and the New Territories. Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah said the government would study the feasibility of rebuilding Immigration Tower, Wan Chai Tower and Revenue Tower at Kai Tak and in Tseung Kwan O. If the plan goes ahead, developers could be expected to pay HK$20 billion for the land freed up in Gloucester Road, a surveyor said. The move would not be possible before 2011, when infrastructure work at Kai Tak ends. However, Mr Tsang said the government would not resume holding regular land auctions, as some developers have demanded, but would stick with the application list system under which developers must lodge bids for sites to trigger their sale. He said holding regular auctions could distort the market. The financial secretary said the next application list would comprise 62 sites - 10 commercial, 10 for hotels and 42 residential. If all the hotel sites were developed, they would increase the rooms available in the city by between 9,000 and 11,000. The government believes the move would not only provide more land in the central business district on which to build grade A office blocks, but bring fresh impetus to new districts and create new jobs. Mr Tsang said it was not necessary for all government office buildings to be in core business areas. While noting that the government's Hong Kong 2030 Study forecasts the land available for new grade A offices in the next few years would be adequate, he said moving government offices away from central districts would stimulate economic growth. Government sources said the study was at a preliminary stage and there was no concrete plan for the sites' redevelopment.

China: China plans to carry out its first spacewalk in second half of the year, an official of the nation's manned space program said here on Thursday. The Shenzhou VII spacecraft will be launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the northwestern province of Gansu latein the year and the astronauts will leave their spacecraft for the first time, the official told Xinhua. The spacecraft will also release a small inspection satellite, which monitors its own performance. Breakthroughs have been made in significant techniques related to the spacewalk. Research into the development of spacecraft and rockets has been going smoothly, and astronauts have undertaken extensive training, according to the official. The Shenzhou VII mission will start the second phase of China's three-stage space program, said the official. In the second stage, China plans further breakthroughs in manned space flight, such as space walks and docking of the capsule and space module. In this phase, China will put into orbit a space laboratory staffed by humans for short periods and establish a fully-equipped space engineering system. In the third stage, China will build a permanent space station and a space engineering system. Astronauts and scientists will travel between the Earth and the space station to conduct large-scale experiments. China began its manned space program in 1999. It successfully sent Yang Liwei into orbit on the Shenzhou V spacecraft in 2003. Two years later, Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng completed a Chinese record of five-day flight on the Shenzhou VI. All returned safely.

Growth in China's steel exports slowed in 2007, despite the country remaining a net seller of the strategic products. Last year, the country exported 62.65 million tons of rolled steel, a growth of 45.8 percent over the previous year, a General Administration of Customs source said on Thursday. The growth rate was 63.7 percentage points lower than the year-earlier level. Meanwhile, the country imported 16.87 million tons of rolled steel, down 8.8 percent. Net exports stood at 45.76 million tons. The customs source said the slowdown in exports was a result of government policies to contain exports. Since April, China has slashed export tax rebates and increased export duties four times, in addition to putting some steel products under an export licensing system. The aim was to end the disorder in steel exports and rampant expansion of production capacities at home. At the same time, it was to expedite industrial restructuring and upgrading. Though the growth rate slowed, concentration of the steel industry remained unsatisfactory. In the first half of 2007, the leading 10 steel producers accounted for 35 percent of the nation's total output, still far behind the 50-percent requirement set by the government for 2010. According to the customs source, growth in steel sales to traditional markets ebbed dramatically while demand from emerging markets became stronger. The Republic of Korea (ROC), European Union and ASEAN remained the top three target markets of Chinese steel products last year, accounting for 33.34 million tons, or 52.3 percent, of the country's total steel exports. But the growth rate in combined exports for the three markets went down 60.7 percentage points to 45.7 percent. Iran bought 3.14 million tons of rolled steel from China, representing a growth of 510 percent and edging to fifth place among overseas markets for the country's steel. China turned from a net importer to a net exporter of rolled steel in 2006.

Workers add finishing touches to the Jintaixizhao Station on the new Beijing subway Line 10, February 27, 2008. The new line is due to open before the Olympics this summer.

Pop prince Jay Chou has accepted a request by Fudan University's Shanghai Institute of Visual Arts to tutor its students and offer them guidance. Li Liya, a teacher with the institute, told China Daily yesterday Chou accepted the offer on Sunday when he met more than 1,000 students at the school. The Taiwan-based singer, actor and director was in Shanghai for the premiere of his movie Kungfu Dunk. "He has such a wide appeal to youngsters," Li said. "He is talented and experienced in music and performance, which will benefit our students greatly." Li said Chou will tutor and guide students in the institute's performing school when he has the time. He chose to be a volunteer, which means the school will not pay him for his services, Li said. "Chou accepted the job happily and said again and again that he would like to talk to the students," Li said. Before Chou, the school had also signed Taiwanese director Ang Lee, who directed Lust, Caution, as an honorary professor, and Eric Tsang, a Hong Kong actor and anchorman, as a guest professor. Chen Xi, a third-year student of TV and broadcasting, said she and her schoolmates have been very excited at the prospect of Chou teaching them, although she admitted that they seldom see those celebrity professors. "We have to fit into their busy schedules," she said.

China has labeled the United States the world's largest importer of smuggled Chinese relics, and demanded the country do more to combat the trade. Shan Jixiang, director of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, called on the United States to sign a memorandum of understanding with China to speed up cooperation in preventing the theft of relics and illegal trade. "Among other countries, we want most to sign such an agreement with the United States. We have worked on it for more than four years but the process has been slow recently," Shan said. Shan said the plan had been supported by US archaeologists and scholars, but "influential museum directors and collectors" had been against it. They had "held the incorrect view that these Chinese cultural properties in the United States have become part of American culture because they were there for a long time," Shan said. Demand for Chinese art has soared among international collectors in recent years, with auctions of both modern and ancient artifacts achieving record sales.

Taiwan's Tzu Chi Foundation, a Buddhist relief organization, will become the first such charity on the mainland headed by non-mainlanders. Fan Liqing, a spokeswoman for the mainland State Council's Taiwan Affairs Office, confirmed yesterday that Beijing had approved Tzu Chi's application to set up a foundation. "This foundation, to be supervised by the national religious affairs department, is the first foundation represented by non-mainland residents," she said. Ms Fan said she expected it would promote cross-strait charity projects. The foundation, set up by Taiwanese master Cheng Yen, started its relief work on the mainland in response to flooding in 1991. Its officials said charity had no borders and that it welcomed donations and other help from the mainland. "With the approval of our operation on the mainland, the foundation will continue to promote charity there," a foundation spokeswoman said. The largest charity in Taiwan, it was set up 42 years ago and works in 45 countries.

 *News information are obtained via various sources deemed reliable, but not guaranteed

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