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June 30, 2010

Hong Kong*: Standard Chartered said it was on track for a strong first-half performance as its key Asian markets fared better than the west and it grabs market share.

Democratic Party chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan said on Monday party members would join the July 1 protest – along with other pro-democracy protesters and groups.

Graftbusters yesterday lost a six-year legal battle against two lawyers dubbed "The ICAC Killers" for their record of winning acquittals in cases brought by the anti-corruption agency. Friends and relatives of solicitor Andrew Lam Ping-cheung and barrister Kevin Egan were quick to celebrate after the Court of Final Appeal quashed convictions for perverting the course of justice. The Independent Commission Against Corruption had contested a Court of Appeal decision to quash a conviction against Egan. He had been convicted of revealing the identity of a female witness under protection by the ICAC. The witness, Becky Wong Pui-sze - the secretary of Semtech International Holdings chairman Derek Wong Chong- kwong - joined the protection program voluntarily after being arrested in 2004 along with her boss and seven others in a corruption case involving HK$570,000. Derek Wong has since absconded. The case related to a share- manipulation probe involving Semtech. Investigations included ICAC officers searching seven newsrooms - including those at Sing Tao, Apple Daily and Oriental Daily - in July 2004 and seizing computers. Egan gained access to Becky Wong and made a report of false imprisonment against the ICAC to seek her release. The Court of Final Appeal ruled that Egan's acquittal should stand, saying "the evidence presented by Egan was not addressed by the majority in the Court of Appeal." At the same time, Lam and Mandy Chui Man-si, a girlfriend of Derek Wong, appealed against convictions for perverting the course of justice. They were alleged to have made a fraudulent claim that Becky Wong was unlawfully detained by the ICAC against her will during the investigation. Lam was jailed for six years and Chui for two-and-a-half years. Both sentences were quashed. "The evidence favors a finding that Lam did not know or believe that Becky Wong was not unlawfully detained," Justice Patrick Chan Siu-oi said. The judge added that the presumption by the Court of Appeal that Lam was party to a conspiracy was inappropriate. Lam said later as he headed for a celebration at the Foreign Correspondents' Club in Central that having spent the "golden age of life fighting for justice in court" he was delighted with the judgment. "I believe in the rule of law practiced in Hong Kong," he said, adding: "Financial support from friends and my endurance helped pull me through the years." He told The Standard he is considering a claim against the ICAC for loss of earnings in the past four years, though he is not confident of success. Lam also said he would apply for the restoration of his license to practice as soon as possible. But he will not take up criminal cases - not to mention ICAC cases. "I've been restless enough going through the trial of this criminal case," he said. The Law Society of Hong Kong will today discuss whether to restore Lam's license. Egan, a former ICAC inspector, said he has no intention of changing what he has been doing for two decades and will continue to handle criminal cases involving the commission.

Graftbusters need to stay on the straight and narrow, legislators said after yesterday's ruling in the Court of Final Appeal. James To Kun-sun, a solicitor and deputy chairman of the legislature's panel on security, said: "The image of the Independent Commission Against Corruption has been affected by the case ... not because it spent lots of manpower and resources on it but because it did something unjust." He described as "malpractice" an ICAC decision to destroy a recording that solicitor Andrew Lam wanted kept as it might have proved his innocence. The recording was said to be of a conversation between Mandy Chui and Semtech chairman Derek Wong's secretary. To also said that as Lam and Kevin Egan were known for representing people in trouble with the ICAC, the agency's handling of the case might leave people with an impression that it was snapping at their heels. The case could also have lawyers worrying that they would face trouble if they represented people charged by the ICAC, he added. Lau Kong-wah, chairman of the panel on security, said yesterday's decisions were "a blow" to the ICAC, "but I believe our society will respect the ruling." But another solicitor and panel member, Paul Tse Wai-chun, said he did not see indications that the ICAC failed to meet its responsibilities in the case. The ICAC has lately come under criticism over its approach to some cases. Among them, TVB general manager Stephen Chan Chi-wan and four other people were arrested in March for alleged corruption over service contracts on entertainment shows, but the case does not appear to have moved forward.

The League of Social Democrats has promised not to intimidate or heckle the Democratic Party during Thursday's pro- democracy march. But it expects the march to be "very chaotic" given disharmony in the pan-democratic camp due to Democrat support for the government's political reform package.

 China*: The yuan hit a record high yesterday at 6.7968 against the US dollar before softening after the central bank set the strongest exchange rate in five years.

Trade officials from China and Taiwan were finalizing details on Monday on a landmark trade pact that will bind the economies of the political rivals closer than ever.

US President Barack Obama launched a stern challenge to the mainland overnight on Sunday, using the big stage of the G20 summit of world powers to demand Beijing’s help in rebalancing the world economy. The G20 leaders, representing both the world’s established economic giants and its dynamic emerging powers, agreed a package of measures to cut deficits, stimulate growth and return stability to financial markets. But Obama went further than the carefully worded joint statement, using his post-summit press conference to remind the mainland that the United States expects it to allow its currency to rise and to reduce its huge trade surplus. “My expectation is that they’re going to be serious about the policy that they themselves have announced,” Obama said, welcoming Beijing’s announcement last week that it will allow more flexibility in the yuan exchange rate. As the world limps out of the worst recession since the 1930s, American policymakers fear the recovery will revive the one-sided trade across the Pacific in mainland goods kept cheap by the low level of the yuan.

China's Communist Party grew even bigger last year as more people sought membership seen as a ticket to the ruling class elite and a means for getting ahead.

Agricultural Bank of China has set the price range for the Shanghai portion of its IPO at 2.52 to 2.68 yuan (HK$2.88-HK$3.06) per share, two sources said on Monday.

Taiwan’s Hon Hai Precision Industry Co group will build new factories for its LCD panel maker Chi Mei Innolux in the cities of Chengdu and Wuhan to mitigate rising labour costs in the mainland’s factory belt. A source with direct knowledge of the company’s plans said on Monday that the company would also expand production at existing plants in Ningbo, Nanjing and Foshan. The moves come amid a string of labour unrest in the coastal industrial hub of the Pearl River Delta, where increasingly assertive migrant workers are demanding better conditions and higher wages.

June 29, 2010

Hong Kong*: Police seized HK$170 million in illegal soccer and horse racing betting records yesterday at two sites believed to be operated by triads. It is believed to be the largest amount ever found in one police operation in the city. Officers from the organised crime and triad bureau seized HK$150 million in illegal betting slips when they raided a flat at the Hoplite Industrial Centre on Wang Tai Road, Kowloon Bay, where 24 monitors and six computers were also found, at about 3.30pm yesterday. Meanwhile, police raided a room at the San Diego Hotel in Woosung Street, Yau Ma Tei, seizing HK$20 million in betting records, computers and mobile phones. It was believed to be linked to the Kowloon Bay operation. Chief Inspector Ng Wai-hon said more than a dozen computer screens were used to display bets at the Kowloon Bay centre. The betting centre was on the surface operating as a trading company. Ng said: "The site was on a considerable scale, it's looked just like a computer control room." He said there were scores of closed-circuit cameras monitoring the area. Two men were arrested for illegal bookmaking at the Kowloon Bay site and two men were detained at the hotel. All are Hongkongers aged from 43 to 58.

Chamber chief eyes change for trade seats - Wider use of 'one person, two votes' formula seen. If "one person, two votes" works for five seats in the Legislative Council, why not for more? That's the message from business leader and government adviser Anthony Wu Ting-yuk. He believes the formula incorporated in electoral reforms for 2012 at the Democratic Party's behest, and which Legco approved on Friday, can have a far-reaching impact. Speaking hours after that historic vote, Wu, recently elected chairman of the influential Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, said the formula could be applied to the Legco seats representing business interests. The measure approved on Friday means a special interest group, in this case district councillors, nominates candidates that the wider public - those 3.2 million voters without a vote in a functional constituency - then elects. If adopted widely for functional constituencies, it would greatly increase their electorates but entrench the grip of traditional business interests on these seats. The advocates of the formula "have great wisdom", said Wu, who also heads the Bauhinia Foundation Research Centre think tank - seen as close to Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen. Wu's is the first indication the business community could accept an extension of the "one person, two votes" model to more of Legco's trade-based seats, which have small electorates - fewer than 230,000 people are eligible to vote in them. He did not indicate when this should begin, but said it was hard to justify narrowly based functional constituencies given the electoral system was evolving, and there was a need to begin talking about how to expand their electorates. Wu, speaking in an interview, said it was too early to say whether functional constituencies reformed along these lines should be retained under universal suffrage, but said there was merit in keeping them to represent business interests in Legco. Some see the "one person, two votes" formula as a pragmatic way to advance democracy, while others regard it as a means of retaining functional constituencies - an outcome that would fall short of the genuine universal suffrage they seek, under which every elector would have an equal right to vote and stand in elections. That is an outcome the political establishment and Beijing appear to be leaning towards, even though Tsang said on Friday that universal suffrage should include the right to vote and to stand for election.

The Rhodes Scholarship is one of the world's most prestigious international study awards; recipients include former US president Bill Clinton, astronomer Edwin Hubble and Australian Nobel Laureate Howard Florey. It isn't easy to win one: students must display leadership, integrity, community spirit and energy and be outstanding academics. In Hong Kong, Chinese University students have far outpaced their peers in the rigorous selection process, with 11 of the last 16 annual awards going to them - that's more than two thirds. It's an enviable record, and one that has provoked envy - and questions. Academics at other universities ask whether the location of the Rhodes Trust secretariat for Hong Kong - within CUHK's office of admissions and financial aid - could have influenced the university's success in winning postgraduate scholarships to the University of Oxford. Chinese University and the Rhodes Selection Committee in Hong Kong vigorously reject any suggestion of favouritism; CUHK students win more awards, they say, because more of them apply. "People from other universities have complained," said Grace Chow, director of admissions and financial aid at Chinese University, and also administrator of the Rhodes Scholarship. "This is so unfair. We have been doing this on a voluntary basis. The other universities have representatives on the committee. They could also say: `Mrs Chow, please give the secretariat back to us'." Chinese University has administered the scholarship since 1995. Previously, it was jointly run by CUHK and the University of Hong Kong, which hosted the secretariat in alternate years. Since 1997, every Hong Kong Rhodes Scholarship has gone to a CUHK student except the 2001 and 2003 awards, which were claimed by students from the University of Hong Kong, and last year's, which was won by a Peking University student.

Emily Lau of the Democratic Party enjoys a light moment at yesterday's City Forum, but she was targeted over her party's change of stance on the political reform package. The Democratic Party is expected to keep a low profile at the annual July 1 democracy march as a backlash against the party over its stance on the government's political reform package shows no sign of abating. The march organiser, the Civil Human Rights Front, said yesterday that on Friday - the day the reform package was passed in the Legislative Council - the Democratic Party asked that it be given a slot further back in the queue of parties and civil rights groups who traditionally lead the rally from Victoria Park to the Central Government Offices.

Lack of beds threatens foreign-student goal - The government's goal of doubling the number of foreign students studying at Hong Kong universities is running into a problem: space. More precisely, a lack of space. The four universities in the city's most built-up areas say they are short of 3,800 hostel places for undergraduates if they are to meet the goal of increasing the proportion of foreign students, including mainland students, to 20 per cent. Foreign students at the eight University Grants Committee-funded institutions accounted for only 9.4 per cent of the undergraduate population in the 2009-10 academic year. The government wants a higher proportion of foreign students so local students receive a more cosmopolitan, well-rounded education with exposure to different cultures and ideas. University heads say the severe shortage of hostel places is the biggest obstacle to that goal. Some universities have recently revised accommodation policies, reducing the number of years of campus accommodation international students are guaranteed. And some are planning other measures to boost capacity, such as providing cash subsidies to foreign students to encourage them to live off campus, and setting up housing offices to liaise with real estate agents and landlords. Checks by the South China Morning Post show three Kowloon universities face a severe shortage of hostel beds if they are to meet the government's target of 20 per cent foreign students. Polytechnic University has the biggest shortfall, 768, followed by City University, which needs an extra 656, and Baptist University, 464. And a spokeswoman for the University of Hong Kong said the Pok Fu Lam institution faced a shortage of about 1,900 hostel places for local and foreign undergraduates in 2012. Two factors add to the difficulty of easing the shortage, according to the outgoing president of Baptist University, Professor Ng Ching-fai: the lack of a host-family culture in the city, and the high rents charged by landlords near the city centre. Ng said the blanket guarantee by Hong Kong universities, until recently, of on-campus accommodation for international students for the full length of their courses prevented the universities from increasing their intake of foreign students. "In universities in London, Paris and New York, no one will guarantee [three or] four years of accommodation for international students," he said. Baptist University in Kowloon Tong has 1,770 hostel places for local and foreign undergraduates at present, and a joint hostel with the University of Science and Technology in Tseung Kwan O, to be completed around 2013, will provide Baptist U with another 150 places. But this will still leave it 464 places short of the 20 per cent target for international students. "The shortage of hostel places is the biggest challenge [facing local universities]," Ng said. "Even if we want to, we don't dare [expand foreign student intake] to 20 per cent." To address the issue, Baptist University had changed its accommodation policy. From September, international students would be guaranteed only two years of campus accommodation, compared to three at present. And mainland students studying for four-year degrees would be guaranteed only two years of campus accommodation, compared to the present four years. Ng said the university was also considering introducing cash subsidies to encourage students to live off the campus. "Overseas landlords are okay with short-term leases," he said. "And overseas they have a vibrant host-family culture. Those host families don't even care about the rental; they just enjoy the experience of playing host to a young person from a culture different from theirs. But there's no such culture in Hong Kong. "Local landlords need to sign one-year leases with tenants. They need the rentals for sustenance. The academic year usually lasts 10 months. Helping students to pay for the remaining two months' rental is one of the options we are considering." At present, Polytechnic University guarantees on-campus accommodation to non-local students for the full length of courses, while local undergraduates at the Hung Hom university are mostly guaranteed one year of campus accommodation to give them a taste of hostel living with students from various countries. A hostel scheduled to be completed in 2012 in Ho Man Tin will provide another 1,485 places. PolyU's vice-president for international and executive education, Professor Judy Tsui Lam Sin-lai, said the university was planning to set up a housing office to help students liaise with estate agents and landlords. "The housing offices in Western universities do a lot of work to ensure international students are not misled by agents or left high and dry with nowhere to live," she said. "Another plan we are exploring is to invite small-scale real estate groups, who might wish to make an educational contribution to society, to let their flats to students at a discount." Sixty international students, excluding those from the mainland, will start studying undergraduate degrees at PolyU in September, a three-fold increase from 20 students last year. Tsui said the plan was to increase the annual intake of international students to 150 by 2012. The director of student affairs at PolyU, Dorinda Fung Chan Man-chi, said the university had for years been looking for suitable buildings to turn into hostels, but to no avail. "We went as far away as Sha Tin," she said. "It's very difficult to find a suitable building in Hong Kong because of the high rental and volatile real estate market. If we don't guarantee full accommodation for overseas students, they will feel very helpless when the rents go up in the fickle market." She said the cost of living off campus around Hung Hom was four times the accommodation fee charged by PolyU. The opposite was the case in the West, where campus accommodation usually cost more than off-campus flats. Julian Chan Tsun-ho, who recently completed a one-year foundation course at England's Newcastle University and will soon start his four-year degree in biomedical science, said most students, whether local or non-local, lived in hostels on campus for their first year and then rented flats off campus with friends for the rest of their course. "It costs £4,000 (HK$46,800) per year to live on campus, but it's just £100 to £150 per month in rental if you live off campus," he said. "There are no separate accommodation policies for local and non-locals. Everyone will just live on campus during their freshman year." Chan preferred to live off campus because of the rules imposed in hostels. "Besides your own beds, you need to tidy up the corridors, kitchens and all other public areas on your floor," he said. "The warden will patrol once a week to ensure they are clean. In my experience, some students are not co-operative and I have to do extra cleaning work." In addition to the high cost of land in Hong Kong, plans to build student hostels are also thwarted by objections from residents. A plan to build a joint hostel for HKUST and CityU in Ma On Shan was recently vetoed by the district council after vehement objections from residents. Another piece of land in Wu Kai Sha has since been allocated for the hostel. The government's said last year it would offer incentives for owners to redevelop industrial buildings for educational purposes, and Fung urged the government to speed up such revitalisation in Fo Tan so factory buildings could be transformed into hostels to ease the shortage. Anthony Wong Ka-lam, sales manager with The Belcher's branch of Hong Kong Property Services, which is next to the University of Hong Kong in Pok Fu Lam, said the hostel shortage had boosted the rental market in the area. "Many mainland students, in groups of two or three, pay HK$6,000 to HK$10,000 a month to rent a nearby flat," he said. "But their bargaining power is low because landlords prefer a family to non-local students, who they fear will mess up the house or will be noisy at night." CityU student affairs vice-president Paul Lam Kwan-sing said the university last year changed its hostel guarantee of three or four years for foreign students. "It has been shortened to two years only now," he said. Universities were facing a dilemma because of the hostel shortage. "If you don't provide full accommodation to international students, our package will be less attractive and they might not opt to come to us."

There's no need to queue overnight for the latest iPhone - if you can afford the HK$14,800 price tag on parallel-import 32GB iPhone 4s that went on sale in Mong Kok yesterday.

 China*: The United States' anti-corruption squad is beefing up in the fight against foreign bribery, and has set its sights on China.

President Hu Jintao heading for a working dinner during the Group of 20 summit in Toronto. United States President Barack Obama has invited President Hu Jintao for a state visit, a US official said yesterday, as the two powers seek to narrow economic and political differences. In another sign of easing tension over the yuan conflict, leaders of the Group of 20 would not make explicit reference to China or its exchange rate in the statement they were to issue at the end of their meeting yesterday.

United States President Barack Obama officially extended his invitation to Chinese President Hu Jintao for a state visit to the US, an invitation that Hu accepted. Obama made the invitation as the two met Saturday afternoon in Toronto prior to the opening of the G20 summit, according to a press release by the Chinese foreign ministry after the meeting. It will be the third state dinner of Obama's presidency, following ones for India and Mexico. According to the press release, Hu also said that China appreciates the stance US made in continuing to support "One China" policy, and fully respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China. Hu told Obama that the bilateral relation has recently made real progress thanks to joint effort made by both sides. Yet "as the global and regional affairs are undergoing complicated and profound changes, China and the US face common challenges as to accelerate the further recovery of world economy and jointly handle the regional hotspots and global issues," said Hu. The two countries "need to carry out together the spirit of staying the same course and cooperate for win-win situation," Hu said. Hu said that China has no intention of pursue trade surplus against the United States, and will certainly adopt effective measures to expand its import from the US. Yet Hu also urged the US side to firmly resist its tendency of trade protectionism, and gradually ease its export control on high-tech products to China in order to maintain a balanced bilateral trade. Hu said that China is willing to keep exchanges with the US side on various levels, and deepen solid cooperation in every sector, strengthen the communication and coordination on major world and regional issues, and to push forward the bilateral relations to develop in a positive, cooperative and all-around track. Hu also said that China is willing to work together with other countries to push for concrete results of the G20 meetings. Obama was quoted by the press release as saying that US welcome a successful and prosperous China. "The cooperation between China and the US has huge potential, and both sides should cooperate in a constructive way," said Obama. Obama also pledged to oppose trade protectionism, and urged both sides to implement the decisions made on the freshly-concluded Strategic and Economic Dialogue last month. It is the second meeting between Hu and Obama since bilateral ties between China and US got strained at the beginning of the year. In February, the Obama administration passed a $6.4 billion arms sale package to Taiwan and Obama met with Dalai Lama, who China labeled as a separatist, further agonizing China. The meeting between Hu and Obama during the Washington Nuclear Summit in April has put the bilateral ties partly in track. Yet disputes including that on Chinese currency and trade frictions still perils.

CNBC, the world's leading satellite and cable business news network, owned by NBC Universal, expects its new collaboration with state broadcaster China Central Television to sharpen its mainland coverage and double its global audience. The strategic partnership, announced in Beijing last Friday, follows one forged in 2003 between CNBC and Shanghai Media Group (SMG), the country's second-largest news and media conglomerate after CCTV. With those two alliances secured, CNBC now has a wider back door into the mainland's coveted domestic media market, which continues to be technically off-limits to foreign investors. Those deals are also in line with what CNBC president Mark Hoffman said was a plan for a steady and calculated expansion into the mainland.

June 28, 2010

Hong Kong*: Cathay Pacific Airways (SEHK: 0293) and Hong Kong Dragon Airlines (Dragonair) face a bruising price war on the lucrative Hong Kong-Taiwan route after mainland carriers were ordered to cut cross-strait ticket prices. Li Jiaxiang, the minister in charge of the Civil Aviation Administration of China, said last week fares for direct flights should be lowered by up to 15 per cent as part of a move to increase cross-strait transport ties. Direct flight services between the mainland and the island have increased to 380 flights per week after being launched two years ago, and 40 will be added shortly. The governments on both sides of the strait are committed to more direct flights as economic ties improve. "Air fares on routes to Taiwan will be under pressure in the short term," said James Tong, Dragonair's chief executive, at the carrier's 25th anniversary celebration. "But ticket prices and demand will be stable over the longer term as total traffic demand becomes enlarged." A Cathay spokesman said the airlines would ensure its fares remained competitive. "Air fares are determined by market supply and demand," the spokesman added.

You've won, so stop scoring points, Hong Kong constitutional affairs minister told as he needles Audrey Eu - Despite the government's claims that it tried to get as much support as possible from lawmakers to ensure safe passage of the reform package, the constitutional affairs minister appeared to be doing his best yesterday to score points. With votes from the Democratic Party and its moderate allies in the bag, Stephen Lam Sui-lung launched a scathing attack on Civic Party leader Audrey Eu Yuet-mee who beat his boss, Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, hands down in a televised debate last week. "Ms Eu might have won the debate, but she might also have failed with her strategy," he said, attacking her party for co-operating with the League of Social Democrats to try to turn May's Legco by-elections into a de facto referendum on the pace and scope of democratisation. Blasting Eu for being unrepentant in opposing the government's reform package, which he said would have meant robbing the general public of a vote in the functional constituencies, Lam said: "Any parties which go against public opinion have no future." His comments inflamed league lawmaker Wong Yuk-man, who jumped up and interrupted his speech, shouting: "You have already scored a total victory. Why are you still trying to take advantage of us?" Before yesterday's debate ended, league lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung was thrown out of the Legislative Council chamber after rushing towards officials with a placard while shouting slogans. The pan-democrats were not the only group that came in for criticism from Lam during the debate. Responding to government allies who accused the government of treating them as a rubber stamp in seeking their support after taking a Democrat Party proposal on board for the reform package, Lam said there seemed to be some sourness in the air. He said people could be mistaken for thinking that the chamber had become a char chan teng (tea restaurant) and that "lemon tea" was being sold.

Donald Tsang moves through supporters outside Legco. Tsang urges an end to hatred and division - Chief hails 'triumph of reason' amid pan-democrats' infighting and discontent of allies. Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen yesterday called for an end to hatred and division as lawmakers endorsed the government's package for the 2012 Legislative Council election. "I hope that from now on divisions, attacks and hatred will become bygones," he said. "The vote is both an end and a beginning. Hong Kong will no longer be the same." Describing the 46-12 vote as a historic moment, Tsang said it was the first time since the handover that Hong Kong's political system had moved forward. "Disputes and infighting over political reform have plagued society for the past two decades," he said at a press conference after the vote. "It's now clear consensus and reform are possible as long as we stay true to our goal of pursuing democracy and our belief in dialogue and rationalism." Yesterday's resolution created five new seats in Legco's functional constituency for district councils, with candidates to be returned by direct election under a proposal from the Democratic Party which Beijing and the government accepted. On Thursday, lawmakers passed the first part of the package, which enlarged the Election Committee that will pick the chief executive. Tsang said reforms always required people to venture out of their comfort zones, and the mutual trust displayed this time had opened the door for politicians to also work on social and economic issues in the future. "In a pluralistic society like Hong Kong, it would be unrealistic to expect political reform to be painless. But history will prove that the reform today is a decisive step in the right direction." Tsang hailed a "triumph of reason" after days of fierce infighting among pan-democrats and signs of discontent from government allies unhappy with the administration's last-minute demand for their support for the amended package. "There were doubts, criticism and confrontation. There was bitter frustration as the political reality fell short of individual political ideals. There were reluctant compromises. There was scepticism, attacks and verbal abuse. Rifts emerged both among and within parties. "Yet, there are people who have worked selflessly for greater democracy for Hong Kong. History will give them the fair and positive judgment they deserve." The State Council's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office praised the government, lawmakers and others who contributed to passage of the reform package. "This result complies with the general wish of the Hong Kong public, which the central government welcomes," it said. The central government's liaison office said the episode demonstrated the need for pragmatism and rationality in resolving deadlocks. British Foreign Office minister Jeremy Browne said the vote showed Hong Kong people's pragmatism. "I hope Hong Kong can now move forward with a renewed spirit of co-operation towards full universal suffrage as promised for 2017 and 2020. EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton welcomed "the dialogue which took place between all parties concerned" and called for a swift move towards full democracy. Tsang said Hong Kong would find a system of universal suffrage in line with international standards. Asked to define it, he said the principle of equal and universal suffrage should include the right to vote and also the right to stand for election. The discontent of government allies was evident. Many are unhappy with the U-turn it made in accepting the Democratic Party's proposal for the election of the new district council representatives in Legco. Tam Yiu-chung, chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, urged the government to improve communication. Elsie Leung Oi-sie, vice-chairwoman of the Basic Law Committee who acted as a go-between during negotiations between the Democrats and Beijing, said she hoped the central government and the Democrats would continue to talk. Tsang said that following his reporting of the reform package to Beijing for formal approval, the next step would be to work on the details of electoral arrangements. He said livelihood issues and policies such as the introduction of a minimum wage and health care reform would be among his priorities now, but made no mention of reviving the controversial Article 23 national security bill.

Hong Kong has moved a step closer to bringing the 2023 Asian Games to the city after the government threw its backing behind the bid for the second-biggest multi-sports event next to the Olympics. Five days before the deadline, the government said yesterday it would issue a letter of support to the Sports Federation and Olympic Committee of Hong Kong (SF&OC) to send a letter of intent to the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA). The OCA requires all bidders for the 2019 or 2023 Games to submit their letters by the end of this month. While both Games are open for bidding, the government thinks it better to bid for the 2023 event to give the city more time to develop good quality venues, according to a paper prepared by the Home Affairs Bureau for lawmakers.

A model presents fashion jewellery and accessories during Hong Kong Jewellery & Gem Fair at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center in Hong Kong, south China, on June 26, 2010. The fair, one of the top three events of its kind in Asia, attracted over 1,300 exhibitors from more than 30 countries and regions.

 China*: The People's Liberation Army has issued rules that will put its 2.3 million troops in a digital straitjacket, banning them from using homepages and blogging, social-networking, online chat and dating services - even on holiday - out of concern for security. Former and current officers said the regulations were aimed at stopping PLA soldiers from divulging military secrets dealing with weaponry - especially details about China's plan to build its first aircraft carrier.

World Cup unites African community in Guangzhou - Guangzhou's streets are usually quiet at 2am but the city's thriving African community brought the rhythms of the continent's first soccer World Cup to the Pearl River Delta early on Thursday morning. They united to cheer on Ghana in their match against Germany, with Ghana being the only African side that had a chance of getting through to the second round. Not even random police visa checks just before the 2.30am kick-off were enough to dull the excitement. While bars and pubs were closing, a few African restaurants remained open around the Yuexiu district's Dengfeng Hotel - an area known irreverently as "chocolate city". The shopping area around the budget hotel is home to sights, sounds and smells not usually experienced in a mainland city, with cafes and restaurants offering African and Arabic cuisine packed with customers seeking the tastes of home. Bar Africa, tucked away on a second floor, serves spicy grilled fish, beef curry and fufu, an African dough, on red dining tables alongside large bottles of beer. Even the Chinese waiters, from Henan and Fujian, speak with an African lilt.

Mainland customs authorities announced yesterday that they would burn more than two tonnes of drugs in the historic town Humen, Guangdong, to mark today's International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. Some boxes of drugs were burned yesterday morning in eight cauldrons, which a local customs officer said "symbolised their determination to crack down on the increasing amount of drugs pouring into the mainland from overseas". Yesterday's event was staged in Humen because that was where, 170 years ago, senior Qing dynasty official Lin Zexu burned tonnes of opium smuggled by British businessmen, triggering the first opium war. A senior officer of the General Administration of Customs' anti-smuggling bureau said cocaine, opium, marijuana and more than a tonne of heroin seized by customs branches in Guangdong since early last year would be destroyed in a more environmentally friendly way, using incinerators, yesterday and today. The officer said drug smuggling had increased in the past few years. According to official figures, drug cases shot up 16 per cent last year. Police and customs seized more than 28 tonnes of drugs between January last year and May this year. Meanwhile, more evidence is showing international drug trafficking syndicates' control has become stronger. Customs say that since 2008, the Golden Crescent region, in the mountain valleys of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, has surpassed the Gold Triangle in neighbouring Myanmar, Laos and Thailand as the mainland's biggest source of drugs. A captain with the anti-smuggling team of Guangzhou's Huangpu customs, who was involved last October in the biggest seizure of heroin since 1949, said he felt the shift when more than a tonne of heroin was found sealed in marble floor tiles imported from Karachi, Pakistan. "I have been doing this job for about eight years and it was the first time we seized so much drugs from the Golden Crescent, which means they [the drug traffickers] have created new networks," he said. The customs administration said yesterday that while drug smuggling through freight services could transfer large amounts of drugs at one time, international couriers had become the most popular method to smuggle drug since the second half of last year. A survey by customs branches in Guangdong found almost three-quarters of the drug smuggling cases discovered in the province involved international couriers. The senior officer with the administration's anti-smuggling bureau said the public should be alert to packages they were asked to receive on behalf of others. "If the packages are from the Golden Crescent, Africa, India or Thailand and you do not know the real receivers well, you might need to report it to the police," he said. Without labeling Guangzhou an international distribution hub for illegal drugs, he admitted that its many import channels made the Guangdong capital the destination for most drugs smuggled into the mainland.

Smoke billows from a power plant on the outskirts of Hefei, in Anhui province. State power producers will now have to delay their expansion plans in order to generate profits. State-owned electricity producers are being forced to become more profit-oriented after Beijing set new rules on returns and restricted debt levels early this year, according to industry officials. The Big Five state-owned power producers, notorious for their scale of operation rather than profits since their establishment in 2002, are slowing down new plant construction amid low profitability because of government tariff control and higher coal prices. The State-owned Assets Supervision Administration Commission (Sasac) has this year required power producers directly under its control to keep their liability-asset ratios within 85 per cent and generate "economic value-added" returns equivalent to their costs of capital, two industry officials said. The requirements are part of the appraisal criteria for the top management of state-owned enterprises. They also apply to other state enterprises, although the return rates vary slightly depending on industries. The rules apply to the companies at the parent level, meaning their listed units are only affected indirectly. Economic value-added return is calculated by deducting a company's cost of funding from its after-tax operating profit.

Taiwanese pop singer Jay Chou performs during the Shanghai stage of "The Era 2010" world tour held at the Shanghai Stadium in east China's Shanghai Municipality, June 25, 2010.

A contestant makes wheaten food during a cooking competition in Hangzhou, capital of east China's Zhejiang Province, June 26, 2010. Forty-one contestants selected from various industries of the city took part in the wheaten food cooking competition on Saturday.

Chinese painting master Wu Guanzhong passes away - This file photo taken on Feb. 26, 2009 shows Chinese painter Wu Guanzhong poses for a photo in front of his wife's portrait during his personal exhibition in Beijing, capital of China. Wu, the master of Chinese painting, passed away at 11:57 p.m. on Friday in a hospital in Beijing at the age of 91. Wu, born in 1919, is a native of Yixing, Jiangsu Province, east China.

Water town awash with sights - Catch the watery views at Zhouzhuang, only 50 kilometers from Shanghai - If you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the Shanghai metropolis to seek out a historic and well-preserved ancient town, then head for Zhouzhuang, a place regarded as China's most famous "water town". Situated in Jiangsu province's Kunshan city, only about 50 kilometers from Shanghai, Zhouzhuang offers typical southern Chinese riverside scenery, which features numerous small and ornate bridges, murmuring streams and elegant dwellings. It is an ideal holiday destination when a break from the big city is sorely needed. Zhouzhuang dates back to the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC), when it was called Zhenfengli. In 1086, during the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) it was renamed Zhouzhuang in honor of a benevolent Buddhist named Zhou Digong. Zhouzhuang has been "rediscovered" in recent decades thanks to the unique beauty of this ancient water town. It has won new popularity and aroused the interest of conservationists. It has also become a popular scenic spot and cultural relic. In the 1980s, a base for TV and film was established in Zhouzhuang. Since then, more than 100 TV series and films have been shot there, including the award-winning movie Shanghai Triad, which was directed by Zhang Yimou and starred Gong Li. Taking a gondola, the most convenient form of transport in Zhouzhuang, visitors can enjoy the lovely watery views in a peaceful way, along with typical ancient buildings found along the southern reaches of the Yangtze River, with plenty of local color and customs mixed in. Zhouzhuang features zigzagging waterways breached by many elegant stone bridges. The small town is surrounded and divided by lakes and rivers, with 14 stone bridges crossing the waterways, each offering distinctive views of the town. Among them, Twin Bridges (Shuang Qiao) is the most famous because of a painting by the internationally renowned artist, Chen Yifei. The two bridges, the Shide and Yong'an, were built in Wanli era (1573-1619) of the Ming Dynasty. The structures are considered the symbol of Zhouzhuang. Seeing the ancient residences in Zhouzhuang is also a must. About 60 percent of the town's structures were built during the Ming and Qing dynasties, from 1368 to 1911. Shen House and Zhang House are the two best-known structures and are well worth a visit. Shen House, built in 1742, was the private property of the descendants of Shen Wansan, one of the richest men in south Yangtze River region in the early Qing Dynasty. Occupying an area of more than 2,000 square meters, the Qing-style house is known for its large scale - with more than 100 rooms. These rooms are divided into three sections, with each section connected by arcades. The first section is the water gate and wharf, where Shen's family moored boats and washed clothes. The middle section includes the gate tower, tearoom, main hall and places for entertaining guests. The last section is the two-story dwelling where the family resided. You can also visit the Chengxu Taoist Temple, known as Shengtang Hall, which has a history of over 900 years. After several periods of expansion, it is one of the most famous Taoist temples in the south Yangtze River region. Taking in an area of 1,500 square meters, its design is deceptively simple, yet elegant, some even say majestic, with its elaborate workings. It is regarded as a masterpiece of ancient Taoist architecture. Quanfu Temple and South Lake Garden are two other places worth visiting in Zhouzhuang. You can also visit the town's museum to see examples of traditional regional crafts and fishing implements. At night, you can watch a special water performance called Zhouzhuang in All Seasons, featuring local folklore, traditions and legends of this water township. The large-scale performance recounts what life was like along the southern Yangtze River region centuries ago. The performance is unveiled in a classical environment of small bridges, murmuring rivers and riverside homes. The performance projects Zhouzhuang in four seasons: rain in spring, picking lotus root in summer, harvest in autumn, and the New Year in winter. The performance is well regarded and has earned praise around the world for its display of folk customs and traditions portrayed in an artistic and authentic way. The performance is staged between 7 pm and 8 pm each evening at a water stage at Jiangnan Renjia.

June 27, 2010

Hong Kong*: Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen on Friday hailed the passage of the government's political reform package as "a milestone in Hong Kong’s democratic development”.

A display panel shows the result of the vote with 46 in favour and 12 opposed, finally endorsing the government's reform package on the third day of debate at the Legislative Council in Central on Friday. Hong Kong lawmakers on Friday passed the second resolution of the government's controversial 2012 political reform package. Lawmakers voted 46 to 12 to support the expansion of the Legislative Council by 10 seats - from the present 60 to 70. On Thursday, they voted 46 to 13 on the first resolution that increased the 2010 chief executive's election committee from 800 to 1,200 members. The government had originally proposed that five of the new Legco seats represent geographical constituencies and be directly elected by the public, and five represent the district council functional constituencies and be elected by approximately 400 district councillors. The Democratic Party suggested an amendment to the package that would allow the five seats in the district council sector to instead be elected by the public from a list of candidates nominated by district councillors. On Monday, Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen announced that the government had agreed to amend its proposals to include the Democratic Party’s suggestion in exchange for its support on the package. Eight of nine Democratic Party legislators voted for the package, with only Andrew Cheng Kar-foo not following the party line. In addition to Democrat Party lawmakers, those from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) and other pro-government parties voted in favour of the package. Lawmakers from the Civic Party and the League of Social Democrats voted against it. The vote on both resolutions of the government's package was nearly identical, except that League of Social Democrat legislator “Long Hair”Leung Kwok-hung was not in the Legislative Council chamber when today's vote was taken. Before this, Leung was evicted from the chamber by security guards after he interrupted a speech by Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affair Stephen Lam Sui-lung with loud shouting. League legislator Albert Chan Wai-yip also protested loudly in the chamber, shouting: “Today is the darkest day for democracy in Hong Kong. Functional constituencies’ seats will last forever!” Chan and former LSD chairman Wong Yuk-man then left Legco in protest. After Legco endorsed the reform package, Democratic Party chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan told reporters a new political era for Hong Kong had begun. “We will continue to do our best to fight for universal suffrage... and the abolition of functional constituencies,”said Ho. After the package was passed, Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen visited supporters outside Legco. Tang thanked them for their support. “This is a victory for democracy. The government would continue to listen to your views. We need your support in the future,” he said. Earlier, around noon, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen had also visited supporters in Chater Garden. Most of them were members of the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions and other pro-government groups. “Thank you for encouraging our lawmakers,” he said. “We hope Hong Kong can gradually move forward toward the election by universal suffrage of the chief executive in 2017.” The chief executive was flanked by police officers and security guards. Tsang admitted it had been difficult at times being shouted at by protesters and opponents of the reform package. “But the effort you have made has helped create a more harmonious city,” he told hundreds of his supporters. Tsang chanted the official slogan of “Act Now” several times before leaving. Tsang is planning to hold a press conference later on Friday. The debate on the controversial political reform package lasted for three days. It prompted tight police security around the Legco building and the gathering of many pro- and anti-reform package protesters.

A changing political landscape - Lawmakers pass by 46 to 13 a resolution to enlarge committee to elect chief executive. Throw away your old maps: the political landscape is changing. With the passage of the constitutional reform package and a change in the way Beijing and Hong Kong interact, a major realignment is taking place. And it could usher in a new era where moderate and radical democrats, although no longer united, can further entrench their influence with the public. The split among pan-democrats over the reform saga is not going to make life easier for Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, whose task now is to deal with the daily bread-and-butter issues. The dynamics of the city's political scene have already changed since the Democratic Party took the path of no return in deciding to negotiate with Beijing for concessions, short of the introduction of full universal suffrage to elect the chief executive and all members of Legco in 2012. After a two-day debate, lawmakers yesterday passed by 46 to 13 the resolution to enlarge the Election Committee to choose the next chief executive in 2012. The other resolution, which would create five new functional constituency seats for district councillors to be returned through direct election - a compromise proposed by the party - is set to be passed today. The change in Beijing's attitude towards the Democratic Party it has tried to ignore for almost two decades is a gamble. Whether or not this is a divide-and-rule tactic targeting the pan-democratic camp, or a demonstration of resolve in introducing genuine universal suffrage, a precedent has been set that even the all-powerful central government can, as billed by some foreign media, "cave in" before public opinion, fearing the rise of radicals and the demise of moderate democrats would destabilise Hong Kong. For when something can happen once, people will expect it to happen again. Yet while there is no reason to doubt the pan-democrats when they promise that they will fight for universal suffrage, veteran Democrat Martin Lee Chu-ming has expressed a legitimate fear. "The passing of this proposal will only help Beijing to split the people," Lee said. "Instead of moving towards abolishing functional constituencies, it only took a big step from small-circle elections to one with a bigger circle." But the leader of his party, Albert Ho Chun-yan, believes that even if Beijing wants to play tricks and keep functional constituencies, there is no harm in grabbing the far-from-perfect offer on the table, before continuing to fight for universal suffrage. What is beyond doubt is that despite its promise to maintain Hong Kong's autonomy, Beijing has now stepped into the frontline in running Hong Kong affairs. This may empower the role of the central government's liaison office as Beijing's more active agent in Hong Kong. Veteran politician Allen Lee Peng-fei said that despite Tsang's expected claiming of credit for untying the reform deadlock, pressure on his governance will only increase, rather than decrease. "Everybody knows Beijing held the key. Do you think pan-democrats still want to talk to Bowtie in the future when they need to negotiate for something? He will surely become a lame duck," Lee said. Despite Tsang's effort to petition state leaders highlighting an imminent governance crisis in the rest of his term if the Democratic Party's compromise proposal was not accepted, the pressure he now faces can only be reduced for a brief period. While the split among pan-democrats could provide the government with more room to manoeuvre on political controversies, past experience indicates that the support of individual parties must be secured when it comes to livelihood issues. With or without a pan-democrat split, the government will face difficulties in pushing ahead unscathed its upcoming legislative proposals, such as setting up a minimum wage and a competition law. With the potentially most damaging issue out of the way, Lee said the passage of the reform proposal would encourage Tsang's aspirant successors to take more active roles. That means further damage to Tsang's administration, because both potential top runners - Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen and Executive Council Convenor Leung Chun-ying - are part of Tsang's governing team. The impact of the reform saga will be seen in the 2012 Legco elections, if not in the District Council elections next year, since the district councillors to be elected will nominate the candidates for the five Legco seats in 2012 and fill them. In terms of party politics, a split can benefit the individual pan- democrats under Legco's proportional representation electoral system, which favours smaller parties. A veteran Democrat said one key advantage of a split between major forces within the camp is the ability of each faction to consolidate supporters and attract new ones. The great divide over those supporting the Democrats' reform proposal and those against it is set to cause a major redistribution of party affiliation. Despite losing a large chunk of comparatively radical backers, the Democrats have won support from moderate voters. Many of them previously voted for the Civic Party. Like it or not, the new relations between Beijing and the Democrats mean the frequent claim that they "oppose for the sake of opposition" no longer applies. He might have been attacked for "selling out" democracy, but the controversial positioning of the party by chairman Albert Ho - whose negotiations with Beijing secured the deal - as a moderate, pragmatic force added new synergy to the ageing democratic flagship. This will inevitably become an attraction for conservative voters who, despite having not gone as far as voting for parties like the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, have previously supported Beijing-backed independents such as Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee. The League of Social Democrats, which has all along taken a no-compromise approach, has strengthened its position in taking the moral high ground. Tactically, the league is one of the biggest winners, set to return at least one lawmaker for each of the five Legco geographical constituencies in 2012 - a trend that has already become apparent since the so-called de facto referendum exercise last year. The Civic Party, however, is set to lose core middle-class, moderate supporters to the Democratic Party due to its association with the league. But the victory that party leader Audrey Eu Yuet-mee scored in her televised debate with Tsang over constitutional reform unexpectedly saved her, and possibly the fortune of the party, from a fall. Meanwhile, government allies are harboring widespread discontent after being forced to swallow the Democratic Party's proposal at the last minute, after Beijing and the government indicated their support. Some Beijing loyalists believe it will take time to mend relations with the administration after they were made the "backdrop" to a show starring the Democrats and directed by Beijing at Tsang's behest. Until now able to bill themselves as links to the capital, parties like the DAB are seeing their credibility tarnished in the zero-sum game of politics.

Three listing candidates aiming to raise as much as HK$3.69 billion open their retail books today. Guotai Junan International, the Hong Kong arm of Guotai Junan Securities, plans to spend 30 percent of the HK$2.3 billion proceeds to repay a HK$500 million bank loan. Forty percent will be invested in expanding its margin finance portfolio, financial controller Wong Tin- lai said. The firm wants to sell 410 million shares at HK$3.88 to HK$5.63 apiece. Shirble Department Stores, which seeks to raise HK$1.05 billion, plans to open eight to 10 stores in Shenzhen and Changsha, chairman Yang Xiangbo said. Sinoref, which makes equipment used in steel production, saw the international tranche of its HK$324 million deal oversubscribed, sources said. Meanwhile, Convoy Financial Services, Hong Kong's largest independent insurance and Mandatory Provident Fund broker, is likely to launch a public offering next week to raise more than HK$100 million. "We see the `members' choice' of the MPF scheme which will enable employees to freely choose fund providers as a huge business opportunity," chief executive Rosetta Fong Sut-sam told The Standard. Fong said Convoy is ready to tap the market as over 70 percent of its consultants have MPF licenses. The company plans to hire 200 consultants to take the total to 1,400 by December. Employees are expected to be able to choose their providers from next year. Separately, battery maker Chaowei Power's retail portion was 57.9 percent covered by HK$42 million in margin financing orders. But Sound Global, which closes its retail books today, only got margin financing orders worth HK$15 million, making up 10.3 percent of its offering.

Uncertain fund flows lie ahead: HKMA - The Hong Kong Monetary Authority is expecting uncertainties in capital movements in and out of the territory over the next six months after six months of no net change. However, the recent fluctuation in the Hong Kong-dollar exchange rate within the convertibility zone of 7.75 and 7.85 to the US dollar merely reflects the changes in demand for the local currency due to external factors, deputy chief executive Eddie Yue said. It is not attributed to sharp outflows of funds, he wrote in yesterday's HKMA Insight column, dismissing market worries. Fewer initial public offerings in Hong Kong and concerns over the sovereign debt crisis in Europe may have heightened investors' risk aversion and prompted funds to flow into US-dollar assets, Yue said. But the IPO and fund-raising plans of mainland banks in the second half of this year would attract liquidity back to the city and have an effect on exchange rates, the de facto central bank said. Yue stressed Hong Kong's fundamentals remain strong thanks to its sound fiscal position and substantial reserves. These traits would let the SAR withstand volatility in both exchange and interest rates sparked by sudden reversals of fund flows.

Hong Kong Invention provides high-definition insight for buyers around the world - Brian Lee (left) and Robert Ng with a dummy of the invention that won them a silver medal in Geneva. Their special camera allows remote clients to assess a product accurately. A plastic doll in a trench coat and snakeskin boots helped yesterday to showcase a device that its inventors say holds new prospects for Hong Kong's fashion industry. The doll in the foot-high fashion show was posed in front of a camera devised by two Polytechnic University professors that can stream instant high-definition images to potential buyers around the world. It went on show alongside six other inventions that won university staff high honours at the 38th International Exhibition of Inventions in Geneva earlier this year, also including an energy-saving air-conditioning system and groundbreaking stem cell research. The professors say their multi-perspective camera, dubbed the E-Clustered Prototype Assessment System (EPAS), will remove the need to send samples back and forth by international mail, which slowed development and sales. "I think the major impact of our design will be the reduction of the development cycle," said Roger Ng Keng-po of the university's Institute of Textiles and Clothing. "People can make last-minute choices, which increases the chances of sales." His partner in the project, Brian Lee Yu-hin of the School of Design, said: "All stakeholders, including designers and buyers, can start conferencing earlier." Lee and Ng got their idea when a local bra manufacturer had to travel to its client's European office for a fitting because women of the necessary body shape were not available in Hong Kong. Virtual communication methods of the day could only provide low-quality images of prototypes; the need for a high-definition, multifunction camera was evident. With HK$1.4 million from the Hong Kong Innovation and Technology Commission and support from other local sponsors, Ng and Lee started work on the design in October 2008 and finished in January this year. Their camera won them one of three silver medals awarded to PolyU in Geneva, the other teams winning two gold medals and one bronze. Entering the teams into the competition cost PolyU under HK$100,000, according to Nicholas Yang Wei-hsiung, the university's executive vice-president. It would have cost HK$120,000 more to send the teams to Switzerland, but volcanic ash eruptions in Iceland disrupted flights to Europe, and only a few university staff were there to present the inventions. Ng said the teams could have used his camera to present their designs. Zhang Shuo, a PhD student in building-services engineering, was part of a team that invented a chemical slurry that can store heat or cool air through a heat exchanger, saving much of the energy expended in a traditional air conditioner or heater. "We weren't able to go to the actual event," she said, saying she's still proud, even though she wasn't there to accept the gold medal. "They told us a few days later that we had won."

Speculation swirls over run for top job by Rita Fan - Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai has repeatedly denied that she intends to run for chief executive, but that has done nothing to dampen speculation in the corridors of power. Shortly before the reform package was put to a final vote, Democratic Party legislator James To Kun-sun said Fan, a member of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, was reportedly gearing up to jockey for the top job. To said he talked to a veteran pro-establishment lawmaker on Wednesday who mentioned that Fan, several weeks earlier, had been gathering a team. "I later met a government minister, and when I mentioned this, the official said he had also heard of these rumours which were now circulating quite frequently." Fan, a former president of the Legislative Council, is regarded as a front runner for chief executive along with Leung Chun-ying, convenor of the Executive Council, and Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen. She could not be reached for comment last night. One politician said a mainland middleman asked him last year whether Fan was a good candidate to replace Donald Tsang Yam-kuen if he resigned. "I told the middleman it was inappropriate for the first two chief executives to step down prematurely," the politician said. A person close to Beijing said he heard in March that some mainland officials once considered Fan to fill Tsang's shoes in the remainder of his term if he quit in the wake of the rejection of the reform package. "It was not a seriously conceived policy and the plan is no longer necessary," the person said. Tam Yiu-chung, chairman of the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said he had not heard about any plan for Fan to run for chief executive. He declined to comment on whether she would make a suitable candidate. Tam said that those who are interested in contesting for the job should "come out and make early preparations". Civic Party legislator Ronny Tong Ka-wah said he had not heard of the rumour either.

Chrissie Chau Sau-na and her fellow pseudo-models will, after all, be allowed to promote their risque photo books at the Book Fair next month - but there will be no autograph-signing sessions. Originally it appeared that the pseudo-models would be banned from the fair, but Trade Development Council deputy executive director Benjamin Chau Kai-leung said they can take part, but could be asked to leave if order is disrupted or "safety issues" are raised by the shapely models. The council turned down 12 applications for book signings featuring the pseudo-models because it felt this contradicted the fair's image as being family oriented. A total of 190 applications were received. As long as the photo books are not classified as indecent or pornographic by the Obscene Articles Tribunal, they can be exhibited during the fair which runs from July 21 to 27 at the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai, he said. A 12-person panel advising the council did not read all the photo books - some are not published yet - before a decision was made, he said. However, members made a judgment based on some models' past records.

A-shares of Agricultural Bank of China (ABC) were 16 times oversubscribed upon the completion of domestic pre-marketing for its IPO, the Securities Times said on Friday.

 China*: Rescue teams in Hunan scrambled to shore up flood defences on Friday as a swollen river threatened Changsha, after heavy rains across the nation's south left 377 people dead.

Premier Wen Jiabao visits a dike at the Changkai section of the Fu River in Fuzhou,Jiangxi province. Wen rallied rescuers and comforted victims of flooding on Thursday. Workers and soldiers began repairing two breached areas on a river on Friday after widespread flooding killed more than 200 people and caused 43.5 billion yuan (US$6.4 billion) in damage across southern China. Rescuers worked along on the Fu River near Fuzhou city in Jiangxi province, said a report posted on the Jiangxi Flood Control Headquarters website, days after it breached its banks and a dike on another portion of the river burst, forcing the evacuation of 100,000 people. Thousands of soldiers and workers transported stones and sandbags to block and redirect water flows, with the goal of patching up the breach within the next week, Xinhua news agency reported. But more torrential rains are expected for the southern regions of Guizhou, Hunan, Jiangxi, Zhejiang, Fujian, and Guangxi, Xinhua reported, threatening to hamper rescue efforts that have seen a total of 2.4 million people evacuated from their homes. Premier Wen Jiabao is in Fuzhou to rally rescuers and comfort victims, wearing galoshes and wading through floodwaters in the disaster area, according to footage aired on China Central Television. “You are not afraid of sacrifice and in 48 hours, managed to rescue 100,000 people without a single casualty,” Wen told paramilitary troops, speaking into a bullhorn shielded with an orange plastic bag. “You have created a miracle in history.” The premier, whose frequent trips to disaster zones have made him the grandfatherly face of the stiff leadership, later toured a sports arena that was turned into a shelter for displaced residents. He asked an old woman whether she had enough to eat and sat on a straw mat on the ground to chat with a woman holding a baby. Storms have pounded southern China for more than a week, killing at least 211 people, with more than 100 missing, as landslides have cut off transportation and rivers and reservoirs have overflowed. China sustains major flooding annually along the mighty Yangtze and other major rivers, but this year’s floods have been especially heavy, spreading across 10 provinces and regions in the south and along the eastern coast.

China 'shines' on the World Cup stage - China did not qualify for the World Cup, but the country is still making an appearance in South Africa. An ambitious solar company, the country’s first World Cup sponsor, has placed advertising in all the stadiums in a bid to give its brand a worldwide boost. Yingli Green Energy Co’s sponsorship deal allows it to show its logo of Yingli Solar, in Putonghua and English, on electronic perimeter-boards at all 64 games of the World Cup. The Yingli slogan appears for 30 seconds at a time, totalling 8 minutes in each game. Yingli also has right to showcase its solar products near the stadiums. “The World Cup is a very good platform that can immediately boost our brand awareness in every potential market around the globe,” said company vice-president Jason Liu. It is a bold move by the New York Stock Exchange-listed solar panel maker, based in the city of Baoding, southwest of Beijing. The company is not well-known in the mainland. Set up in 1998 with nearly 7,000 employees now, Yingli said its main markets are overseas, with Europe accounting for more than 50 per cent. Liu said core markets also happened to be big football countries, such as Germany, Italy, Spain and France, plus the United States. Liu declined to say how much Yingli was spending on the sponsorship deal, but said the marketing budget for the World Cup equalled just a small part of the company’s annual revenue. Mainland media have reported the sponsorship was costing at least US$20 million. While most of FIFA’s sponsors are consumer goods makers, such as McDonald’s and Budweiser, Yingli is the first renewable energy sponsor. Analysts said solar panels and soccer may sound like an unusual combination, but the sponsorship could work in terms of building brand credibility and catering to investors. “Certainly everyone in China, if not everyone around the world, now knows a company like that exists,” said Stuart James, head of Asia-Pacific for Helios Partners, a sports marketing firm. Mainland companies have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in sponsoring international sports events in recent years to go with their ambitions to expand overseas. More than 30 firms partnered with the Beijing Olympic Games, including PC maker Lenovo (SEHK: 0992) as a global Olympic sponsor. And mainland’s electronic gadget maker, Aigo, sponsors the McLaren-Mercedes Formula One team and Manchester United in the English Premier League. James said more mainland companies will step into international sports sponsorships, but “they need to be activating so much more than just having signs in the field”, he said. Liu said Yiling also planned to expand its market to Africa. The appearance of a renewable energy company will differ from the usual mainland business activities in Africa that are dominated by state-owned oil companies or infrastructure builders. On the Net: Yingli Green Energyo:

US President Barack Obama said on Thursday it was premature to determine the impact of Beijing’s limited currency reform although he viewed the move as “positive”. Speaking ahead of his meeting on Saturday with President Hu Jintao on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Toronto, Obama maintained that the “undervalued” yuan provided China “with an unfair trade advantage”. The United States “expect change”, he said at a joint press conference with visiting Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Beijing announced on Saturday that after nearly two years, it would virtually allow the yuan to climb against the US dollar. The action was widely seen as a bid to head off rancour at the weekend G20 summit following international pressure on Beijing to embrace currency reforms as part of efforts to enhance global economic recovery. Obama agreed that the mainland “made progress” with its decision to return to a “phased-in, market-based approach” to managing its currency. The “initial signs” were “positive” but it is too early to tell whether the yuan’s appreciation was “sufficient to allow for the rebalancing that we think is appropriate”, he said.

A landmark trade deal between Taiwan and China will cut tariffs on more than 800 products and open up service industries, officials and sources said on Friday.

China clears pilot plan for merged tech services - One cable connection for all uses - New apartment dwellers will need only one cable connection to make telephone calls, surf the internet and watch television at a lower cost as the State Council has approved a pilot programme to merge those services, according to official media. The programme will be launched in several cities in the next few years, said Wang Xiaojie, the head of the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television's technology bureau in Shanghai. He said more information would be released soon. Although industry analysts estimate the merger will cost at least 600 billion yuan (HK$686.34 billion), "it's expected to attract at least 1 trillion yuan of investment in the next three years," said Wu Jiangxing, the deputy head of the State Council's expert group on online integration, during a recent discussion panel. The announcement comes as the digital media landscape on the mainland continues to evolve rapidly. With consumers increasingly using digital cable television, internet television, high-speed internet and third-generation telephone services, according to research firm Nielsen Company in an April report, the government will focus on integrating television/radio broadcasting, internet and telecommunication networks in the next five years. A recent survey by the company found 46 per cent of respondents watched online video through their mobile telephones. A future integrated network will provide users with voice, data and television services, combining data transfer, cable-television and telecommunications services on a shared platform. It means current networks will be combined and upgraded so that viewers can browse high-speed internet and watch high-speed, high-resolution internet protocol television programmes through their cable-television services. Digital, high-resolution and interactive television programmes and other services can be available online, including shopping, payment services and making internet protocol telephone calls. Mobile phones, MP4 players and receivers using the global positioning system can also be used to view China Multimedia Mobile Broadcasting TV programs. About 233 million people, more than half of the country's internet users, were browsing the internet on their mobile phones at the end of last year, according to the China Internet Network Information Centre. The merger plan was set out in two phases: 2010-12 for the launch of trial sites for merged services and firming up the framework to handle regulation, and 2013-15 for the launch of services for business. The final version of the pilot plan had been passed to relevant departments, and cities' applications to be in the pilot programme were being taken, industry sources told Xinhua. It was expected that Shanghai, Shenzhen, Chongqing, Nanjing, Hangzhou, Harbin, Shenyang, Wuhan, Changsha, and Xinzhou will be granted as pilot cities, Xinhua quoted Zhao Zisen, an academician at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, as saying at an internal meeting. Wang said the list of pilot cities would be released today. "New policies restricting integrated services need to be made, and the issuance of regulations on market competition, privacy rights, national security, pornography and vulgar culture should all be addressed before integration," said Zhang Xiaoming , a vice-director of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Research Centre for Humanities. "Merging them will perhaps give birth to an independent watchdog. Ofcom (the Office of Communications) in Britain is an example. Control over the internet might be tightened after new regulations and restrictions are set out for the integration of telecoms, cable TV and the internet." But because the task of merging services will be so large and complex, Feng Linhui, a general manager at Sina Henan, said on May 29 at the Website Annual Meeting in Beijing: "The internet is comparatively more open than the other two networks. I personally think that before the current policies and management mechanism are overhauled, the merging of services will be only partial."

United plans to spread its wings in China - James P. Mueller, vice president of United Airlines Pacific region. Operating the most direct flights in terms of passenger capacity between the US and China, United Airlines Inc is eager to tap deeper into China's aviation market. Strengthening ties with Shanghai, the nation's financial center and a future international aviation hub, is high on the agenda of Star Alliance partners, said a senior executive from the Chicago-based carrier. Being one of the five Star Alliance founders, "United has worked closely with aviation alliance partner Air China to identify opportunities to serve the Shanghai market that Shanghai Airlines used to serve," said James P. Mueller, vice president of United Airlines Pacific region. Former Star Alliance member Shanghai Airlines will change to SkyTeam after the merger with China Eastern Airlines. China's plan to build 97 new airports by investing up to 450 billion yuan will make it the world's fastest growing aviation market. Shanghai as the future financial center is extremely important for the future development of aviation in China. By the end of May, as many as 278 multi-national firms had set up their regional headquarters in Shanghai, and more companies are trying to establish their branches in the coastal metropolis. The soaring demand from business travelers can be met by additional trans-Pacific flights. United would be very interested in being part of that process, said Mueller. In addition to expanding United's own service in China, the carrier also plans to use Air China's existing network to serve areas that they cannot easily reach. "We are always looking where the next business opportunity is, and try to serve the emerging market most efficiently, including cooperation with Star Alliance members," he said. Mueller refused to talk about the potential partners United has contacted, and instead he said that the candidate will ideally be among the Star Alliance members. Under the umbrella of Star Alliance, United and Air China have had a strong relationship for many years, giving United a tremendous edge to grow not only in the major cities, but also in the secondary cities. The two Star Alliance members' cooperation includes management exchanges between the two carriers, a new deal signed recently to provide heavy maintenance on 747 and 777 aircraft through Air China's maintenance plant, Asiana Maintenance & Information General OS (AMIGOS) in Beijing. "We would also like to deepen cooperation with Air China, hopefully a new agreement as well," Mueller said.

June 26, 2010

Hong Kong*: Hong Kong lawmakers on Thursday voted 46 to 13 to support the expansion of the chief executives election committee from 800 to 1,200 members.

A display in front of the public gallery shows the result of 46 in favour, with 13 opposed, at the voting for the election of the chief executive in 2012, on the second day of debate on the government's 2012 constitutional reform package in the Legislative Council in Central on Thursday. Hong Kong lawmakers on Thursday voted 46 to 13 to support the expansion of the chief executive's election committee from 800 to 1,200 members. The expansion of the committee is one of two resolutions proposed by the government in its controversial 2012 political reform package before the Legislative Council. The second resolution now being debated is the expansion of the number of Legislative Council seats from the present 60 to 70 seats. The government had originally proposed that five of the new seats represent geographical constituencies and be directly elected by the public, and five represent the district council functional constituencies and be elected by approximately 400 district councillors. The Democratic Party suggested an amendment to this package that would allow the five seats in the district council sector to instead be elected by the public from a list of candidates nominated by district councillors. On Monday, Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen announced that the government had agreed to amend its proposals to include the Democratic Party's suggestion in exchange for its support on the package. Eight of nine Democratic Party legislators voted for the package, with only Andrew Cheng Kar-foo not following the party line. In addition to the Democrat Party lawmakers, those from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong and other pro-government parties voted in favour of the package. Lawmakers from the Civic Party, the League of Social Democrats and a few independents voted against it.

Agricultural Bank of China (ABC) plans to raise up to US$11.4 billion in the Hong Kong leg of its dual-exchange IPO, sources close to the deal said, but its total offering, including a Shanghai listing, may fall short of the record set by Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (SEHK: 1398). ABC, which is kicking off a formal marketing roadshow, set a proposed price range of HK$2.88-HK$3.48 a share for the Hong Kong offering, said the sources who are directly involved with the deal but cannot be named as the information is not yet public. ABC could not be reached for comment.

Despite new measures introduced to improve its transparency, there has been no major improvements in Hong Kong's residential property market, a survey released on Thursday said.

HSBC Holdings (0005) runs the risk of double taxation under a new British levy on lenders' balance sheets, group chief executive Michael Geoghegan said. "Our holding company obviously has the consolidated deposits of the whole group," Geoghegan said. "There would be a risk if you have that at the group level." Banks need to share the pain of tax increases - according to British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne - who announced on Tuesday a 0.07 percent levy on their wholesale liabilities. The levy is estimated to raise 2 billion (HK$23.17 billion) a year. "We are seeking some more clarification, but we'd imagine and we hope that it's in regard to the UK bank," said the HSBC chief, noting it is "too early" to comment on the effect on profits. Asked if it is fair for HSBC to shoulder the burden when it has not sought any government help, Geoghegan said: "It is a little bit unfair to any bank that didn't lend in the way that others did to be penalized, but I can understand why that levy is being raised." He said the enlargement of the pilot yuan trade settlement program will increase the currency's ability to develop its markets, bringing in prospective investments in yuan securities. HSBC (China)'s Qingdao branch on Tuesday completed the first cross-border trade settlement since the extension, helping an international trade firm remit money to a Hong Kong-registered partner. Geoghegan noted there will be "exciting opportunities" ahead. Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corp is looking into launching more new products, including insurances settled in yuan and credit cards, Albert Chan Leung-choi, head of commercial banking, said at the opening of a flagship business center at the lender's Central headquarters. Mark McCombe, chief executive Hong Kong, said the bank is likely to focus its attention on wealth management products amid the current low interest rate environment. While HSBC launched yuan trade finance in the first quarter, appreciation expectations curbed demand, Chan said. The lender is now pushing mainland clients to price in both the US dollar and the yuan for local clients to choose from. On whether HSBC will further raise interest rates for yuan deposits, McCombe said: "The rate is basically dictated by market forces," adding that the current growth in yuan deposits is faster than the demand for loans. While the yuan deposit growth had been stable for a while, there was a great deal of activity in the past few days, he said.

A visible trade deficit of 25.1 billion HK dollars was recorded in May, with the values of total exports and imports of goods both showing significant year-on-year increases at 24.4 percent and 29.7 percent, Hong Kong's Census and Statistics Department said Thursday. Vibrant regional trade in Asia and the prevailing global recovery should continue to provide support to Hong Kong's external trade performance, said the department. However, the adverse effect on global trade flows from a possibly slower recovery in Europe due to the sovereign debt problem may begin to emerge in the latter part of the year. For the first five months of the year, the value of total exports of goods rose 24.7 percent over the same period last year, while the value of imports increased 32.1 percent. A visible trade deficit of 148.6 billion HK dollars, equivalent to 11.6 percent of the value of imports of goods, was recorded.

 China*: China's annual audit shows the country’s recession-fighting spending spree has led some local governments to run up debts to levels that could pose a threat to the economy.

Zheng Lizhong, left, shakes hands with his Taiwanese counterpart Kao Koong-lian at a meeting to finalise a bilateral trade deal between the two sides in Taipei on Thursday. A landmark trade deal between Taiwan and China will cut tariffs on more than 800 products and open up service industries, officials and sources said on Thursday, giving a major boost to around US$100 billion in annual two-way trade. The most significant deal between the former political foes in 60 years will be signed on June 29 in Chongqing, once briefly the capital of China under the rule of the Nationalists, who are now Taiwan’s ruling party after losing the civil war to Mao Zedong’s Communists in 1949 and retreating to the island. Taiwan’s government has been heavily pushing the deal, fearing the country’s US$390 billion export-led economy will lose out to rivals in the booming Chinese market. “In all free-trade agreement negotiations, there are bound to be winners and losers,” said Tony Phoo, an economist with HSBC (SEHK: 0005, announcements, news) in Taipei. “I think, looking at what we have so far, the list covers most of the top export categories for what Taiwan ships to China, so it’s not too bad of a deal. The economic co-operation framework agreement (ECFA) would see tariffs cut on 539 Taiwanese products bound for China and 267 Chinese products exported to Taiwan, Premier Wu Den-yih told reporters at parliament. The cuts on the Taiwan items are valued at US$13.84 billion and those from China US$2.86 billion. Separately, a source with direct knowledge of the deal told Reuters it would also open up to Chinese investment Taiwan industries, including movies and business services, while the mainland’s computer service, airline maintenance and medical sectors would be opened to Taiwanese investment. The source, who could not be identified as the information has not yet been made public, added that Taiwan banks operating in China would be allowed to conduct business in China’s renminbi currency a year earlier than current rules allow. Chinese banks will be able to convert their representative offices in Taiwan into branches after one year. Full details of the deal are due to be announced later on Thursday. Markets will welcome the deal as the strongest ever tie-up between export-reliant Taiwan and China, Taiwan’s biggest trade partner and top foreign investor. The tariff cuts will cover about 15 per cent of Taiwan’s exports to China. A private research body in Taiwan has previously estimated that ECFA could create some 260,000 jobs in Taiwan and lift GDP by around 1.7 percentage points a year. The deal could also boost the chances of the ruling party at tough local elections due at the end of the year, where an opposition fearful of ECFA’s economic and political consequences will be mounting a tough challenge. With a message that ECFA will flood Taiwan with cheap goods, creating massive unemployment, and is a first step towards a Chinese political takeover, the opposition is looking to score big in the local elections to give it chance of ousting pro-China President Ma Ying-jeou in 2012 presidential polls. “The deal gives Ma a beautiful list of scores he can deliver at the next elections,” said Lin Chong-pin, strategic studies professor at Tamkang University in Taipei. “It’s a political decision made by Beijing, not economic. It’s Beijing’s high-level strategic political decision to win the hearts and minds of the Taiwan people and preempt the pro-independence opposition party.” The opposition, which has called for any trade deal to be done under the auspices of the World Trade Organisation, plans to hold a protest rally against ECFA in Taipei on Saturday.

G20 summit to search for lasting measures to ensure 'strong, sustainable, balanced growth' - The world needs a further concerted effort to ensure sustained global economic recovery and "a new beginning", as Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper spelled out in January, at the summit of the leaders of Group of 20 countries and organizations in Toronto this weekend. But the G20 will be put to the test as diverse national views and interests have arisen and seem to be taking precedence over global issues. Thus, it will also test the political will and ability of the G20 as a group to play an even greater role in global economic and financial governance. When the global financial crunch in 2008 signaled a global economic recession and the disruption of international trade, heads of state and government of G20 members convened in Washington DC in November 2008 to take concerted action. The G20 includes 19 countries - Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, South Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, United Kingdom, and the United States, as well as the European Union. Collectively these economies account for more than 85 percent of global gross national product, more than 80 of world trade (including trade within the EU) and two-thirds of the world population. Leading economists worldwide have so far commended G20 leaders for their efforts to act together with strong and timely stimulus measures and avoid the protectionism that led the stock market to crash in 1929 and plunged the world into the Great Depression. "The alliance between advanced and emerging economies, through debate and mutual cooperation, has changed the way the world economy is governed," said Zhang Xiaojing, professor of economics and director of the macroeconomics department of the Institute of Economics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS). "The G7 or G8 no longer has an exclusive say over world affairs." That the global response to the economic crisis "was successful has a lot to do with the shift to the G20, even though it is only an improvement, not perfection," Barry Bosworth, senior fellow of the Brookings Institute, told China Daily. "More countries were given more responsibility for global governance and acted in a responsible fashion. The outcome would not have been nearly as good if we stuck to the G7." The G20 is important because it spoke out against trade restrictions and its effort to coordinate fiscal policy stimulus "worked very well", said Bosworth, an expert on fiscal and monetary policy, economic growth, capital formation and social security, and a former presidential adviser. At the previous G20 summit in Pittsburgh, the assembled leaders promised that in Toronto they would place high on their agenda the implementation of commitments from previous G20 summits and work to come up with a "broad set of policy options to developing coordinated exit strategies" to help sustain a "strong, sustainable and balanced growth" in the world, according to the summit's website. Meanwhile, the leaders would assess how far the countries have moved forward in implementing measures to strengthen financial regulatory systems and what they will recommend to further the reforms and ensure transparency in the marketplace. They will also discuss ways to cut excessive risk taking and push for prudent behavior to help with long-term stability in development and financing. Emerging economies will push for more concrete steps to get more say in and increased representation in international financial institutions, while enhancing their governance and strengthening their lending capacities in terms of providing crisis assistance. Although all data in the first quarter of this year indicated that the world was heading for a strong recovery, subsequent uncertainties have aroused concerns that the world may fall back into recession. The problems first emerged with the sovereign debt crisis in the eurozone. The crisis "has become a contagion that may spread globally", Zhang from CASS said. The latest figures from the US and Japan are not encouraging either. While the high unemployment rate shows no sign of abating in the US, Japan is suffering from a high budget deficit and continued economic stagnation. Nouriel Roubini, chairman of Roubini Global Economics and professor of economics at New York University, predicted that the US would only register 2 percent growth - a level that signals recession after the economy shrank in 2009. Although May figures from China indicated there was a nearly 50 percent rise in its exports, the crisis in Europe is likely to lead to a fall in exports later this year. Confronting all these problems, countries have adopted different contingency measures to cope, even though their measures are seen as either going against previous G20 communiqus or contrary to the best interest of the region or the world. Global Trade Alert, which gathers information and studies from seven independent think-tanks, on Monday released its latest report, saying that major countries are continuing to take protectionist measures, despite the promise by G20 leaders to keep markets open. The report found that nearly 650 protectionist measures have been implemented since the first crisis-related G20 summit in November 2008, where leaders promised to avoid taking such measures. China's Ministry of Commerce has repeatedly said that the nation is a victim of trade protectionism. In a statement at the recent Doha round of negotiations in Japan, it said that further trade protectionism would derail the momentum of the global economic recovery. Major exporting economies like Germany and Japan will also have to face accusations that they are responsible for the global economic imbalance. These countries will be asked to boost domestic consumption and spend more. Meanwhile, China will be pressed to appreciate its currency, even though many economists, including Domenico Lombardi, president of the Oxford Institute for Economic Policy at Oxford University, argue that the "exchange rate is not the key to trade imbalances". China has reasons to go slow on reforms in its currency regime. "Yeah, you have a Japan situation where you never get out of it. There is a risk of stagnation," Bosworth said. "And I think that that is a legitimate issue to discuss at the G20." However, the problem is that "we hear every country wants fiscal consolidation for itself and fiscal stimulus by others," said the senior fellow at the Brookings Institute. Lombardi expressed concern that the worsening debt crisis in the eurozone would trigger more protectionist measures and tensions between exporting and importing countries would escalate. Economists recommend that the leaders make the best use of the G20 platform to exchange ideas and focus on ways to sustain global economic growth. Efforts should be made to avoid further tensions that could lead to a double-dip recession, Zhang added.

China represents a huge opportunity for American businesses, and the relationship between the two countries should not be portrayed as a zero sum game, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said on Wednesday. "There are so many opportunities for trade to benefit both China and the United States," Locke said at a Senate Finance Committee hearing. "I have seen those benefits first hand over the last 20 years, as Commerce Secretary, as an attorney in private practice, and as the governor of Washington State, where I helped double exports to China during my tenure." According to Locke, thanks to strong Chinese demand growth and recovery in prices of agricultural products, now the U.S. exports to China are growing faster than overall U.S. exports. "We should neither underestimate the importance of the China market nor the potential it holds for American exporters who tap into it." During the same hearing, Ron Kirk, the U.S. trade representative, also hailed the opportunities provided by the China's growing economy. "Thanks to China's strong recovery from the global recession, we have seen double digit growth in a variety of export sectors, ranging from high-end manufactured goods and chemical products to agricultural goods like soybeans," said Kirk.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao Thursday visited flood-hit Fuzhou City in central province of Jiangxi to inspect the fight against flood and disaster relief work. Despite heavy rain, Wen paid visits to local residents who suffered from flood, as well as military, police and firefighting forces who had strived to combat the disaster.

Chinese President Hu Jintao arrives at the airport in Ottawa for a state visit to Canada, June 23, 2010. Later he will travel to Toronto for a summit of the Group of Twenty(G20). Chinese President Hu Jintao flew into Ottawa, capital of Canada, Wednesday for a state visit, and later he will travel to Toronto for a summit of the Group of Twenty (G20), which aims to secure the global economic recovery and address economic challenges and risks. In a statement released upon his arrival at the airport, Hu said that China is ready to work with Canada to further expand exchanges and cooperation in various fields, push forward the China-Canada strategic partnership and bring even more benefits to the people of the two countries and around the world. Hu said that during his visit, he will have extensive meetings and in-depth discussions with Canadian leaders and people from all sectors of Canadian society to explore with them effective ways to advance China-Canada strategic cooperation. Under the current international situation, Hu said, China and Canada share broad common interests and vast potential for cooperation in many areas, ranging from promoting economic growth in both countries and the world to resolving regional hotspot issues and meeting various global challenges. "China always values China-Canada relations," Hu stressed, adding that bilateral exchanges and cooperation have made positive progress in such fields as economy, trade, energy, science, technology, education, culture, health, environmental protection, justice and law enforcement.

Consumer goods exporter Li & Fung (0494) feels the low-cost era in the mainland is likely over but expects no radical change in sourcing in the nation. President and executive director Bruce Rockowitz also said the firm will aim to switch its sourcing focus to the interior from coastal areas. Speaking at a Reuters summit in Hong Kong yesterday, Rockowitz said China is still a dominant and unique player in the whole supply chain, despite growing costs. "We believe that over the next few years there is not going to be a radical change in where people source from," Rockowitz said. He said other countries do not and will never have the same scale as China. Li & Fung exports US$8 billion (HK$62.4 billion) worth of goods from China and US$1 billion of goods from Vietnam. It said China will continue to be its biggest sourcing country, followed by Vietnam. The firm has a positive view for growth in 2010 helped by strong recovery in the United States, which accounts for about 65 percent of its business.

Gap Inc, a global apparel retailer, plans to enter the Chinese market soon, by opening four outlets within this year. The company, which spent two years on market research before entering China, plans to open two outlets in Beijing and two in Shanghai. "Gap will wholly own our Chinese stores because Gap attaches great importance to business in China, the third largest apparel market in the world," said Redmond Yeung, president of Gap in China. Gap plans to mainly focus on first-tier cities during the first year, where brand recognition is high. The first Gap store in China will be located in Beijing's Joy City shopping mall, owned by COFCO Commercial Property Investment Co. The two sides signed an agreement on June 3 and the store will be open by year's end. According to Yeung, the first four Gap stores will feature a full range of Gap's lines including Gap adult, GapKids and babyGap.

June 25, 2010

Hong Kong*: More than 4,000 public doctors will be offered HK$8,000 to HK$100,000 compensation for being on off-site call duties on public holidays or days off in the past four years, under a Hospital Authority package to be discussed today. The Court of Final Appeal ruled in October that public doctors were entitled to a day off if they were required to be on call on public holidays or their days off, even though they might not be needed.

The West Kowloon Cultural District Authority's team (from left), Chan Man-wai, Lars Nittve, Graham Sheffield and Louis Yu Kwok-lit at yesterday's press briefing. The appointment of the founding director of the Tate Modern to head M+, the contemporary art museum as well as the exhibition centre to be built in West Kowloon Cultural District, has delighted the local arts community, which has been looking forward to having an internationally renowned arts professional take up the job. But now their concern is whether the right people will be hired to work under M+ executive director-designate Lars Nittve to complement his limited experience of Asia and Hong Kong. Shortly after signing his contract, Nittve, who will take up his job in January, said the arts hub was one of the greatest art projects in the world, and its importance could be compared to the building of the Centre Pompidou in the 1970s and the Tate Modern over a decade ago.

Rents in mass residential housing in Hong Kong have surged more than 20 per cent in the past year and the trend is likely to continue, according to property agents. Monthly rents at 100 selected housing estates averaged HK$18.40 per square foot in May, according to data compiled by Midland Realty. That was a 22 per cent increase on the same month last year. It was also 5.9 per cent higher than December's average of HK$17.32 per square foot. The biggest growth was seen in Kingswood Villas in Tin Shui Wai, in the New Territories, where rents were up 36.8 per cent against May last year. Next was Heng Fa Chuen, on Hong Kong Island, where rents rose 35.2 per cent. Research by another leading agent, Centaline Property Agency, turned up much the same results, with the monthly rents at 73 housing estates last month averaging HK$17.40 per square foot - a 5.5 per cent increase compared with December's HK$16.50 per sq ft. Residential rents have risen for 14 consecutive months, showing cumulative growth of 31.8 per cent, Centaline Property research head Wong Leung-sing said.

More than 800 Home Ownership Scheme flats in Tin Shui Wai that were originally scheduled for sale this month have been held back because of a row over management fees between the government and the owners' committee of the estate. The 825 flats in Tin Chung Court, which make up about one-fifth of the remaining HOS flats, will be pulled from a sale that starts tomorrow, the Housing Authority said yesterday. The HOS, launched in 1978, allowed eligible families to buy their homes from the authority at a substantial discount to the market price. It was mothballed in 2002 after pressure from private developers. The announcement came a day after about 100 Tin Chung Court flat owners demonstrated outside the Central Government Offices in Central and the authority's headquarters in Ho Man Tin. They criticised the authority for not paying the management fees of vacant flats on the estate since 1999. The amount has come up to HK$71 million, including interest. A spokesman for the authority said it had been actively liaising with the owners' committee. "Having regard for the time required for the mediation process, we decided not to offer the flats concerned for sale at this stage," he said.

The facilities at the Kwai Chung container port. Industry players say the Marine Department should be a policy bureau rather than part of the Transport and Housing Bureau. he government should appoint a shipping minister to bolster the interests of Hong Kong's maritime community and counter the mounting threat posed by cities such as Singapore and Shanghai, a leading shipping magnate said yesterday. "Hong Kong is waiting to be attacked," George Chao, chairman of Wah Kwong Shipping Holdings, told the South China Morning Post (SEHK: 0583). Chao said an alternative to appointing a shipping minister would be for the government to upgrade the Marine Department into a separate policy bureau. He pointed out that Singapore and Shanghai were "doing everything" to develop their maritime sectors but, by comparison, the Hong Kong government was "at most passive rather than active". Several maritime companies have recently moved from Hong Kong to Singapore, partly in response to financial and tax incentives offered to the shipping industry. Chao recently met Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and gave him a letter outlining his proposals, but Chao said a concrete response was unlikely while Tsang was preoccupied with electoral reform issues. In a discussion between the two men, Chao said, Tsang had pledged to help improve relations between the government and the maritime sector. Shipping and maritime affairs come under the Transport and Housing Bureau headed by Eva Cheng. The bureau confirmed the chief executive's office was considering Chao's proposals but had not yet responded. Chao said the bureau was too large, and as a result the maritime sector was being overlooked, despite its massive size. Hong Kong-based companies own, manage or operate about 8 per cent of the world's merchant fleet of about 54,000 ships.

Securities and Futures Commission chief executive Martin Wheatley got a 10 per cent pay rise for the last financial year to HK$9.09 million, while his deputy, Alexa Lam, received a slight pay cut after a large and controversial increase the year before. Wheatley's increase for the year to March, which was disclosed in the commission's latest annual report, made him the third-highest paid regulator in the city last year. Former Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing (SEHK: 0388, announcements, news) chief executive Paul Chow Man-yiu and former Hong Kong Monetary Authority chief executive Joseph Yam Chi-kwong each received more than HK$10 million last year.

Hong Kong added the most millionaires last year, global wealth report says - Number of Hongkongers with high net worth up by 104pc in 2008/09. Hong Kong saw the largest increase in millionaires in the world last year, while the net wealth of Asian millionaires overtook European ones for the first time, largely fuelled by the recovery in asset prices, according to a report. The annual World Wealth Report, prepared by Merrill Lynch Wealth Management and consultancy Capgemini, found that the number of high-net-worth individuals in Hong Kong soared 104.4 per cent from 2008 to 2009, the greatest increase in the world. The survey defines high-net-worth individuals as those who have investable assets of US$1 million or more, excluding primary residence and collectibles. The increase is tempered by the 61 per cent drop in the number of millionaires in Hong Kong in 2008, the sharpest decline in the world that year. Hong Kong millionaires are mostly in the lowest wealth band of US$1 million to US$5 million, which meant many were relegated to the "mass affluent" segment quickly during the economic downturn of 2008. But when asset prices rose the following year, many soon bounced back. "We are not just talking about the performance of the Hang Seng Index in 2009, but IPOs as well. Last year, there were US$34 billion worth of IPOs in Hong Kong, compared to US$32 billion in the US," said Stephen Corry, chief investment officer for Merrill Lynch Global Wealth Management Asia-Pacific. However, the total number of high net-worth individuals in Hong Kong at the end of last year was still only 79 per cent of the number at the end of 2007. "I think we won't see a full recovery in the number of high-net-worth individuals in Hong Kong back to 2007 levels until 2013," said Francis Liu, managing director for Merrill Lynch Global Wealth Management Greater China. Globally, the number returned to around 10 million in 2009, with total net wealth increasing 18.9 per cent to US$39 trillion. North America is still home to the most millionaires at 3.1 million, or 31 per cent of the global high-net-worth population, worth US$10.7 trillion. The majority of millionaires are still concentrated in the US, Germany and Japan. Together, they accounted for just over half of the world's high net-worth individuals last year. However, the net wealth of Asian millionaires surpassed that of European ones for the first time last year, at US$9.7 trillion compared to US$9.5 trillion. China ranks fourth after the US, Germany and Japan, with 477,000 millionaires, up 31 per cent from the year before, while Australia edged into the top 10 countries, overtaking Brazil. Millionaires in Asia-Pacific have the highest exposure to real estate worldwide. But unlike the rest of the world, which saw a marked shift to fixed income to seek more predictable cash flows as a result of the recession, only 16 per cent of Asian millionaires' assets are allocated in fixed income. This is compared to a global average of 31 per cent.

Turnover at Dickson Concepts (International), the luxury fashion retailer and distributor, fell last year but profits rose sharply because of an exceptional payment relating to licensing rights and lower operating costs. Turnover for the year to March fell 5.3 per cent to HK$3.63 billion, a decline the company attributed to the termination of the sale of Polo Ralph Lauren products. The company will pay a final dividend of 18 HK cents per share. A special dividend of 18 HK cents per share will also be paid to mark its 30th anniversary.

 China*: More than one million Chinese permanent residents are potentially in trouble because a faulty registration procedure two decades ago resulted in them being given duplicate identity card numbers, according to mainland media. A woman who declined to be named complained that when she applied for a bank account in Beijing, she was told somebody in Guizhou , which she had left 20 years ago to move to the capital, was already using the ID card number she provided, according to the Beijing Evening News. It turned out that the person in Guizhou having the same ID card number was a schoolmate. Negotiations between the two failed at first, as neither was willing to apply for a new ID card. Because the Beijing woman would have had to apply for a new passport, driving licence and credit cards, which would cost more than 1,000 yuan (HK$1,140) once she had a new ID card number, she finally persuaded the schoolmate to change ID card numbers as the Guizhou woman had fewer certificates that would have needed reapplication. In another example of the problems caused by duplicate ID numbers, a civil servant was taken away by police when he checked into a hotel because his ID card number duplicated that of a drug addict, according to Huashang News.

Sales of high-end homes in Shanghai fell 56.4 per cent last month from April as investors and home seekers were cautious amid the uncertain policy environment. Prices fell 4 per cent during the same period, property consultant DTZ said. Shanghai has yet to adopt measures in response to the central government's desire to cool the real estate market. Many other cities such as Beijing, Chongqing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Tianjin have instituted measures to regulate the market. Many investors were adopting a "wait-and-see" attitude because they were uncertain whether the Shanghai city government would impose a property tax to cool prices, Jenny Wu, director of DTZ's integrated residential services, East China, said. Talk was rife that Shanghai would be the first city to introduce a property tax to discourage speculators. But Wu said the decline in the volume of high-end home sales last month was smaller than the market average. The city saw an overall decline of more than 70 per cent in sales volume, she said. This implied that high-end property had stronger support. She expected luxury homes to have more stable prices than mass housing. Meanwhile, new home sales in Shanghai fell 22.62 per cent to 65,000 square metres during the week from June 14 to June 20, according to data compiled by From June 7 to June 13, there were 84,000 square metres of residential space sold. Last week, the average price of new homes fell 7 per cent to 17,998 yuan (HK$20,542) per square metre, while the supply of homes rose 24 per cent to 129,000 square metres.

China's Ministry of Finance said Wednesday that the country would grant zero tariff status to 4,762 categories of commodities now imported from 33 of the world's least developed countries beginning July 1. The countries include 26 African countries and seven from other regions. These include Ethiopia, Benin, Burundi, Guinea Ecuatorial, Maldives, Nepal and Bangladesh. Imports to China, including aquatic products, textiles, farm produce, glass products, steel and minerals from these 33 countries, are to be exempted from tariffs. Since 2001, China has put 41 of the world's least developed countries on its zero-tariffs list.

June 24, 2010

Hong Kong*: Fewer local people identify themselves as "Hong Kong citizens" while more see themselves as "Hong Kong- Chinese citizens," a survey about ethnic identity has revealed. Of 1,004 locals polled by the University of Hong Kong earlier this month, 25 percent said they are "Hong Kong citizens," representing 13 percent fewer than six months ago. The study found 46 percent identify themselves as Hong Kong-Chinese, up from 37 percent last year, while 28 percent see themselves as "Chinese," up from 24 percent. Political commentator Johnny Lau Yui-siu attributed the result to the "increasingly indivisible relationship" between Hong Kong and the mainland in the 13 years since Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule. Robert Chung Ting-yiu, director of the polling program, said significant news events during the past six months have made an impact on ethnic identity. These include the voting on the funding for the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, Shanghai World Expo, the imprisonment of mainland human rights activist Liu Xiaobo and the heated debates over the territory's political development. Lau explained that sometimes even the negative image of Chinese authorities might cause local people to increase their awareness of being Chinese citizens. When asked to make a choice among six given identities in the survey, feelings amongst Hongkongers are strongest as "members of the Chinese race," followed by "Hong Kong citizens," then "Chinese citizens," "Asians," "global citizens," and finally "citizens of the PRC."

Legislators on Wednesday afternoon rejected a motion put forward by lawmaker Cyd Ho Sau-lan to adjourn the debate on the government’s amended political reform package.

Security is tight outside the Legislative Council building in Central as the government's 2012 constitutional reform package is debated on Wednesday. Security around the Legislative Council building was beefed up on Wednesday as pro-democracy campaigners staged a protest ahead of a vote on a controversial plan that promises limited political reforms for Hong Kong. Police have erected metal barricades around the Legco building and stationed officers at each entrance – ahead of Wednesday evening’s vote on the 2012 electoral reform proposal. Special transport arrangements have also been put in place; no cars were allowed to use Legco car parks. The MTR Corporation (SEHK: 0066) closed Central station’s J1, J2 and J3 exits as part of police crowd control measures. This meant passengers had to use other entrances of the Central station, local media reported.

Asian demand greater than five Las Vegases: Sands boss - Sheldon Adelson - Las Vegas Sands Corp chief executive Sheldon Adelson is seen with his wife Miriam Adelson, during the opening ceremony at the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore on Wednesday. Asians’ love of gambling is so strong that the equivalent of five Las Vegases in the region will not be enough to satisfy demand, US gaming tycoon Sheldon Adelson said on Wednesday. The chairman of Las Vegas Sands said at a press conference at the company’s massive Singapore casino complex, Marina Bay Sands, that the “propensity” to gamble was part of Asian culture. “I believe we can put the equivalent of five plus Las Vegases, with 140,000 hotel rooms each in five different locations in Asia, and it still won’t saturate the demand,” he said. Marina Bay Sands will primarily target customers from Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, with an eye on other Southeast Asian countries like Thailand and Vietnam, Adelson added. “In my opinion there’s more than enough business for us to succeed within a two, two and a half hours’ flight from here. I think there’s more than enough business and that’s not counting large volumes of people from China or Hong Kong.” Adelson was speaking at an event marking the opening of all the Marina Bay Sands 2,560 hotel rooms, plus shops, restaurants and exhibition facilities. The casino and part of the hotel started operating in April. Marina Bay Sands chief executive officer Thomas Arasi said the casino had already attracted close to 500,000 people in June alone. “We’re very happy with where we’re at,” Arasi said. Adelson said Sands expects to attract between 125,000 and 150,000 people a day when it is fully open, adding that the project would help dispel Singapore’s lingering image as a staid place. “It’s going to change Singapore by providing entertainment amenities that were not here before,” he said. “This will be for the Asian people a very major attraction, and will change the conservative perception of what Singapore has in the night time.” On competition with Macau, where Las Vegas Sands also has a huge presence, Adelson said it was still unclear if Singapore had stolen some business from Macau but stressed that they were aiming at different markets. “Macau is serving Hong Kong, Taiwan and southeast China... They are two different markets and they appeal to two different constituencies.” Despite concerns over its social impact, Singapore gave the green light for casino gambling in 2005 in a bid to increase tourist arrivals and cash in on a growing trend in Asia. The Singapore Tourism Board says visitor arrivals this year could range from 11.5 million to 12.5 million, compared to 9.7 million last year, thanks in part to the casinos and the economic recovery in the region. The target is 17 million arrivals by 2015 – more than three times the current population of Singapore.

An owner of a site in Plover Cove Country Park where excavation has polluted a stream running through a beauty spot says the land has been cleared to make way for a HK$200 million park within a park that will be open to the public. "We only want to build a country park that can benefit the elderly and students," Albert Leung Sai-on said. "We cleared the site so we can plant more beautiful and rare trees like incense trees and buddhist pines." He said the project upstream from the Bride's Pool waterfall also involved the "reconstruction" of 11 old village houses, the use of which had not been determined. He was speaking a day after another owner, Leung Sai-lin, whose name is on the sale and purchase agreement for the site, told the Post they planned to build village houses. She referred further queries yesterday to Albert Leung, saying he was fully responsible for the project. He said the park, named Jade Emperor Palace, is a project of the Chun On Group, a property development company of which he is managing director. He said the company had filed an application to the Lands Department, but the department could not confirm receiving it yesterday.

Asian millionaires worth more than Europeans: study - Asian millionaires are worth more than their European counterparts for the first time, with China and India leading the way, a study said Wednesday. The report on high net worth individuals (HNWIs) – defined as anyone with investible assets of at least US$1 million – was issued by Merrill Lynch Global Wealth Management and consultancy firm Capgemini. The world’s population of HNWIs returned to 10 million last year after the global recession, with the largest concentrations still found in the United States, Japan and Germany. “After falling 14.2 per cent in 2008 to 2.4 million, Asia-Pacific’s HNWI population rebounded in 2009 to reach three million, matching that of Europe’s HNWI population for the very first time,” a media release said. Those three million people in Asia-Pacific saw their total wealth grow nearly a third to US$9.7 trillion, more than erasing 2008 losses and surpassing the US$9.5 trillion held by their European counterparts, it added. The shift in rankings came because gains in Europe, while sizeable, were far smaller than those in the Asia-Pacific region, which saw continued robust growth in both economic and market drivers of wealth, the statement said. “Hong Kong and India led growth in Asia-Pacific, after experiencing massive declines in their HNWI bases and wealth in 2008,” it added. Worldwide, the wealthy have nearly recouped losses of 2008 and total assets are now approaching levels last seen in 2007, before a US housing crisis triggered the global recession. “The rebound has been, and will continue to be, driven by emerging markets – especially India and China, as well as Brazil,” said Bertrand Lavayssiere, managing director for global financial services at Capgemini. “In fact, Asia-Pacific was the only region in which both macroeconomic and market drivers of wealth expanded significantly in 2009.”

New rules to test sales at Hermitage - Developers' guidelines expected to provide more transparency for potential buyers. Sino Land will launch 150 units in Block 2 at The Hermitage for sale this week. The project will have six residential blocks when completed. Sales at Sino Land's The Hermitage in Tai Kok Tsui, due to be launched this week, will provide a reality check for the market under new guidelines imposed by the government for the release of new developments. The project will be in the spotlight as it is the first large-scale development to be launched since the new rules took effect this month. According to the guidelines, produced by the Real Estate Developers Association, developers of large-scale projects consisting of 100 or more flats are required to launch at least 50 flats, or 50 per cent of the total number of flats, whichever is higher, in the first release. For smaller projects, the minimum is 30 flats or 30 per cent of the total, whichever is higher. Developers are also required to release the price list of all units available for sale three days before their sales' launches. The requirements have changed the "rules of the game" in the primary market, agents say.

Award-winning actress Cecilia Yip Tung and a television celebrity were convicted of drink-driving and disqualified from driving yesterday. Yip, who has won three Hong Kong Film Awards and whose real name is Lee Sze-sze, pleaded guilty in Tsuen Wan Court to driving with a breath-alcohol concentration above the legal limit. Principal Magistrate Ernest Lin Kam-hung fined her HK$6,000 and disqualified her from driving for four months.

 China*: Agricultural Bank of China will price the Hong Kong part of its likely record US$23 billion IPO at no less than HK$2.80 a share, a top executive was quoted as saying on Wednesday.

Workers at the Denso factory relax on the second day of their strike. They expect management to respond to their demands today. Toyota suspended production at a car assembly plant in Guangzhou after labour unrest at a factory in the Nansha district of the city that supplies it with parts. The strike by about 300 workers at Denso (Guangzhou Nansha) Co, which stretched into its second day, has caused the plant to stop supplying its fuel injection equipment and other products to Toyota, Honda, Volkswagen and other carmaking clients. It is the latest in a string of work stoppages to hit foreign operations across the mainland. Workers at Toyoda Gosei, a Tianjin car parts factory affiliated with Toyota, went on strike on Thursday. Workers at another supplier of the carmaker, Tianjin Star Light Rubber and Plastic - also a Toyoda Gosei unit - downed tools on Tuesday last week. Denso (Guangzhou Nansha), owned by Japan's Denso Corporation, is a Toyota affiliate and has 1,100 workers.

Rivals in scramble to control rare metals - China dominates supply of vital weapons material - Imagine being a superpower and the effectiveness of your main battle tank depended on a metal that can only be obtained from a potential superpower rival. Strange but true. The United States is in precisely this situation. The M1A2 Abrams tank has a navigation system that requires samarium cobalt permanent magnets. And where does the samarium come from? China. Difficulties in obtaining rare earth elements (REEs) have caused delays in the production of weapons in the US, according to a report released this year by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), entitled, "Rare Earth Materials in the Defence Supply Chain." The report discusses China's dominance of REEs, noting that it controls 97 per cent of the supply and warning of the strategic dangers this poses for the supply chain relating to US weapons. But China's dominance in metals and minerals is not just confined to those used for military purposes. In a report released last week the European Union identifies 41 minerals and concludes that 14 are "critical" in that they are considered indispensable to industry and their availability is under pressure. The report says their high supply risk is mainly due to the fact that a large share of worldwide production comes from China, Russia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Both the EU and the US expressed concern at the industrial strategies of producer countries, particularly China, whose trade, taxation and investment policies are geared to keeping their resources for their own use and which at the same time allegedly violate agreements they have struck with the World Trade Organisation. The EU report says China's strong position as a supplier of many of these key materials, together with the restrictions it has imposed on their export, not only increases global prices but distorts worldwide competition for downstream industries. "This distorts the level playing field that can be legitimately expected among WTO members," the report notes. Last year the US and EU initiated a complaint through the WTO with respect to key metals. The US is preparing to initiate complaint proceedings over China's dominance in rare earths and the EU has also recommended stepping up pressure on China via the WTO. Rare earths are increasingly being used in hi-tech products ranging from weapons systems and jet engines to mobile phones, car exhaust catalysts and solar panels. The GAO report notes that the US previously dominated the supply of REEs but began to lose its ascendancy in the mid-1980s when China undercut the prices of most other producers. The result was that many rare earth projects were no longer economically feasible and were closed down. The GAO is critical of the US defence contracting sector, noting that it had neglected its raw material supply chain. Hallgarten & Co, New York corporate advisers that specialise in mining sector services, commented in a report that the US neglect of REEs production, was a "litany of opportunities missed and duty shirked", and that it could take up to 15 years for the US to rebuild a rare earth supply chain. Professor Phillip Crowson, a former chief economist with mining giant Rio Tinto, said: " For many years countries have been happy to import rare earth elements from China at low cost and let other mines close. Now that China has reduced its exports for various reasons, supply has come under pressure. "It's a problem that has been looming for many years but people are only just waking up to it."

Beijing will scrap tax rebates to exporters of dozens of commodities including key steel products, corn starch, rubber products and ethanol, the finance ministry said.

Flood-hit dyke suffers new breach - A flood-battered dyke in Jiangxi suffered a fresh breach on Wednesday as flooding that killed 210 people intensified and 100,000 residents fled after an earlier break in its wall.

East Timor would prefer to buy a "fake Gucci ship from China" than pay extra for Western military hardware, the nation’s president said after acquiring two Chinese warships.

June 23, 2010

Hong Kong*: China central bank said on Tuesday it would expand a trial program on yuan-denominated cross-border trade to encompass 20 cities and provinces and cover trade with any country. The statement from the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) marks the latest step towards making the yuan an international currency and follows a weekend pledge by policymakers to make the currency more flexible. The trial is designed to increase use of the currency in international transactions and possibly make it fully convertible one day. Previously the trial was restricted to 365 firms in Shanghai and four cities in Guangdong that were allowed to use the yuan to settle transactions with Hong Kong, Macau and countries in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The central bank said the program would expand to cities including Beijing and Tianjin and to several provinces such as Sichuan in the southwest and Zhejiang in the east. It was not clear from the statement when the expansion would start or how many companies would be involved. The central bank had said previously it would eventually expand the trial to cover the entire country. The move comes after the central bank pledged to increase the “flexibility” of the yuan against the US dollar, which analysts saw as sign Beijing may be ready to scrap the dollar peg and let the currency appreciate.

Democratic Party members early today voted by a wide margin in favor of backing the government's political reform package after a heated five-hour debate.

Hong Kong democracy icon Martin Lee Chu-ming says he may consider quitting the Democratic Party which he founded if it backs the government's amended political reform proposals. "It is not the party I knew," he said. Lee said the amendments proposed by the party and accepted by the government would not lead to full democracy. He spoke as the rift between pan-democrats widened - and other Democratic Party lawmakers said they were considering voting against the measures tomorrow. Late last night, after a five-hour party meeting at which a majority of members voted to support the revised government package, Lee said he would not quit for the time being. "I will give the matter a lot of thought. It is a serious question. I don't want to make mistakes." He said he would consider the matter during his holiday at the end of the month. He expressed regret that the party had vetoed his call to delay a decision for two weeks to better explain the party position. But he urged allies to keep calm, saying they would lose public support if they sought to topple the Democratic Party.

Another Democratic Party founding member, Andrew Cheng Kar-foo, said on Tuesday he was also considering leaving the party if it backed the government's amended reform package.

There is a "ray of hope" for democracy in Hong Kong, according to the chief executive, with Legco now likely to approve a revised constitutional reform package tomorrow.

Beijing changed its mind on the Democratic Party's reform package - which Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen endorsed yesterday -- because it feared radical forces would gain ground if the political system remained unchanged. According to several people familiar with the dialogue between moderate democrats and Beijing, central government leaders gave the green light on Friday to the party's "one person, two votes" proposal, which would allow the public a vote on five new seats in the Legislative Council's district councils functional constituency in the 2012 election. Beijing's unexpected endorsement of the party's demands, which will ensure passage of the revised reform package tomorrow by a margin comfortably above the required two-thirds majority of the 60 lawmakers, caught government-friendly groups off guard. Under the proposal approved by the Executive Council, candidates for the five seats would be nominated by elected district councillors. The seats would be voted on by the 3.2 million voters who currently do not have a say in functional constituencies. The final obstacle to the passage of the revised reform proposals was cleared last night when, at the end of a five-hour meeting, more than three-quarters of Democratic Party members agreed its nine lawmakers should support them.

Sino Land (0083) will sell the first 75 homes at The Hermitage from HK$8,984 per square foot, far below its original reference price of HK$15,000 psf upwards. The developer will launch the 864-unit project in Tai Kok Tsui for an average of HK$10,876 psf on Thursday at the earliest, hence fully abiding by official pre-sale rules, said sales and marketing general manager Salenda Lau. The entry threshold for the six- building development is a 1,005 square foot unit going for HK$8,984 psf, or HK$9.03 million. The most expensive apartment measures 1,552 sq ft and is asking HK$13,714 psf, or HK$21.3 million. Lau admitted prices are lower than earlier targets, but noted Sino is trying to lure buyers from other districts. Its original reference prices ranged from HK$15,000 to HK$29,500 psf. Buyers making full payment within 45 days will get a 5 percent discount off list prices. In order more end-users can buy homes, Lau said individuals or companies each can buy up to three units. Ricacorp Properties associate director John Fung Shu-fan said the first units are "a good bargain." He said: "It must have followed developers' common practice of adding new units and raising prices gradually." Hong Kong Property senior sales director Benny Yu said Sino's first units are competitively priced, given they are only 20 percent more expensive than the average of HK$8,565 psf at eight major developments near Olympic station. Despite a vibrant secondary market in the district, Fung believes homeowners will monitor Sino's subsequent prices and may not be so tough on their asking prices now. Secondary deals at the eight residences totaled 110 as at yesterday, versus 74 in May, Hong Kong Property said. A four-bedroom unit at Sino's One Silversea - the most expensive secondary project in Tai Kok Tsui - was recently sold for HK$14,137 psf, or HK$28.5 million, said Midland Realty.

Win's Travel faces the loss of its business license after the Travel Industry Council voted to deregister the agency.
TIC executive director Joseph Tung Yao-chung said the unanimous decision to terminate Win's membership was ratified at a general meeting yesterday. Deregistration is seen as the first step leading to the government revoking a travel agency's operating license. Win's Travel has 14 days in which to lodge an appeal. The decision to deregister the agency followed the death of a mainland tourist after he had argued with an unlicensed tour guide over being forced to shop at a Hong Kong jewelry store. Chen Youming, 65, a retired national table tennis coach from Hunan, died of a heart attack on May 22. Tung said Win's failed to maintain the integrity of a travel agency, and provided inaccurate information in its report. As the case may also involve the production and use of a false document, the TIC has passed the case on to police. Tung said Win's had hired the tour guide knowing she wasn't licensed. "We found that there was fake information provided in the submitted reports, and the agency admitted it. In this case, the committee believed that the agency had failed to comply with the basic integrity, so we have to mete out strict punishment," he said. The police investigation is ongoing.

Rising star Aarif Lee picked to play a young Bruce Lee in biopic - Filmmakers have cast a rising Hong Kong star to play Bruce Lee in a biopic that focuses on the late kung fu icon's youth. Aarif Lee rose to fame by playing a high-school track star in the recent Alex Law Kai-yui hit Echoes of the Rainbow, a nostalgic look at 1960s Hong Kong. At the recent Hong Kong Film Awards he was named best new performer and was singer of the best original film song. The 23-year-old studied physics at Imperial College in London. The actor bowed before the statue of Bruce Lee on the Avenue of Stars in Tsim Sha Tsui yesterday. He said he was preparing for his role by watching Lee's films and practising the wing chun fighting style he learned as a teenager in Hong Kong. Bruce Lee, who was born in California in 1940, died of a heart attack in Hong Kong on July 20, 1973, aged just 32. Bruce Lee: My Brother's Story is funded by a consortium of studios from Hong Kong and the mainland. It will start shooting this month. The film follows in the footsteps of two locally made films about Bruce Lee's mentor, Ip Man.

Full-year-stay rule for Social Welfare struck down - Court finds requirement for continuous residency in Hong Kong unconstitutional. Hongkongers will no longer have to live continuously in the city for a year before applying for the dole. A court ruled yesterday that the requirement was unconstitutional. The Social Welfare Department immediately shelved the requirement for all applications for comprehensive social security assistance (CSSA). The Court of First Instance made the ruling in the case of George Yao Man-fai, 65, a Hongkonger working on the mainland for a textile manufacturer. When he returned to Hong Kong after being fired, Yao was denied CSSA because he did not satisfy the requirement. Yao challenged the Social Welfare Department's decision to deny him CSSA, saying it undermined a resident's freedom to travel and choose his or her occupation and violated the Basic Law, which guarantees the right to social welfare. Yesterday, the court ruled in his favor. Tsoi Yiu-cheong, a community organiser with the Society for Community Organisation, which supported Yao's judicial challenge, said, "It violated the Bill of Rights. We're very happy that we've got justice. This allows many people who genuinely need CSSA to get welfare fairly." Yao, who had been living off his savings and the kindness of his friends, said: "Life was bad before. Now that I can get welfare payments, it will be better." The government introduced the requirement in January 2004 to discourage people who had lived abroad for a long time from relying on CSSA immediately after returning. The rule came into effect at the same time as one requiring that a person be in Hong Kong for seven years before becoming eligible for CSSA. The court ruled that the continuous-residence rule, which had a grace period of 56 days during which an applicant might be away, violated the Basic Law, the Bill of Rights and a person's right to travel, and that it was unconstitutional and unlawful. Mr Justice Andrew Cheung Kui-nung said, "It is fair to say that one simply does not find any detailed analysis, data or statistical figures to back any suggestion that there was, at the time the new rule was introduced, a genuine need to discourage people." He said it was unacceptable to determine a resident's entitlement to CSSA by reference to the length of his absence from Hong Kong immediately before applying for CSSA, without inquiring into the reasons for and circumstances of his absence. Statistics showed that residents who turned to CSSA immediately after returning from a long stay abroad were a minor proportion of all applicants. They could not have caused a significant strain on available resources, the judge said. He said many who had not been away for a long time were caught by the rule. Ng Wai-tung, another community organiser with the grass-roots concern group, said many Hong Kong people who worked on the mainland had been forced to return with "only a few pennies in their pockets" in the tough economic environment of the past few years. Census and Statistics Department data shows the number of Hong Kong people working on the mainland fell from a peak of 237,000 in the first quarter of 2005 to 218,000 in the third quarter of 2008. "In a survey we conducted last year, out of 116 homeless people, 37 said they had been working on the mainland and could not apply for the dole because of such unreasonable regulations. We are so happy about the court ruling, which gives back the rights these people are entitled to in the very first place," Ng said. "Offering poor people financial assistance when they badly need it is the responsibility of government. The government should not deny the rights of people that are protected under the Basic Law and international conventions," he said. A spokesman for the department said that between June 2007 and March this year, it exercised its discretion in approving CSSA for 4,839 applicants who had not continuously lived in the city for a year. The department will now inform 130 applicants who had been rejected about the change in policy.

Arts chiefs are redoubling their efforts to nurture a pool of talent they hope will help spur development of the future West Kowloon Cultural District. They also hope to spark creative talent and improve teenagers' communication skills. In the next school year, government funding for the Hong Kong Arts Development Council's student art ambassador program will double, from HK$2.5 million to HK$5 million. Some 639 primary and secondary school students are taking part in the programme this year. In the coming year the council hopes to raise the number of participants to 1,200. Each participating school selects one student to be its arts ambassador. The children attend council activities and promote the arts in their schools, said Ko Tin-hung, the chairman of the council's arts promotion committee. Ko says the program provides a social networking platform for the ambassadors. The council hopes that, by getting to know each other, the students can organise interschool or district-oriented activities to promote the arts. In the long term, the pool of artistic talent created could spur arts development in the cultural district, he said, and participation in the arts could play a big part in helping creative talent emerge. Danny Ho Shing-chung, 12, is one of the ambassadors this year. He is an albino who cannot spend a long time in the sun, and it is difficult for him to play sport. He loves music and says it helps him to express his feelings. He started playing the piano in kindergarten, and is learning percussion and violin. "What I want most is to enjoy my time with my classmates, because I'm graduating soon. Music has boosted my confidence," he said. When he was in Primary One he did not dare talk to his classmates, he said. Now in Primary Six, he is more daring and loves the company of friends. Ko said being involved in the arts helped boys communicate better, but noted there were more girl than boy ambassadors.

 China*: The yuan slipped on Tuesday as big state-owned banks heavily bought US dollars, a move that suggests the central bank has adopted a new strategy to control the pace of yuan gains.

China's yuan move signals end to crisis-mode exchange rate policy: experts - China's announcement of more flexibility yuan exchange rate meant an end to the crisis-mode policy the government took to cushion the blow from the global financial crisis, experts said Monday.

A strike has halted production at a mainland factory owned by Japan's Denso Corporation, a car parts maker affiliated with Toyota, in the latest strike at a foreign firm in China.

China said world leaders should focus on overcoming economic difficulties together and not play the blame game at this weekend's summit of the Group of 20 leading economies, just days after Beijing announced greater flexibility for its currency. China’s central bank loosened the yuan’s peg to the dollar on Saturday. The yuan surged to a record high Monday before sliding back to about 6.82 to the US dollar on Tuesday. Some analysts said the move was aimed mainly at countering criticism of Beijing’s tight control of China’s currency and was not a major shift in policy.

The son of former Premier Li Peng has been promoted to new provincial government and Communist Party positions, marking his further ascendancy into the political elite. appointment as executive vice governor of Shanxi province puts him in charge of daily government operations in the coal mining powerhouse, strengthening the Li family’s hold over China’s crucial power generation sector. He was also promoted to provincial vice party secretary, placing him one rung below the provincial party chief, the most powerful official in the province. The appointments were announced on the party government’s website, which did not mention when they were made or offer other details. A man who answered the phone at the provincial government spokesman’s office refused to respond to questions, a common response in China’s opaque, top-down political system. Li, 51, is the eldest son of Li Peng, who served as China’s hard-liner premier from 1987 to 1998. Li Peng is best known for backing the military assault on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989, making him a controversial if not reviled figure among many Chinese. A recent attempt to publish Li Peng’s purported memoir in Hong Kong was called off over alleged copyright problems, stirring speculation that the Chinese government had stepped in to block the move. The elder Li stepped down from his final post as head of the national legislature in 2003, but has retained considerable influence, especially in the power sector where his children have held top posts. His son Li Xiaopeng is considered a “princeling,” the children of influential senior communist officials who have risen high in politics and generally advocate further economic opening while opposing political reform. Li was formerly chairman of state-owned Huaneng Power International (SEHK: 0902, announcements, news) , the country’s largest independent power company with interests in coal mining, railroads and ports. His sister Li Xiaolin serves as CEO of powerful China Power International (SEHK: 2380) Development, another major player in the Chinese power industry.

China and Australia seal A$10b deals to boost ties - Vice-President Xi Jinping shakes hands with Andrew Forrest, the chief executive of Fortescue Metals Group, as Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd looks on at Parliament House. China and Australia yesterday signed deals, potentially worth A$10 billion (HK$68.86 billion), mainly in the mining and energy sectors, underlining the continued strong trade links between the two countries. The signings were witnessed by Vice-President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in Canberra and included financing for mining projects from state-owned China Development Bank Corp (CDB). The deals included a facility agreement for US$1.2 billion between Karara Mining and CDB to develop a port and rail infrastructure at Oakajee in Western Australia; a memorandum of understanding between Aquila Resources and CDB to develop and expand Aquila's coal and iron ore mining projects in Western Australia; and a co-operation agreement for China Gezhouba Group to provide procurement, engineering and design services to Fortescue Metals Group, although the miner said terms had yet to be agreed. In addition, there were other deals in the energy and telecommunications sectors. Some of them had already been announced, but the occasion was more about politics with Rudd, who is fighting a backlash against a proposed resources tax, anxious to show that the Chinese were still prepared to invest in Australian resources.

After decades building its reputation as the go-to country for electronics manufacturers, China's intention to promote its own brands and produce the world's next Sony or Samsung was obvious during a massive telecoms exhibition in Singapore. While foreign giants such as Apple, Dell and Nokia have taken advantage of the mainland's vast pool of cheap labour to manufacture or assemble their products, China's own electronics firms are now looking to make their presence felt in the global marketplace. Mainland firms, led by Huawei Technologies and ZTE (SEHK: 0763) Corporation, flew the flag proudly at the annual CommunicAsia and BroadcastAsia trade fairs in Singapore, signalling the rise of a new power in the industry. They were the top foreign exhibitors, with 257 booths displaying everything from sleek tablet computers to slim mobile phones with Chinese branding. Once dominated by European and North American brands, the global telecoms industry is now more fragmented, and Chinese companies have joined the Japanese and South Koreans on the front lines of the battle for Asian and global market share. And beyond consumer devices, Chinese firms are also supplying digital encoders and receivers to the telecoms industry. Technology consultancy IDC said the global telecom industry was worth US$1.5 trillion a year, with the mobile sector accounting for more than half the total. "More and more Chinese companies are paying more attention to the exhibitions overseas," said Tina Feng, who heads international sales at Chengdu Dexin Digital Technology, a maker of wireless equipment. "You know, China has developed very fast, so they can supply high-quality stuff now, and they want to show it through their products." Feng said her company, just a visitor to the show in 2008, decided to exhibit for the first time this year, after spotting plenty of opportunities to reach out to new markets. "There are many customers from Asia, so our company hopes to enlarge this market," Feng said. "It's been rather busy for us at the show. We should be back next year again." Chinese participation at this year's show, which ended on Friday, jumped 21 per cent from last year, and the interest came not only from big players, show organiser Singapore Exhibition Services (SES) said. "It is not just the Huawei or the ZTE that you are talking about, but you see a lot more group participation, and you also see a lot more of the medium-sized enterprises taking part," SES project director for communications events Victor Wong said. Chinese firms were also the largest foreign contingent last year, but only by a small margin, Wong said. "I think one of the reasons for them to come out is they want to export; they find that it is really worthwhile for them to do so, because if you continue to do stay in China, you can only compete on price," he said. US firms had the biggest number of foreign booths in 2008, but they were a distant second this year. Alan Yin, a regional sales director with mainland electronics firm Konka Group, is convinced China has what it takes to produce the world's next Samsung, Sony or Motorola. "In the past, we learned technology from Western countries, but now a lot of Chinese companies have invested a lot in research and development in hi-tech," he said. "I am sure in the next 10 or 20 years, Chinese companies will be stronger."

Chinese actress Zhang Jingchu is featured in these stills from the new comedy "Flirting Scholar 2". Director Lee Lik-Chi has remade his 1993 classic "Flirting Scholar", a comedic portrayal of Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD) painter, calligrapher and poet Tang Bohu and his love for a girl named Qiuxiang. The 1993 film features Stephen Chow as Tang Bohu and Gong Li as Qiuxiang. In "Flirting Scholar 2", Zhang Jingchu and Huang Xiaoming pair up for the roles.

June 22, 2010

Hong Kong*: Luxury world group tour snapped up at HK$550,000 (US$70,500) each in 9 minutes - Twenty holidaymakers from Hong Kong, the mainland and Taiwan have signed up for probably the most expensive package ever offered in Hong Kong, organised by Wing On Travel. The 60-day world tour costs HK$550,000 per person - yet all places were snapped up in just nine minutes. The group will travel and dine extravagantly: flying business class, staying in five-star hotels, dining at renowned and Michelin-starred restaurants, as well as sailing on a deluxe cruise ship to 27 cities from February. "We launched this luxury travel product to test the market and we didn't expect the places would all be taken in such a short period of time," said Jo Jo Chan Shuk-fong, general manager of Wing On Travel. The agency has also launched another luxury group tour, this time to Antarctica and South America, with a price tag from HK$130,000 per person. Two-thirds of the places have already been taken. "We have a group of rich clients who hired us to organise some luxury private tours. We believe there are many Hongkongers with big spending power but they don't know what they want and what is available, so we plan for them to save them the hassle," Chan said. She said the group tours were on average 50 per cent cheaper than tailor-made private tours. Travel agents in Hong Kong had focused on the mass market and there was a lack of group tours for the city's rich. Wing On plans more luxury group tours, priced between HK$100,000 and HK$200,000 per person, with Japan eyed as the next destination. Another travel agency, Kuoni, is advertising a 36-day tour to Antarctica and South America next year, priced from HK$193,998 per head. Studies show that the luxury travel market has rebounded from the global economic downturn, with Asia driving growth. Paul Leung Yiu-lam, of the Hong Kong Association of Travel Agents, said it was good to see more products available for holidaymakers, but the market for deluxe travel products was small. "These expensive tours need to be unique. They either go somewhere which is difficult to get to, or offer an exceptional dining experience or have some special arrangement," Leung said. "Rich people have rich travel experience." Steve Huen Kwok-chuen, executive director of EGL Tours, has reservations about luxury around-the-world tours because it is difficult for Hongkongers to travel for a month or two. "Money is not a problem for them but time is an issue," Huen said. Deluxe tours for about five days blended with fine dining experiences and luxury accommodation were popular despite being five or six times more expensive than ordinary packages.

Albert Ho surrounded after the City Forum yesterday. Signs of an impending split within the pan-democratic camp became evident yesterday as civil groups, students and members of the League of Social Democrats heckled Democratic Party members, accusing them of selling out Hong Kong people and undermining their own principles. Democratic Party chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan twice had to be assisted by friends, party members and police officers after being surrounded and heckled by protesters furious at what they perceive to be a U-turn by his party. Ho's party, holding nine votes in the Legislative Council, is expected to support an amended political reform package, which will be revealed today, incorporating suggestions made by the party to allow the ordinary voting public to cast votes in the proposed five new district council functional constituency seats. Previously, the party stressed that it would settle for nothing less than a clear road map and commitment to universal suffrage. It stated that unless Beijing made it clear that functional constituencies would be abolished by 2020 to pave the way for genuine universal suffrage, it would vote down any proposal that fell short of guaranteeing universal suffrage. The amended package covers reforms in 2012 without guaranteeing how universal suffrage will be implemented.

Members of the League of Social Democrats yesterday turned up at a rally in Chater Garden held by the Alliance for Universal Suffrage - a group of so-called moderate pan-democrats who distanced themselves from the league and the Civic Party's de facto referendum plan, and now support the Democratic Party's amended proposal.

70,000 rally in support of Hong Kong Government's electoral reform proposals - Hottest day of the year fails to deter crowd at Victoria Park - Tens of thousands of people braved the heat at Victoria Park yesterday to attend a rally called to show support for the government's electoral reform proposals. Organisers estimated 120,000 turned out on what was the hottest day of the year so far - with temperatures reaching 31.5 degrees Celsius. Police estimated 70,000 were at the rally and said 43,000 took part in a subsequent march to Central. Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and several of his ministers, sporting T-shirts bearing the "Act Now" slogan the government has used to urge support for its proposals, were among those who took to the stage. "Act now," Tsang shouted to the crowd, and told them: "This is the most important and meaningful work for me in 40 years in public office. I will try my best in the rest of my term to bring universal suffrage to Hong Kong." Miriam Lau Kin-yee, leader of the pro-business Liberal Party, said: "Our democracy train must not stop while the engine is running. It will only produce exhaust fumes. It makes no contribution to society at all." Executive Council convenor Leung Chun-ying, a likely contender to succeed Tsang in 2012, said: "I wish the people of Hong Kong, regardless of class or political stance, can continue to support the administration so Hong Kong can achieve universal suffrage as stated in the Basic Law." About 40 Beijing-loyalist groups, including the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, encouraged supporters to attend the rally, which featured live musical performances. Many were bussed to the park. "This can't be a false step. This is right," a 52-year-old man said of the government's proposals. But that was not a view shared by all. "I don't support Tsang's reform thing," said a 65-year-old woman. "I just thought an all-day tour with seafood and a free music show for under HK$100 was a nice deal." She explained that she and her family had joined a HK$98 city tour featuring a seafood lunch in Sai Kung, a guided jaunt along Hollywood Road, Central, the rally and march. A 40-year-old said he was there because his colleagues had asked him to go, but he had no idea what it was all about. Asked if she supported the reform package, a 59-year-old woman said: "What package? I don't know ... don't ask me." The issue of seafood dinners for participants has been a sore point for rally organisers since the Hong Kong Quanzhou Association was found to have offered a HK$200 "meal allowance" to each participant. DAB chairman Tam Yiu-chung began his speech by asking the crowd what they were there for. Many shouted: "For universal suffrage, support the reform package." "So you're not here for the seafood meals, are you?" he asked. "Of course not," they shouted. After 75 minutes of speeches, many in the crowd joined a march to Central, keeping up an incessant chant of "Act now" as they paraded through Causeway Bay - where traffic was severely disrupted. Police confiscated megaphones from League of Social Democrats members who heckled the marchers.

The umbrellas were out in force as tens of thousands joined a rally by government allies in a hot Victoria Park in support of the administration's electoral reforms.  Beijing has accepted a compromise proposal on constitutional reform put forward by the Democratic Party, according to moderate democrats whose votes are needed to ensure the passage of the government's electoral arrangements for 2012. The government is expected to announce Monday the adoption of the Democrats' proposal and its endorsement by Beijing officials - hours before the party meets to decide whether or not its nine lawmakers should support the electoral changes when they are put to a vote in the Legislative Council on Wednesday. Several moderate democrats, including Bruce Liu Sing-lee, of the Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood, and Civic Party lawmaker Ronny Tong Ka-wah, said they had received the same message from mainland contacts. "The message said that the central government has accepted the Democratic Party's `one person, two votes' proposal, and will make an announcement as soon as possible," Liu said after a meeting with members of the Alliance for Universal Suffrage, a grouping of moderate democrats. The Democrats' proposal is for most of the 3 million-plus registered voters to have a vote on five new seats in Legco's district councils functional constituency. Those who already have a vote in other functional constituencies will be excluded. Voting in such constituencies is restricted to certain trades and professions. For the first time since the party floated the idea, Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen commented positively on it. "This proposal will really increase the democratic elements [in the political system], and it will not affect too much our original proposal," Tsang said after a pro-government rally in Victoria Park. "I hope a conclusion will come soon." Tsang reiterated that the key to accepting the proposal was whether it complied with Beijing's 2007 decision on the pace of democratisation - he said he believed "the question of whether it is constitutional has been clarified to a large extent" - and whether it would be supported by at least two-third of lawmakers, as the Basic Law requires. "This is a giant step forward in democratisation," said independent lawmaker Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, who discussed the matter with Tsang yesterday. "Just imagine having five more seats to be returned by more than 3 million voters." A moderate democrat said mixed messages from mainland officials and Beijing loyalist circles in the past few weeks showed a split between hawks and doves. "The doves eventually got the upper hand," the person said. Tsang has separately lobbied the Democratic Party leadership and government allies for support. Three big groups among the latter - the Democratic Alliance for Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, the Federation of Trade Unions and the Liberal Party - all now say they are prepared to back the Democrats' proposal if Beijing does. Democratic Party chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan said Tsang had promised the nomination process for the seats would be fair. "This is the best result we can get at this stage to increase democratic elements in the system," Ho said. "We will continue to fight for genuine universal suffrage to be introduced." The Alliance for Universal Suffrage also pledged that taking the offer on the table would not signal the end of the fight for universal suffrage. The Democratic Party's central committee will recommend to tomorrow's full party conference that its lawmakers support the reform proposals if they meet its demands. Pan-democrat leaders are trying to heal rifts in the camp, whose more hardline members say they won't back the government's reform plan without a full promise from Beijing that Hong Kong will have universal suffrage. Veteran Democrat Martin Lee Chu-ming and two other hardliners warned the compromise could give Beijing an excuse to keep functional constituencies in the future. "The government's proposal stinks and is wanted by nobody. Why should the Democratic Party patch it up and accept it?" he said ahead of a rowdy party seminar. "It is as if people have forgotten our ultimate goal." Meanwhile, Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, former leader of the Hong Kong Catholic diocese, who said on Friday that the Democrats' proposal could be a breakthrough, stressed yesterday that he had not thrown his weight behind the idea. He simply wanted pan-democrats to discuss among themselves how it tallied with their goal of scrapping functional constituencies. "There are many loopholes and people have to be careful," Zen said.

Local animators' soccer series gets an airing everywhere but home - Although Hong Kong's soccer team didn't make it to South Africa, a group of animators has added a local flavour to an official World Cup production being aired in 50 countries - but it won't be seen in Hong Kong. This lack of airtime for independent producers prompted a call for a public channel to screen local talent. Local animation firm Jidou Studios co-produced the official mascot's 20-episode series, Zakumi, which has not been picked up by local broadcasters. "It's hard for an [independent show] to get onto a major network," Alexander Wong, director and chief executive of Jidou Studios, said. The series follows mascot Zakumi and his friends, Des and Sonny, as they chase their dream of competing in the National Junior Cup in Johannesburg. It cost US$4.5 million to produce. The project began in October 2008, when negotiations with Fifa began for the mascot licensing rights. Production of the series began almost a year later and finished in April. Jidou was responsible for developing the animation in Hong Kong in co-ordination with seven mainland companies. The script was written by Xeopex in France, dubbing was done by Malaysia's Creative Fuzion Entertainment and Peppermint Productions in Germany and Malaysia handled distribution. The series is being aired in Germany, South Africa, Portugal, Croatia, Nigeria, and many countries in Africa, eastern Europe, the Middle East and all Arabic-speaking nations. Wong said negotiations were ongoing with other countries. Unlike the television industries in many Western countries, where networks often acquire independently produced shows to run alongside in-house programmes, most of the shows aired on local channels are produced in-house, leaving little room for other productions. "It's very important to secure a network first before going into production," Wong said. "It's very tough to create something on your own and then find your way onto the TV screen." Cheuk Pak-tong, head of Baptist University's film academy, said there was virtually no chance for independent producers in Hong Kong to showcase their creative talent. Cheuk said most of the programming shown in the city was monopolised by the networks' own productions. "This society needs a platform that does not belong to any commercial organisations and is open to the public, in order to showcase and promote the city's creative talents," Cheuk said. "Many places have government-funded TV channels, and Hong Kong needs one, too." Peter Lam Yuk-wah, vice-president of the Televisioners Association, said although stations outsourced productions, they tended to give them to firms they were familiar with. Lam said RTHK also commissioned a limited number of productions. He said the industry would have to change in line with countries such as Britain and the United States - where networks buy shows from independent firms - if local independent producers were to survive. TVB (SEHK: 0511) admitted that the majority of its shows were produced in-house. A spokesman for the broadcaster said its English-language channel, Pearl, tended to buy programs, but most were overseas productions. The spokesman said TVB did not rule out buying independent productions, but its own shows were the priority. ATV said it had been buying more productions - mostly infotainment shows and dramas from South Korea, Japan and the mainland.

One ticket won the first prize of HK$14,391,610 (US$1,869,039) in last night's draw. The winning numbers were 2, 8, 12, 13, 27, 35 and the extra was 37. Six tickets each won the second prize of HK$259,010. The third prize paid HK$24,375.

 China*: People's Liberation Army naval officials have told their international peers they must wait for "political approval" to mount a historic expansion of China's role in the fight against piracy off the Horn of Africa by leading co-ordination efforts. Despite Nato, European navies and the US-led Combined Maritime Forces all agreeing months ago to an unprecedented Chinese request to chair regular sessions of the so-called Shade grouping, Chinese naval delegates have had to ask for patience. A meeting of Shade - or Shared Awareness and Deconfliction - earlier this month opened with a statement from the chairman, a Nato official, welcoming China's growing role, but PLA delegates were unable to respond with any specifics. "We were asked to be patient ... that the Chinese side needed a bit more time before they would be ready," one senior official close to the meeting said.

Vice-President Xi Jinping receives a bouquet of flowers upon arrival at RAAF Base Fairbairn in Canberra at the beginning of his five-day visit to Australia. Leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping said he hoped to strengthen ties with Australia during a five-day visit in which Beijing is expected to raise concerns about a proposed tax on mining profits. Xi, on the first high-level trip by a Chinese official to Australia since Australian iron ore boss Stern Hu was jailed in March, is set to focus on economic issues, including a plan for a 40 per cent tax on mining profits. "Our two sides should build on our current strong relationship," Vice-President Xi said. "In the next few days I look forward to meeting your leaders, senior officials and people from many other sectors for further exchange of views on how best to further advance the China-Australia relationship." Xi's visit is also the first since the resumption of talks on a free-trade pact between the two economic partners.

The rural landscape on Hainan's Shenzhou peninsula is being transformed by a 10 billion yuan tourist resort development, including a Sheraton hotel. Fenghao is about a five-minute walk from the Shenzhou peninsula, which juts out into the South China Sea and is the site of a massive 10 billion yuan (US$1.47 billion) project by Citic Pacific to build a mega tourist resort complex. Citic Pacific is the Hong Kong-listed unit of the Citic Group, formerly the China International Trust and Investment Company, a state-owned investment firm established by the late Chinese vice-president Rong Yiren in 1979 with the approval of paramount leader Deng Xiaoping.

The heads of several companies who specialize in demolishing homes have given a rare glimpse into the mainland's cut-throat urbanization process, which sees some participants make profits of up to 400 per cent. The companies compete - sometimes literally fighting - for demolition projects from which they can make hundreds of thousands of yuan through recycling steel reinforcing bars, wooden window frames and doors, bricks, flooring and even electricity meters, the Shaanxi-based Huanshang News reported in a story based on interviews with several key industry players. A head of a demolition company in Qian county, Shaanxi, said recycling demolition waste was a lucrative business. "The profit comes from the steel bars and doors and windows, plus what the developer pays, or minus what you pay the developer and fees of renting bulldozers, workers and trucks," he said. "This is a sure-win business. Everybody makes money as long as there is no safety accident." A second demolition company boss from Qian county said: "The doors and windows are the most valuable things in demolition. For a village demolition project of around 100,000 square meters, the contract price is 15 yuan (HK$17.10) per square metre and it is actually worth 26 to 27 yuan per square meter. "You can make millions of yuan with ease after a couple months." The bosses refused to reveal their names. A third boss said: "Everyone knows village demolition is a good job. It has high profit margins. The sun rises and falls, and you get 100,000 yuan in your pocket. It rises and falls again, you get another 100,000 yuan." He said the way demolition companies won projects depended on their relationship with officials. "If you have the relationship you go to the authorities directly, or you depend on the introduction from a middleman," one of the bosses said. "As long as you can establish contact with the middleman, you can get the project anyway. It's just a matter of money. He had bought a project from a middleman for 10 yuan a square metre. "That middleman made two million yuan simply by moving his lips," he said. Demolition companies needed qualifications which they usually acquired by finding a company to be their affiliate, or they simply borrowed the licences from other companies. His company borrowed 16 licences for one project.

Chinese basketball star Yao Ming speaks after winning an alumni star award at the 10th North America Jiaotong University alumni reunion, in Houston, the U.S., June 19, 2010.

The People's Bank of China (PBOC) said Sunday it will not conduct a one-off revaluation of the RMB (yuan) exchange rate. The PBOC said it will keep the yuan basically stable at a reasonable and balanced level and manage and adjust the RMB exchange rate based on the floating bands previously announced in the interbank foreign exchange market, a statement posted on its website said. The PBOC aims to promote China's balance of international payments while safeguarding the stability of the nation's macro economy and financial markets, the statement said. The statement came one day the PBOC announced it would further promote the reform of the RMB (yuan) exchange rate regime and increase the flexibility of the RMB exchange rate. The move is in line with China's long-term fundamental interests, as it promotes the economic structure adjustments which will lead to sustainable growth. The floating currency exchange rate will help guide resources to the service industries, which will upgrade the industry while reducing the nation's trade imbalance and its reliance on exports, the statement said. The statement also said a flexible currency exchange rate regime will help curb inflation and asset bubbles and create a more favorable international development environment for China. Sunday's statement emphasized the yuan be pegged to a basket of currencies given its close ties with a number of trade partners, adding that the U.S. dollar should not be the only gauge for judging the RMB exchange rate level. Trade between China and the European Union in the first five months of the year accounted for 16.3 percent of China's total foreign trade volume, the statement said. The United States, East Asian nations, and Japan accounted for 12.9 percent, 10.1 percent and 9.4 percent, respectively, according to the statement. The PBOC decision signals its intention to leave the market more room to set the yuan's value, which is an irresistible trend and also a condition for the internationalization of the RMB, said Shen Minggao, Citibank's chief economist for greater China. China moved to a managed floating exchange rate regime based on market supply and demand and referencing a basket of currencies on July 1, 2005. The government narrowed fluctuation of the yuan's exchange rate in 2008 to keep the currency stable, in a bid to counter the global economic downturn, the statement said. "A stable yuan was not only in the interests of China - it helped mitigate the impact of the global financial crisis," the statement said. In the long run, currency reform will boost employment in the services sector, the statement said, adding that a floating exchange rate will prompt exports to shift to intensive processing, which will expand the industrial chain and create jobs. But the statement noted a gradual adjustment is necessary to give enterprises time to adjust their business structure.

Chinese Vice Premier Hui Liangyu (R front) talks to a Tibetan ethnic girl during his visit to a temporary settlement in quake-hit Yushu prefecture, Qinghai Province of northwest China, on June 19, 2010. Chinese Vice Premier Hui Liangyu has urged local government to pay more attention to improving people's living conditions during reconstruction in the quake-hit Yushu of northwest China's Qinghai Province. Hui made the remark during his inspection tour on Saturday to the area jolted by a 7.1-magnitude earthquake on April 14. At the worst-hit Gyegu town, Hui inspected supply of water, food and fuel, local market, as well as health care services for quake survivors. He urged local government officials to solve difficulties in the daily life of the quake survivors. Materials such as cotton tents, stoves and fuel should reach the hands of quake survivors at an early date in preparation for the winter, he said. Cleaning up debris should be stepped up to create conditions for reconstruction in the quake zone, Hui said. The opinions of local farmers and herdsmen must be heard and their will respected in designing and construction of their homes, Hui said. The 7.1-magnitude quake that struck Yushu on April 14 killed more than 2,200 people and flattened thousands of homes.

June 21, 2010

Hong Kong*: HK's exports to the Chinese mainland in the first quarter this year for outward processing were worth 106 billion HK dollars (13.6 billion U.S. dollars), up 35 percent from a year earlier, the city's Census and Statistics Department said Friday. Value of HK's re-exports to the mainland for outward processing jumped 37 percent to 104.6 billion HK dollars in the first quarter this year. But the value of domestic exports to the mainland for outward processing dropped 18 percent to 1.4 billion HK dollars. In the first quarter, value of imports from the mainland related to outward processing rose 28 percent to 165.5 billion HK dollars. On the other hand, 166.4 billion HK dollars of the city's re-exports of mainland origin to other places were produced through outward processing on the mainland, representing an increase of 11 percent. In the same period, 32 percent of Hong Kong's total exports to China's mainland were for outward processing, while the proportion was 19 percent for domestic exports and 32 percent for re-exports, according to the department. Some 52 percent of Hong Kong's imports from the mainland were related to outward processing. In the first three months, 73 percent of re-exports of mainland origin to other places were produced through outward processing on the mainland. The corresponding proportions for exports to the mainland in the first quarter last year were 33 percent for total exports, 31 percent for domestic exports and 33 percent for re-exports. Proportions for HK's imports from the mainland and for re- exports of mainland origin to other places were 51 percent and 72 percent, respectively, it said.

Leading pan-democrats remain split on whether they should pass the government's electoral reforms for 2012 even if Beijing makes concessions.

Pro-Beijing camp warms to reform compromise - Momentum for a breakthrough on electoral reform is gathering, with pro-government political parties saying they are willing to back a compromise proposed by the Democratic Party if Beijing gives the green light. A day after Donald Tsang Yam-kuen came off second best in a televised debate on reform with Civic Party leader Audrey Eu Yuet-mee, the chief executive said he was studying whether the proposal would fulfil three major criteria and offer a way forward. Tsang said the proposal had to be in line with the Basic Law and the 2007 decision of the National People's Congress, constitute a bigger leap forward in democratisation and be capable of securing the 40 votes necessary in Legco. There has been a dramatic change of view in the Beijing loyalist camp about the Democrats' proposal to allow everyone a vote on five seats the government proposes creating in Legco's district councils functional constituency, for which district councillors would choose the candidates. (Voting in other functional constituencies is limited to members of certain trades and professions. In some, companies have votes.) Leading members of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of and Progress of Hong Kong, who had said previously that the proposal was out of line with the 2007 NPC decision, are reconsidering after Elsie Leung Oi-sie, vice-chairwoman of the NPC's Basic Law Committee - which monitors Hong Kong affairs for Beijing - reversed her stance on the proposal and said it was in line with that decision. After a meeting with Leung, DAB chairman Tam Yiu-chung said she had stressed she had only expressed a personal view. Still, Tam said his party attached considerable weight to it given her expertise in this area. Fellow DAB lawmaker Ip Kwok-him said it was premature to discuss whether the party supported such a proposal. Liberal Party chairwoman Miriam Lau Kin-yee said if technical difficulties, such as compliance with the 2007 decision, could be resolved, then it "absolutely can be considered". Wong Kwok-kin, of the Federation of Trade Unions, said his group - which has three votes in the legislature - would consider whether to back the proposal if Beijing could clarify whether it was in line with the Basic Law and the NPC's decision. In Beijing, legal academic Rao Geping, a Basic Law Committee member, said it was in line with both, and could constitute a compromise to secure passage of the government's reform plans. "Although the district councillor lawmakers under the proposal will be elected through 'one person, one vote', it cannot be simply equated to universal suffrage, which will be introduced in 2020. This proposal is not the same as the concept of universal suffrage described in the Basic Law," he said. Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai, a member of the NPC Standing Committee, said she would discuss the proposal with Qiao Xiaoyang , its deputy secretary general, on Tuesday. "The proposal is not bad," she said. A person close to Beijing said the central government leadership had rejected the proposal last month, "but Donald Tsang wrote a letter last week to the office of Vice-President Xi Jinping [who is in charge of Hong Kong affairs] asking the government to endorse the proposal". This person said: "The chief executive warned in the letter that Hong Kong could face a serious governance crisis if the electoral reform package is vetoed by Legco again. "In that scenario, his ability to govern Hong Kong effectively would be in doubt. Now the central government is considering the proposal again and the final decision has yet to be made." The prospects were not good, this person said. Pan-democrats fear that with only days to go before the vote, and with no word yet from Beijing, time is running out for any last-minute negotiations. Democratic Party chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan urged the government to delay a vote to next month. He warned that his party would not accept the compromise if the government introduced an unreasonable threshold for nominations. Tsang did not comment on the possibility of the government adopting the party's proposal. But he said he would use every last second to lobby for votes ahead of Wednesday's decision by Legco on the electoral reforms. "There are five days to go. We will work until the very last second and strive to achieve as much as possible," he said. A spokesman for the British consulate, which has already said the government's current proposals present opportunity for real progress, said yesterday: "We hope that as a result of renewed efforts by all parties, a package can be agreed."

Civic Party leader Audrey Eu, speaking at the Foreign Correspondents' Club, said Donald Tsang should report to Beijing that people wanted a road map to universal suffrage.

Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah may pay a landmark visit to Taiwan as early as next month to foster economic and trade ties between it and Hong Kong. This came after ministers met the deputy speaker of Taiwan's legislature, Tseng Yung-chuan, who is visiting Hong Kong in his capacity as chairman of non-governmental organisation the Friends of Hong Kong and Macau Association. Speaking to the media after the 30-minute dialogue with Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, the finance minister and Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Stephen Lam Sui-lung, Tseng said there was a consensus that the two places needed to strengthen economic and political links. "The finance minister will pay a visit to Taiwan, in July at the earliest, to foster Hong Kong-Taiwan economic and trade ties," said Tseng, vice-chairman of Taiwan's ruling Kuomintang party. "His visit will pave a way for the chief executive's forthcoming visit." Tseng also raised three suggestions to bring the two places closer. Other than exploring the possibility of Taiwan setting up an official agency in Hong Kong, and vice versa, he is seeking to strengthen civil exchanges in areas such as culture and environment. He also wants to forge agreements on cross-strait economic co-operation. "With warming cross-strait ties, Hong Kong should build another platform to achieve an all-win situation for Beijing, Taiwan and Hong Kong. It is no longer a buffer area for the straits," he said. Other than meeting the major officials, Tseng also exchanged opinions with Legislative Council members Ip Kwok-him, Timothy Fok Tsun-ting and Vincent Fang Kang. "We talked about the difficulty of getting bills passed. I said we always need negotiation. Somehow there are fewer disagreements in Hong Kong's legislature. In Taiwan, negotiation is needed for 98.5 per cent of bills; only 1.5 per cent yield consensus," he said. Tseng is also planning exchange visits between the Hong Kong and Taiwan legislatures. According to last year's policy address, Hong Kong would play an active role in fostering its exchanges with the mainland and Taiwan. It would also establish a framework for fostering economic co-operation with Taiwan.

Containers back in demand as trade booms - The resurgence in global import-export trade has sparked a shortage of container boxes and a jump in their leasing rates, which increased by a third this year. This time last year, shipping containers cluttered docks everywhere as global trade dried up. Now, they are in demand as world shipping gets back to work. Prices of shipping containers have also surpassed pre-crisis levels, while leasing rates for the boxes have risen by a third this year. Shipping companies around the world are suffering from such a shortage of containers that they have had to ship back empty boxes from the United States and Europe. Maersk has reportedly brought laid-up vessels back into service to assist in repositioning containers. That is a big contrast to last year, when millions of empty container boxes were idled at mainland ports when the export and import trade was hit hard by the economic crisis. The spot leasing rate for containers has surged to US$1.20 per 20-ft equivalent unit (teu) per day from 90 US cents at the beginning of the year, said Kelvin Wong Tin-yau, a deputy managing director at Cosco Pacific (SEHK: 1199), which owns the world's second-largest container leasing company, Florens Container Services. Textainer Group, the world's biggest container leasing company, and TAL International Group, the third-largest, have seen their stock prices gain more than 60 per cent this year in New York. Cosco will take delivery of 60,000 new containers in the next three months, on top of the 40,000 delivered this year at an average cost of US$2,200 each, Wong said. But about 90 per cent of the old containers owned by the company are on long-term contracts and will not benefit from the rally in rates. "There is a genuine demand for container boxes with fewer ships being idle at present," Wong said. About 4 per cent of the global fleet is laid up, compared with 10 per cent last year. The shortage in containers has been attributed to several factors. Shipping companies ordered fewer containers last year after the plunge in international trade, leaving container factories on the mainland closed until late last year. Meanwhile, the manufacturers, such as Singamas Container Holdings and China International Marine Containers (CIMC) - the world's top suppliers - cannot resume full production because of a labour shortage and the higher cost of raw materials. Meanwhile, shipping companies are hesitant to place orders for new containers as the price has surged to about US$2,800 for a 20-foot box, compared with US$2,200 in the first quarter. Recovery in demand for containers has enabled CIMC to resume a two-shift production structure, a transport analyst said. The company told analysts the production of dry containers, used for the general container trade, would rise to one million units this year from 200,000 last year. The shortage of containers is forecast to continue into the third quarter - the peak season for shipping, Jimmy Lam, a transport analyst for BOCI, said. Shipping companies are seeking a peak season surcharge of US$200 to US$300 per teu on the Asia-Europe trade from early next month.

The government will make public the location and health problems of risky trees following a second fatal accident early this week. The Development Bureau is stepping up its management of trees after an office set up in March for the purpose was criticised for failing to prevent Monday's incident, in which a falling tree hit a cyclist in Sha Tin.

A court has ordered the release to police of a purported will that fung shui master Tony Chan Chun-chuen claims entitles him to late tycoon Nina Wang Kung Yu-sum's multibillion-dollar fortune.

 China*: Vice-President Xi Jinping arrives in Australia today for a visit likely to address a new tax that has roiled the mining industry, a key source of raw materials for China.

Mainland economy slowing but growth still healthy, says World Bank senior economist Louis Kuijs- China's economy is showing signs of softening after its strong stimulus-fuelled rebound last year, the World Bank says in its latest quarterly update. Industrial production and other key indicators show the pace of growth moderating, albeit remaining relatively strong, supported by real estate investment and a recovery in export demand, said the report, released yesterday. "China's economic outlook remains favourable," the World Bank said, forecasting growth at 9.5 per cent this year and 8.5 per cent in 2011, with "risks both ways". China's economy, the world's third largest, shook off the global recession to expand a stunning 11.9 per cent in the first quarter but is certain to decelerate in coming months, the report said. "Growth is probably going to ease a bit from the very rapid pace in the first quarter ... But it is still, in our understanding, a very healthy rate of growing," Louis Kuijs, the World Bank's senior economist and the main author of the report, said.

Love affair with luxury brands suppresses Chinese culture - A jewellery ad attracts the attention of Shanghai shoppers. Under an instructor's eye, a group of Shanghai jewellery design students carve copper and yak bones, perhaps dreaming of a future day when Chinese jewellery will dazzle the world. The aspiring jewellers are part of a programme at the Shanghai Institute of Visual Art aimed at cultivating expertise in a nation that is already a huge jewellery consumer but whose potential for homegrown design remains untapped. "They have the skill and the technique, but they need more freedom in their designs and they need to learn to communicate with one another," said their instructor, who gave her name only as Grace. "Changing their mentality is a slow process," said Grace, a Chinese who studied jewellery design at Dundee University in Britain. China is among the world's leading consumers of platinum, gold and diamonds. But professionals say its jewellery design remains characterised by dowdy butterfly brooches and ubiquitous pendants bearing the Chinese characters for long life. Most Chinese jewellery pieces are cheap imitations or costume jewellery sold around the world, said Zhang Fuwu, an official at the institute's Institute of Jewellery and Accessories, where the apprentices are trained. "Since the country opened up 30 years ago, there have been great changes. The demands of Chinese people in terms of culture and beauty have evolved a lot ... but we still have a long way to go," Zhang said. China has the world's second-highest number of dollar billionaires after the United States, and a new class of wealthy Chinese created by its three-decade boom has seized on luxury brands as status symbols. Chinese media this week quoted a state think tank saying China was the world's No 2 consumer of high-end fashion, accessories and luxury goods after Japan, buying 27.5 per cent of the world's luxury goods, and was set to be the world leader in five years. Last year it was the world's second-largest market for both diamonds and gold. China's gold consumption could double in the next 10 years, according to the World Gold Council. China imported US$699 million worth of cut diamonds last year, according to its own statistics, and increasingly savvy Chinese buyers are making new demands in aesthetics and quality, with foreign styles reigning supreme. "One day, Chinese consumers will rediscover the beauties of their own culture, but for now, for young people, what is desirable is what comes from the West, from Japan and from South Korea," Zhang said. Mark Brauner, the Hong Kong-based head of the International Gemological Institute (IGI), said China represented something of a contradiction. "There is a new pride, particularly since they sent a message to the world with their impeccably wellorganised Olympic Games, but at the same time they have no confidence in themselves" in certain other fields, he said. "When it comes to luxury goods, Asia dreams of products from Europe and the United States." What's more, Chinese see buying gems as an investment, he said. "The Chinese think of buying a diamond as an investment rather than an emotional, romantic act, and want to know exactly what they are buying, which means jewellers have to be more skilled," Brauner said. "They [customers] are often prepared to pay a little more for the added value of a foreign certificate." To meet these new demands, the Institute of Visual Art - with the backing of several government departments and state educational institutions - has teamed up with the IGI, whose experts will train apprentice jewellers in technical aspects of the trade. They will learn scientific analysis of gems, how to calculate the weight of a cut diamond from the uncut stone, which angles best catch the light. IGI experts will also teach the aspiring jewellers the "four Cs" that determine the value of a diamond: carat, colour, clarity and cut. The IGI calls the effort a "great step for the development of the Chinese market". "China is the future. Our clients here are expanding rapidly. You can clearly see the luxury sector has benefited from the efforts to restart the economy," Brauner said.

Around 300 million tons of excess production capacity will be cut from China's fragmented steel sector as consolidation forges ahead, industry experts said on Friday. The State Council released a document on Thursday, saying steel projects built after 2005 will be closed. China's crude steel capacity exceeded 700 million tons in 2009, compared to 414 million tons in 2005, so around 300 million tons of production capacity will be cut, said Xu Li, an analyst from the Beijing-based Lange Steel Research Center. "Although the document doesn't specify these projects, consolidation will be guided by principles such as regionalization, mutual complementarity and diversification, " he said. The government also wants the nation's top 10 steelmakers to account for more than 60 percent of the country's total steel capacity by 2015, up from 44 percent in 2009, the document said. The government will withhold approval for any new projects aiming to expand capacity by 2011. It also proposed that the Ministry of Environmental Protection should strictly verify environmental assessments and local governments should not approve construction projects or provide land permits to industries with excess production capacity. The document said the government would encourage domestic steelmakers to set up iron ore bases and establish plants overseas. It also said the government is studying measures to reduce domestic iron ore miners' production costs and expand domestic supply capacity. It also called for the concentration of iron ore imports to regulate the iron ore trade. "This is the most comprehensive document on steel industry consolidation released this year, indicating the government's determination to rein in overcapacity and upgrade the sector," Xu said. The document followed the government's announcement in April that small steel mills with blast furnaces of less than 400 cubic meters will cease production by the end of next year. The central government issued a stimulus package for the steel industry in January 2009 which encourages big mills to merge with smaller rivals to create cohesive steel groups. The industry has been facing oversupply problems, which weighed on steel prices and squeezed profit margins, said the China Iron and Steel Association. The Chinese government has taken the these steps as a fragmented industry would find itself at a disadvantage in iron ore talks with the "Big Three" miners - Vale, BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto. By forcing steel mills to join hands, the Chinese government hopes they will be stronger force in talks with international miners. The latest step in industry consolidation came last month when Anshan Iron and Steel Group received approval from the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission to take over Pangang Group, based in Panzhihua, Sichuan province.

Property developer Gale International will build a series of new "smart cities" across the mainland in collaboration with local governments, following the ambitious Meixi Lake District project in Hunan province that it announced last year. The large, privately held New York firm plans to team up once again with Cisco Systems, the world's biggest networking equipment supplier, to jointly design and deliver these internet-enabled, eco-friendly urban developments - each of which will be funded by the local public and private sectors. Cisco, which entered the mainland market in 1994, is aggressively promoting "smart and connected" urban planning, in which high-speed internet links and other key information technology systems are embedded directly into the design, building and management of a city's infrastructure. That will pave the way for cleaner, more efficiently run urban areas with intelligent network-connected buildings and residences, transport, security, education, health care, utilities and government infrastructure. Tom Murcott, executive vice-president and chief marketing officer of Gale, said the developer would soon make its final selection from a shortlist of 13 potential projects. "We're looking at city-scale developments that are [about four square kilometres] or larger, so that eliminates a lot of the more densely populated areas from being viable for us," Murcott said. "We have entertained a number of different projects in different countries and China seems to be the best opportunity to focus on." More than 40 mainland municipal governments have already approached Gale to collaborate on smart city projects, according to Murcott. He did not say how many mainland projects Gale would likely pursue in the near term or their total cost, but billions of dollars are currently being invested in its two efforts with Cisco at the Songdo International Business District in South Korea and in Changsha, the capital of Hunan. Last year, Gale entered into an agreement with the Changsha government to create a master plan for a 6.78 sq km central business district wrapped around the two sq km Meixi Lake. The development, which will be home to 180,000 people, will include energy-efficient residential areas, hi-tech office space, a convention centre, five-star hotel, health-care facilities, schools and shopping complexes. The US$35 billion Songdo project, Gale's first smart city venture with Cisco, covers about six sq km near Seoul. The first phase of this project was officially opened in August last year. Murcott said about 23 public and private mainland delegations have visited Songdo.

Discussions about the yuan-dollar exchange rate will not be on the agenda at the Group of 20 meeting in Canada next week, Chinese officials said on Friday.

June 20, 2010

Hong Kong*: Pro-government groups said on Friday they would consider backing the Democratic Party's proposal on political reform – if it did not contravene a decision made by the NPCSC.

Hong Kong exports are likely to grow by 12 percent this year, the Trade Development Council said - more than doubling its previous forecast. The upbeat figures follow a better-than-expected global economic recovery after December estimates from the council stood at 5 percent. However, chief economist Edward Leung warned export expansion will slow down in the second half, due to the impact of the European debt crisis. The European Union accounts for 25.9 percent of Hong Kong's consumer goods exports. A weakening euro would affect the EU's purchasing power and eventually affect city exports, Leung said. Higher labor costs in the mainland caused by worker shortages, appreciation pressure on the yuan and increasing protectionism overseas all pose challenges to local exporters and manufacturers. The significant upward revision of the forecast is based on strong export growth in the first four months this year. Exports surged 24.8 percent from a year earlier during the period, the strongest growth in more than 20 years. Leung said: "I feel embarrassed when I look back at our original forecast. We did such a bad job, for we didn't anticipate such a strong global economic recovery." The strong exports showing was mainly driven by electronic parts and components, which accounted for 42 percent of the total and recorded 38 percent growth from January to April. Renewed demand after a lull during last year's economic downturn aided the surge. New products launched this year also helped boost the consumer market, Leung added. Analysts are not surprised at the big jump in the TDC's estimate. A 12-percent growth is a reasonable forecast for Hong Kong's export sector and should not be too hard to achieve, Standard Chartered economist Kelvin Lau Kin-heng said. He also echoed Leung's warning about a slowdown in the second half: "The pace of economic growth in China and US will slow down. Besides, there would be no more low-base effect for the third and fourth quarters." A TDC survey conducted in mid-May had 69 percent of 500 traders saying they experienced labor shortages in the mainland, with 84 percent increasing worker wages in the previous three months. Leung said if the yuan appreciates 10 percent against the US dollar, Hong Kong manufacturers' production costs would rise 5 percent.

Basic Law Committee deputy director Elsie Leung Oi-sie said yesterday the Democratic Party's proposal on how district council elections should be conducted was "worth considering" as it did not violate any decision from Beijing. "I think the plan is OK if the voters of the existing district council functional constituency are not allowed to vote for the five new seats. I think it is worth considering," Leung said. The former secretary for justice said she had misunderstood the Democrats' proposal when she was out of town in May and hence her previous opposition. Leung then said she did not know the voters of the existing functional constituencies would be excluded, which was why she felt the proposal was not in line with the National People's Congress Standing Committee's decision. She said district councillors as elected according to the Democratic Party's new plan still conformed with the definition of a functional constituency. "The function of the district council is district administrative management, which means it is related to every citizen. So it is reasonable to give them the right to elect the functional constituency, because they know who can play such a role," Leung said. Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions legislator Wong Kwok-kin said the union had an "open mind" about the Democratic Party's proposal under which the new seats would be elected by the public. But the HKFTU was concerned that the plan may be at odds with the NPCSC's 2007 decision. The Democratic Party said last month that in 2012, the public should elect the new legislators following their nomination by district council members. Democratic Party chief Albert Ho Chun-yan said yesterday he hoped the government could make it clear within the next two days whether or not it would accept the proposal. He said the party will be meeting on Monday, at which time members will decide on how they will vote on June 23. Ho said he does not fear a party split should the government accept the proposal. Rather, he is more worried about the lack of time available to discuss the amendment if it is accepted. Legislator Lee Wing-tat said Monday was the latest they could wait for the government's answer. He also said Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying- yen assured them the nomination criteria would be reasonable, though no details were given.

Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and Audrey Eu Yuet-mee crossed swords in a landmark televised debate last night, with a poll taken afterwards suggesting the contest had hardened public opposition to the government's political reform proposals. In an instant University of Hong Kong poll of about 500 people who watched the debate, 45 per cent said they were now "more opposed" to the government's reform proposals, while 20 per cent said the debate had made them "more supportive".

Justice Johnson Lam Man-hon on Friday released a document fung shui master Tony Chan Chun-chuen's claims is the 2006 will of Nina Wang to allow police to conduct tests on it.

Shares in Hong Kong ended their best week since April on Friday, shrugging off a slide in the Shanghai market, as investor confidence slowly returns to global markets.

Hong Kong and Vancouver attractions become reciprocal deal partners - Hong Kong Ocean Park added Vancouver Aquarium to its "World Attraction Fun Deals" reciprocal program Thursday, officials of the two parks said Friday. It is the first Canadian partner to be included. Under the program announced here, guests visiting either venue will receive a 10 percent admission discount upon presentation of an admission ticket stub from the partnering venue through May 2011. Annual pass holders of either venue receive a 15 percent discount at the other venue. Paul Pei, Hong Kong Ocean Park's executive director for sales and marketing, said his organization was honored to have the Vancouver Aquarium as its first and only Canadian partner. The Hong Kong attraction has 17 theme parks, zoos and aquariums in Asia and North America as partners. "Our ground-breaking partnership extends our visitor experience to the Canadian market and Vancouver Aquarium is a natural fit," he said. James Ho, Vancouver Aquarium board director, said Vancouver Aquarium's unique partnership with Ocean Park Hong Kong "reinforces the special relationship our city has with Hong Kong." "Vancouver's diverse and international citizens now have one more reason to visit Ocean Park Hong Kong and we extend a warm welcome to guests from Hong Kong at Vancouver Aquarium," he said. Located in Vancouver's Stanley Park at Brockton Point, Vancouver Aquarium draws thousands of visitors annually for its more than 300 species of fish, dolphins and six beluga whales. Ocean Park in the southern Hong Kong island features an amusement park, a giant panda habitat and an aquarium housing more than 2,000 fish.

One of the Chinese sturgeon approaches a diver on a feeding mission in the newly opened exhibit at Ocean Park. Crowds thronged into a new freshwater aquarium at Ocean Park yesterday to catch their first glimpse of 10 Chinese sturgeon, more than a year after several in the first batch of the rare species sent to the marine park died or fell sick. The new freshwater aquarium is a departure from the saltwater environment that greeted the first batch of Chinese sturgeon in 2008. The fish, native to the Yangtze River, are born in fresh water but swim out to sea before returning to fresh water to breed. Sturgeon are kept in fresh water on the mainland. Ocean Park chairman Allan Zeman said the 10 Chinese sturgeon seemed to do better in their new freshwater environment. The original Chinese sturgeon aquarium was converted from a shark aquarium and had had a private area for the fish since August 2008, when one of the sturgeon was killed by a barracuda.

European regulators gave Cathay Pacific Airways (SEHK: 0293) the green light on Friday to acquire a stake in Air China (SEHK: 0753)’s cargo unit, saying the deal would not hurt competition in Europe. Cathay Pacific had announced in February that it would form a joint venture with Air China to capture the lucrative air cargo business in two top mainland manufacturing centres. The European Commission concluded that the combined market share of Air China and Cathay Pacific on the routes between Asia and Europe was “limited”. The competition watchdog added that “competition on this market will remain strong after the transaction, notably due to the presence of many large international airline companies active on the same routes”. The agreement would enable the two airlines to capitalise on the rebound in the mainland’s exports as western economies begin to recover. Under the deal, Cathay would acquire a 49 per cent stake in Air China Cargo (ACC), the platform for the joint venture, for 1.7 billion yuan (HK$1.93 billion), the Hong Kong company has said. ACC is currently wholly owned by Air China, one of the country’s largest carriers and the second largest shareholder of Cathay. It will start operations as a joint venture airline in the summer, with Beijing and Shanghai remaining as its principal bases.

Chinese buyers lead London Real Estates spending spree - Hong Kong and mainland investors are leading an Asian buying boom in London's property market. About 5 per cent of newly built homes sold in central London over a 12-month period to March were bought by Hong Kong and mainland buyers - the highest share taken in the market by any offshore investors, a report from estate agency Knight Frank shows. Combined, investors from Hong Kong, the mainland, Singapore, Malaysia and the rest of East Asia bought one-fifth of the 7,579 new homes sold in the British capital's 11 central boroughs during the year to March, according to Knight Frank's International Project Marketing 2010. Their combined £761 million (HK$8.74 billion) investment has encouraged developers to raise sales prices, according to Liam Bailey, head of residential research at Knight Frank. "There are three times as many Asian buyers as there were this time last year, but even that could be understating it," Bailey said. "Most buy homes for their children studying in Britain and then rent them out afterwards." Six out of 10 buyers of central London new-build homes were owner-occupiers, the remainder investors, the report says. Half the investors were from East Asia (Hong Kong, the mainland, Singapore, Malaysia and the rest of East Asia), 37 per cent from Britain, and the remainder from the rest of the world, including other parts of Asia such as India, with 3.3 per cent, and the Middle East, with 3.5 per cent. Hong Kong and mainland buyers were the biggest group of overseas investors - 11 per cent of the total. Not only are East Asian buyers becoming more numerous, they are spending more money. They now bid on properties with asking prices of between £500,000 to £600,000, on average, compared to £200,000 two years ago, Bailey said. A combination of the increased wealth of Asian buyers and a favourable exchange rate had increased their spending power, he said. These factors - and the relatively low price of London homes for dollar-denominated buyers, compared to two years ago following falls in the value of sterling - encouraged them to invest. "But the key determining factor is currency. Price falls and currency falls combined mean that prices are presently 30 to 35 per cent below the peak of the market in late 2007 and early 2008." Asian buyers dominate demand at some residential projects. Housebuilder Barratt Homes said 25 per cent of its London homes were being bought by Hong Kong, mainland and Singaporean purchasers. At Pan Peninsula, a twin tower development near Canary Wharf, East Asian investors have bought 110 apartments. At NEO Bankside, a development of 197 apartments near the Tate Modern art gallery, 30 per cent of sales have been made to East Asian investors to date. Hong Kong and other East Asian buyers are also making a strong impact on the top end of the market according to Ed Lewis, head of new London homes for Savills. Lewis said his firm sold 27 central London new-built homes priced at £5 million or above in the past four months, and nine of the buyers came from Hong Kong, the mainland and Singapore. Russell Hunt, managing director of London-based buyers agency, Property Hunt, said 60 per cent of his clients were Asians and Asia-based British expatriates. "Quite a few investors are sitting on the fence asking the question 'should I buy now or wait for the sterling to weaken a bit more?'," he said.

 China*: A strike at a major plant of Chongqing Brewery has ended, with Danish brewer Carlsberg blaming a lack of information to workers about plans to raise its stake in the mainland firm. “It [the strike] is over,” Carlsberg spokesman Jens Bekke said. “It was due to a lack of communication.” Bekke said that the employees had not been adequately informed about a deal through which Carlsberg raised its stake in Chongqing Brewery to nearly 30 per cent and what it would mean for the workers. “There was not good enough communication to the employees about the agreement,” he said. “Yesterday there were some meetings, and they were informed, and now they have gone back to work.” A government official surnamed Peng in Chongqing’s Longquan village, where the brewery is located, earlier had said that several hundred people were involved in the peaceful strike. “As far as I know, the workers are worried that foreign investment will mean an end to some of their welfare benefits,” Peng said by telephone from the southwestern city. Repeated calls to Chongqing Brewery seeking comment went unanswered. Caijin said that about 500 workers went on strike starting on Thursday at two Chongqing Brewery plants, after Carlsberg said it would raise its stake in the company to 29.71 per cent from the current 17.46 per cent for about US$380 million to further its Asian expansion. A series of strikes have hit foreign-owned or invested companies across the mainland over the past few weeks.

Shandong Gold set to boost bullion output - Shandong Gold Mining Group plans to expand its bullion output and also grow inorganically through overseas acquisitions, a company source told China Daily on Thursday. The bullion producer plans to increase gold output by 20 percent to 30 tons this year to cash in on the growing demand for the yellow metal in China, said the source on condition of anonymity. Bullion investments have risen sharply in the past few months as the realty and capital markets have turned bearish. Shandong Gold is also planning to invest in overseas mining assets, especially in South America, and mineral-rich countries like Canada and Australia, he said. The company will look to invest in new regions like Argentina, Chile and Brazil especially in copper, zinc and lead resources and also boost its gold projects presence in Canada and Australia. Shandong Gold has been active in making domestic acquisitions. Its listed arm Shandong Gold Mining Co Ltd last month paid 166.6 million yuan ($24.4 million) to acquire the balance 49 percent stake it did not own in the Qingdao-based Xinlai Mining Industry Co Ltd to boost gold reserves. However, the company has so far made only one overseas acquisition, a mineral project in Venezuela. The project has been withdrawn and sold back to the Venezuelan government, the source said. The plan to look at overseas buys afresh indicates the company's serious intention to expand its global footprint for more resources. China, which dominated the global resources transactions market in 2009, will make more investments in overseas resources this year, said Poh Lee Tan, global director of law firm Baker & McKenzie LLP. She said her firm has seen Chinese investments in Latin America and Africa increasing through resource buys and local infrastructure construction. "We've seen growing interest from Chinese companies to invest in Latin America for resources like iron ore, copper, and lithium, and we expect a 30 percent growth in transactions between China and Latin America this year," said Erik Bethel, chief executive officer of SinoLatin Capital, the first merchant bank focused exclusively on cross-border transactions between China and Latin America. China, the biggest gold producer and third largest gold consumer in the world, is expected to report higher gold output this year, according to Zhang Bingnan, vice-president of the China Gold Association. The nation's gold output in 2009 increased 11.3 percent year on year to 313.9 tons and accounted for 13 percent of the global gold production last year. During the first four months of this year, gold output reached 99 tons, up 5.6 percent year on year. The growth in gold output is still the fastest in the world due to the strong investor demand. Shanghai-listed Shandong Gold Co Ltd reported an 11.86 percent increase in net profit for 2009 due to a higher output of 17.67 tons and surging yellow metal prices.

A parts supplier for Toyota said on Friday it was dealing with its second strike this week, the latest in a rash of factory labor disputes spreading across the mainland.

Chinese to drive global luxury travel industry - Industry insiders at the 4th Asia Luxury Travel Market (ALTM) exhibition in Shanghai predicted a resurgence in the luxury travel market, with the Asia-Pacific region and China in particular leading the way. "The ALTM forum held on Monday concluded that Asia offers the greatest growth for the luxury travel industry," Simon Mayle, marketing manager for ALTM organizer Reed Travel Exhibitions, told the Global Times Wednesday. "Japan is one of the leading tourist source markets in the world as is Australia. Furthermore, China is rapidly growing to be the leading source market behind established markets of the US." According to him, this year's exhibition, which opened on Monday at the Shanghai Exhibition Center in Jing'an district and closes today, attracted 15 percent more buyers and 15 percent more exhibitors offering high-end hotels, resorts and other travel options, compared to last year. A survey released by the organizers based on 386 luxury travel buyers and suppliers said that 60 percent of suppliers had expanded their products range last year and expect 5 to 20 percent growth in the Asia-Pacific market in the next 12 months. It predicted highest demand from the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong, India and Japan. "Business dropped in the third quarter of 2008, but it started coming back in 2009, and I think it is going really well now, particularly in Asia and China," said Betty Fung, director of global sales at The Peninsula Hotels. "Although the Asia-Pacific market usually accounts for a small part of our business, it is growing quickly," Patcharee Meethong, assistant director of sales for hotel, spa and resort operator Anantara, told the Global Times Wednesday. "We're going to open an office in Shanghai soon to expand our business." Potential buyers also showed confidence in the market. "We've seen a fast growth in the number of Asian people coming to visit Singapore," said Jennifer Tan of Singapore-based events organizer Uber Inc. "China will soon be the number one source of tourists to Singapore."

Mainland told the rest of the world on Friday not to meddle with the way it manages the yuan, calling the exchange rate a sovereign matter for it alone to decide. Beijing has kept the yuan steady around 6.83 per US dollar for almost two years to help its exporters ride out the global financial crisis and many western economists believe it is undervalued by as much as 40 per cent.

Hundreds of flights in and out of Beijing were cancelled or delayed on Thursday as thunderstorms wreaked havoc across the capital, airport authorities said.

Members of the cultural relics department of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage look over the sarcophagus of Tang empress Wu Huifei (AD 699-737) in Xi'an, Shaanxi province, June 17, 2010. The 27-ton stone coffin arrived at the Shaanxi History Museum on Thursday, four years after it was smuggled out of the country. The sarcophagus is 4 meters long, 2.58 meters wide and 2.45 meters high. It features flowers and maiden figures in relief. It was stolen from Wu's tomb in Xi'an in 2006 and sold to a businessman in the US for $1 million.

Maiden figures in relief are part of the sarcophagus of Tang empress Wu Huifei (AD 699-737), displayed in Xi'an, Shaanxi province, June 17, 2010.

Small and mid-cap mainland companies are going offshore to meet their US dollar needs, using guarantees from mainland banks despite the increased costs the deals incur. With credit controls tightening in the mainland, going offshore for US dollar funding had become a lifeline for many of small- and mid-cap companies, according to bank sources, and as such they did not mind the costs incurred with the guarantee structures. “Chinese small and mid-cap private enterprises find it hard to get funds [offshore] without a strong guarantee. Their bargaining power is lower than sizeable private and state-owned enterprises, which can come to the offshore market for US dollar borrowings with limited guarantees,” said a banker with a mainland bank in Hong Kong. So far this year, loan volume for mainland companies borrowing through offshore entities totaled US$4.19 billion from 12 deals, nearly five times more than US$884.9 million from seven deals completed in the first half of last year, according to Thomson Reuters data. Speculation about a yuan revaluation is also driving demand for US dollar loans, as mainland companies with yuan revenue will gain when they repay US dollars if the yuan appreciates as many expect. Small and mid-cap private enterprises have been asking local banks to issue standby letters of credit (LCs), which serve as collateral in the event of default. The guarantee fee for a standby LC ranges from 100 basis points (bps) to 300 bps. Given the lower risk and short tenors of these local banks-guaranteed deals, offshore lenders have a strong appetite for granting loans on a bilateral basis. These offshore US dollar loans offer margins of around 100-150 bps over Libor with three-year tenors. However, the guarantees from mainland banks do not mean the financings are risk-free. Lenders have to take mainland banks’ risk and still have to verify the standby LC issued by the mainland banks, and process a claim in the event of a default.

Another real estate development nears completion in Beijing. Mainland investors remain hopeful about the property market despite recent cooling measures from the government. he mainland property market fell into its third consolidation in five years after the government took steps in April to curb property speculation. However, many people doubt the downturn will last long and believe that a sharp rise in prices lies ahead. For investors like Li, that would be good news. She has to make mortgage payments totaling more than 100,000 yuan (HK$114,000) a month. "I come from a business family; we have clubs in Hebei," she says. "My husband is also a businessman." After moving with her family to Beijing from Hebei, she bought her first flat in the capital in 2007. The unit - where the family lives - is located in a luxury housing estate near the core business district. The 410 square meter (4,413 sq ft) flat cost her 11.07 million yuan. It has since increased in value to at least 20.5 million yuan, or 50,000 yuan per square meter. "The price of my flat surged substantially in the short term, and that convinced me that property can also be a good investment," Li says.

Jackie Chan (L) and Stanley Tong, the producer and the executive producer of the teleplay "Yue Fei", attend a press conference for recruiting actors during the 13th Shanghai International Film Festival in east China's Shanghai Municipality, June 17, 2010.

June 19, 2010

Hong Kong*: Standard Chartered Bank and Agricultural Bank of China (ABC) have agreed to a strategic partnership, making Standard Chartered the second global bank to form an alliance ahead of Agricultural Bank’s record-breaking initial public offering. Netherlands-based Rabobank signed a similar agreement with Agricultural Bank earlier this month and has not ruled out from becoming a cornerstone investor in Agricultural Bank. Standard Chartered said in a statement on Thursday that it had signed an agreement with Agricultural Bank to explore joint development of business opportunities. Under the agreement, Standard Chartered and Agricultural Bank would explore collaboration in retail and wholesale banking products and services, within the country and internationally, it said. “The partnership will focus on the increasingly strong intra-Asia and Asia-Africa trade corridors ... while also looking at joint opportunities across ABC’s and Standard Chartered’s domestic Chinese market operations,” Standard Chartered said in the statement. Agricultural Bank is seeking to raise more than US$23 billion in the world’s biggest initial public offering (IPO) and will launch the Shanghai portion of its IPO this week. Agricultural Bank, mainland’s third-biggest lender by assets, has said up to 40 per cent of the Shanghai offering, including the green-shoe option, would be placed with strategic investors.

Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and Civic Party lawmaker Audrey Eu Yuet-mee shake hands before the start of their televised debate on the government's 2012 political reform package at the Central Government Offices in Central on Thursday evening. Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and Civic Party leader Audrey Eu Yuet-mee both forcefully put forward their ideas on the government’s 2012 political reform package in their televised debate on Thursday evening. Tsang began by appealing for all lawmakers to support the government’s reform package. He said it was the best way forward for Hong Kong. But Eu said the government’s package - particularly the proposal to increase the number of functional constituency seats - was a backward step. At times, the debate became quite heated, with Eu raising her voice to make a point, and Tsang also becoming agitated. At one point, the chief executive criticised Eu and her fellow pan-democratic lawmakers for wasting Hongkongers' time. “The most important thing is that the National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China has set out a timetable for Hong Kong to implement universal suffrage,’’ he said. “But you and the other radical lawmakers have already voted against the reform package in 2005 and wasted five years. Hong Kong could not afford to waste another 10 more years,” Tsang said. The chief executive also defended the government’s latest political reform package. “It actually has more democratic elements this time,’’ he said. But Eu replied that it was Tsang who had wasted Hongkongers’ time. “I thought the chief executive wanted to invite me to a debate so that we could reduce our differences,’’ she said. “But I realise you just want to stereotype me as a ‘radical’. Do I look like a radical person?” the former barrister said. Eu stressed that the pan-democrats would support the package if it had a timetable for implementing “real universal suffrage” and abolished functional constituencies. “If you are a salesperson, you can’t blame the customers [Hong Kong people and lawmakers] for rejecting your products if you are selling substandard products to them,’’ she said. Reading out one of the questions from the public, debate moderator Ng Ming-lam asked Tsang whether he would resign as chief executive if the government’s proposal was again rejected by legislators. Tsang did not answer the question directly. He just said the current package was better than the earlier one in 2005. He said he had tried his best to increase “democratic elements” in the package. During the debate, Tsang did not outline a specific timetable for the election of the chief executive and the Legislative Council by universal suffrage. Audrey Eu said: “Having universal suffrage should not be a dream, but a right which should be enjoyed by everyone.” The debate was held at Central Government Offices’ New Annex from 6.30pm until 7.30pm. The two political leaders had 55 minutes of television time to put forward their views. As part of its political reforms, the government is proposing that in 2012 the committee that elects the chief executive be expanded from 800 to 1,200 members and the number of seats in the Legislative Council be expanded from 60 to 70 members. The 50:50 ratio of Legco seats directly elected by the public and those elected via members of functional constituencies will be maintained.

Survey methods queried after polls show wide variations - With just a week before the constitutional reform proposal is put to the vote, universities and political groups have bombarded the public with a barrage of surveys whose findings are sometimes conflicting. At least eight surveys have been published since June containing responses to questions ranging from whether respondents support the 2012 reform package to who should be blamed if the proposals are vetoed. A poll conducted by the Beijing-friendly Liberal Party said nearly half of their 930 interviewees said yes to the reform package, against less than 40 per cent saying no. But Middle Class Power, chaired by Democratic Party member Andrew Fung Wai-kwong, cited exactly the reverse result after surveying 749 people, with a 15 per cent difference between the two sides. In an analysis of the Liberal Party survey, chairwoman Miriam Lau Kin-yee said: "Hong Kong people want the Legco to pass the proposal." But the survey report concluded by saying that "Beijing should make concessions as the majority is opposed to the proposal". On who should be blamed if the proposal was vetoed, a poll by the University of Hong Kong's Public Opinion Programme in conjunction with the pro-democracy Community Development Initiative found one-third of respondents thought responsibility would lie with Beijing. Some 27.5 per cent said pan-democrats should be blamed. But in the Liberal Party's survey almost 40 per cent said the pan-democrats should be blamed and only a fifth singled out the Beijing. Chinese University political scientist Ma Ngok said polling groups should elaborate on their surveying methods when citing findings. "Sampling methods and framing of questions can greatly affect the findings. The impartiality of a set of survey results must be affected if you solely survey a group of middle-class people." While random sampling and neutral wording of questions were important for a survey's credibility, he said the background of the organisation conducting the survey also determined the accuracy of results. "If interviewees see that the poll conductor is a biased organisation they may hang up. The Liberal Party can hardly interview a democrat and ask if he supports the government reform proposal. So figures obtained can be biased. Usually citizens have greater confidence in surveys done by academic bodies," Ma said.

Far from the crowds thronging Stanley Beach, dragon boats tow smaller vessels carrying the altars of four deities in a little-known festival at Tai O on Lantau Island. The ritual aims to pacify wandering ghosts and bring prosperity to residents. Dragon boat races held across the city yesterday in the annual festival mostly symbolized the watery death of the patriotic poet Qu Yuan, who drowned himself to protest against political corruption during the Warring States period. At Stanley, Sha Tin, Tai Po, Sai Kung and Discovery Bay they recalled the tale of how supporters, learning that Qu had leapt into a river, rowed out and tried to save him by beating drums, splashing water with paddles, and feeding fish and evil spirits with rice dumplings to keep them away from his body.

Police said on Thursday they had arrested 10 people and seized about HK$12.4 million in betting slips, the latest in a series of raids aimed at smashing illegal World Cup betting.

Hong Kong said on Thursday that its unemployment rate rose to 4.6 per cent in the March to May period, as continued turmoil in the world economy left employers nervous about hiring.

Regina Ip and Mike Rowse form group to monitor forced sales - Mike Rowse, Regina Ip and Choi Kin publicize POST 80s - a watchdog monitoring the compulsory purchase of old flats. Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, former InvestHK chief Mike Rowse, a vocal representative of private doctors and a district councillor have formed an unlikely watchdog to monitor the impact of the lowered threshold for compulsory sale of properties. They've called their group "POST 80s", for Property Owners' Security of Tenure 80s - but are at pains to point out it has nothing to do with the twenty-somethings dubbed the post-80s generation, but rather aims to safeguard the interests of owners of old properties. Since April, a developer who acquires ownership of 80 per cent of a block of flats can force the remaining flat owners to sell if the block was built more than 50 years ago. For newer buildings, the original 90 per cent threshold still applies. "I have been very concerned about the impact of the lowered threshold," Ip, a lawmaker and former secretary for security, said. "Since the rule was passed in March, I have talked to Mike Rowse and Dr Choi Kin, and they share my views. So I suggested we form a monitoring group." Ip said she had heard complaints from many people, including those who had accepted buyout offers of HK$2 million to HK$3 million "but don't know where to go". Rowse, now managing director of headhunter firm Stanton Chase, said he had direct personal interest in the issue. "I live in a 47-year-old building on Park Road. I'm only three years away from the new policy applying to me," he said. Although no estate agent had offered to buy his flat, in which he has lived for 13 years, he said he was suspicious because the owners' corporation had started asking flat owners whether they want cash or a replacement flat if the block is redeveloped. Rowse said he could remember debate on the issue among colleagues in the 1980s. People then had reservations about whether one could take away another's property and they had agreed that even a 90 per cent threshold should be valid only in cases of missing or deceased owners, or owners holding others to ransom. "The government should not help billionaires to get ever wealthier," Rowse said. "Such land resumption has no public purpose." Ip said the group would monitor cases before the Lands Tribunal and push for a law change to create a mandatory mediation mechanism between developers and minority owners, and for the acquisition process to be made more transparent. Choi, a former head of the Hong Kong Medical Association, said neighbours in his block on Prince Edward Road had suggested he sell his flat with them for a good deal. "I live there comfortably with my dog," he said. "If you give me three or four million dollars, I'm not sure if I could find a building that would allow me to keep my dog." Wan Chai District councillor David Wong Chor-fung said old buildings in Tai Hang were vulnerable areas as he got complaints from residents who said estate agents harassed them with phone calls offering to buy them out.

 China*: Finger-pointing at the G20 will be self-defeating for an international forum that should be focused on co-ordination, not criticism, of economic policies, a senior central government official said. The official, speaking ahead of a Group of 20 summit in Canada on June 26-27, also said that while Beijing is determined to promote more domestic consumption, it is unrealistic to expect drastic changes in the short run.

President Hu Jintao will pay a state visit to Canada next week ahead of the G20 summit in Toronto, the government said on Thursday, while insisting he was not open to debate about currency rates. Foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said Hu would leave for Canada on June 23 for a five-day visit culminating in the June 26-27 summit of world powers including the United States, European countries and big developing nations. Human rights protestors have already gathered outside parliament in the capital Ottawa to denounce Hu’s visit. Trips abroad by Chinese leaders are often met with demonstrations over issues such as China’s rule of Tibet and its alleged persecution of the Falun Gong spiritual sect. Qin reiterated that China opposed any pressure over its currency policy, after US lawmakers pledged to launch legislation to punish Beijing over its exchange rate system. “We want the international community to take an objective view on the RMB [yuan] exchange rate and work together to overcome the difficulties so as to maintain momentum of the recovery of the economy,” he told reporters. US lawmakers say China deliberately undervalues the yuan, giving exporters an unfair trade advantage and sparking job losses in the United States. But Beijing maintains that appreciating its currency will not solve these problems. Qin said the G20 summit was not a “proper” platform to raise the currency dispute, adding that China hoped the meeting would help on issues such as increasing the say of developing nations in the International Monetary Fund. “We hope the meeting can... deepen the supervision reform of international finance and improve the international financial system,” he said.

Hundreds of flights in and out of Beijing were cancelled or delayed on Thursday as thunderstorms wreaked havoc across the Chinese capital, airport authorities said.

A Toyota supplier in Tianjin, that was shut down on Tuesday by a strike, resumed production the next day after managers agreed to discuss wage increases, a company spokesman said.

China's private jet market is new and small but taking off rapidly. "The top-tier Chinese billionaires are flying the best jets available. They want the best, they want it now," Mike Walsh, chief executive of Asia Jet, a private aviation company that operates one of the largest fleets of private jets in Asia, said. "We're flying Chinese to the Maldives," he said. "A lot of Chinese fly on private jets to Australia, especially the Gold Coast, to do property deals. Many fly to Europe on their private jets for summer holidays." China had increasing business interests in Africa, America and Europe, he said. "At the same time, it's not unusual for them to fly in their jets to attend high-profile events in the Western world like the US Open tennis and the Cannes Film Festival." Walsh says the development of the China market has been untypical. "The majority of purchases are in the heavy [private] jet sector." A heavy jet has more than 12 seats and can fly long distances - over six hours non-stop. In the US and Europe, the typical development path among private jet customers was to start with small jets and progress to bigger ones, but mainland buyers were leapfrogging to the biggest jets, Walsh said. Two years ago, the private jet market in the mainland hardly existed. "China's looking at 20 to 25 per cent year-on-year growth in private jet sales in the next 10 years. This year it will be 30 per cent," Walsh said. At present, there are fewer than 1,000 private jets in Asia, compared with roughly 20,000 in the United States. The US accounts for 55 per cent of the global market. Europe, including Russia, accounts for 21 per cent and the Asia-Pacific 11 per cent. "That figure is going to dramatically change," Walsh said. "By the end of this decade, Asia will have more planes than the US. Asia can account for half the world's private jet market in 10 years." The double-digit growth of China's small private-jet market contrasts with the soft global market, hurt by the financial crisis. In the first quarter, worldwide delivery of business jets fell 14.1 per cent to 191 planes, according to the Washington-based General Aviation Manufacturers Association. But, said Roger Sperry, vice-president of Gulfstream international sales: "Not everything's rosy. There are some challenges. Airport access in Asia is what we'd like to see increase." There are 40 airports in China open to US-registered private jets, including Hong Kong and Macau, but 3,000 in the US. However, there were more than 70 airports being built in China that would take private jets, Sperry said. There was strong demand for foreign-registered planes to land in China, he said. "It's amazing to see the number of US-registered private planes in Beijing. People are coming to China in private jets from US and Europe to do business. "We have clients in Latin America fly their planes back and forth between Brazil and China."

Shanghai World Expo Cisco Demonstrates Brave new world of 'smart' cities - Cisco Systems' pavilion at the World Expo in Shanghai. It is the only global IT company there. Network equipment supplier Cisco Systems demonstrates its products at World Expo - Cisco Systems is extending a hand to various mainland cities to build prototypes of "smart, connected" metropolises that enhance residents' quality of life, stimulate economic development and ensure environmental sustainability. The world's largest networking equipment supplier has featured this new approach to planned urban development at the World Expo in Shanghai, where it is the only global information technology firm with a corporate pavilion. "This is the future," Cisco chairman and chief executive John Chambers, said yesterday. Rapid urbanisation on the mainland and in developing countries required greater adoption of technology along with other new tools and strategies. According to Cisco, about 350 million people will move to the mainland's large urban centres over the next 15 years. As a result, 221 cities will have a population of one million or more. In Europe today, only 35 cities are that big. Against this background, high-speed internet infrastructure has proliferated worldwide, increasingly becoming the platform for all communications and information technology services. "All of a sudden, the network will be the fabric of what you see, both in terms of a better city and a better life," Chambers said. Cisco says it will help local governments across the mainland implement a better network and attract major partners to improve architectures from conception to delivery. At its "Smart+Connected Life" pavilion, it demonstrates how services such as transport, utilities, construction, education, recreation and health care are streamlined and become more energy-efficient when they are interconnected over an intelligent broadband network. Its vision for Shanghai in 2020 includes real-time transit information so motorists can identify the least traffic-ridden routes; health-care systems that instantaneously share data so patients can receive the best possible care anywhere; and schools that enable pupils to collaborate in real time with others worldwide. "Government leaders have embraced the concept," said Cisco chief globalisation officer Wim Elfrink, who noted that the mainland is in a position to be a leader in developing smart, connected communities. Elfrink said Cisco's strong ties with the mainland's three nationwide telecommunication service providers and other big technology providers are encouraging more cities to start a dialogue with the firm. At the 11th National People's Congress, which closed on March 14 this year, the central government raised the need to develop a so-called "smart grid". Earlier the same month, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference formally proposed a "low-carbon economy" to support the country's continued growth. In Sichuan province, Cisco has already partnered with the local government of Chengdu to build the Tianfu High-Tech Zone, which promises to deliver smart city administration and smart public and social services when it is completed. Elfrink said building smart, connected communities, as "a new industry", follows the steady expansion of internet infrastructure worldwide. "In the next decade three billion people will be connected to the internet," he said. With global rivals such as International Business Machines and Hewlett-Packard also promoting smart cities, it is an industry that Elfrink described could be "one of the biggest over the next 10 to 15 years". A recent study by CIBC World Markets found the increasing number of government economic stimulus programs worldwide and a deterioration in existing infrastructure could yield as much as US$35 trillion in public works spending over the next 20 years.

June 18, 2010

Hong Kong*: Six months after Henderson Land trumpeted the sale of 24 luxury flats, it now says 20 of the deals have fallen through - among them the world-record sale of a top-floor duplex.

When should we find out about a nuclear accident, even a minor one? That's the question being asked around the city as news of the Daya Bay nuclear incident sank in yesterday.

Philip Leung delivers the verdict on snack foods yesterday at the Consumer Council's North Point headquarters, advising World Cup fans to enjoy their junk food in moderation. Just when you thought it was safe to sit down and enjoy the World Cup matches with a beer and a bag of crisps ... think again. Every one of 32 samples of chips, corn snacks, cheese balls and crackers tested by the Consumer Council was either too salty or too fatty. In the tests, conducted ahead of the World Cup kick-off, the council and the Centre for Food Safety found that none of the samples met the World Health Organization standards for both fat and salt content, although some met one or the other. "The findings are a timely reminder that crispy chips in combination with World Cup soccer matches are potentially a health hazard to the fans," Philip Leung Kwong-hon, a member of the council's publicity and community relations committee, said. Forty per cent of the samples were both too fatty and too salty. Twenty-seven were potentially fattening, containing 500 calories or more per 100 grams of food. Half of all samples were too salty in the eyes of the international organisation - they contained more than 600 milligrams of salt per 100 grams. Potato chips are fattier than other snacks but can be less salty, while prawn crackers are less fatty but too salty, according to the report. Those with an irresistible urge to reach for a pack of snacks as the excitement mounts should opt for the lesser evil for their health condition, chief executive Connie Lau Yin-hing said. Those with a weight problem should choose snacks with fewer calories, while those with heart disease or hypertension should keep away from crisps high in salt. Super Oooh Cheese Flavoured Rings had the highest fat content - two times the WHO's recommended level of 20 grams per 100 grams of food. Six 60-gram packs will account for more than the daily energy intake limit of a 2,000-calorie diet. Eating about three packs of 36-gram Four Seas Crispy Prawn Crackers, the item with the highest amount of salt, will almost take up the WHO daily intake limit. No snacks are deemed healthy, but some have lower levels of fat or salt than others in the same category. Frito-Lay Lay's Stax Sour Cream and Onion Potato Crisps have the lowest calorie level, 500, among chips. Garden of Eatin' Blue Chips All Natural Tortilla Chips (no salt added) have the least salt and fat among corn chips. EDO Pack Ebikomaru Shrimp Cracker is the least fatty among crackers. From next month, when a new labeling law takes effect, all food items have to list seven nutrition values on their packs. The tests found several snacks will fail the new standard. Two packs of chips, Burger King Ketchup & Fries Flavored Potato Snacks and Mexi-Snax Corn Tortilla Chips with Sesame Seeds, claim "zero grams trans-fat" and "no trans-fat" on their packaging. However, both were found to have more than 1.5 grams of trans-fatty acid. Another potato product, Bourbon "low salt" chips, contains 380 milligrams of sodium and fails the "low salt" standard. Consumers would have to pay attention when reading the labels, Lau said. Some makers labeled fat levels per 40 grams and others per 100 grams, she said. Without a standardized base level, it could be difficult for shoppers to compare energy levels between different items. For easy reference, the council recommends manufacturers include two figures for nutrition levels: per serving as well as per 100 grams. There are snacks that are crispy but have less fat than chips, such as breakfast cereals and tortillas, according to registered dietitian Leslie Chan Kwok-pan. Mexican tortillas, while high in energy, were more filling than chips, he said. Mixing dried fruit with nuts would cut energy levels by 25 per cent compared to a full bowl of nuts, he said.

Audrey Eu tries out a lectern at the venue for her debate with Donald Tsang. Up to 300 people are expected to join an unauthorised demonstration tomorrow outside government headquarters where Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and Civic Party lawmaker Audrey Eu Yuet-mee will debate constitutional reform. The League of Social Democrats said yesterday it planned to call supporters to the demonstration although it had not notified police, who had said no such gathering would be approved. "We expect 300 supporters will gather before the debate commences to protest against the low public participation in debate allowed by the government and to show support to Eu," co-ordinator Pang Yee-kwong said. "Police said a public procession request outside [the Central Government Offices] will not be approved. But we will still launch our action." Young activists, who have said they will stay away from the venue to avoid confrontation, will gather in Statue Square for a live telecast of the debate. More than 20 groups, mainly comprising the so-called post-1980s activists, will gather for the event. They had dismissed the idea of surrounding the government offices for "tactical concerns", one of the organizers, Fred Lam Fai, said. "Confrontation is not our aim this time. After all, our target is on the Legco voting on the reform on June 23." Safety was another concern. "It is not that spacious at the CGO and we expect a lot of people to turn up. There is likely to be a confrontation with police if we all crowd the venue." According to a notice to lawmakers, security at the government complex will be stepped up tomorrow. The car park will be closed and access to the building will be denied except through Ice House Street, with the particulars and purpose of visitors filed in advance. Media groups meanwhile continued to complain about arrangements for the press during the debate, under which reporters will be accommodated in four glassed-in rooms, limiting their numbers to about 30. RTHK has collected 2,876 questions from the public to be put to Tsang and Eu, but just six will be allowed.

Donald Tsang Yam-kuen leaped at the opening offered by yesterday's Dragon Boat Festival to continue his "Weigh Anchor" campaign for political reform. "We don't want to drop anchor - we want to weigh anchor," the chief executive chanted while waving a fist during his appearance at the Tai Po races. Tsang stuck with the anchor line during the prize-giving ceremony. "When I see marchers striving for the best and working in coordination, it makes me think Hong Kong needs harmony," he said. "We want consolidation and to be in the same boat. We don't want it to remain anchored but to act now." Then he turned to the skies: "It was raining this morning but it's sunny now. Although facing difficulties, I believe that Hong Kong is moving toward a better future." Tsang was being seen and heard in the countdown to tonight's landmark televised debate on political reform with democracy heavyweight and Civic Party legislator Audrey Eu Yuet-mee. And others raised their voices along with Tsang as the afternoon wore on. Two sets of 30 demonstrators - one from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong's Act Now group and the other from the Democratic Party - chanted opposing slogans from either side of railings. "Act now" and "All wrong" were the competing shouts. About five people from each side then headed to Tsang with petitions. The chief executive took the one from the Democratic Party but did not spot the pro- administration DAB. But he soon returned to collect it when it was realized what he had missed. Senior officials were being heard at other races. Among them, Chief Secretary for Administration Henry Tang Ying-yen was in Sha Tin. It is "important to unite and to master the rhythm so that the boat can move forward," he said. "It is the same for the progress of democracy in Hong Kong. The Legislative Council will vote for the 2012 constitutional reform package next week. Everyone - we are in the same boat. I hope all of us can consolidate and strive toward the finish line." Meanwhile, Eu said she will be ready if the chief executive tries to catch her off guard at tonight's debate. "He may use different ways to gain public sympathy," she said. Eu also said she has been under enormous pressure because of receiving many conflicting opinions of how she should tackle the issues. But she would not be able to please everyone, Eu said, so she would "be herself" and try to keep calm. Eu has had six rehearsals with Civic Party secretary-general Kenneth Chan Ka-lok as her sparring partner. Party vice chairman Albert Lai Kwong-tak said Eu is well set to go before the TV cameras, though "we suggested she use fewer figures." On the debate, the information coordinator in the Chief Executive's Office, Andy Ho On-tat, said the 55-minute event is not intended to find out who is more articulate but to allow people to learn more about political reform. Still, Tsang has also reportedly been in practice sessions, with Director of Information Services Michael Wong Wai-lun and Lau Yim, a former assistant to the chief executive, offering pointers. The debate will be broadcast live on TVB, ATV, i-Cable and Now TV from 6.35pm.

Leisure and Cultural Services workers check and remove tree parts that may pose a hazard along a cycling track in Yuen Chau Kok Park. Hundreds of diseased trees may be felled in the coming months, an arborist warns, as a cyclist hit on Monday died. A rotten yellow poinciana in Yuen Chau Kok, Sha Tin, hit the head of cyclist Choi Kit-keung, 49, who died last night in Prince of Wales Hospital, Sha Tin, where he had been in critical condition. The family of Choi, who died at 8.24pm, said last night they would donate his organs for medical purposes. They blamed the Leisure and Cultural Services Department for negligence, as its staff failed to spot any problem despite running a visual check a month ago. "I hope the department will stop telling me that a visual check works," Choi's sister-in-law said. A second tree collapse yesterday added to the pressure various government agencies face. No one was hurt when a 20-metre tree snapped early in the morning near a private residence in Ka Ning Path, Causeway Bay. The trunk was removed at about 11.30am - and authorities took a whole day to find out it was the Lands Department that was responsible for that tree.

HK factories swept up in wave of pay rises - Delta manufacturers offer better employment conditions to pre-empt labor unrest HK manufacturers swept up in wave of salary rises in delta. Hong Kong industrialists with operations in the Pearl River Delta have raised wages and improved working conditions to bolster labour ties, fearing that the recent wave of worker unrest will spread throughout the "factory of the world". Federation of Hong Kong Industries chairman Cliff Sun Kai-lit said yesterday that most Hong Kong employers across the border were paying more than the minimum wage and had increased communication with workers through labour unions after a series of strikes and rallies.

World Wide Touch Technology Holdings has cancelled its HK$1.4 billion Hong Kong listing due to market volatility, the sixth company to do so since May. The Hong Kong-based producer of touch pads was due to announce the pricing of its initial public offering on Monday, but was unable to arouse sufficient interest in the listing, according to a person close to the deal. "There was almost zero interest for the retail tranche," the person said. "Even though the company had a good business model ... the market is too volatile right now." World Wide Touch planned to offer 861 million shares priced at between HK$1.30 and HK$1.70 per share. ICBC International Capital and Credit Suisse were the joint book runners. Meanwhile, two other companies are said to be planning to list in Hong Kong. Guotai Junan International is reviving its share sale plan after postponing its original listing proposal in 2006 due to tax and dividend complications. A spokesman for the company confirmed that the IPO would go ahead, but the time frame and pricing had not been confirmed. However, local media reports said Guotai Junan would launch the offer next week and aimed to raise between HK$2.34 billion and HK$3.12 billion, with trading to begin on July 8. "I would be surprised if Guotai Junan goes ahead with the listing before Agricultural Bank of China's float is complete," said Kenny Tang Sing-hing, head of research at Redford Securities. "The sensible thing to do would be to wait and see what happens to ABC." ABC's listing is set to raise US$23 billion and become the world's largest initial public offering, but the listing has been heavily discounted from the initial target of US$30 billion. Shenzhen-based Shirble Department Stores, which operate 11 department stories in southern China, is looking to raise HK$780 million on the Hong Kong bourse and will launch its offering at the end of this month. The company reported a full-year net profit of 185 million yuan (HK$211 million) last year, up 63 per cent from the previous year. BNP Paribas is the sponsor of the deal. "Not all companies will have to cancel their IPOs, but it depends a lot on the company's attractiveness and pricing. Pricing definitely has to be scaled back in this environment," Tang said.

The deputy chief of the State Food and Drug Administration has been sacked in an ongoing investigation into corruption, Xinhua reported, citing the Communist Party's investigation and personnel bodies. The move comes three years after the former chief of the agency, Zheng Xiaoyu, was executed for taking more than six million yuan (HK$6.8 million) in bribes and approving fake drugs.

Hong Kong Airlines long-haul aim gathers speed- Hong Kong Airlines, controlled by the mainland-based HNA Group, will fly to Europe, Australia and North America as it celebrated the first delivery of the 23 A330-200 aircraft it ordered. "Hong Kong Airlines has been undergoing a transformation to become a sizeable long-haul airline, alongside Cathay Pacific (SEHK: 0293) and Dragonair," HNA Group chairman Chen Feng said at a ceremony yesterday. The carrier has ordered 53 aircraft from Airbus, comprising 23 A330s and 30 A320s. Four of the double-aisle A330s aircraft will be delivered by the end of the year, deploying on long-haul destinations including Moscow, Paris and Istanbul. The carrier is operating about 30 routes in Asia at present. Hong Kong Air will fly four times a week to Moscow from June 30, followed by a plan to fly three times a week to Istanbul this year, subject to approval by the Hong Kong government. "There is a growing demand for Russians to come down to Hainan for vacation," said William Chan, operations planning manager at the jet division of Hong Kong Air. The carrier will be able to leverage on Hainan Airlines' network and reap in the traffic demand between Russia and Hainan, he added. The airline is also contemplating flying to Paris and Narita by the end of the year. It plans to use the traffic rights to Paris which have not been fully utilised by Cathay, Chan said. As more A330s are delivered, Hong Kong Air also plans to fly to Sydney and Vancouver next year. Six of the A332s to be delivered to Hong Kong Air between now and next year have been put in a sale and leaseback contract with Hong Kong International Aviation Leasing, a subsidiary of HNA Group, and funded by China Development Bank, said the chairman of the leasing company Liu Xiaoyong. It came after the bank signed an agreement to provide a 39.8 billion yuan (HK$45.32 billion) line of credit to HNA Group last November. Hainan Airlines, of which Chen Feng is a major shareholder, plans to take delivery of its first Boeing 787, better known as the Dreamliner, in November next year, followed by two additional B787s in 2012. The airplanes will be used on destinations in Europe and Seattle, management from Hainan Air said.

An 5.4-magnitude earthquake struck directly below one of the largest cities on the east coast of Taiwan on Tuesday, the US Geological Survey said.

Hong Kong Flagship stores target China - Bigger is better for retailers as recovery paves way for increased high-street presence. Fashion retailers are increasing the size of their outlets in larger flagship stores in Hong Kong's premier shopping district, Causeway Bay, as they seek springboards into the mainland market, analysts say. In two recent deals, fashion retailer I.T leased a 24,000 sq ft retail space at One Hysan Avenue; and Forever 21, a fashion retailer from the United States, leased a five-storey retail space in Capitol Centre at Jardine's Bazaar in Causeway Bay. And there are more deals to come, forecasts property consultancy Colliers International, which noted in its "Spring 2010 Global Retail Highlights" report that: "The worst of the [global financial] downturn is over and high-end retailers will be back pressing for more high-profile stores." Causeway Bay ranks third among the world's most expensive street-front retail outlets, with average rents of US$1,200 per sq ft per year. It has attracted many international tenants, the report said, and more deals are expected over the next six to 12 months as retailers translate their plans into real estate commitments. Helen Mak Hoi-lun, the director of retail services at Colliers, said large spaces were in demand by fashion retailers wanting to establish showcase stores to promote their image and prepare for expansion into the mainland market. "All of the international brands are targeting the mainland's retail market. If they open a flagship store in Hong Kong and become popular, this helps them promote their brands on the mainland," Mak said. "China is a big and complex market. Which city offers newcomers an opportunity to open a shop and get known by mainlanders fast? "The answer must be Hong Kong, as it is welcomed by mainland visitors and information will spread faster," she said. The change in retailers' strategies has seen landlords of retail properties bid farewell to long-standing - and lower-paying - tenants in a move to boost their rental incomes. Jade Garden Chinese Restaurant, which has been at One Hysan Avenue in the heart of Causeway Bay for 34 years, quit the location this month along with Starbucks and fashion retailer Ports 1961. Property agents said the vendor of the 24,000 sqft space, Hysan Development (SEHK: 0014), began searching last year for a single, big tenant to replace the three after they left, and finally signed a lease with fashion retailer I.T at a monthly rent of about HK$1.5 million compared with previous rental income of less than HK$1 million. A spokesman for Hysan Development confirmed the space had now been leased to a fashion retailer but declined to provide details. Forever 21 leased five floors in Capitol Centre at Jardine's Bazaar for HK$11 million a month recently. The 51,158 sqft retail space is currently leased to Giordano (SEHK: 0709) for HK$5.5 million a month. Giordano sublet some of the space to Watson's and some restaurants. Leasing large retail spaces to a single tenant is proving to be more lucrative than packaging a number of tenants. "It is also easier for vendors to manage the shop if it is single tenancy only," Mak said. Kevin Lam, an associate director of retail at property consultancy DTZ, said he was encouraging vendors to lease retail spaces as large flagship stores. And with retailers keen to expand in the city, he estimated rents in Causeway Bay's prime locations had grown about 20 per cent this year. Retail leasing demand picked up further in the first quarter of the year, driven by sustained economic recovery, growing local consumer demand, rising retail sales and the continued growth in inbound tourism, according to Colliers' report. The total value of retail sales grew 22 per cent, quarter on quarter, during the three-month period between December 2009 and February 2010.

Allan Zeman beats off rivals to win Guangzhou mall deal - 'Mr Lan Kwai Fong' plans to transform retail landscape. Allan Zeman, dubbed "Mr Lan Kwai Fong", plans to transform the retail landscape in Guangzhou after beating off eight rivals to secure the management and leasing contract for the city's newest underground shopping mall. Zeman's property development and investment company, Lan Kwai Fong Holdings, earlier this month won the contract to manage a 1.6 million square foot mall in Pearl River New City, a new core business centre. The 1.3 kilometer-long underground mall will provide space on a single level for up to 500 shops and will be the biggest shopping precinct in the nation's third-biggest city. The mall will be ready for occupation and open for business next year. "This will be my first investment in Guangzhou," Zeman said, and given the scale of the mall he plans to divide the space into three zones in which to provide a unique and comprehensive retail experience for shoppers. His company will begin leasing space once the interior design has been completed. "Compared to Hong Kong, it is similar to Harbor City," he said. Zeman visualizes Zone One providing an entertainment area similar to Lan Kwai Fong. It will also have a section devoted to selling electrical appliances resembling Akihabara in Tokyo, an area for children, and one for cinemas. Zone Two would be designed to give a feel similar to London's Kensington High Street, Zeman said, offering upmarket department stores; while Zone Three would be like Paris' Place Vendome and offer luxury branded merchandise. Given the easy access to the mall, which is directly linked to the underground rail network, Zeman said he believed it would become a landmark destination in the city. "There are 39 office buildings either completed or under construction in the New City and coupled with the upcoming opening of the W Hotel and the Four Seasons Hotel the development will turn into a new CBD for Guangzhou," he said. The Ritz-Carlton and Grand Hyatt hotels in the complex are already opened for business and when all the office buildings have been completed and leased there would be some 250,000 office workers working in the area, Zeman said. Woody Lam, the managing director for southern China at property consultancy Savills, said traditional shopping centres and street-level shops remained the most popular for Guangzhou residents. "Such a large scale underground shopping centre will be new to Guangzhou and it is hard to gauge a likely response from shoppers at this stage," he said. He expects retail rents in prime location would continue to grow in view of improving consumer confidence and robust growth in retail sales. In the first quarter, prime shopping mall first-floor rents in Guangzhou increased 3.3 per cent to an average of 1,142.90 yuan (HK$1,300) per square metre per month, according to a Savills report. Over the next nine months, 800,000 square metres of new retail space will be launched prior to the opening of the Guangzhou Asian Games on November 12. The openings will add quality retail space to the market and upgrade the retail atmosphere in a number of areas while also increasing competition for tenants, Savills says. The majority of the new supply is located in the Tianhe area and the Pearl River New Town. Property consultancy Knight Frank said retail leasing and sales transactions were expected to resume their growth in the second quarter. "Retail rents are likely to remain stable, while sales prices are expected to increase by 5 per cent," the consultancy said.

 China*: The Big Labor movement helped bring some of the biggest car companies in the United States to their knees. But despite recent rumblings of organized action among car workers in China, the threat to manufacturers in the world's new leading vehicle market is miniscule by comparison. To be sure, as the recent strikes by workers at three Honda suppliers in Guangdong demonstrate, assembly-line staff in the world's workshop are gradually winning bargaining power where they previously had little or none. As China's demographic changes, the pool of young migrant workers entering the labor force will continue to shrink in relative terms. Manufacturers across all sectors will undoubtedly face increasing demands for better pay, better pay scales and representative unions in the future. But some sectors are better positioned than others to meet those demands. The vehicle industry, where the value-added is high, sits towards the top end of the food chain among manufacturing employers: analysts estimate staff wages account for only 2 per cent to 3 per cent of the cost of sales at most mainland carmakers. By contrast, at newly restructured General Motors, a union settlement alone equaled 4.6 per cent of the firm's cost of sales during the second half of last year (separate figures on staff wages were not available). In the US, the average annual salary across the motor vehicle manufacturing industry was US$58,400 last year, according to figures from the Bureau of Labor Services. Comparable data for the mainland is unavailable. But for reference, last year's average annual staff cost at Dongfeng Motor Group (SEHK: 0489) and Guangzhou Auto Group - both of which have joint ventures with Honda - was about 45,000 yuan (US$6,575), according to an analysis of combined figures from the companies' stock exchange filings.

Ajisen (China) Holdings chief executive Daisy Poon Wai says the company has to move upstream as volatile pork prices and consumer inflation affect its profit margin. Japanese noodle restaurant chain operator Ajisen (China) Holdings plans to buy pig farms on the mainland to contain rising costs and ensure stable supply of key ingredients, according to chief executive Daisy Poon Wai. Ajisen's 400 restaurants in Hong Kong, the mainland and Taiwan consumed 2,300 tonnes of pork and pork ribs last year, she said. Moving upstream was necessary and made commercial sense for the Hong Kong-listed company as volatile pork prices and growing pressure on consumer price inflation challenged the group's profit margin, Poon said. "We will have control over the entire production process from rearing the pigs, barbecuing the pork and serving it on dining tables if we own our pig farms," she said. Poon declined to give any specific investment details about the farms, but said the move was vital to maintain and grow the group's already fat profit margin. Ajisen's gross profit margin climbed 1.9 percentage points to 69.7 per cent last year despite the global financial crisis. It was one of the industry's highest, compared with about 60 per cent for Chinese restaurants and about 62 per cent for foreign fast food chains in China. Ajisen's attributable profit jumped 42.4 per cent to HK$314.5 million last year on turnover that was up 18.7 per cent to HK$1.98 billion, despite the economic slowdown and punishing competition. Ajisen launched 83 new outlets last year, mainly in coastal regions, while the group's 12 food manufacturing and processing plants on the mainland stabilised supply and kept cost increases at bay, Poon said. The company raised prices by about 3 per cent in March to offset inflation. Poon said Ajisen was meticulous in its daily operations, even down to ensuring that each bowl of ramen noodle soup was served at 85 degrees Celsius and that it included the exact amount of specified ingredients. Ajisen plans to open another 120 outlets on the mainland, taking its total to 520 by the end of the year, and is spending 100 million yuan building four processing plants in eastern, southern and northern China. The restaurant chain began to make its mark in Hong Kong and the mainland 14 years ago under a permanent franchise, but since then its performance overseas has outshone that back home. Last year, its Hong Kong, mainland and Taiwan operations sold 45 million bowls of noodles and rice, exceeding the amount sold in Japan. Hong Kong Polytechnic University Department of Management and Marketing associate professor Sherriff Luk Ting-kwong said Ajisen outperformed local competitors in terms of restaurant design, varieties of food and services. "It's the first of its kind in China specialising in Japanese-style noodles, which gives Chinese consumers a fresh experience," Luk said. "Ajisen is also able to perform better in terms of branding, with its distinct and consistent shop and brand image." In terms of revenue, the China Chain Store and Franchise Association ranked Ajisen in China's top four fast-food enterprises last year after Yum (No1), McDonald's and Dekeshi. A Morgan Stanley research report said franchising was a favourable way to capitalise on the mainland's emerging domestic market due to vast differences in geography, culture and economics. It said the combination of a brand and its distribution network would yield a superior margin and asset value. For example, Tiffany jewellery is regarded as an icon for emotional expression while Ikea is perceived as the name for inexpensive, elegant and easy-to-use furniture. Ajisen's share price climbed 4 HK cents, or 0.48 per cent, to HK$8.28 yesterday.

China will surpass Japan to become the world's second-largest advertising market by 2015, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). "China's advertisement growth will come from emerging domestic and foreign brands," said Marcel Fenez, PwC's global leader of entertainment and media practices. After a year of decline, the global entertainment and media market is growing 5 per cent annually and will reach US$1.7 trillion by 2014. The United States would remain the world's leading advertisement market, with spending expected at US$180 billion by 2014, PwC said. Studies by PwC showed consumers continued to embrace new media at fast pace, and that digital transformation was driving audience fragmentation to higher levels. "Some companies perceive the continuing fragmentation of the market as a threat but it should be seized on as an opportunity," Fenez said. An emerging trend is that consumers are ever demanding content to flow across different devices, as people want to consume and interact with content anywhere and anytime, he said. As global advertising recovers from last year's decline, advertisers are migrating to digital platforms as well. Television, including mobile and online television, will keep the largest share of the global advertising market, from 37 per cent last year to 2014, according to PwC. Internet advertising will surpass print advertising, taking up the second-largest share of 21 per cent. PwC projects the mainland entertainment and media market to grow at a 12 per cent annual rate, behind Saudi Arabia and other Arab states' 16.5 per cent growth. "The mobile industry is a huge story in the Arab world," said Fenez, adding that improvements in literacy had also helped traditional media growth. In Hong Kong, digital migration is still at a slow pace. Advertisement platform preferences would remain almost the same over the next five years, with newspapers taking an unchanged market share of 33 per cent and television grabbing 27 per cent, PwC said. Total advertising will grow an annual 5 per cent over the five years to 2014. Most consumers in Hong Kong "still prefer content over traditional platforms", said Cecilia Yau, a partner at PwC. Most of the quality content was produced by local television stations and advertisers were still able to achieve their objectives through traditional media, she said. US consumer spending dropped last year for the first time in 10 years. As consumers cut back on video games, the industry experienced lower than expected growth. "Americans didn't spend," Fenez said, adding that the release of several key games were postponed. Radio, magazines and newspapers advertising around the world fell faster than expected last year.

June 17, 2010

Hong Kong*: Two of Hong Kong’s richest tycoons will each buy almost US$130 million worth of Agricultural Bank of China’s initial public offering, which could be the world’s biggest. Li Ka-shing, head of conglomerate Cheung Kong (SEHK: 0001) Holdings, and Lee Shau-kee, chief of property giant Henderson Land (SEHK: 0012), have signed on as cornerstone investors, each scooping up HK$1 billion worth of shares, Dow Jones Newswires said, citing unnamed sources. In February, Forbes business magazine ranked Li as the financial hub’s richest man with a net worth of US$21.3 billion, followed by Lee with a US$19 billion fortune. Earlier reports have suggested Agricultural Bank (ABC) – the last of mainland’s big four lenders to list – is one track to raise as much as US$28 billion before its shares start trading in Hong Kong and Shanghai next month. Singapore state investment company Temasek plans to buy as much as US$300 million of shares while Middle Eastern sovereign funds Qatar Investment Authority and Kuwait Investment Authority are eyeing at least a billion dollar investment. There has been speculation that the size of the bank’s share sale would be smaller than earlier anticipated due to weak market sentiment and concerns over the profitability of its operations, which focus on rural lending. The bank was initially expected to raise as much as US$30 billion. The world’s biggest IPO so far is the US$22 billion offering of Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (SEHK: 1398) in 2006.

CLP Holdings (SEHK: 0002), Hong Kong’s largest power supplier, said it had recorded a small rise in radioactivity in reactor cooling water at the Daya Bay nuclear plant near Shenzhen last month. “The reactor cooling water is sealed in completely and isolated from the external environment, thus causing no impact to the public,” CLP said on Tuesday. CLP’s statement followed a report by Washington-based Radio Free Asia that the Daya Bay nuclear plant had suffered a large radiation leak that was threatening public safety. Preliminary assessments indicated there was a very small leakage at a fuel rod in Unit 2 of the power station, the company said in a statement obtained on Tuesday. The level of radioactivity had since remained stable over the last two weeks, it said. Operations at the Daya Bay nuclear power plant had not been affected, said the company, adding that the situation did not fall within the International Nuclear Event Scale, which measures the significance of nuclear accidents. Daya Bay nuclear power plant, 25 per cent owned by CLP, is located about 50 kilometres from Hong Kong and supplies a quarter of the city’s power. The power station, which comprises two nuclear reactors with a generating capacity of 984 megawatts each, has been controversial in Hong Kong, where activists have questioned the safety of the facility. Activists have raised questions about the time it took for CLP to issue a statement about the leak. “We are concerned about the plant’s slow reaction [to the incident] and the long duration it took them to act on the situation,” said Prentice Koo, a Greenpeace campaigner in Hong Kong. The Security Bureau said the Hong Kong Observatory’s radiation monitoring stations had not registered any unusual levels since May 23. The bureau said it would study the incident further and follow up with CLP.

The Urban Renewal Authority has opened up previously closed records that show it made a net profit of HK$2 billion from eight completed projects in the past five years.

Some 2,876 questions have been collected from the public for the up-coming political debate between Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and Civic Party leader Audrey Eu Yuet-mee.

Many chip products sold in Hong Kong contain excessive levels of fat or salt, a new survey released on Tuesday showed.

Hong Kong has become a little less expensive to many overseas visitors and expatriates, with a cheaper US dollar relative to other currencies seeing the city slide down the global cost-of-living ranks this year, from 30th to 34th place. However, inflation and rising expenses counterbalance some of the advantages of the favourable exchange rate. The drop in ranking in the latest cost-of-living survey, conducted in March by ECA International, makes Hong Kong more attractive to visitors from long-haul markets such as the European Union and for companies hiring expatriate staff. ECA conducts its survey twice a year, comparing a basket of common consumer goods and services worldwide, including dairy products, meat and fish, fresh fruit, vegetables, drinks and tobacco, clothing, electrical goods and the cost of dining out. "Hong Kong remains the most expensive location in greater China," Lee Quane, ECA regional director for Asia, said. "Prices of goods and services commonly purchased by assignees there have increased more quickly than in other cities within the greater China area and this has contributed to the city rising slightly in the Asian ranking. However, the peg to the US dollar has offset the extent of this increase so that globally the city has fallen in the ranking." Volatile financial markets, a rapidly changing global economic landscape and deteriorating consumer and investor confidence in the wake of Europe's debt crisis have wreaked havoc on currency markets, with recent weakness in the US dollar against some other currencies. Hong Kong's peg to the US dollar means the local currency is relatively cheaper for visitors from overseas. Hong Kong slip to 34 in the global rankings means it is a more expensive city than London, Munich and New York, but cheaper than Jerusalem and Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, for example. Within Asia, Hong Kong is ranked sixth, up one spot, behind top-ranked Tokyo, Nagoya, Yokohama, Kobe and Seoul. Regional rival Singapore is ranked ninth in Asia, behind Shanghai and Beijing. Year on year, there were mixed results, with the global rankings of some European and African cities - including Amsterdam, Milan and Khartoum - falling while others rose, such as Moscow, Oslo and Stockholm. American cities, including Honolulu and New York, mainly fell. Luanda slipped from the top spot last year to No 3. Karachi in Pakistan was at the bottom of the global list.

The demand by moderate democrats that district council trade seats under the reform package be put to a popular vote was described yesterday by a senior mainland official as an unnecessary addition to something already intact. Central Liaison Office in Hong Kong director- general of publicity, culture and sports Hao Tiechuan used the idiom "gilding the lily" to reject the request. His remarks came as the political situation over local constitutional reforms is at a stalemate. They also come a week after National People's Congress Standing Committee deputy secretary- general Qiao Xiaoyang, in a speech from Beijing, indirectly rejected the demand by the Democratic Party and the Alliance for Universal Suffrage. Qiao said there are views in Hong Kong society that allowing the masses to directly choose some functional constituency lawmakers in 2012 will amount to de facto direct elections and raise doubts as to whether this is in line with the Basic Law and the NPC Standing Committee's decision. At a tea gathering yesterday, Hao said there is no precedent for the moderate democrats' proposal. It has no legal basis and is unnecessary, he said. Under the government proposal, the five new functional constituency seats and the existing district council Legco trade seats will be elected by district councillors. Hao said the proposal is based on public opinion while the Democratic Party is merely "gilding the lily." He emphasized this further by adding the Putonghua equivalent - "adding feet to a drawing of a snake." He said be it direct or indirect elections, both demonstrated a form of universal suffrage. Hao said doubts as to whether there will be genuine universal suffrage for the 2017 chief executive and 2020 Legco elections are merely imaginary. Observing that it took several hundred years for many Western countries to successfully adopt universal suffrage, Hao said that by comparison, Hong Kong people will be able to elect lawmakers by universal suffrage just 23 years after the handover. He said those who doubt Beijing's sincerity about implementing universal suffrage in Hong Kong should first ask themselves the reasons behind such suspicions. Asked whether functional constituencies should be scrapped, Hao said society is still divided over the issue and until a consensus is reached locally the central government could not state its stance. Democratic Party chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan retorted it is the SAR government that is "gilding the lily" by insisting on functional constituencies and indirect elections.

 China*: The global economic recovery is likely to be “slow and tortuous” and the mainland faces risks from a multitude of factors including trade protectionism and bad real estate loans, the Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC) said on Tuesday. “The chances in 2010 of some credit assets forming into substantive risks and losses has increased,” the CBRC said in its annual report, published on its website on Tuesday. Among the risks faced by the mainland banks, it identified quite large risks from “unwise lending” to local government investment units, as well as the sovereign debt crisis and US dollar exchange rates. It said some banks were lending large amounts to local governments units, noting “risk management has been inadequate, and there are quite large latent risks in lending to local investment vehicles”. CBRC’s chairman, Liu Mingkang, has repeatedly said the regulator will strictly control the speed of lending and is paying special attention to lending risks in the property sector. The government has also warned of the dangers of mainland’s red-hot property market, which it has described as one of the country’s most pressing economic problems, and has tried to get banks to rein in property lending. CBRC’s annual report also warned of risks from “imprudent behavior” in personal housing loans this year. “The risks from a chain reaction in lending for real estate development may warrant attention, and latent credit risks may be increasing,” said the report. Last week, Beijing reported that the year-on-year pace of bank lending and money supply growth slowed in May and new local currency-denominated loans extended in May fell to 639 billion yuan (HK$728 billion) from 774 billion yuan in April.

Beijing has ordered police to resolve conflicts before they boil over as part of a "strike hard" campaign aimed at social tensions blamed for a recent wave of violent crime.

Chinese Mainland tourists in love with falling euro - Chen Renfeng is planning to marry in August and take his bride on a European honeymoon. With the euro having dropped in value since late last year, the couple can now afford to extend their honeymoon and travel to a third country. Chen recently exchanged 10,000 yuan (HK$11,400) for the trip and got €1,170. At the beginning of this year, the same sum in euros would have cost 1,500 yuan more. "We budgeted 40,000 yuan. We can save about 5,000 yuan" compared with five months ago, he said. The euro has slid 16 per cent from 9.80 yuan on December 31 to 8.26 yuan yesterday. Expecting it to drop further, Chen hasn't exchanged the rest of his money. Like Chen, many mainland tourists have decided to seize the chance and enjoy what may be the cheapest trip to Europe they'll ever get. Dun Jidong - a sales manager in the tourism department of Ctrip, the mainland's leading online travel service provider - expects bookings until the end of August to be double the number in the same period last year. "A new trend is that more and more people are beginning to choose just one country, like Britain or Greece, for their European trip," he said. Although the prices of airline tickets have remained the same, hotels, meals and shopping on the continent are paid for in euros and so cost much less than before. Dun said his wife and in-laws had changed their minds about travelling to North America this summer. "As the euro has depreciated, prices offered by travel agencies are lower, and it's cheaper to buy stuff in Europe," he said. "So they decided to go to Britain instead ... They think it's the best time - almost the cheapest - to go there." He said the industry was optimistic about the European market. "Travel agencies have launched quite a lot of products for Europe in the market this year," Dun said. "They have made a huge number of reservations for flights." The same boom was observed by China Youth Travel Service, the country's biggest travel agency. Diao Shuang , the firm's deputy general manager of tourism for Europe, America and Africa, said bookings between June and August have already climbed by 30 per cent from last year. "One of the motives for many Chinese tourists to go to Europe is shopping for luxuries. Now is apparently a great opportunity for such people," he said. "When a Chinese travels abroad, he is usually a shopping delegate for a whole family plus maybe a dozen friends." Christopher Rodrigues, chairman of VisitBritain, agreed about the enormous attraction a cheaper currency exerts. "We found last year the majority of the world dropped in business, but we actually increased our numbers, because the pound was relatively lower valued," he said on the sidelines of the Global Travel and Tourism Summit in Beijing last month. He forecast about 170,000 Chinese travellers would visit Britain this year, which would account for 8 per cent of the outbound market. Besides a weaker euro, industry insiders believe the weather and economic recovery are contributing to the boom in outbound travel. Dun noted that many Chinese chose to stay at home in March and April - the season when mainland tourists usually go to Japan to see the cherry blossoms or to Thailand for the Songkran festival - because the weather was colder than usual. "Their demand for travelling was revived when the weather finally got warm in May," he said. Li Shuang , deputy general manager of BTG Outbound Tours, said the improvement of the overall economy has stimulated China's outbound tourism this year. "Even in bad economic circumstances last year, the demand for outbound tourism remained, although it was held back for a while by the global economic recession. This year the economy has improved, and people's willingness to go abroad has begun to grow," he said. According to the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute, the country's outbound market will make up 10 per cent of international tourism over the next decade. When global tourism shrank because of the economic downturn last year, China's outbound tourism still rose 4 per cent, both in the number of travellers and their spending. The World Travel and Tourism Council expects China to spend about US$580 billion on travel and tourism this year, second only to the US. The mainland is also projected to grow fastest in terms of capital investment in the tourism industry throughout the next decade. This year, meanwhile, many Chinese, as they have grown wealthier, have picked Europe as the destination of choice, whether for honeymoons or summer holidays, and the euro's free fall is ensuring that decision is an easy one to make.

Greek and mainland companies signed 14 commercial deals, during a visit by Vice-Premier Zhang Dejiang, officials said on Tuesday.

Taiwan and the mainland yesterday launched a new flight between Taipei and Shanghai that will cut the time travelers spend on their journey. Three airlines from Taiwan and one from the mainland will service the route, which links Sungshan airport, in downtown Taipei, and Hongqiao airport in Shanghai. "Direct flights [launched last year] indeed have helped exchanges between the two sides," said Philip Wei Hsing- hsiung, chairman of Taiwan's top air carrier China Airlines. "I believe the new route will facilitate the development." Observers say the Sungshan-Hongqiao route will cut travel time. In the past, passengers traveling from Taipei to Shanghai have had to spend 45 minutes driving to Taoyuan airport outside the capital. On top of that has come a 90-minute ride downtown from Shanghai's Pudong airport. However, Hongqiao is about 30 minutes closer to the center of Shanghai. The new route was inaugurated after Beijing and Taipei made "substantial progress" during negotiations for a comprehensive trade pact, known as an Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement. Taiwan's Beijing-friendly government, which says the deal will boost growth and employment, has been pushing to sign the agreement in June. China and Taiwan began direct chartered flights in 2008 as part of a drive to boost ties after Ma Ying-jeou became the island's president.

Villagers attend a dragon boats race in Daoxian county, Hunan province on June 13. Over a hundred dragon boats race to celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival which falls on Wednesday. The event was held originally to honor the Chinese poet Qu Yuan (c. 340 BC-278 BC) of the Warring States Period. Qu Yuan was a minister in the government of the state of Chu, descended of nobility and a champion of political loyalty and truth eager to maintain the Chu state's sovereignty. He committed suicide by drowning himself in a river because he was disgusted by the corruption of the Chu government. The local people, knowing him to be a good man, decided to throw food into the river to feed the fish so they would not eat Qu Yuan’s body. They also sat on long, narrow paddle boats called dragon boats, and tried to scare the fish away by the thundering sound of drums aboard the boat and the fierce looking carved dragon head on the boat's prow.

Competitors take part in a dragon boat race in Wenzhou, east China's Zhejiang province, June 13, 2010, to mark the coming Dragon Boat Festival.

June 16, 2010

Hong Kong*: Faced with the prospect of a failure of talks with Beijing on constitutional reform, the Democratic Party is contemplating the future of its relations with the central government.

The Chinese banyan (left) in 2005 during redevelopment of the old marine police headquarters in Tsim Sha Tsui and (right) now preserved in its concrete shell at 1881 Heritage. At the former site of the marine police headquarters in Tsim Sha Tsui - now a glittering boutique hotel and mall called 1881 Heritage - all the latest luxury goods are on display. But for one of the oldest residents of the once-grassy knoll at the tip of the Kowloon Peninsula, the future is not looking so bright. A certified arborist says a century-old Chinese Banyan tree is showing signs of possibly terminal decline and needs urgent remedial action to save it. Conservancy Association chief executive Ken So Kwok-yin suspects the tree, one of five "important" trees spared in the HK$350 million project, is suffering dehydration. "If we turn a blind eye and don't take remedial action, say for three to five years, there will be no chance for the tree ever to recover," he said. Citybase Property Management, a Cheung Kong (SEHK: 0001) Group subsidiary that runs the site, said its arborist said the tree had no health problems but it was now planning improvements. So said bare branches on the edge of the tree crown and a decrease in leaf density were warning signs of dehydration. He said the tree's habitat had been completely altered by the construction, including extensive excavation of the slope that once led up to the building, and its roots were no longer able to tap water from wider underground sources. Most of the 193 trees on the site were felled or moved during the redevelopment. To keep the old banyan, a soil column nine meters in diameter was preserved under it by building a 10-metre concrete shell around it, but some of the roots had to be pruned to fit the shell. So, who recently inspected the tree and compared its condition with photographic records, said its spread had shrunk by 40 per cent between 2005 and 2007, a natural outcome of root or branch pruning during construction. But last year, after the official opening of the heritage site, the leaves had begun to fall off and become less dense. He suspected the problem might be related to the improper watering. So said confining the tree in the cement shell meant its care had to be carefully adjusted. Proper watering should make the top 30 centimetres of soil moist, not just the soil at the bottom of the tree, and he doubted such thorough watering was being carried out. So was also surprised at the absence of an automatic sprinkler system to water the plants and trees in such an expensive hotel project, developed by a subsidiary of the Cheung Kong Group, Flying Snow. At Hong Kong Disneyland, he said, the watering of plants was not just automatic but was assisted by sensors inserted into the soil to monitor the moisture level. According to Citybase, a landscaping contractor was responsible for the day-to-day care of the tree, such as watering, pest control and fertilising. But the company did not give further details about the contractor's work. It also said the arborist it hired regularly collected data on the moisture content of the soil. "The arborist's report shows all the vitals of the tree are normal. But some enhancement measures can be adopted," it said.

A 50-year-old man was in a critical condition after he was struck by a 15-metre-long branch which snapped off a of a tree in a Sha Tin park on Monday morning, a police spokesman said.

One in 10 youngsters are in danger of being addicted to the internet, a survey shows. The Federation of Youth Groups reached this conclusion after polling 2,295 youngsters, aged 10 to 17, on a basket of 20 indicators. If you hit some of the indicators you are at risk of internet obsession. About 10 per cent showed multiple symptoms and were at high risk of developing a craving for the internet. It said 77,000 youths could be at risk. Half the respondents cited social networking websites, such as Facebook, as their main reason for being online. More than half of the 2,579 parents polled thought their children were using the Net for learning. The discrepancy could be linked to the lack of communication between parents and children on internet usage. Thirty-five per cent of parents said their children spent too much time online but only 28 per cent of youngsters agreed. More than a quarter of parents were dissatisfied with their attempts to control their children's internet usage, saying they were not able to keep them away from the potential risks in a virtual world. Survey organiser Professor Wong Yu-cheung, of the University of Hong Kong, said parents should seek a better understanding of children's internet usage and not simply try to force them off a computer. They should be firm but fair.

A week is a long time in politics, as is often said, and yesterday a smiling, calm and confident Donald Tsang Yam-kuen was shown on television apparently conversing genially with people who accepted his leaflets on the 2012 electoral reform package. The images were in stark contrast to those of last week, when an agitated and combative chief executive yelled slogans through a loudspeaker but the chants from protesters drowned him out as he tried to communicate with the public during the second phase of his "Act Now" street campaign. The contrast, however, was not because pan-democrats had been persuaded the package would bring genuine democratic development, rather the Chief Executive's Office provided the images. The government did not alert the media in advance about Tsang's visit to Central, Wan Chai and Eastern districts this time. Last Sunday, a press release came two hours before Tsang and other ministers hit the streets. Four days later, a ministers' visit to public housing estates in the evening was not announced, but news organisations were told to cover a media briefing afterwards by Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen. In the video clips released yesterday, Tsang is shown conversing with shopkeepers who invariably expressed their support and praised him for his sincerity in meeting the public during stormy weather. On his Facebook page, where he also posted pictures of the day's campaigning, Tsang said: "As the vote is drawing near, I have decided to brace for rain and wind to continue district visits; and secure citizens' support for the electoral reform." He chose districts he and his wife Selina Tsang Pou Siu-mei had grown up in.

Illegal bookmakers in Hong Kong are shifting their operations to Shenzhen to capitalize on the huge gambling market across the border and to escape detection. The trend was revealed yesterday after police on both sides of the border smashed a football gambling syndicate and nabbed 70 people as they intensified their crackdown on internet gambling, which is hitting a peak now that the football World Cup has kicked off. In addition to the arrests, which included the mastermind and key henchmen, the two-day operation, codenamed "Zonebuilder," seized betting slips involving more than HK$110 million and 68 computers, and uncovered 13 websites linked to illegal football gambling. "Big syndicates are already moving their bases overseas, especially to the mainland, as local police have been cracking down hard on such illegal gambling operations," Organized Crime and Triad Bureau chief inspector Ng Wai-hon said. According to Ng, the syndicate mastermind is a Hong Kong man who set up the gang about six months ago and has since been raking in more than HK$100 million in bets every month. He and his two righthand men, also from Hong Kong, were among the 45 people arrested in Shenzhen. Those arrested in Hong Kong include two couples and several brothers. They were among 25 people rounded up when police raided flats in Yuen Long, Kwun Tong, Cheung Sha Wan and North Point. Seven are suspected to be core syndicate members, while the others are agents. The Hong Kong raids netted HK$66 million in betting slips and HK$640,000 in cash, Ng said. The syndicate used bank accounts in Hong Kong and the mainland as part of the betting process, with the amount of money being deposited and withdrawn amounting to HK$752 million. "The main modus operandi was collecting bets through the internet, though some bets were also accepted over the phone. The bets were then relayed to the mainland," bureau superintendent Man Tat-shing said. According to Man, some of the bets included the World Cup matches being played in South Africa. "Police will continue to take vigorous enforcement action against illegal bookmaking activities during the course of the World Cup. We urge the public not to be addicted to gambling and not to get involved in illegal betting," he said.

Hopewell Holdings (0054) sold the first six homes at Broadwood Twelve in Happy Valley yesterday at an average HK$21,818 per square foot, marking the beginning of a new wave of launches. That wave, agents said, is likely to see more than 1,000 homes made available in the coming month. Broadwood Twelve drew strong interest, with more than 1,500 prospective buyers turning up at its launch. A jeweler was reported to have offered HK$330 million for two duplexes, or HK$51,005 psf, which is a record for the district. Henderson Land (0012) will release the price list for the 163-house Beverly Hills Phase 3 in Tai Po today and sell the first units on Friday, a source said. Henderson will be going head to head with Sino Land (0083), which is releasing the 79-unit Balmoral project in the same district on Friday as well. Meanwhile, Sun Hung Kai Real Estate Agency executive director Victor Lui Ting said the 715-home Larvotto in Ap Lei Chau will be sold after the FIFA World Cup ends in the middle of next month now that pre-sale consent has been secured. Hong Kong Property senior manager Simon Tai Hok-man said Sino Land chairman Robert Ng Chee Siong viewed show flats of the 852-home The Hermitage in Tai Kok Tsui yesterday. "Sino's busy with its Balmoral project, so sales for this one may not start for a while," Tai said. "Presumably it will start sales along with Larvotto after the World Cup." But Sun Hung Kai Properties (0016) may need to discuss strategy with the Urban Renewal Authority before sales on their 377-unit joint venture, Lime Stardom, can begin, Tai said. Centaline Properties district manager Tommy Cheung Wing-cheung said Nan Fung Development is also in similar talks with the URA over the 96-home Queen's Cube in Wan Chai.

The Hong Kong Observatory is the only government department to ban shark's fin soup from its official functions although several agencies have not been serving the dish, a survey has found.

HK's total assets of the exchange fund dropped 4.1 billion HK dollars (526 million U.S. dollars) last month from April to 1.9154 trillion HK dollars by the end of last month, the city's Monetary Authority said on Monday. The Monetary Base, comprising Certificates of Indebtedness, government-issued currency notes and coins in circulation, the Aggregate Balance and Exchange Fund Bills and Notes issued, amounted to 1.0209 trillion HK dollars. Claims on the private sector in Hong Kong amounted to 99.6 billion HK dollars. Foreign liabilities, representing mainly obligations under repurchase agreements, were 400 million HK dollars. (1 U.S. dollar is equivalent to 7.793 HK dollars)

HK's industrial production index for manufacturing sector rose 0.4 percent in the first quarter over a year earlier, while the corresponding producer price index recorded a year-on-year rise of 4 percent, the city's Census and Statistics Department said on Monday. The food, beverages and tobacco industry had the largest increase of 6.4 percent in output volume, followed by the metal, computer, electronic and optical products, machinery and equipment, it said. Falls in output volume were recorded in apparel, textiles and the paper products, printing and reproduction of recorded media industries. Output volume of apparel in the first quarter this year fell most by 20.1 percent. On a seasonally adjusted basis, the index of industrial production for manufacturing industries as a whole rose 2.9 percent in the first quarter over the fourth quarter last year. In the first quarter, the metal, computer, electronic and optical products, machinery and equipment industry recorded the largest year-on-year increase in producer prices by 8.2 percent. Decreases in producer prices were seen in the paper products, printing and reproduction of recorded media, textiles and the apparel industries.

Hong Kong's gross national product rose to 442.4 billion HK dollars (1 U.S. dollar equals to 7.793 HK dollars) in the first quarter this year, up 13.4 percent from a year earlier, the city's Census and Statistics Department said on Monday. HK's gross domestic product rose 9.2 percent to 416.8 billion HK dollars. Compared with GDP, Hong Kong's GNP was larger by 25.6 billion HK dollars, representing a net external factor income inflow of the same amount, and equivalent to 6.1 percent of GDP in that quarter, said the department. After netting out the effect of price changes, Hong Kong's GNP grew 12.3 percent in real terms compared to the corresponding rise of 8.2 percent recorded for GDP. Total factor income inflow into Hong Kong, estimated at 200.5 billion HK dollars and equivalent to 48.1 percent of GDP, increased by 17.1 percent. Total factor income outflow, estimated at 174.9 billion HK dollars and equivalent to 42 percent of GDP, recorded an increase of 7.6 percent. Taking the inflow and outflow together, a net external factor income inflow of 25.6 billion HK dollars was recorded. Within total factor income inflow, direct investment income grew 25.8 percent, portfolio investment income increased 15.6 percent, while other investment income dropped 48.8 percent. Within total factor income outflow, direct investment income rose 14.3 percent, portfolio investment income grew 3.7 percent, while other investment income dropped 54.7 percent, according to the department.

Macao's visitor arrivals in package tours increased by 20.3 percent year on year to 572,157 in April this year, according to the figures released on Monday by the city 's Statistics and Census Bureau. The figure showed that visitor arrivals in package tours in April from Chinese mainland (429,510) and Hong Kong (22,594) rose by 17.8 percent and 6.3 percent respectively, while those from Taiwan (24,567) decreased by 12.8 percent. In the first four months of 2010, visitor arrivals in package tours increased by 8.6 percent year on year to 2,006,113. Meanwhile, the number of local residents traveling outbound in package tours in April decreased by 4.2 percent year on year to 17, 940. The Chinese mainland, Japan and Taiwan were the most popular tourist destinations, according to the Bureau.

 China*: Most workers striking to demand higher wages returned to their jobs at a Honda plant in Zhongshan after walking off the production line last week, Honda officials said on Monday.

The Agricultural Bank of China is seeking to raise more than US$23 billion through a dual Hong Kong and Shanghai listing, putting it on course for the world’s biggest IPO.

A shop assistant works at a Peak sports shop in Beijing on Sunday. The sporting goods maker that virtually no one outside of the mainland has ever heard of, is set to announce a five-year deal with the Sony Ericsson Womens Tennis Association Tour this week. The newest sponsor of women’s tennis is a half-billion dollar sporting goods maker that virtually no one outside of the mainland has ever heard of. Peak, which announces its five-year deal with the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour this week, is the latest cash-flush mainland company to form a partnership with well-known foreign athletes, teams and leagues. As with other such deals, the focus is on boosting brand image at home. In fact, shoes and other products from companies such as Peak, Li Ning (SEHK: 2331), Anta and Xtep can hardly be found for sale outside the country. The brands are targeting the burgeoning mainland middle class, which has a growing interest in leisure activities and plenty of pocket money. The idea is that mainland consumers will think more favourably about domestic brands and their international status when they see established foreign stars wearing the products. “Right now we’re learning from Nike. We hope one day we can catch up and surpass Nike, of course that is our goal,” said 33-year-old Peak CEO Jim Xu. “But we’re different because we know China better than Nike, we have products that are better suited to the Chinese market ... We can give consumers another choice.” The mainland’s sporting goods market is worth US$6 billion and expected to grow 14 per cent a year, according to the China Sporting Goods Federation. While Nike remains the market leader, homegrown brands are catching up, appealing in particular to consumers in smaller cities with modern looks at prices a fraction of those of the foreign competition. The mainland’s 1.3 billion potential fans are also irresistible to sports leagues and sponsorship deals give them a local partner in the market. The WTA points out there are 130 million mainlanders interested in tennis and 10 million recreational players – double the number of those in France, an established market.

China Strategic, one of the buyers of AIG’s Taiwan unit, could talk about extending the stalled US$2.2 billion deal if needed, but hopes for a conclusion soon, its chief executive said on Monday. “If necessary, we will talk to AIG to extend the deadline,” China Strategic’s Raymond Or said. “But it is still early now. From the management point of view we will try our best [to close the deal].” Bailed-out US insurer American International Group agreed to sell the unit, Nan Shan Life, to China Strategic and Hong Kong-based Primus Financial in October. But it has not been able to seal the deal in part because there are concerns in Taiwan the buyers are backed by mainland funds and lack experience an insurance firm. China Strategic, a battery maker, and Primus have yet to provide all documents requested by the Taiwan government, said two Taiwan regulatory sources with direct knowledge of the situation. “Since November, they still have not been able to provide all the requested documents. That leaves us in a position where we just don’t know when the government can make a decision on the deal,” said one of sources. The sources declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter. When asked about the documentation, Or said: “We had submitted the information they required and they later came back with more questions that need to be addressed. So we can’t control the timing on when can we draw to a conclusion.” AIG and China Strategic said late on Friday they have modified the terms of the deal to speed up its passage by Taiwanese regulators. AIG said US$325 million of the purchase price would now be placed in escrow for four years on completion of the deal as an additional measure of support for the capital position of Nan Shan.

The parent of Taiwan’s IT giant Foxconn said its commitment to China is "total" and "long-term", dismissing speculation that rising wage costs might prompt it to pull out of the mainland. Foxconn, which has decided to double the payment for its assembly-line workers in southern China after a string of apparent factory suicides, even plans to expand in China, Hon Hai Precision Company said. “Our commitment to China is total and it is long-term,” Hon Hai said in a statement released late on Sunday. “We will be expanding extensively in China, both in existing and new locations, in line with the specific requirements of our customers.” The company announced salary increases after 10 employees apparently committed suicide by jumping from buildings, including 10 in Shenzhen. Labor rights activists have blamed the suicides on tough working conditions at Foxconn, the world’s largest maker of computer components and a supplier to leading brands such as Dell, Nokia and Apple. Foxconn, which employs an estimated 400,000 workers in Shenzhen alone, said salaries at plants in other parts of China would be calculated based on local prices and social security requirements.

Taiwan and China on Monday launched a new flight between Taipei and Shanghai that will cut the time travellers spend on their journey, officials said. The Taiwan-based China Airlines' passenger flight CI201 took off from Taipei's Songshan airport arrives at Shanghai's Hongqiao airport on June 14, 2010, inaugurating a new cross-Strait air route. The new direct flight route will shorten the travel time between Taipei and Shanghai as the two airports are both centrally located.

Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (front) addresses the inauguration of new cross-Strait air route between Taipei's Songshan airport and Shanghai's Hongqiao airport in Shanghai, east China, on June 14, 2010.

The mainland’s Foreign Ministry on Monday hit back at fresh calls by the United States for Beijing to let the yuan currency rise in value, saying the exchange rate was not to blame for the US trade deficit with the mainland. Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang was responding to a question about recent comments by US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner as well as calls from US lawmakers to pass a bill threatening to press Beijing over its yuan exchange rate controls. “A huge amount of facts has demonstrated the renminbi exchange rate is not the main cause of the imbalance in Sino-US trade,” Qin said in a statement on the Ministry’s website “Do not politicize the renminbi exchange rate issue,” he said. The renminbi is another name for the yuan currency. Qin said the central government would keep the yuan exchange rate stable at a “reasonable and balanced” level and proceed with reform in a “gradual and controllable” way, in a tone that largely reiterated Beijing’s longstanding official line. He added that Beijing would take both international and domestic economic conditions into consideration when it came to deciding when and how to reform the way it set exchange rates. Mainland has repeatedly insisted that it will not respond to foreign criticism and will itself decide currency issues. Beijing is facing international calls to let the yuan return to the path of appreciation after effectively repegging the currency at about 6.83 to the US dollar to help its exporters ride out the global credit crunch. Complaints eased over the last two months as the euro zone debt crisis took centre stage. But US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said last week that the yuan was an impediment to global rebalancing, suggesting that US patience with Beijing’s currency policy was wearing thin. US Senator Charles Schumer said last week that he and other colleagues would push for a vote within two weeks on legislation to allow the US Commerce Department to use anti-dumping and countervailing duty laws against the mainland or any other country with a fundamentally misaligned exchange rate. Qin Gang said that imbalances in Sino-US trade had mainly been caused by globalisation and the international division of labour, citing that a 21 per cent appreciation of the yuan against the US dollar since 2005 had not helped to reduce the US deficit. He said US exports to the mainland has risen about 50 per cent in the first quarter, but Washington’s restrictions on high-tech exports were holding back trade. He urged US politicians to stop pointing figures at other countries and instead rethink their own structural economic faults. “It is completely unreasonable to politicise the renminbi exchange issue and use the exchange rate issue to engage in trade protectionism against China. The only outcome will be hurting oneself as well as others.

June 15, 2010

Hong Kong*: Hong Kong is likely to overtake the United States as the world's biggest wine auction centre this year with sales of about US$100 million. This comes two years after duty on wine was scrapped in the city and will help cement its position as a global player for wine auctions. First-half results show wine sales of more than HK$400 (US$51.30) million - exceeding the record US$50.7 million global sales achieved in the whole of last year by 2009 leader Zachys. Wine consultant David Wainwright, formerly with Christie's international wine department, said Hong Kong would probably surpass the US if wine sales in the second half of the year matched the first half. Given the robust demand for fine wines in Asia and on the mainland, he said Hong Kong would continue to lead the global wine auction market for at least five years. The US wine market suffered a 36 per cent drop to US$106.05 million last year with New York sales falling one-third to US$72.38 million. Total global sales fell to US$233.35 million from US$276 million in 2008. Wainwright said part of Hong Kong's meteoric ascent up the ranks of global wine sales comes at the expense of the US as major auction houses such as Sotheby's and Acker Merrall & Condit shift more of their wine stocks - that would have been sold in the US - to Hong Kong in the hope of achieving higher prices. This has the effect of boosting Hong Kong sales and also buoying prices in the US because of less competition among auction houses in New York. New York-based Acker Merrall is expected to derive three-quarters of its total revenue from its six Hong Kong sales this year. "I do not think it is the auction houses but rather the consignors themselves that are requesting Hong Kong," Acker Merrall president John Kapon said. "There is an aura about China and its developing market that many want to try first-hand. However, I would not underestimate the interest that remains in fine wine in the rest of the world." In Hong Kong, Sotheby's kicked off the year with a January auction that achieved HK$52.9 million, its highest total for a one-day sale. Acker Merrall followed with a two-day sale of HK$59 million. A Zachys sale in February fetched just over HK$52 million, Acker Merrall returned in March and realised HK$57.6 million before taking home over HK$152 million last month, the second biggest wine auction in the world. Another Acker Merrall sale in New York that fetched US$24.68 million in October 2006 holds the world record. Christie's had a HK$40.3 million sale, its biggest in Asia, and Sotheby's a HK$20.66 million sale.

About 1,500 Hongkongers are to jointly petition the government and the Provisional Minimum Wage Commission in newspaper advertisements calling for a statutory minimum wage of HK$33 per hour. The advertisement will be published later this month and will explain the reasons and need for setting the minimum wage at HK$33 an hour, according to the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Union's organising secretary, Li Hoi. Since last month, the union had collected signatures and donations from about 1,500 people to support the petition, he said. He expects the union would raise about HK$25,000 for the advertisements. "As the commission will announce the rate at the end of this month or next, we would like to remind them [through the advertisements] what the public want, and that many people are signing up to show their support for the hourly rate of HK$33," Li said. The union and other labor organizations have been demanding a minimum wage of no less than HK$33 an hour, which they say is vital to improve the lives of many low- income workers and halt a widening gap between the rich and poor. However, most business groups and employers are favouring a lower rate of about HK$25 an hour. A study published by the University of Hong Kong's public opinion program last month showed more than 60 per cent of the people believe the minimum wage should be no less than HK$30 an hour.

A Federation of Trade Unions poster outside Tai Wai Station opposes the MTR fare increases. The FTU's Wong Kwok-hing has called for monthly passes for Tung Chung residents. Passenger groups called for discounts on MTR fares yesterday, the first day that increases averaging 2.05 per cent kicked in. As some 3.78 million passengers paid 20 to 70 HK cents more per ride, there were demands that discounts be offered to the elderly and those who live in more remote areas. One group said the MTR Corporation (SEHK: 0066) should introduce monthly passes for those living in Tung Chung. Federation of Trade Unions lawmaker Wong Kwok-hing said while Yuen Long, Tin Shui Wai, Tuen Mun and North District residents could purchase a monthly pass for the West Rail and East Rail lines, no similar pass was available for the Tung Chung line. "The MTR Corporation is making a lot of money from a million square metres of properties in Tung Chung. It has the responsibility to offer discounts to Tung Chung residents," Wong said. He also said the fare increase could not be justified because the MTR had not improved platform safety along the East Rail and Ma On Shan lines, which still do not have screen doors installed in all their stations. Wong said there had been at least 23 cases since 2007 in which passengers fell or tried to jump onto the tracks. The Neighbourhood and Worker's Service Centre said the MTR should offer its HK$2 flat fare for the elderly every day and not just on Wednesdays and Saturdays. "Instead of travelling on Wednesdays and Saturdays, we might want to travel on other days as well," an elderly man said. The centre also urged the MTR to set up more toilets inside the paid areas of stations. The fare rises result from a yearly review that is part of the fare adjustment mechanism adopted by the MTR on its merger with the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation in late 2007. The fare increases are expected to boost the MTR's yearly income by HK$200 million.

The World Health Organisation has appointed the Hospital Authority's senior executive manager, Dr Eric Chan Lu-shek, as chief nursing scientist on a six-month secondment. From next Monday, he will work at the WHO's headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, covering nursing and midwifery in its Department of Human Resources for Health. It will be the first time a Chinese doctor has held the position. He will provide technical and developmental support for the six WHO regions, as well as liaising with nursing and midwifery groups. He will be striving to improve staffing and training, mainly in developing countries, and hopes to launch a pilot scheme where more nurses will be recruited from within their own communities. Nine mainland cities, including Beijing and Guangzhou, would be covered under this scheme. He will also focus on issues such as child deaths, the health of pregnant women and HIV/Aids.

Soaring revenues spur Steve Wynn and SJM to plan more mega-resorts in Macau. Macau may be set for another round of mega-resort expansion as soaring casino revenues tempt developers to get more shovels into the ground on Cotai. Wynn Resorts and Wynn Macau chairman Steve Wynn said last week he would probably be ready to break ground next year on his first Cotai property, and finish construction by 2014. The property would have 50 to 60 per cent more rooms than his current 1,000-unit bank of hotel rooms at the Wynn Macau and Encore Macau casino hotel complex on the Macau peninsula. "We are proceeding now in filing the proper documents," Wynn said. "It is making its way through the government." SJM Holdings' president of joint ventures and business development Frank McFadden suggested his firm would be well-positioned to secure and develop a new plot of land on Cotai, given an HK$11.84 billion cash pile at the end of March that should grow to more than HK$14 billion by the end of the year. "The timing of a Cotai move is very complex," McFadden said, citing concerns of potential oversupply. "We want to be in Cotai at the right time with the right product." SJM, which like Wynn lacks a major Cotai footprint at present, could potentially benefit from a government move to repossess land that was previously granted but has remained undeveloped. That includes parcels like the Macao Studio City site, which has remained undeveloped since 2007 after its consortium of backers failed to raise debt financing and suffered a falling out. "Macau has to maintain a competitive position as a regional tourist destination and having acres of wasteland surrounding existing properties would not be a healthy thing anywhere," McFadden said. Moves by Wynn and SJM into Cotai - already home to Sands China's Venetian, and Melco Crown Entertainment's City of Dreams - would follow the debut next year of Galaxy Entertainment Group (SEHK: 0027)'s HK$14.1 billion Cotai resort. At the same time, Sands has announced plans to resume work on a US$4 billion Cotai mega-resort that it aims to open in phases beginning in the second half of next year. Cotai openings by Wynn and SJM would also almost certainly have to wait until after 2013, when a previously announced government cap on adding new gaming tables is set to expire. Macau had 4,811 tables in operation at the end of March and officials have reiterated the total will be capped at 5,500 for the next three years, implying about 700 new tables can be added. Plans for the Cotai properties under construction by Galaxy and Sands call for more than 1,200 tables between them, and officials and developers have yet to reconcile the difference. Wynn said his resort would have 400 to 500 tables. He also implied the joint-venture contractor for his first two Macau properties - Leighton-China State - would be used again.

Britain is cracking down on corruption among British companies worldwide, and its efforts could have a far-reaching impact on Hong Kong and mainland firms. After years of legislative inaction against corporate corruption, Parliament in April passed the 2010 Bribery Act - the world's strictest on bribery. The legislation affects not only British firms but any company that conducts any part of its business in the country, as well as those that provide services to British companies. "It is a very wide net - particularly when you look at Hong Kong, with the historic British connection," said Richard Tollan, a partner at law firm Mayer Brown JSM and a former detective inspector in Hong Kong's commercial crime bureau. "It's a hot topic among professionals and the more astute corporates in Hong Kong," Tollan said of the new law. "It is not unheralded - it comes in the wake of three or four years of Hong Kong attuning itself to increased answerability to long-arm overseas jurisdictions for domestic bribery." Until the British law was passed, the United States had the strongest anti-corruption legislation in the world in the shape of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, or FCPA. It may appear to govern only US companies, but in recent years it has affected a number of non-US firms. German carmaker Daimler-Chrysler, Berlin-based Siemens and Britain's BAE Systems have all agreed to settlements after being investigated for bribery by authorities in the US and other countries. Britain's Bribery Act has upped the ante, no longer limiting the definition of bribery to foreign officials. More significantly, the legislation creates a separate offence for a company that fails to prevent a bribe being paid for or on its behalf.

The police will put 1,500 officers - including all members of their tactical units - on standby to deal with the expected mass protests when the Legislative Council votes on on the constitutional reform package on June 23. All leave has been cancelled for uniformed officers in the Hong Kong Island Region from June 22 to 24. Police officers familiar with the deployment confirmed yesterday that an order was issued a week ago about preparations for demonstrations outside Legco, and some details were revealed by a veteran RTHK radio presenter, Luke Tsang Chi-wah, on a programme yesterday morning. Tsang said North Point police station would be used as a detention centre if there were large-scale arrests, adding that many twenty-something protesters were not worried about being arrested and were prepared to make a stand. Police deployment plans for June 23 are far more large-scale compared with preparations for the previous mass demonstration outside Legco - against funding for multibillion-dollar express rail link project - in January. About 1,000 officers were put on standby for that protest. Hung Hak-wai, the force's director of operations, will be in overall charge while Police Tactical Unit commandant Lo Mung-hung will manage Central, Tsang said, citing a police officer with knowledge of the preparations. Tsang said police expected about 3,000 protesters outside Legco on June 23 and that it was likely the demonstrations would block main roads in Central.

Gang busted with HK$65m in illegal bets on soccer games - Police crack down on World Cup gambling syndicates. Police seized betting slips with a face value of HK$65 million yesterday when they raided an illegal gambling syndicate taking bets on World Cup matches in a flat in Yuen Long. Six men and a woman were arrested for handling bets and money laundering. Some HK$60,000 in cash and three computers were taken away. In a separate raid a woman was arrested at Banyan Garden in Lai Chi Kok yesterday afternoon on suspicion of taking illegal soccer bets. This follows a police raid late on Friday night, the opening day of the tournament, when they seized betting slips with a face value of about HK$16 million, half of it wagers on World Cup matches. In the whole of last year, officers seized HK$39.7 million in operations against illegal bookmakers.

For Muslims eating halal food ensures that the cuisine is free of pork and that the food is prepared according to Islamic protocol. Taste for halal restaurants not shared by food giants - An influx of tourists from Muslim-majority countries has inspired the Hong Kong Tourism Board to promote the certification of more Muslim-friendly restaurants in recent years. In the first four months of the year, tourist arrivals from nations with Muslims as the key population have increased by 13.4 per cent from the same period last year. The Incorporated Trustees of the Islamic Community Fund of Hong Kong says that the Tourism Board has been working closely with both Hong Kong Muslims and local restaurants to promote certification. "Of late, there has been a trend to make more restaurants halal," said Hameed Jalal, chairman of the trustees, employing the Arabic term for food complying with Islamic dietary laws. Jalal's organization oversees the certification of halal food in Hong Kong and some Muslim communities abroad. Last year the Tourism Board advertised 14 halal restaurants in a guidebook entitled Destination Hong Kong, A Guide for Muslim Visitors. Since then, the number of official Muslim restaurants has almost doubled. The board did not go into detail about their efforts to bring halal to Hong Kong but said: "Safe and cosmopolitan images make Hong Kong very appealing to different markets." Hong Kong's recent foray into the Muslim dining industry reflects an international realization of the Muslim community's purchasing power. DagangAsia Net, a subsidiary of business consulting firm WEBSE, estimated the Asian halal market at US$385.6 billion and the global market at around US$2.1 trillion, with an annual growth rate of 12 to 15 per cent during the next 10 years.

There are signs that two of Ocean Park's four Chinese alligators, an endangered species, may mate this year in what could be a breakthrough for the park's ambitious breeding program. Signs of a successful mating should be evident by the end of August, chief veterinarian Dr Paolo Martelli said. The peak mating period is in June and July with eggs usually laid in September. Alligators hibernate during winter. "I've seen them being very close but I haven't actually seen them mating," Martelli said. "At the moment, what we are doing is waiting for the female to show some signs of nesting." Building a nest indicates the female, which has been exerting her dominance over the other two females, is pregnant and ready to lay eggs. Twigs, leaves, soil and other materials have been placed in the alligators' new enclosure in preparation for possible nest building. The other two females were moved out of the enclosure late last year and are no longer on public display after the dominant female became aggressive. Martelli said he decided not to subject her to an ultrasound scan to avoid stressing her, something that could ruin any chance of a successful mating this year. Instead, he is scanning the other two females to check the development of their ovaries in the hopes this can give an indication of the dominant female's reproductive development. All the females are about nine years old and Chinese alligators generally become sexually mature from the age of seven.

Law of averages makes Bordeaux futures a good bet - Great vintages are common, but exchange rates are a worry. The 2009 Bordeaux futures will be expensive, and with the price pressure likely to be asserted by the emerging Chinese wine market, perhaps artificially so. It may come as a surprise to those who don't live and die by the scores of famous wine critic Robert Parker that vintages of the century are rather common in Bordeaux, where the most collectible and thus the most expensive wines in the world are produced. Since the harvest of 2000, we've had three. I kid you not. It isn't clear whether the phrase was first uttered in jest or, more likely, to promote sales within the Bordeaux wine trade. What's important to know is that when, on those rare occasions, the Bordelais harvest fully ripened grapes, they are likely to celebrate another "vintage of the century". So as the grapes were gathered in the fall of 2009, they partied like it was 2005. Something akin to what happened in 2005, when they partied like it was 2000. It is a vicious cycle for anyone who collects or invests in Bordeaux, for it inevitably means a price spike is on its way. To soften the blow, serious wine collectors and merchants with deep pockets often purchase Bordeaux en primeurs, using what are commonly called Bordeaux futures. The buyer thus enters into a contract to purchase the latest vintage of Bordeaux at the earliest (and theoretically the lowest) price for delivery of the wine in two to three years. As the price tends to rise on a great vintage between the time futures are offered and the wines reach our shores, historically they've been a good investment. In a normal world, 2009 would be no exception. Bordeaux from this vintage is outstanding across the board. Still, I'm not certain futures are the best bet in collectible Bordeaux at this time. First of all, it appears the emerging Chinese wine market is eager to participate. Evidence of that surfaced in March, when the 2009 Bordeaux Primeurs were on display for a full week of tastings from the barrel. A record 6,000 members of the trade and press attended, and the Chinese contingent matched the US delegation, coming second in size only to the group from Britain. The Chinese had been indifferent to Bordeaux futures in the past. Increased competition for a limited resource should drive up the price. The 2009 Bordeaux futures will be expensive, and with the price pressure likely to be asserted by the Chinese, perhaps artificially so. More troubling, however, is the cloud hanging over the future of the euro, and the distinct possibility that it could be worth far less two years from now than it is today. Can an investment in '09 Bordeaux today be prudent when the wines might actually be cheaper upon release in two years? That's a tough call. If you believe the dollar will continue to be weak or that hyperinflation in the United States is likely, then Bordeaux futures could be a good hedge. Bottom line, though, nobody knows. It is with this air of global economic uncertainty that wine collectors will be tempted to purchase some of the most hyped and expensive wines ever made. I'm simply not going to take the bait. My strategy for the '09 Bordeaux vintage is simple. I will get my Bordeaux fix, but I will avoid top growths such as Latour, Mouton and Cheval Blanc in favour of less sexy wines from less well-known chateaux. The vintage was so good that I know I will find attractive wines with excellent ageing potential, particularly from the Left Bank. The districts of Margaux, Pauillac, Saint-Julien, Saint-Estephe and Graves all produced superb wines. Many of the lesser lights made wines as good as any they have ever made, but they lack the star power to command huge price increases. And with some of the dollars I might have spent on the top growths, I will sort through the better wines from the more lightly regarded vintages of 2006, 2007 and 2008. A great vintage always has the effect of suppressing prices for lesser vintages immediately before and after. A good example of that was the superb 1983 vintage that followed the legendary vintage of 1982. As good as the '83 vintage was, prices never reached the level of the coveted wines from 1982. Same thing happened with the outstanding vintage of 2001 following the enormously hyped 2000 vintage. There were good wines made in '06, '07 and '08 and I intend to make it my mission to find them and, if all else fails, I will merely wait until the next vintage of the century and cross my fingers that the dollar has inched past the euro in value. Knowing what I do about the history of Bordeaux, I have a hunch it won't be much of a wait. Robert Whitley is the publisher and managing partner of wine website Wine Review Online,, and the host of an online radio show "Whitley on Wine". He also oversees several international wine competition.

Macau's showcase 7.5 billion pataca light rail project is in trouble again - this time due to a corruption-tainted bridge that may not be able to bear its weight. The problem could lead to further delays and budget overruns. Peeling concrete, rusting bolts and leaking water are just some of the smaller challenges that the current condition of Macau's six-year old Sai Van bridge poses for a successful installation of the planned light rapid-transit (LRT) rail system, a flagship government project intended to relieve transport bottlenecks in the booming casino town.

 China*: The deputy chief of the State Food and Drug Administration has been sacked in an ongoing investigation into corruption, Xinhua reported, citing the Communist Party's investigation and personnel bodies. The move comes three years after the former chief of the agency, Zheng Xiaoyu, was executed for taking more than six million yuan (HK$6.8 million) in bribes and approving fake drugs.

"Encircling the cities from the countryside and finally capturing them" was a key guerilla warfare tactic employed by Mao Zedong in his campaigns against the Kuomintang. It is now being resurrected by Fujian-based real estate developer Powerlong Real Estate Holdings. By applying a similar principle to investing in the mainland's commercial property market in the wake of the country's urbanisation, the group will prosper, said chairman Xu Jiankang, who is also known as Hoi Kin-hong. Xu said Powerlong had slightly modified Mao's theory. "We have encircled the first-tier cities from less-developed second- and third-tier cities" he said. "Now we plan to 'capture' first-tier cities by establishing commercial projects." The closing stage of the strategy could happen very soon, added the group's chief executive officer, Xu Huafang, also known as Hoi Wa-fong, who singled out Shanghai as a likely first-stage target. Powerlong, which listed in Hong Kong in October last year, clinched 10 deals in second- and third-tier cities last financial year and has ambitions to expand even faster this year. Xu Huafang said last month the group aimed to set up 100 mega shopping centres across the nation, up from its current 30. The rapid expansion plan comes despite measures adopted by the central government to cool-off housing market prices since commercial projects were less affected by the policy moves, he said. The group's latest deal was an agreement signed with the Tianjin government on June 7 relating to a commercial property investment in Tianjin's Tanggu area. "Total investment in the project will be about 1.5 billion (HK$1.7 billion) to two billion yuan," said Xu. "We have a 65 per cent stake and the rest is owned by a Tianjin government unit." The project, to be built on a site covering 30,141 square metres, will include a high-rise office tower, serviced apartments and a shopping mall. Powerlong will own the serviced apartments and shopping mall, and the mainland partner will own the office building. The project is scheduled to be completed by 2013. "The area is targeted to be a new business district and we are in discussion to develop another project there," said Xu, who added that the group's financial position was healthy with 1.7 billion yuan cash on hand. Net gearing is below 10 per cent. Recently, the group secured a credit line of 15 billion yuan from major banks, including the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (SEHK: 1398) to replenish its land bank. Property sales will also help the company's cash flow position, the CEO said. Two projects - one in Jiangsu and one in Qingdao - will be offered for pre-sale shortly. To speed up construction progress on its projects, Xu requires management to ensure that residential towers are offered for pre-sale within eight months of obtaining a site. Steve Wynn says he hopes to break ground next year on his first Cotai property, and finish construction by 2014.

China and Kazakhstan have agreed to build and finance a gas pipeline and deepen atomic energy ties. President Hu Jintao and Kazakh leader Nursultan Nazarbayev presided over the deals. State companies KazMunaiGas and China National Petroleum agreed to build and finance the Kazakh leg of a natural gas pipeline network. The US$3 billion to US$3.5 billion investment cost will be shared equally. Kazakhstan will also increase shipments to China after its state nuclear company agreed a supply contract yesterday during the presidential visit. Kazatomprom will supply uranium to China Guangdong Nuclear Power.

Workers from Honda Lock (Guangdong) yesterday rejected another pay rise offer and vowed to continue the strike that started on Wednesday. They also disputed a Honda Group representative's claim that the labour dispute had been settled and workers had returned to work. At around 8am yesterday, about 500 workers gathered outside the plant in Zhongshan's Xiaolan, hoping to hear a compromise from management. The company offered a 100 yuan (HK$114) pay rise on Thursday, but it was turned down by workers. Staff refused to comply with a request from management for them to enter the plant, saying they did not want to be locked in as had happened on the first two days of the strike. They dispersed peacefully at about 9.30am, without further communication from management. Unlike Friday - when riot police sealed off the road during a standoff with workers - only a few dozen uniformed police were seen on the scene yesterday. The Honda Lock factory, which employs about 1,500 people, supplies key sets, door locks and other parts to Honda Motor. Yesterday afternoon, workers said they had received phone calls from their division leaders at around 2pm, saying management would pay them an extra 100 yuan bonus per month and asking them to return to work.

Guangdong developer China Aoyuan Property Group (SEHK: 3883) says its contract sales only reached 22 per cent of its 5 billion yuan (HK$5.69 billion) goal for the first five months, but the company's target remains unchanged.
Investors are closely watching how developers deal with a raft of measures imposed by the central government to cool the property market. Aoyuan had contract sales of 1.09 billion yuan from January to May, a 2.8 per cent rise from the same time last year. "Most of our projects are scheduled to sell in the second half year," said Aoyuan spokeswoman Renee Chen. "It was the same last year." Aoyuan said its most high-profile development, Chang'an Ave, was now selling at an average of 60,000 yuan per square metre, 25 per cent lower than the initially-branded 80,000 per square metre. Chairman Guo Ziwen explained that this was because the company was not selling its best properties at this point, but rather second-level properties. Transaction figures for Chang'an Ave for the first five months were not available. Guo said that he did not foresee a drop in property prices in the coming months, adding that he expected prices to remain stable for the rest of the year. Barclays' analysts, in a report last week, predicted that prices may tumble 20 to 30 per cent in coming quarters as the government's recent measures to cool the housing market focus on limiting investment and increasing the supply of public and low-cost housing. Guo said that the government's policies should have worked by now and that he expected fewer cooling measures in the next few months. Meanwhile, developer Yuexiu Property Company said it had contract sales of 4.6 billion yuan in the first five months of this year, representing a year-on-year increase of 275 per cent. Commercial building sales volume rose 38.4 per cent from January to May, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

A "Japanese dragon" float made by folk artists patrols the Shanghai Expo grounds, marking Japanese National Pavilion Day at the Expo, June 12, 2010.

June 14, 2010

Hong Kong*: The financial details of individual urban renewal projects - a closely guarded secret since the Urban Renewal Authority was set up in 2001 - will be disclosed on Monday.

Moderate democrats are prepared to drop a specific demand they have wanted met in return for supporting the government on electoral reform and will now consider any major concession by Beijing. The softening in their stance comes as proponents and opponents of the government's reform proposals prepare to mobilise supporters in a show of force in the lead-up to a Legislative Council vote on June 23 that will seal the fate of the proposals after seven months of deliberation. For months the moderate Alliance for Universal Suffrage has been in dialogue with the central and Hong Kong governments about a compromise on the proposals for elections in 2012. Yesterday it said it would give positive consideration to any "substantial concessions" by Beijing despite what it saw as a disappointing response to its request for clarification on the nature of universal suffrage envisaged for Hong Kong. Until now the alliance has been holding out for a positive response to its demand that everyone, not just district councillors, be allowed a vote on the six Legco seats the government proposes for the district councils functional constituency in the 2012 election. But yesterday its convenor, Fung Wai-wah, said: "If the Hong Kong or central government can give us clear concessions, we will definitely consider it." And a core member of the Democratic Party - one of the groups in the alliance - said his party was prepared to accept direct election for five, rather than all six, district councils seats in Legco. The statement from Beijing that disappointed pan-democrats said universal suffrage meant the equal and universal right to vote - which fell short of what they want. However, the statement did not entirely rule out their demand that the franchise for the district councils seats in Legco be widened. Fung said: "How many seats to be opened up for direct election is not our biggest concern now. What we believe is most important is an increase in the elements of direct participation by the public in the election." Separately, the core Democratic Party member said: "It is futile to ask Beijing to give any more promises for the future. The key now is whether Beijing can give us something along the lines of our proposal for the district councils seats." Pan-democrats believe settling for five, not six, directly elected seats will mollify the Beijing-friendly Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong which currently holds the lone district councils seat in Legco, because it means the incumbent - Ip Kwok-him - can keep his seat in 2012. Still, the alliance said that without real concessions by Beijing, the 15 lawmakers among its members will have no choice but to veto the reform proposal. It is mobilising people to join a protest on June 20 - three days before Legco votes on the government proposals - to demonstrate their desire for universal suffrage. Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai, a member of the National People's Congress Standing Committee who helped arrange talks between Beijing and the alliance, said she believed its proposal for a wider franchise might be worth considering for 2016 but that Beijing seemed to have rejected the idea for 2012 because it runs counter to the purpose of functional constituencies.

Another HK$2m to win public support - Like it or not, you will get a postcard in the mail in the next few days calling for your support for the government's electoral reform proposals. It is not part of the government's "Act Now" campaign, though it carries the campaign's logo. It is the pro-government group Constitutional Reform Synergy sending you the postcard. The business-affiliated group has paid for the postcards to be sent to all 2.47 million registered addresses in the city, whether residential or business. Recipients will start receiving the cards in the next two days. The card juxtaposes the government's "Act Now" logo, calling for support for the proposal, with a similar one that reads "All Wrong". On the back of the card is a call for the recipient to persuade the lawmaker who represents them to vote for the proposal and submit their opinions to the group. Posted via the Hong Kong Post Circular Service and with each costing about 80 cents, the postage bill could amount to HK$2 million. But there is another cost, according to environmental group Green Sense - more than 800 trees. "A standard postcard usually weighs 20 grams, so 2.47 million cards would take 49.4 tonnes of paper. The campaign means 840 trees were felled," chairman Roy Tam Hoi-pong said. "This campaign is ridiculous to have incurred such a great environmental cost. As passage of the proposal does not rely on one man one vote, postcards should not be sent to every household and company." The organiser of the campaign, lawmaker Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung, said the goal was to ensure the message reached every household. "We hope to convey a clear message that constitutional development of Hong Kong has to go forward," he said. The group would also run newspaper advertisements from next week to urge the public to support the package. Asked about the cost of the publicity exercise, Lam said the group had received sponsorship from various parties and members of the public. "For sure the scale is not comparable with the government's HK$9 million campaign. But some subsidiaries of the group are volunteering for parts of the publicity production." Democratic Party lawmaker Cheung Man-kwong said constitutional reform should not be built by money. "The government also spent HK$9 million but turned out to receive criticism rather than praise," he said. "It is true that the Democratic Party could not afford HK$2 million in promotion, but we think the content of the proposal is far more critical in getting the proposal passed." In another development, the Professional Forum, a pro-government group with four legislators, suggested lawmakers form a platform to hold private discussions on progressing constitutional reform after the vote on the 2012 package on June 23. It said formal meetings of Legco committees would not provide a suitable atmosphere for a genuine exchange of views, which would be better done behind closed doors. "In open meetings with cameras present, colleagues may behave like in a show. But on this platform, lawmakers concerned about constitutional development can sit down and hold sincere discussions," legislator Priscilla Leung Mei-fun said, adding that she hoped the government would help facilitate the creation of such a platform. Another Professional Forum member, Raymond Ho Chung-tai, said the group had begun approaching lawmakers in both the pro-government and pan-democratic camp.

A device that cuts the risk of complications during operations and saves time has won a global business competition organised by Polytechnic University. The four budding inventors from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, in the US, were presented with their awards at PolyU yesterday. Students from Hankuk Academy of Foreign Studies in South Korea won in the secondary section of the Global Student Challenge. There were no Hong Kong students in the 12 teams in the finals. SurgyPack, a mask-like device made of silicon, isolates the area being operated on during intestinal and abdominal procedures. Surgeons normally use cotton packs for this, but they have to rewrap the intestines several times. The invention removes the need for rewrapping and eliminates complications such as obstruction of the small bowel caused by cotton fibres. Team member Sameer Manek, a fourth-year bio-engineering student, said: "We interviewed many surgeons from various hospitals to explore how our device can be applied." The budding entrepreneurs plan to mass-produce the device, at US$200 apiece, for US hospitals. The competition was a first for PolyU. A total of 180 teams came up with business proposals that were judged on their feasibility, cost analysis, creativity and other factors. Judy Tsui Lam Sin-lai, chair professor of accounting at PolyU, attributed the poor performance of local teams to a weak entrepreneurial spirit. "Some of their ideas are very good, but their skills in market analyses and risk assessment were weaker than other contestants." She also blamed conformist parenting for the poor creativity.

U.S. gaming magnate Steve Wynn has said that his gaming company will initiate the construction of a new mega casino resort in Macao's Cotai district next year, the Macao Daily Post reported on Friday. The new casino resort project was expected to be completed in 2014, which will feature no more than 400 to 500 gaming tables and 1,200 to 1,800 slot machines, the daily quoted Wynn as saying at a press briefing for Wynn Macao Ltd., the local operation of U.S. gaming company Wynn Resorts Ltd., of which Steve Wynn is the CEO. Wynn currently runs a high-end casino-resort property on the Macao Peninsula. He said the new property on Cotai will be similar to the old one which cater to tour and travel groups, conventions, meetings and conferences, but will increase the current capacity of 1,014 rooms by about 50 to 60 percent. Wynn also pledged to split operations between Las Vegas and Macao, saying he will basically be spending more of his time in Macao. "We are not just an U.S. company but we are also a Chinese company," the daily quoted him as reporting. By the first quarter of this year, there were a total of 33 casinos operating in Macao, with 4,811 gaming tables and 14,503 slot machines, according to the figures from Macao Special Administrative Region (SAR) government. Meanwhile, Wynn Macao has predicted a slow down in revenue for the second half of this year, the daily quoted Linda Chen, Chief Operating Officer of the company, as saying. But she also said that the recently announced estimate from the SAR government for a 30 percent growth for Macao's total gaming revenue this year was still too conservative, given the massive revenue experienced in the first half of this year.

 China*: China's hunger for metal and mining acquisitions has continued this year, with the value of pending deals in the sector at the end of the first quarter totalling US$9.3 billion.

Monks hold a ceremony Saturday to enshrine a part of the skull of Sakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism, at Qixia Temple in Nanjing, in East China's Jiangsu province.

A monk carries a miniature coffin Saturday containing a part of the skull of Sakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism, at Qixia Temple in Nanjing, in East China's Jiangsu province.

Mainland inflation rises, industrial growth slows - Inflation on the mainland rose to a 19-month high last month, while factory output and investment slowed, complicating government efforts to maintain steady economic growth.

Taiwan has pulled eight movies from the mainland's leading international film festival, an official said yesterday, citing concerns that festival organisers could use the occasion to assert Beijing's sovereignty over the self-ruled island. The Taipei Film Commission withdrew the works from the Shanghai International Film Festival after noticing that organisers of a recent television festival in the same mainland city identified television series from Taiwan as originating in "Taiwan, China", said Anne Lu, a publicist for the commission. The commission also cancelled a news conference and party featuring Taiwanese filmmakers. "We are worried that a similar situation to the TV series will recur," Lu said. The eight films are Monga, Au Revoir Taipei, Hear Me, More Than Close, Orz Boys, Yang Yang, Three Times and Tonight Nobody Goes Home.

Banks on the mainland made 639.4 billion yuan (HK$730.8 billion) of new loans in local currency last month, signalling that credit growth is slowing as Beijing's tightening measures start to bite. The total is well down on last year, according to data from the People's Bank of China, which showed that there were 774 billion yuan of loans in April and 667 billion yuan in May last year. Loans extended in the first five months of this year totalled just over four trillion yuan, or about 53 per cent of the 7.5 trillion yuan target for the full year. Beijing is aiming to normalise loan growth after allowing an unprecedented 9.6 trillion yuan in new loans last year to cope with the impact of the financial crisis. Outstanding domestic-currency loans rose 21.5 per cent from a year ago to 43.99 trillion yuan at the end of May. The increase was slower than the 22 per cent year-on-year pace recorded at the end of April. The growth of broad money, M2, which includes cash and all deposits, moderated to 21 per cent year on year from 21.5 per cent in April and 22.5 per cent in March, the central bank said yesterday.

An oil tanker docks inside China's strategic oil reserves complex in Zhoushan, Jiangsu province. China won't buy more oil for stockpiling until additional storage tanks are built. A new factor is imparting velocity to China's record crude imports: oil quietly pumped into tanks and pipelines added by state energy firms as part of Beijing's plan to ensure long-term supply security. Commercial reserves, and some newly built strategic crude bases, have helped drive China's crude purchases to record levels this year and will continue to play such a role for years to come, experts say. The most recent customs data, released this week, showed China's crude imports in the first five months of 2010 grew nearly 30 per cent from a year ago at 4.62 million barrels per day, with April hitting an all-time high of 5.15 million bpd. The strong recovery in the economy and its expanding refining capacity are the overwhelming factors behind China's crude import rally and double-digit growth in implied oil demand for eight consecutive months, analysts say. "The main driver is the real demand growth. Another factor is the reserve that has been rising rapidly this year," said Dai Jiaquan, a senior researcher with CNPC (SEHK: 0135) Research Institute of Economics & Technology. Among the key oil demand drivers are the country's massive industrial and infrastructure construction efforts, as well as bustling transport by rail, water and roads that have returned to pre-crisis levels, Dai said. Few can estimate the size of the reserves, but domestic media and industry sources say about 70 million barrels of new storage tanks have been put into use since late 2008, including several crude tank farms in northwest Xinjiang, a receiving point for Kazakh oil via a pipeline. Oil executives and researchers all pointed to a blurring line between commercial and strategic reserves as Beijing pushes to build a national stockpiling system that combines the efforts of government, state oil firms, and lately, the private sector. Many in the state media and oil companies call it "the state commercial reserve". "The commercial reserve is a layer between the strategic reserve and companies' operational inventories," said Gong Manying, head of marketing research at CNPC's Planning Institute. "They are managed by oil firms but the goal is to enhance supply security. Some of these tanks have started filling oil."

China's trade surplus would likely fall noticeably this year as exports outlook would not be optimistic while imports would remain robust, Ministry of Commerce spokesman Yao Jian said at a briefing Saturday. Exports growth would slow after July, Yao forecast, adding the surge in exports in May was due to a low comparison basis last year. China's exports in May surged 48.5 percent year on year, customs data released Thursday. China's trade surplus in the first five months fell 59.9 percent to 35.39 billion U.S. dollars. The figure in 2009 topped 196.07 billion U.S. dollars, down 34.2 percent year on year. Yao attributed the weak export outlook to the European sovereign debt crisis, rising commodity prices and labor costs. "In the following months, the fallout from the debt crisis in Europe would gradually become apparent, and China would closely watch changes in its important exports markets including Germany, Spain and Italy," Yao said. China would maintain stable trade policies amid the crisis, and might adjust some policies in some specific industries for environmental protection purposes. "Stable trade policies are a top priority when the external outlook is not clear," he said. Yao also told reporters that attempts by some U.S. lawmakers to include China's exchange rate policy into trade investigations on China's exports of aluminum extrusions and coated paper lacked factual support and did not conform to rules of the World Trade Organization. The WTO regulated trade policies instead of a country's overall financial or foreign exchange policies, he said.

Archaeologists unearth the tomb of Cao Cao, a warlord during the Three Kingdoms period (208-280 A.D.), in Anyang of central China's Henan province on Friday. The day marks the fifth Chinese Cultural Heritage Day. China's national television started to live broadcast an excavation on the Mausoleum of General Cao Cao, a legendary Chinese warlord during the Three Kingdoms period (208-280 A.D.), Friday morning to mark the fifth Chinese Cultural Heritage Day. The scheduled three-hour live broadcast of the excavation by the China Central Television (CCTV) began at 9:00 a.m. The discovery of the tomb was announced Thursday night by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage as one of the ten top archaeological findings in China in 2009. "The announcement indicates that the Chinese academic world has generally endorsed the authenticity of the Mausoleum of Cao Cao in Anyang, as there are still many myths behind the legendary figure, " said Sun Yingmin, deputy director of the Henan provincial bureau of cultural heritage. The tomb is located near the Yellow River and the city of Anyang, where Cao Cao ruled the Kingdom of Wei from 208 to 220, when he died at the age of 65. The Henan Provincial Cultural Heritage Bureau announced the discovery of the tomb in December 2009. Cao's exploits were immortalized in the 14th century historical novel "Romance of the Three Kingdoms", regarded as one of China's greatest literary works. He has been portrayed as intellectual but scheming arch-careerist in Chinese art works.

June 13, 2010

Hong Kong*: A recently set up division of the government's investment promotion arm is "on track" to help 24 foreign companies in the creative sector set up shop this year, InvestHK director general Simon Galpin said. The count of 24 companies is approaching half of the 60 creative businesses InvestHK hopes will become potential clients this year. InvestHK expects to help a total of 270 foreign companies set up or expand in the city this year. "The maximum number of jobs we've created in a year - what we measure is the number of jobs that a company creates in its first year of operation - is just over 3,000. So we're looking to try to beat that this year," Galpin said. Creative industries, which the government highlighted as one of six new economic pillars that should be fostered in Hong Kong, broadly cover sectors from advertising to architecture. InvestHK has received inquiries from six architecture firms this year. In February, InvestHK set up a new division focusing on these companies. Associate director general Andrew Davis heads up the new unit. One of the firms that benefited from InvestHK is London-based digital design and brand consultancy Start Creative, which was the 2,000th project completed since the investment promotion arm was established a decade ago. Jonathan Cummings, managing director of Start Creative Hong Kong, said the Central office will be moving to larger premises in Sheung Wan soon. "I see no reason within five years why we couldn't have 100 people based here in Hong Kong," Cummings said. Start Creative also considered Singapore, Shanghai and Beijing as possible regional hubs but eventually set up its Asian headquarters in Hong Kong early last year. The design agency was first established in 1996, with Virgin Atlantic Airways as one of its first customers. The firm has more than 130 staff worldwide, with satellite offices in the Middle East, Russia and elsewhere.

Hong Kong SAR Passport holders have granted visa-free access or visa-on-arrival by 140 Countries - The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) said Friday, with immediate effect, HKSAR passport holders visiting Myanmar would be issued a tourist visa for a stay of up to 28 days on arrival at the international airports in Yangon and Mandalay. The announcement came after the government received formal notification from the Consulate General of the Union of Myanmar in Hong Kong. "We welcome this notification by the local Consulate General of the Union of Myanmar," a government spokesman said. At present, 140 countries/territories have granted visa-free access or visa-on-arrival to HKSAR passport holders.

Hong Kong goes for goal in World Cup - Bars, restaurants and malls ready to cash in as the tournament kicks off - Neither China nor Hong Kong have made it to South Africa but the city is eagerly anticipating the biggest sporting show on earth, which kicks off tonight. Pubs and restaurants are at the forefront, with many saying they have spent two to three months planning for the month-long World Cup, mobilising staff to work overtime. The Dickens Bar in The Excelsior hotel in Causeway Bay, which will be showing most of the games except those kicking off at 2.30am, before the second round of the tournament, said advance reservations had been strong and the bar was fully booked for tomorrow. Up to five extra staff would be on duty during the tournament, a hotel spokesman said. The bar has installed 13 TV sets and has been decorated with World Cup props. In SoHo, Red Soho has installed five TV sets and two big screens. A kick-off party, serving customers free canapes, will be held tonight. Samuel Yung, the bar and restaurant's floor manager, said it had taken two months to prepare for the tournament, and there would be a lucky draw for customers. He said the restaurant, which normally closed at 2am, would stay open for the 2.30am games. Two more part-time staff have been hired, and some full-time staff would be working from 8pm to 5am during the World Cup. Yung expected to see business increase by 30 to 40 per cent. In Wan Chai, Gloria Au Po-yi, manager of the Trafalgar bar, said it had made a six-figure investment in decorations, upgrading audio and video devices, buying more beer towers and prizes for lucky draws, including an iPad for first prize. The pub also made another six-figure investment in buying different drinks, importing draught beer from Britain and whisky from Japan. A new menu for the World Cup has also been prepared. Au said opening hours would be extended to 6am and was confident that business would increase by 60 to 70 per cent. The minimum charge is HK$150 to HK$200 a head during the group stages, with a 10 per cent service charge, and will be adjusted later. Man Shun-ho, manager of the Giant Food Restaurant, a 24-hour tea cafe in Wan Chai, which has three TVs showing live matches, said the World Cup would attract more customers, but would not necessarily bring in more revenue. "Hong Kong people are keener on gambling nowadays. They are not purely watching matches," she said, adding that the restaurant would apply a HK$35 per head minimum charge. Malls around town have been gearing up for the tournament, with kick-off events being held tonight at many of them, including Harbour City in Tsim Sha Tsui and apm in Kwun Tong.

Richard Li Tzar-kai is in crisis talks with lenders and the Bulgarian government over Vivacom, the East European country's dominant telecoms provider and one of the PCCW (SEHK: 0008) boss' big private investments. Vivacom, which has €1.63 billion (HK$15.4 billion) of debt, may breach its loan agreements on June 30 because its profits are deemed insufficient compared to its borrowings, two people with direct knowledge of the situation said. According to a person who has seen Vivacom's lending agreements, by June 30 its total debt must be worth no more than 7.2 times its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (ebitda). Vivacom had ebitda of €169 million last year, according to its public statements. That means its total debt was almost 10 times its profits at the end of last year. Li travelled to Sofia this week for meetings with government officials as well as Vivacom's management team, people with knowledge of the tycoon's movements said.

Mainland buying has been falling since April at luxury developments such as Harborside in West Kowloon, according to Centaline. Mainland investors in Hong Kong's luxury housing market are pulling back to lick their wounds after feeling the impact of recent mainland measures to tighten credit and cool property prices. Mainland buyers accounted for 13.4 per cent of the second-hand luxury home market (defined as units valued at HK$10 million and above) in the first quarter of this year. This was a fall of 4.7 percentage points from 18.1 per cent in the year-earlier period, according to data compiled by Centaline Property Agency. However, in some districts favoured by mainlanders, the fall has been much bigger. According to Centaline, mainland buying accounted for 53 per cent of sales at Kowloon Tong's Mount Beacon in the secondary market, 50 per cent in Harborside, West Kowloon, and 41 per cent in Cullinan at Kowloon Station. "The number of mainland buyers has been falling since April," said Thomas Lee Pui-cheung, a regional sales director for Centaline in Kowloon Station and Tsim Sha Tsui. In the first quarter, Centaline brokered about 80 to 100 luxury unit deals at Kowloon Station a month. Of this, more than 30 deals involved mainlanders. Transactions fell to 46 deals last month, of which mainland buyers accounted for about 20 per cent. Lee attributed the fall to the central government's latest measures to clamp down on credit and curb property price rises. The measures have resulted in a drastic drop in sales volume in mainland cities. While home prices in 70 mainland cities still rose at the second-fastest pace on record last month, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, analysts expect to see a sharp drop in coming quarters. Lee said before Beijing imposed the restrictions, many affluent mainland tourists came to Hong Kong to buy property. "They visited the units, bought them and left them vacant," he said. "Those wealthy buyers have vanished after liquidity tightened." Without the support of mainlanders - the main driver of price growth in Hong Kong's luxury sector last year - home prices at Kowloon Station had fallen 5 to 8 per cent since April, Lee said. A 1,200 square foot unit at Sun Hung Kai Properties (SEHK: 0016)' Cullinan development sold for HK$18,000 per square foot in April but fell to HK$17,000 last month. No sales at Cullinan were recorded this month. However, Lee said prices would not fall substantially, because supply of upmarket units remained limited. There are still mainland buyers who hope to use their home purchases to join Hong Kong's capital investment entrant scheme, according to Lee. The HK$6.5 million investment required from each applicant to obtain Hong Kong residency can go into real estate or financial assets. Lee said these investors would still come unless the central government continued to tighten liquidity. Patrick Chow Moon-kit, head of property agent Ricacorp Properties' research team, said Ricacorp's deals indicated that the ratio of mainlanders buying luxury homes fell from 35 per cent to below 20 per cent. He said some of these investors might consider industrial or office properties, as the Hong Kong government was also introducing measures to check the city's residential prices.

A model presents a vehicle at the 2010 Shenzhen-Hong Kong-Macao Auto Show in Shenzhen, south China's Guangdong Province, on June 11, 2010.

Professor Lily Sun Sui Fong, granddaughter of Dr Sun Yat-sen, and president of Baptist University Dr Ng Ching-fai attend the installation ceremony of a Sun Yat-sen statue at the School of Chinese Medicine at Baptist U, Kowloon Tong on Friday. The granddaughter of the founder of the Republic of China, Dr Sun Yat-sen, on Friday accused the Chinese University of Hong Kong of disrespecting her grandfather. Dr Lily Sun Sui-fong said the university had broken an agreement it had made to erect a statue of Sun on the university’s campus. She was speaking after attending a ceremony to erect Sun Yat-sen’s statue at the Baptist University. Lily Sun criticised Chinese University vice-chancellor Lawrence Lau Juen-yee for breaking a pledge made last year. She said last year Lau had asked her to donate one of her grandfather’s statues to the university and that Lau had promised to erect it on February 26. However, the statue was still stored in a warehouse, Lily Sun said. “I am not happy with the arrangements. They’ve put my grandfather’s statue in storage for six months. This is not very respectful,” she told local media. “They said Lau would be retiring by the end of June, so they have to wait for Joseph Sung Jao-yiu, who will succeed Lau, to decide where to erect the statue. Next year will mark the 100th anniversary of China’s republican revolution led by Sun Yat-sen. Lily Sun said she hoped Sun’s statues could be erected in different parts of Hong Kong to commemorate his deeds. A spokeswoman for CUHK said the university had not yet reached an agreement with Lily Sun on where to erect the statue, but she said the university would continue to liaise with her, local media reported. When they had agree on a venue for the statue, they would submit it to the university administration committee for approval, the spokeswoman said.

Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and Civic Party leader Audrey Eu Yuet-mee on Thursday agreed on rules for their televised debate on constitutional reform on June 17. Only six members of the public will ask questions during the televised debate between Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and Civic Party leader Audrey Eu Yuet-mee.

Officers at police headquarters in Wan Chai on Thursday display 70kg of cocaine with a value of HK$61 million seized at Choi Hung estate and Kwai Chung container terminal on Wednesday. Police arrested three people in connection with the discovery of more than 70 kilograms of high-grade cocaine on Wednesday afternoon.The announcement was made by Narcotics Bureau chief superintendent John Ribeiro said on Thursday. Ribeiro said the cocaine was imported from South America, wrapped in sandpaper, and concealed in a consignment of bricks. “During the operation, police arrested two brothers, aged 17 and 20, and a 24-year-old man at a unit in Kam Wah Mansion, Choi Hung estate in Kowloon and at Kwai Chung container terminal in the New Territories. They are still being detained and questioned by police,” he added. “If the cocaine was sold on the local retail market, it could fetch about HK$61 million,” Ribeiro told a press conference. He said the three arrested men were believed to be members of a drug syndicate. They will appear in Kwun Tong Court on Friday on drug trafficking charges. “They will be formally charged with drug trafficking later,” he said. According to police figures released before Wednesday’s seizure, 403 kilograms of cocaine were seized in Hong Kong during the first five months of the year. This is almost three times the amount seized last year. In the first four months of the year, police arrested 200 people for drug trafficking. Ribeiro said there had been a drop in the street value of cocaine in recent years. “The average price of cocaine has dropped from HK$1,200 per gram in 2001 to more than HK$800 this year,” he added.

The Development Bureau says the roots of the trees in Hollywood Road were tied up after a complaint they were causing an obstruction. Several Chinese banyan trees growing on an old stone wall in Hollywood Road have had their aerial roots tied up with string, a move conservationists fear will threaten the long-term survival of the trees. The trees are on the wall of the old police married quarters on Hollywood Road, and are listed as trees that need to be protected when the site is developed. But two days ago, the trees' aerial roots were found tied up and bunched against the wall. There are at least two dozen bunches. Ken So Kwok-yin, chief executive of the Conservancy Association and a certified arborist, said bunching up the roots was a rare and undesirable practice, especially for wall trees. "These aerial roots will be deprived of any chance of finding their way into cracks between stones to absorb nutrients and water. It is potentially damaging to the health and stability of the tree," he said. So was also worried it was not an isolated case and that the walls had been deliberately made less friendly for the trees. "Increasingly, cracks on the wall are being filled with concrete, instead of mortar. This will deprive the trees of room to grow," he said. Jim Chi-yung, chair professor of geography at the University of Hong Kong, said bunching up the roots would prevent them from thickening properly. "Because the roots are bunched up, they have no room to grow," he said. A spokeswoman for the Development Bureau last night admitted they had decided to bunch up the roots temporarily after receiving a complaint on May 10. "The complainant asked for the trimming of what he called overgrown aerial roots that obstruct people walking along the street," she said, adding that they would seek advice from tree specialists to find a satisfactory solution. Last night, two Central and Western district councillors said they had never been consulted about the roots and had not heard of any complaints. Yesterday, the newly opened Tree Management Office said that about 2,000 trees across the city were found to be unhealthy or at risk of developing infection. The office, set up in March under the Development Bureau after a tree collapsed in 2008 killing a girl, said some of the unhealthy trees were old, such as the wall trees. It said 98 per cent of all trees in busy areas had been looked at and treated if necessary. However, the office said it could not rule out the possibility that a tree might collapse because the weather played an important role. Kathy Ng Tze-kwun, acting head of the Tree Management Office, said more tree risk assessment work would be carried out. Some 2,200 staff have received tree management training over the past few months and over 130 of the government employees are certified arborists.

Opponents of the government's political reform package should not be afraid of the bid by officials to reach out to the public, the chief secretary said. Henry Tang Ying-yen's remarks yesterday came during a visit to several households in Clague Garden Estate, Tsuen Wan. His mission? Drumming up support for the proposed amendments to the 2012 chief executive and Legislative Council election methods. "Those who oppose the package need not prevent us from having direct communication with citizens. Hong Kong people can think independently ... [they] are smart enough to make their own judgments. So [our opponents] need not fear that we are having direct communication with citizens," Tang said in Tsuen Wan Town Hall. Amid protests in the estate and outside the town hall, Tang said the residents were friendly overall and they welcomed the direct talks with officials. "We have heard that most people support the political reform package. They hope political reform can move forward and won't stand still," he said, calling last night's campaign "a success." Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah, meanwhile, visited Hiu Lai Court in Sau Mau Ping. When a teacher asked him why the chief executive is selected by an 800-member Election Committee, Tsang did not respond. Secretary for Justice Wong Yan- lung, along with Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Rita Lau Ng Wai-lan and undersecretary Gregory So Kam-leung, called at Shek Pai Wan Estate in Aberdeen. Wong said he was glad to have direct contact with residents and described their response as "very positive." Their latest campaign follows The Standard's report on Wednesday, which cited a source as saying the government will step up its "Act Now" campaign in a last-ditch attempt to use people power to pressure pan-democrats into voting for the political reform package. After chaos during Sunday's campaign, the government did not reveal the itineraries of the top officials yesterday.

Hong Kong Disneyland is banking on a busy summer to take it into profit after many visitors stayed away last year because of fears of human swine flu, managing director Andrew Kam Min-ho said. Merchandise sales have improved, while spending on food has been stable at the theme park, which celebrates its fifth anniversary in September.

Hong Kong continues to be the world's third-most expensive city in which to rent street-level shops. At a rent of US$1,205.46 per square foot a year, Russell Street in Causeway Bay was the most expensive luxury street front in the Asia-Pacific, according to a report by property consultancy Colliers International. The survey of rents in 127 premier retail streets around the world showed Hong Kong was beaten by only Paris and New York. Hong Kong's ranking in the Asia-Pacific and the world remained the same as for the same period last year. But rents of street-front shops in Russell Street increased 1.3 per cent from last year. Retail rents in the Champs Elysees in Paris jumped one rank to become the most expensive worldwide, with a 2.04 per cent increase from last year to US$1,255.90 per sq ft per year. This was followed by Fifth Avenue in New York, which retreated from its top spot in March last year. Fifth Avenue rents declined US$150 to US$1,250 per sq ft per year. "The high ranking of retail rents in Hong Kong can be explained by the support of strong retail sales," Simon Lo Wing-fai, director of research and advisory at Colliers International (Hong Kong), said. The total value of retail sales rose 15.6 per cent to HK$25.1 billion in April. In addition to local consumption, spending by tourists continued to provide a major impetus to growth in sales. The number of inbound visitors rose 14.6 per cent to 2.76 million in April, Lo said. "Causeway Bay is a traditional shopping district, and many international retail brands have been attracted to open shops there," said Helen Mak Hoi-lun, director of retail services at Colliers. "Tsim Sha Tsui is another key shopping district that attracts the attention of retailers." Owing to inflationary pressure and the sustained growth of inbound visitors, retail sales are expected to grow further. Colliers projects that rents at ground-floor shops in Hong Kong's traditional shopping districts will grow about 10 per cent in the next 12 months. The global economy was gaining traction, and improving credit markets were positive drivers, Ross Moore, the chief economist of Colliers, said in the report. Retailers with a strong balance sheet are quickly gaining the confidence to expand into markets previously viewed as too expensive or difficult to penetrate. Moore said although a move to discount retail was apparent in many countries, luxury retail was still a viable sector and one that was still in a long-term uptrend. The emergence of a big middle class in the Asia-Pacific, the Middle East and central and eastern Europe was sure to continue, and these aspirational consumers would be a key source of growth for many luxury retailers, Moore said in the report.

Three Chinese journalists have been robbed in South Africa in the latest incident to highlight the dangers for the media and visitors as the World Cup kicks off today. The journalists were ordered out of their taxi at gunpoint in broad daylight at Johannesburg traffic lights on Wednesday and robbed of cameras and equipment worth HK$78,000. No one was hurt. They were on their way to the main stadium for the opening match in Soweto just hours after arriving in the country when the robbery occurred. The incident follows another armed robbery of Spanish and Portuguese journalists at a lodge north of Johannesburg on the same day. FIFA said three arrests have been made in connection with the robbery at the lodge and that all property taken has been recovered. Journalists are angry at FIFA's handling of the matter, particularly as a photographer was held at gunpoint during the robbery. For its part, the international football agency pointed out it had not sanctioned the lodge as safe for use. Safety concerns may have led to a plunge in the number of football fans heading for South Africa from Hong Kong. "Compared with the number who went to Germany for the World Cup in 2006, bookings for South Africa have been comparatively small," Wing On Travel assistant general manager Simon Ma Sai-man said. Only 100 travelers are due to fly out over the next month to see matches - with packages for the final costing HK$59,999. Ma said other reasons for the lack of bookings include the winter weather and poor connections to Europe for side trips. Hong Thai Travel also reported a plunge in bookings from four years ago, with only around 50 fans due to fly out, compared to 200 in 2006, Packages cost from HK$50,000 to HK$200,000, said deputy general manager Daniel Chan Kin-pang. A spokesman for the Immigration Department in Hong Kong urged travelers to keep copies of their travel papers, including passports and identity cards, for faster processing if they are robbed. Meanwhile, a six-strong TVB crew is hoping to steer clear of robbers. The six - artists Samantha Ko, sports anchorman Keyman Ma, two producers, a cameraman and a researcher - arrived in Johannesburg on Sunday and will stay until the competition ends next month.

Universal Entertainment Corp - the biggest shareholder of Wynn Resorts - is keen on opening a casino in Manila and may later list in Hong Kong. This came as Wynn Macau (1128), a unit of Las Vegas Wynn Resorts, said the gaming industry in Macau could grow by more than 30 percent this year. Chief operating officer Linda Chen said the VIP market at the Macau casino would grow even faster than the mass sector. Wynn Macau is set to break ground on a new casino next year if the Macau government gives the green light. The new casino resort will be completed in 2014, chairman and casino tycoon Steve Wynn said. It will have up to 500 gambling tables and 1,200 to 1,800 slot machines, he said. "It's not so much a matter of how many tables, but who's at them," said Wynn. Japanese pachinko game maker Universal Entertainment Corp is aiming to expand its business outside Japan to the Philippine capital with an investment of up to US$2.7 billion (HK$21.06 billion). Chairman Kazuo Okada told Bloomberg he plans to list the unit in Hong Kong for funding after the first phase of the Manila projects opens in 2012.

 China*: China's inflation quickened in May, but a moderation of growth in factory production and capital spending could ease worries that the economy runs the risk of overheating.

Caterpillar and Navistar International Corp are finalising a 4 billion yuan truck and engine manufacturing tie-up with Jianghuai Automobile, a source said on Friday.

Under pressure from Beijing to post better returns, mainland’s sovereign wealth fund has placed a greater emphasis on short-term performance this year, two sources said.

Leaders at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) pose for a family photo in Tashkent June 11, 2010. (L-R) Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Uzbek President Islam Karimov, Chinese President Hu Jintao and Tajikistan's President Imomali Rakhmon. Leaders of the six-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organization concluded their annual summit here Friday, agreeing to enhance cooperation and maintain regional stability. During the summit, the leaders and representatives exchanged views on a wide range of regional and international issues. They discussed the SCO Secretary General's report and one on SCO regional anti-terrorism efforts. They also set future tasks for the organization. The summit approved two important draft documents including the SCO Rules of Procedure, which was designed to enhance the efficiency and internal mechanisms of the organization. The second draft concerned regulations on the admission procedure for new members, which was submitted by SCO foreign ministers last month in Tashkent. The two documents, designed to improve the legal basis of the organization and to raise its authority and influence in regional issues, are regarded as quite significant in the history of the SCO. Before the summit, some Chinese diplomats said approval of the admission regulations was the first step in forming the basis for a future expansion of SCO membership and would serve as a cornerstone of the organization's rules for external links. The Tashkent declaration issued at the end of the summit stressed the importance of constructive dialogues and cooperation among the SCO member states. The SCO member states reiterated in the joint declaration that the situation in Kyrgyzstan bears great influence on regional stability, adding that they are willing to provide essential support and aid. The SCO members also agreed to further enhance their cooperation in combating the "three evil forces," namely terrorism, separatism and extremism, as well as illegal drug trade and organized transnational crime. The member states also vowed to work collectively in continuing to minimize the impact of the global financial crisis and to promote economic development. The summit also witnessed the signing of two agreements on cooperation in agriculture and combating crime. To mark the 10-year anniversary of the organization, it was agreed among the member states to hold a celebration when the next SCO annual summit convenes in the Kazakh capital of Astana. In addition to the heads of states from China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, the summit also saw the participation of delegates from Kyrgyzstan, as well as the leaders and representatives of Mongolia, India, Pakistan and Iran, countries holding SCO observer status. Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai also attended the summit as a guest of the SCO along with representatives of the UN and other regional and international agencies. The SCO groups China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad waves to the crowd while touring the Iran's Pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo in Shanghai on Friday. At a ceremony in Shanghai, host city of the World Expo, Ahmadinejad spoke of his hopes of building a “better world”. “The two great nations of Iran and China, who are the owners of the most ancient civilisations of human beings, can stay together to make this dream come true,” he said through a translator, to a mostly Chinese and Iranian audience. Beijing watered down the sanctions package agreed by the United Nations on Wednesday, but still voted for it. China, which buys millions of barrels of oil from Iran every year, had opposed new restrictions on Tehran for months. The impact of the package was also lessened by Turkish and Brazilian votes against it. The resolution extended punitive measures against Iran over its protracted refusal to suspend sensitive uranium enrichment activity and open up to UN nuclear inspectors. Though China voted for the latest round of sanctions, Ahmadinejad appeared unconcerned, with his sometimes oblique criticisms of countries whose “ethics and morality have been shaken” apparently aimed squarely at the West. “There are some countries, like America, whose behaviour is very unjust,” he said. “Nuclear states do not allow others even to use peaceful nuclear energy and they accused others that if they go through civilian nuclear programs, they would be tempted to build nuclear bombs,” he said. European leaders are expected to agree next week on the need for further sanctions on Iran beyond those imposed by the United Nations on Wednesday, and the United States Congress is also expected to pass additional restrictions, possibly this month. Ahmadinejad is in Shanghai to attend the Iran day at the ongoing World Expo. China’s Foreign Ministry says the visit is purely related to that event and that he is not scheduled to meet any Chinese leaders to discuss the nuclear issue. He is scheduled to hold a news conference later in the day. An excited crowd of at least 200-strong thronged a square outside the Iran pavilion to see Ahmadinejad on his early morning visit, joined by Iranians living in China. “I came especially to see him,” said 60 year-old Shanghai shipping company employee Wei Yian. “Solidarity between our two peoples is very strong. Every country has the right to their own systems.”

The People's Bank of China (PBOC), the central bank, injected 166 billion yuan (24.3 billion U.S. dollars) into the money market this week, easing tight money supply conditions with bill issuance and repurchase agreements. In its regular open market operations Thursday, the central bank auctioned 10 billion yuan (1.46 billion U.S. dollars) of three-month bills at a yield of 1.5704 percent, up 4.04 basis points from June 3. On Thursday, the central bank also conducted repurchase agreement operations -- the first time in almost a month -- by absorbing 10 billion yuan through 91-day repurchase agreements. The yield on Thursday's 91-day repurchase agreement rose to 1.57 percent, up 16 basis points from its previous repurchase operation. Thursday's operations together with Tuesday's 25 billion yuan worth of one-year bill issuance brought the weekly total raised to 45 billion yuan (6.6 billion U.S. dollars). But 211 billion yuan (30.9 billion U.S. dollars) of bills matured this week, meaning a net weekly injection of cash. The central bank's net injection this week was the third straight week of net injection. It pumped 159 billion yuan (23.3 billion U.S. dollars) into the market in the previous two weeks. Since mid-May, China's banks have faced a short-term money squeeze as the PBOC introduced a series of tightening measures to cool the booming property sector. Zhao Qingming, a senior research fellow at China Construction Bank, the country's second largest lender, said the yield changes on central bank bills reflects tight money supply in the short-term. Rising bill yields usually reflect lenders' reduced demand for safety or their cash hoarding. For the whole week, yields on central-bank short-term debt instruments rose compared to the previous week. The yield on one-year bills jumped 8.32 basis points to 2.0929 percent while the yield on three-month bills climbed 4.04 basis points to 1.5704 percent. The yield on 91-day repurchase agreements added 16 basis points to hit 1.57 percent.

CNPC workers check a gas pipeline, part of the West-East natural gas transportation project in Hubei province. Natural gas consumption will account for 10 percent of China’s annual total energy consumption by 2020, up from the current level of 3.9 percent. China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC), the country's largest oil and gas producer, has signed an agreement with the national oil company of Uzbekistan to buy 10 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year from the Central Asian country, CNPC said on Thursday. CNPC and Uzbekneftegaz signed a framework agreement for gas on Wednesday afternoon. China and Uzbekistan also signed a memorandum of understanding to expand their cooperation in the area of natural gas, CNPC said. Both countries will also take active measures to connect Uzbekistan's gas transmission system with the China-Uzbekistan gas pipeline, said a CNPC statement. The pipeline is part of the China-Central Asia gas pipeline that came into operation in December 2009, linking gas fields in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan to China's Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. The deal, one of a series of oil and gas deals between China and Central Asian countries in recent years, indicates the importance of energy cooperation between these countries, said analysts. "Many Central Asian countries are rich in natural resources. Cooperation with these countries will play an increasingly important role in China's energy strategy," said Xia Yishan, an expert at the China Institute of International Studies. The China-Central Asia gas pipeline, at a length of 1,833 kilometers, is China's first large pipeline project to import natural gas. It starts at the Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan border and runs through central Uzbekistan and southern Kazakhstan to China's Xinjiang. At Horgos in Xinjiang, the pipeline is connected with China's second West-East gas pipeline, which extends 8,653 km across 14 provinces, municipalities and regions, including Shanghai and Hong Kong. With the rapid increase in natural gas consumption in China, the country is expected to see more gas imports in the future, said analysts. Natural gas consumption will account for 10 percent of China's annual total primary energy consumption by 2020 from the current 3.9 percent level, Zhou Jiping, vice-president of CNPC, said on Tuesday.

Actress Gong Li (R) and actor John Cusack attend a premiere press conference in Beijing, capital of China, June 10, 2010. The film "Shanghai" played by Gong Li, Chow Yun-fat and John Cusack will be premiered firstly in China on June 17.

People in Yanqing traditionally go to the Dragon Boat Temple Fair and the Dragon Boat Culture Festival is held in the county.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday to testify before the Senate Finance Committee hearing on the future of US economic relations with China. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner indicated US patience on Beijing’s currency policy was wearing thin on Thursday as a key lawmaker warned that he would move soon on legislation that would penalise mainland goods.

Honda looked set to resume building cars in Foshan on Friday after a supplier of exhausts contained a labor dispute, but workers at another parts maker remained on strike. Workers at a lock factory in Zhongshan that supplies Honda challenged managers on Friday, demanding higher pay and freedom to form independent unions, banned in the mainland.

China's exports and its trade surplus jumped in May, putting new pressure on US government to placate critics who say Beijing is keeping the yuan unfairly undervalued. US lawmakers said on Wednesday they will launch legislative action in two weeks to punish Beijing for refusing to revalue its currency. They said they were disappointed with President Barack Obama’s administration for not being able to push the mainland leadership to let the yuan appreciate to reflect market rates.

PetroChina to takeover of BP? Why not, asks StanChart - A takeover of British energy giant BP by PetroChina (SEHK: 0857) makes economic sense and will help transform the mainland oil company into a global oil champion, Standard Chartered said in a research note on Thursday. BP’s plunging share price, which hit a 14-year low in US trading on Wednesday, has made the British oil company a subject of takeover talk because of concern over its ability to meet the mounting costs of the giant Gulf of Mexico oil spill. “With widespread media speculation on a possible takeover of BP, we examine various scenarios for a PetroChina acquisition,” Standard Chartered said in the note. “We expect a full dose of scepticism on this as a real-world proposition, although we argue for the persuasive economics.” Standard Chartered said a takeover of BP by PetroChina would transform mainland’s biggest oil and gas producer from a low-growth company into a global oil champion and boost its earnings per share significantly. There was also no overlap in assets and PetroChina would pay less than US$7 per boe (barrels of oil equivalent) for BP’s reserves, which was seen as cost-effective, the bank said, adding that, in addition, BP’s output would hedge a third of mainland’s oil imports. All these incentives would eventually make it an attractive exit opportunity for BP’s shareholders, it said. A combined PetroChina-BP would have oil and gas reserves that were 73 per cent and 187 per cent larger, respectively, than ExxonMobil Corp and Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Standard Chartered said. Standard Chartered also highlighted some uncertainties in its note. “The key uncertainty is the size of BP’s liability from the Gulf of Mexico accident, which could go as high as US$40 billion. This should not form a stumbling block, given the limited short-term impact on cash flow,” it said. “We expect China would support such a deal, while regulators in the United States may raise antitrust concerns. While we cannot rationalize any argument that the deal should be blocked on grounds of national interest, local politicians may take a different view.”

Foxconn Technology Group, shaken by a spate of worker suicides at its mammoth industrial compound in Shenzhen, said on Thursday it could move some of its production lines back to Taiwan if the island offers attractive enough incentives, including cheaper costs for hiring foreign laborers. Foxconn has come in for intensive criticism following 10 suicides this year at the factory complex in the Chinese city of Shenzhen, where it makes iPhones, iPads and other brand-name electronics for global corporations including Apple and Hewlett-Packard Labor activists have linked the suicides to unduly harsh conditions at the plant, where more than 300,000 people are employed. Responding to criticisms, Group Chairman Terry Gou told a shareholders meeting this week that Foxconn would move some factories to Taiwan if authorities offered attractive labor and other terms at the free trade zones they plan to set up. Gou said Foxconn has built dormitories and recreational facilities at its China plants, forcing it to take over social service functions that ought to be reserved for local governments. He told shareholders that its existing China factory model may not be sustainable. The new facilities in Taiwan would likely produce electronics components that require more precision work and have better profit margins, an official of Hon Hai Precision Industry, Foxconn’s parent firm, told reporters on Thursday.

Terry Gou tells shareholders he has had little sleep recently. Foxconn boss a tough man who needs to find his softer side - Vision and boldness are the qualities that turned Foxconn founder Terry Gou Tai-ming into Taiwan's richest man, but he needs to dig deep to reposition the hi-tech giant after a series of suicides at its mainland plants. The 59-year-old son of a policeman has already signalled a more caring attitude as the factory deaths throw a spotlight on what critics say is a harsh, militaristic management style at the company, which assembles consumer electronics. "I've slept very little in the past 40 days. We spent a lot of effort on the matters in China. This is a trial for us," the chairman told an annual general meeting in Taipei on Tuesday as dozens of activists protested outside. "We are adopting all possible measures to save lives. We have learned from a very valuable experience," he assured his investors. Gou's woes escalated last month when mainland and international media widely reported the two latest suicides in Foxconn's Shenzhen plant, unleashing a storm of criticism from labour groups at home and abroad. Technology giants Apple, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Nokia and Sony all said they were looking into labour conditions at Foxconn, whose factory site is a city within a city, churning out brand-name gadgets to all corners of the world. There is no shortage of amenities for the plant's 300,000 workers. But labour activists say long hours, low pay and high pressure have bred a culture of despair that explains why 10 Foxconn workers jumped to their deaths and three attempted suicide this year. The firm responded on Sunday by announcing the third in a round of big pay rises that will, in total, more than double the pay of many workers. Though applauded by critics, the move carries a risk - the firm has warned that it will have to pass on the increased costs to its customers. Observers say Gou's management style, while enabling him to build the world's largest electronics contractor, has also caused the problems plaguing his company now. "Gou is a tough and stern leader ... he is a visionary, and he is bold," said Wu Chung-shien, a business professor at Aletheia University in Taipei who has published two books on Gou. "His militarised management style is his strength, but it is also his shortcoming." Gou was born in 1950 in Taipei county to parents who fled the communist victory in China's civil war. He studied shipping management in college while supporting himself with part-time jobs. He started his business in 1974 making television parts with an investment of NT$100,000 from his mother and later began producing computer parts. Now with 900,000 staff worldwide, Forbes magazine lists him as Taiwan's richest man, with a net worth of US$5.9 billion. Gou's story is typical of a group of Taiwanese entrepreneurs who rode the island's post-war boom. Many have compared him to the late tycoon Y.C. Wang, who was also from a humble background and built the Formosa Plastics Group from scratch, becoming one of the island's most respected and richest entrepreneurs. Gou's success has come at a cost, though, observers say. "There is obviously a lack of humanitarian touch," Joseph Cheng Yu-shek, a professor at the City University of Hong Kong, said. "They give higher pay but demand tremendous discipline and concentration without considering the human needs of the workers." Gou said the suicides were not "directly work-related", and they reflected deeper structural and social problems in the transformation of the country's economy. But he may have to transform himself too to keep up with the new times, analysts say. "As Chinese society and culture change, Gou needs to be more flexible and treat workers like partners rather than machines, as the workers want dignity and need hope," Wu said. Gou, who lost his first wife and a younger brother to cancer, is known for his charitable endeavours in cancer research and says he intends to donate most of his assets to charity.

North Korea has told China it will punish those responsible for shooting dead three Chinese nationals near the two countries’ border last week, state media said on Thursday.

Beijing said it "highly values" ties with Tehran after voting for a fresh round of sanctions against the Iran over its nuclear programme, a move that sparked anger from its ally.

The head of the US pavilion at the World Expo in Shanghai unexpectedly resigned this week, amid an ongoing controversy over a potential conflict of interest. Nick Winslow stepped down as CEO of the US$61 million project on Monday to move away from handling "day-to-day responsibilities" but will remain on the project's board of directors, according to a statement released late on Tuesday evening. His replacement, former communications director Martin Alintuck, insisted the move was "completely unrelated" to suggestions of possible impropriety raised by a number of documents recently released online.

The next round of talks between Taiwan and China on the controversial ECFA free-trade style agreement will start on June 11 in China, a source close to the negotiations.

Danish brewer Carlsberg has agreed to raise its stake in Chongqing Brewery Co to nearly 30 per cent for about 2.1 billion crowns (HK$2 billion) to further its Asian expansion. Carlsberg said on Thursday it would increase its stake in CBC to 29.71 per cent from 17.46 per cent. The purchase price for the 12.25 per cent stake in CBC is 40.22 yuan (HK$45.88) per share, or about 2.39 billion yuan, Carlsberg said in a statement. “The transaction is conditional upon a number of steps and approvals by authorities and minority shareholders,” it said. CBC operates 15 breweries in the mainland and produced about 10 million hectolitres of beer last year, Carlsberg said. Carlsberg, the world’s fourth-biggest brewer, sold more than 135 million hectolitres of beer last year, which is about 40 billion bottles of beer annually, the company said. CBC is market leader in the Chongqing province and operates in the surrounding provinces of Sichuan, Guizhou, Guangxi and Hunan and in the eastern provinces of Anhui, Zhejiang and Jiangsu, Carlsberg said. Nomura International has acted as financial adviser to Carlsberg, Carlsberg said.

June 12, 2010

Hong Kong*: The government was prepared to spend HK$9 million to promote its 2012 political reform package, Secretary for Constitutional Affairs Stephen Lam Sui-lung said on Wednesday.

Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen announced on Wednesday that Geoffrey Ma Tao-li would be Hong Kong’s new chief justice from September 1.

With just three days before the opening of the World Cup, local broadcasters are bickering over broadcast signals, which will affect the viewing format. I-Cable will broadcast the football matches on its Channel One using the four-to-three ratio signal, but TVB and ATV, who will be broadcasting through the signal, both need the 16-to-nine ratio in order for the games to be viewed properly. A source said the actual picture on the television screen will be shrunk by 40 percent if TVB and ATV go ahead with the four-to-three signal. He expects many people to complain about the reduced size. There is a way to magnify the picture, but the i-Cable logo and the score display at the bottom of the screen will be magnified as well. The broadcasters are also arguing over advertisements. According to the terms signed by the three broadcasters, ATV and TVB will have to broadcast the commercials from i-Cable. I-Cable has plans to broadcast beer commercials during the World Cup opening on Friday at 8pm. But according to the Broadcasting Ordinance, beer commercials cannot be shown between 4pm and 8.30pm on free- to-air TV channels. I-Cable is not subject to this ordinance because it is a pay-TV station. TVB said it still hopes i-Cable will let it broadcast matches on the 16-to-nine signal. I-Cable said it has always broadcast matches using the four-to-three ratio signal. TVB and ATV decided to broadcast the matches on high-definition channels which do not match the i-Cable signal, it said. On the beer commercials, i-Cable said it is looking into the possibility of broadcasting them at a later time. The three broadcasters have been locked in a fight over showing the World Cup since i-Cable bought the rights to broadcast the matches. I-Cable has agreed the two free-to- air broadcasters can show four matches for free. But ATV and TVB will only air the matches on their digital channels.

Most Employers' Federation of Hong Kong members consider a HK$24.30 minimum hourly wage acceptable, insiders said. It believes the initial level should be set low to give bosses time to assess the impact of a mandatory minimum wage, they said. Members' views were collected in a survey that the federation conducted in recent months. The federation, which submitted its views on the proposed law to the Provisional Minimum Wage Commission and the Legislative Council, has never publicly advocated an hourly rate. The HK$24.30 an hour rate is equivalent to about 40 per cent of Hong Kong's median household income which, the insiders say, is the average percentage worldwide. Minimum wage calculations range from 60.6 per cent of median income in France to 32.4 per cent in the US.

Editor-in-chief Reg Chua (back row, left) with (to his left) winners and their representatives Terry Pontikos, Fox Yi Hu and Yves Sieur and (front row, from left) Sandi Li, Peggy Sito, Enoch Yiu, Ting Shi and Olga Wong. The South China Morning Post (SEHK: 0583) and Sunday Morning Post last night won five prizes and five honorable mentions in this year's Society of Publishers in Asia Editorial Awards. Fox Yi Hu, Barclay Crawford and Ambrose Leung's exclusive series, published from May to August last year, revealing a plot to assassinate Democratic Party founder Martin Lee Chu-ming and media tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying was honored with the scoop award. The panel of judges said: "Over three months the articles ably provided an exclusive of the putative hit, an evocative response from [Martin] Lee, a reconstruction of the plan and details of cross-border arrests and prosecution. A clean scoop bagged by strong sourcing and confirmed by the subject himself." The Post's team of Alan Morison, Chutima Sidasathian and Maseeh Rahman, former international editor Ian Young and chief Asia correspondent Greg Torode won the award for excellence in human rights reporting and investigative reporting for exposing a secret Thai army policy of detaining Rohingya boatpeople from Myanmar, towing them to sea and abandoning them. The panel praised the reports as an "excellent series that uncovered serious government abuses and had a material impact in correcting them", and said it was an exclusive, hard-hitting piece of strong reporting with international implications. He Huifeng, Shi Jiangtao and Choi Chi-yuk won the award for excellence in reporting on the environment, and also received an honorable mention in the human rights category, for their series examining the harrowing effects of chemical pollution on villagers in Hunan.

444 luxury residential homes were sold in the secondary market last month for a total of HK$10.52 billion. Rich buyers fuel top-end price surge - Value of luxury home transactions soars amid sales slump in mass residential sector. Homebuyers shrugged aside the twin blow to confidence delivered by poor land auctions and a tumbling stock market to chase prices at the top end of the market sharply higher last month. Data from Centaline Property Agency show that 444 luxury residential homes (defined as property valued at HK$10 million and above) were sold in the secondary market last month for a total of HK$10.52 billion, a 22.5 per cent increase on the previous month, although deal numbers were up by just 5 per cent on the month. In contrast, poor sentiment in the secondary market for mass residential homes saw sales volumes in 35 housing estates monitored by Midland Realty fall by 16 per cent to 731 deals in May. Analysts blame weak demand in the mass market on buyer concerns over poor land auction results last month and a confidence-sapping retreat in share prices, captured by a fall of 1,046 points or 5 per cent in the Hang Seng Index over the month. However, wealthy buyers were evidently undeterred by the events. "They are cash-rich. If a property has scarcity value they are willing to offer a higher price," Margaret Ng, senior director of Greater China research for CB Richard Ellis, said. For instance, property tycoon Lee Shau-kee paid HK$1.82 billion or HK$68,229 per square foot for a site at 35 Barker Road on The Peak last month, she said. Rating and Valuation Department figures show that only 7 per cent of the total private housing stock has a saleable area of 100 square metres or above. "You can see from such data that the supply of large-sized units is tight. But the demand for luxury units is strong and the city remains full of rich buyers," Ng said. Kenneth Chiu, a sales director at Ricacorp Properties, agreed with this view. "The supply of luxury residential houses remains tight, particularly in Island South and The Peak. This is helping flat owners to achieve higher prices," he said. "None of the flat owners are willing to cut their asking prices. Prices in a number of luxury housing estates are still rising." Chiu cites a deal done at Ming Wai Gardens in Repulse Bay, where a 1,900 sq ft flat on the 16th floor was sold for HK$40.08 million, or HK$21,095 per sq ft, this month. The price was 2.5 per cent higher than that of a flat on the 18th floor of the 37-year-old estate sold three months ago. However, the Centaline data appear to have been skewed to some degree by some unusually big-ticket deals in the luxury market. In the biggest deal of last month, a house at Mount Kellet Road was sold for HK$175 million. In the wider market for big apartments (flats with floor areas larger than 1,300 sq ft located in traditional luxury residential districts such as The Peak and Mid-Levels), luxury home prices declined 2 to 3 per cent in May, after rising a mere 0.6 per cent in April, consultancy Knight Frank said. Simon Lo Wing-fai, a director of research and advisory at consultancy Colliers International Hong Kong, estimated that luxury residential prices rose by only 1.3 per cent in April and were likely flat or slightly higher last month - while prices in the mass residential market dropped some 3 per cent on average. That fall in mass residential prices drew buyers back and a total of 342 deals were done over the week to June 6 in the 50 major housing estates monitored by Ricacorp Properties. That was up 12 per cent on the previous week and 35 per cent higher than the 285 deals recorded three weeks ago. The average price at which the transactions were done was up 0.9 per cent on the previous week. "Many buyers who had been waiting to enter the market did so after prices dropped slightly. They worried they would lose a chance to buy at lower prices if they waited," Ricacorp director David Chan said. But Chan does not believe the strong rebound in last week's sales will be sustained. "Flat owners have already responded to the latest increase in demand by raising the asking prices at which they are prepared to sell. But potential buyers will hesitate to pay a higher price as long as the market outlook remains uncertain," he said. While sentiment in the mass market turned weak in May, opinions were divided on the outlook for the luxury sector. "Multinational financial institutions are expanding in Hong Kong. They are hiring more foreign expatriates and this has increased leasing demand in the luxury residential sector," Lo said. "With an increase in inflation in the second half of the year, more tenants would buy flats rather than continue renting." Lo expects luxury residential prices to rise a further 5 per cent by the end of the year. Ng said the luxury leasing market had been active since early this year due to the expansion of foreign financial institutions and hedge funds. "This will benefit the sales market in the sector. Property prices will rise further by up to 7 per cent by the year's end," she said. But Knight Frank said it expected luxury residential prices to retreat from present levels and fall by about 5 per cent over the remainder of the year.

The resignation of a non-executive director of Hong Kong Aircraft Engineering Co (0044) after buying shares in the company has raised eyebrows. Albert Lam Kwong-yu resigned as non-executive director on Sunday after purchasing 4,000 HAECO shares for HK$84 apiece on Friday. Lam, the former director-general of civil aviation, bought the shares on the same day a board meeting was called to discuss a proposed increase by Swire Pacific (0019) in its HAECO stake at a 25 percent premium. It is understood Lam had never previously owned HAECO shares. HAECO shares suspended trading on Monday. Trading resumed yesterday and shares closed at HK$104.20, after a hefty 24 percent jump on Friday's close.This followed the announcement that Swire had agreed to buy a 15 percent stake of HAECO from Cathay Pacific Airways (0293) for HK$105 per share. That meant Lam posted a paper gain of HK$80,800 from the investment. A source close to the group said HAECO "advised" Lam to resign as his purchase of the shares "coincided" with the announcement of the deal. The source said Lam placed an order to buy 10 board lots of HAECO on Friday - before the board of directors met to discuss the deal between Swire and Cathay. Lam responded to a telephone inquiry from The Standard, insisting his departure had "absolutely nothing to do with" the acquisition of the shares. "Swire has already issued a statement which spells out the incident very clearly," he said. When asked the reason for his departure, Lam repeated: "Swire has already issued a statement." Asked when he became aware of Swire's buyback deal, Lam said: "I have no more to say. I think this is the end of our conversation." A spokeswoman for Swire declined to comment on whether Lam resigned voluntarily or was "advised" to step down. Industry watchdog the Securities and Futures Commission refused to say whether there is an investigation under way, saying it does not comment on individual cases. Lam is also a non- executive director of China Southern Airlines (1055).

Chinese University vice-chancellor Lawrence Lau Juen-yee broke his silence on the "Goddess of Democracy" row, saying it was a collective and unanimous decision by a committee to ban the statue from the campus. Lau chaired the university's administrative and planning committee which ruled against an application by the student union to display the statue at the Sha Tin campus so as to maintain its political neutrality. The goddess statue symbolizes the June 4 Tiananmen crackdown. Lau's remarks differed from vice- chancellor designate Joseph Sung Jao-yiu who said on Monday that some members of the committee had different views on "political neutrality." Sung, who was not present when the decision was made, revealed that he had also once suggested changing the wording to "had not reached a consensus." Lau stressed that personal political views do not interfere with the university's political neutrality. "I am happy the incident could be solved peacefully. I hope [all parties] can remain rational and peaceful. Here I would like to thank their cooperation," he said. But he disagreed with Sung's remarks that the handling of the decision to reject the application for permanent display of the statue was "immature" and "inexperienced." All of the more than 20 members of the university's administrative and planning committee voted unanimously on the decision, Lau said, adding that it had undergone detailed consideration. When asked if he would resign from his political positions, Lau said the university has to remain politically neutral. "The university has to be politically neutral. Persons can have political views. When I am vice-chancellor, I am not politically inclined," he said. He also denied that he was passing the problem to Sung. The university issued another statement from Sung, saying that he acknowledged and agreed with the stance in the statement of rejecting the application, issued on June 2 but only "had different views on the wording." The student union of the Chinese University of Hong Kong stated it was strongly dissatisfied that the university had not explained why it rejected the application due to "political neutrality."

The tourism authorities of Macao, Guangdong agreed to continue their efforts and strengthen cooperation in several major areas during a meeting held here on Wednesday. Officials of Guangdong Provincial Tourism Administration, Hong Kong Tourism Board and Macao Government Tourist Office attended the"Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Tourism Cooperation Meeting". The three sides focused their discussion on implementation of the tourism cooperation protocols signed earlier between Guangdong and Hong Kong as well as Guangdong and Macao, according to a statement from Macao Government Tourist Office (MGTO). The tourism authorities of the three places have a long- standing and well-established cooperation mechanism and chairmanship rotation system, which are effective instruments for the three places to advance their working plans, and to brand the Pearl River Delta region as a quality international tourism destination. The announcement of "The Outline of the Plan for the Reform and Development of the Pearl River Delta" and"The Hengqin Overall Development Plan"have elevated the regional cooperation to a higher and broader dimension that brings new opportunities to the development of the Pearl River Delta region, from which the tourism sector stands to benefit, according to the MGTO. MGTO Director Joao Manuel Costa Antunes said that the three places have a long-standing and solid foundation for tourism cooperation, which dated back to 1993, when a cooperation mechanism was set up to promote the international brand of regional tourism. He also said that Macao is always open and enthusiastic to cooperate with nearby regions to promote regional tourism, in the belief that, through delivering multi-destination itineraries, the goal of complementing resources and building up of an international brand of regional tourism could be achieved.

21 international experts said Macau set to take jackpot to push USA aside - Macau will be the big winner in the race to push the United States from the top of the world's gaming tables, according to a survey of 21 international experts. The survey, released in Macau yesterday on the first day of the Global Gaming Expo, saw two out of three saying that gaming in Asia will generate more revenue than in the US within the next three to five years. "Asia's large population and the growing disposable income makes it no surprise that its revenue will exceed the US soon," American Gaming Association president Frank Fahrenkopf said. No one surveyed thinks Macau will lose its top ranking in the Asia- Pacific gaming industry, according to Fahrenkopf. Macau alone generated US$14.5 billion (HK$113.1 billion) of revenue last year, while the entire US market saw a figure of US$30.74 billion. All those surveyed expected Macau's industry - which almost tripled in size between 2005 and 2009 - to continue growing at a rapid pace. Despite Singapore's recent expansion into the gaming market, Fahrenkopf is confident that Macau will benefit from the development of the new jurisdictions. "Experience shows that a large number of casino operators concentrated in a place like Macau will attract new customers who have been exposed to a limited number of casinos," Fahrenkopf said, noting that Singapore has just two casino complexes, with only about 3percent of the total area dedicated to gaming. He added that Macau attracts mostly mainland customers while Singapore is targeting the Indian and Malaysian markets. Galaxy Entertainment Group deputy chairman Francis Lui Yiu- tung said Macau's future lies with the mainland. He said the middle- class sector is set to grow from 380 million people spending more than 5 trillion yuan (HK$5.71 trillion) in 2011 to 520 million people spending about 13.3 trillion yuan in 2025. "The middle class is taking over from the wealthy. We need to focus on this new wave of Chinese customers and find out what preferences they have," Lui said. The survey also showed that it is important for Macau operators to diversify their revenue streams in non-gaming areas. Ironically, Macau also has to overcome obstacles posed by its own government. These obstacles include a proposed cap on table games, proposed limits on travel restrictions, the change in plans for the reclaimed land meant for casino operators being given to social housing projects, as well as the proposed tobacco ban.

 China*: The days of endless cheap labor in the "workshop of the world" could be numbered as a shortage of workers and government fears of social unrest drive up wages in the mainland.

Touch-pad products maker World Wide Touch Technology, which is seeking a listing in Hong Kong, has declined to say if it is under pressure to follow Foxconn's footsteps and raise wages.

China’s exports in May grew about 50 per cent from a year earlier, sources said on Wednesday, a figure that blew past expectations and fuelled a big jump in domestic stocks.

Agricultural Bank of China (ABC) on Wednesday received the long awaited green light from securities regulators to launch what could become the world’s biggest IPO.

The European automaker Volkswagen will build a new factory in the mainland as part of a long-term strategy in what is now VW’s most important market, it said on Wednesday.

Mainland regulators have ordered a freeze on some initial public share offerings related to renewable energy, amid fears that overcapacity will weigh on the rapidly growing industry. While the government has not made an official statement on the freeze, sources with direct knowledge of the matter said the message had been communicated to executives and investment bankers interested in bringing wind or solar power companies public. “The Chinese government hasn’t said so publicly, but certain sectors including polysilicon and wind are forbidden from hitting the primary IPO market,” said a source familiar with the situation. “They’re holding approval for certain IPOs because of overcapacity concerns.” Polysilicon is a raw material for solar energy products. China Securities Regulatory Committee officials could not be reached for comment. An IPO freeze would affect wind equipment manufacturers and polysilicon suppliers as they struggle with the equity to match their bank loans, and would particularly impact buyout firms in seeking to exit investments in the renewable space to return money to investors. Private equity and venture capital firms had expected the first half of this year to provide a positive climate for share floatations, but they have been disappointed by increasing market volatility – Hong Kong’s benchmark Hang Seng index has fallen about 11 per cent this year. A freeze on initial public offerings is the mainland’s latest attempt to curtail expansion in an industry that has many small domestic players yet is controlled by a few. The mainland became the No 1 wind turbine market last year, installing a record 13.75 gigawatts of generating capacity. Its top manufacturers, Sinovel Wind, Xinjiang Goldwind Science and Technology Co and Dongfang Electric, supplied close to 60 per cent of that capacity. Foreign manufacturers accounted for 10 per cent of the market, with the remainder split among about 60 domestic players.

The leaders of Russia and China will discuss global financial markets and tensions on the Korean peninsula during the annual summit of a regional security grouping on Thursday, a Kremlin source said.

Relatives and friends of students await their departure after the annual college entrance examinations in Beijing on Tuesday. At least three students committed suicide ahead of China's university entrance exams, state media said on Wednesday, highlighting the huge pressure on young people to win a spot at a top school. One male student who had already failed the exam – called the "gaokao" – once leapt to his death from a 12-storey hospital in the central city of Guangshui before the test began on Monday, the China Daily reported. A young woman took her own life in the central city of Ezhou, the newspaper said, without providing details of the suicide. In the eastern province of Jiangsu, a 21-year-old with a history of mental problems hanged himself with a computer modem line just hours before the exam began, the Global Times reported. Nearly 10 million high school students sat the make-or-break university entrance exam this week, facing fierce competition to enter the nation’s top institutions, which can determine a person’s future career path. The two-day exam was staged under tight security following a spate of violent school attacks. Road blocks were set up outside exam venues, and extra police were on hand. Schools and parents have been on edge since a wave of bloody attacks around the country this year left 17 people dead, including 15 pupils, and scores injured. Better security was also put in place to prevent cheating, as students under pressure to succeed have increasingly turned to high-tech equipment including wireless transmitters and hard-to-detect ear pieces, state media have reported. Police have already arrested at least 64 people suspected of selling hi-tech cheating devices, while confiscating thousands of transmitters, Xinhua news agency reported.

Guangdong has launched a scheme that will allow 10 million migrant workers from rural parts of the province to apply for permanent residency in small and medium-sized cities and townships. The scheme, which will assess migrant workers on the basis of points allocated for various achievements, will not cover the 20 million workers from other provinces who labour in Guangdong. Applicants from rural Guangdong will be assessed on their education level, work experience, social-security status, community activities and adherence to birth-control policy, The Southern Metropolis News reported yesterday. They will also need clean criminal records. Workers who score at least 60 points out of a maximum 370 are eligible to apply. Guangdong authorities say they plan to give 1.8 million Guangdong farmers urban hukou (residential permits) by 2012. Academics criticised the new system for setting the bar too high for most migrant workers. The new urban hukou scheme, similar to immigration-points schemes in foreign countries, will mark down migrant workers who do not have university degrees or technical certificates, and those who have more children than allowed by the government's birth-control policy. Migrant workers with a junior-secondary education will get five points under the system, while university graduates will get 80. Assembly workers will be given 10 points and senior technicians will receive 60. Those who have more children than allowed will lose at least 100 points and won't be allowed to apply for urban hukou for five years. Professor Guo Weiqing, a public policy and administration specialist from Sun Yat-Sen University, said very few migrant workers would be able to fulfil the strict criteria. "Our surveys suggest that most migrant workers in the Pearl River Delta region received education up to junior-secondary school and many don't have their graduate certificates," he said. To qualify for an urban hukou, a poorly educated Guangdong farmer who has only worked on assembly lines will need to donate blood five times, work as a volunteer for 250 hours and make sure his employer has paid for his pension, medical insurance and industrial-accident insurance for at least eight years. Rather than divide migrant workers according to their education, skills or status, Guo suggested that the authorities should consider giving urban hukou to migrant workers according to their taxation records, saying it was a less biased assessment method. Guangdong authorities said the scheme could help young migrant workers, born after the 1980s, settle down in small cities and townships, giving them a sense of belonging. The deputy director of the province's labour and social security department, Lin Wangping , told a press conference on Monday that young migrant workers were more eager to be recognised as city dwellers than their parents. Many mainland observers have long called for the scrapping of the hukou system - which prevents migrant workers from settling in cities. They said doing so would remove the pay differences that confront migrant workers, along with other forms of policy and social discrimination, and would do away with the need for around-the-clock control of workers' lives. Shanghai announced a similar policy last year that would grant hukou to immigrants who had been registered in the city for at least seven years, as long as they had had a stable income, a "good credit rating" and had paid their social-security contributions and taxes in Shanghai throughout the period. State media quoted migrant workers living in Shanghai as saying that the criteria were too difficult to meet. Professor Wang Daben from East China Normal University said cities could not afford to grant urban hukou to all migrant workers because of the huge cost of extending social welfare, including education, housing and medical services.

Saudi Arabia most sought after pavilion after China - Big-spending Saudis seek to boost ties as pavilion pulls crowds. Besides the China pavilion, the most sought after pavilion at the World Expo in Shanghai is not that of the United States or Japan, but Saudi Arabia's showcase. The Saudis spent billions of yuan on an eye-catching exhibit that is attracting mainlanders in droves. Observers have even gone so far as to say that the gains the Saudis will make from their pavilion will improve the relationship between their country and China - possibly by more than the US would like to see. Despite signs showing that queuing time for the pavilion could reach seven hours, more and more visitors are flocking to see it. It features a hanging boat shaped like a half moon, with date palms planted on the top deck, surrounding Bedouin tents. A circular screen outside the building displays welcome messages in several languages, including Chinese, English and Arabic. Almost all the visitors say they have flocked to the Saudi pavilion to see a hi-tech screen, which covers 1,600 square metres and flows in a curve, instead of the conventional panel format. The audience stands on a conveyor to watch a movie about the country's landscape, which surrounds them. Many people have posted their experience on the internet, describing it as a breathtaking one. The pavilion cost 1.4 billion yuan (HK$1.6 billion), making it the most expensive foreign pavilion at the expo, domestic media reported. Saudi rural affairs minister Prince Mansour bin Mutaib bin Abdulaziz al Saud said at the inauguration ceremony on May 1 that money was not a problem and the most important thing was to have good relations with China. He hoped the pavilion would stay in China forever. Dr Mohammad Allissan al-Ghandi, executive director of the pavilion, would not confirm the cost figure, but said it was not a waste of money and was an investment for the future. "It is the biggest participation in an expo in our country's history, due to the nature of the relationship between Saudi Arabia and China, as well as the significance of this historical expo," Ghandi said. The Sino-Saudi relationship has been rosy since diplomatic ties were established 20 years ago, and was boosted after King Abdullah was enthroned in 2005, said Professor Zhu Weilie , dean of Middle Eastern studies at Shanghai International Studies University. The king visited China in January 2006 on his first overseas visit after taking the throne, and just three months later President Hu Jintao visited Saudi Arabia. He made another visit in April last year. China has surpassed the US as Saudi Arabia's most important oil importer with more than 40 million tonnes shipped last year, accounting for more than 20 per cent of the mainland's oil imports. Not only generous but well prepared, Saudi Arabia selected the boat design to convey the message of "prosperity (SEHK: 0803, announcements, news) and goodness" to Chinese visitors. "Two years ago we held a workshop to find out what Chinese people expect from Saudi Arabia and how they view the country. One of the results was that Chinese people are sensitive and they look at shape in very detailed ways. Shapes to them have strong meanings," Ghandi said. The boat reminds people of the maritime "Silk Road" dating back more than 1,000 years, which started from China's southern ports such as Quanzhou and Guangzhou to as far as the Red Sea and Africa. Traders shipped China's silk and porcelain to exchange for spice, jewellery and medicine from overseas. "There has been no conflict between us, since our relationship is mainly one of commerce, and commerce needs peace," Ghandi said. Many mainlanders have little knowledge of Saudi Arabia, except they know it is rich in oil. Through the expo, Saudi Arabia wants them to know more about its human and other aspects, such as the fact that 200 cities have developed with no rivers, Ghandi said. The pavilion also encourages more two-way trade and investment. Affluent Saudi residents mainly fly to the West or Southeast Asia to avoid the sizzling weather in summer. Because of expo coverage by the Saudi media, Ghandi expects more of his compatriots to travel to China. The Saudi pavilion receives about 25,000 people a day. The biggest attraction, the Treasure Cinema, boasts the giant screen that the pavilion claims is not Imax but a more advanced system. To support a 12-minute film, the cinema is equipped with 25 high-definition projectors and 28 computers to control the entire show. Shen Weijiang , a visitor from Jiangsu , said his three-hour wait was worth it because the show gave him a "being there" experience to see exotic scenery including the desert and sea. "I recorded it with my mobile phone," he said. Chen Ruizhen , a visitor from Guangdong, said: "The show is wonderful. Actually, the whole building is well designed, with gold decorations inside, and light Arabian music. I am interested in this country and hope they can tell me more about Saudi Arabia." However, a Beijing visitor said: "The film is not bad but the whole 40-minute pavilion tour wasn't a good return for my exhausting 3-1/2-hour queuing investment." Professor Li Weijian , a Middle East researcher at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, said the positive image left among most mainland visitors would further people-to-people exchanges between Saudi Arabia and China, as senior-level communication was already frequent and had good momentum. The good relationship between Riyadh and Beijing was a concern to Washington, which Li said implemented hegemony in the region. "Many people in the US are not willing to see its descending power and China's rising impact there," he said.

China's Tsingtao Brewery (SEHK: 0168) and Bright Food Group may bid for Foster's Group's beer and wine units, after Australia's largest brewer said it was separating them, media reports said yesterday. Bright Food has received information from bankers about Foster's wine unit, as well as the beer division, the Australian Financial Review reported. The company has not decided which assets it may be interested in, the report said. Tsingtao may buy Foster's brewing business, the Economic Observer reported on its website yesterday, citing an unidentified person. Foster's declined to comment on the reports yesterday. Last month, it said it planned to split its beer and wine units into separate companies next year, ending a A$7 billion (HK$44.47 billion) expansion amid slumping earnings and currency moves that cut the value of overseas sales. The company's brands include its namesake lager and Victoria Bitter, Australia's top-selling brew. Foster's shares rose 1.4 per cent to close at A$5.63 yesterday, giving the company a market value of A$10.9 billion. Foster's brewing division, with about half the Australian market, might be worth more than A$12 billion, analysts at Bank of America Merrill Lynch said last month. Foster's wine business, the world's second-largest with brands including Rosemount and Beringer, may be worth as much as A$4 billion, according to Morgan Stanley. Foster's began expanding into wine 15 years ago to offset stalling beer demand. It paid A$482 million for Mildara Blass in 1996. It moved into California with the 2001 purchase of Beringer Wine Estates Holdings before adding Southcorp, the largest maker of Australian wine, for A$3.2 billion in 2005. Calls to Bright Food and Tsingtao were unanswered. Takayuki Tanaka, a spokesman at Asahi Breweries of Japan, which owns about 20 per cent of Tsingtao, declined to comment. Buying Foster's beer division would cost more than 1 trillion yen (HK$85.37 billion), making it "difficult for a Japanese company alone to purchase the unit", said Hiroshi Saji, an analyst at Mizuho Securities in Tokyo.

The US Commerce Department Tuesday set preliminary countervailing duties on imports of some $119.2 million drill pipe from China, a move might escalate trade disputes between the two countries.

June 11, 2010

Hong Kong*: Most employers in Hong Kong intend to maintain or boost staff levels in the next three months, a new survey released on Tuesday showed.

Hong Kong on Tuesday auctioned a piece of land for HK$10.9 billion, beating expectations and fuelling concern that the island’s property market could still face overheating.

Democratic Party chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan said on Tuesday that pan-democratic legislators would veto the government's reform package.

Kit Wan (left) and Sam Lee Chong-sum attend the graduation ceremony at Ocean Park yesterday. Both want to work in a bar. Ocean Park catering program gives graduates a new direction - Graduates of a theme park's catering trainee program said they used to be clueless about their future, but have found direction from the scheme. They were speaking as the second class of graduates took part in a ceremony yesterday at Ocean Park's Panda Cafe. The park's food and beverage services trainee program is a collaboration between the park, the Labour Department's Youth Work Experience and Training Scheme, the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups, and the Hospitality Industry Training and Development Centre. Launched two years ago, it invites people aged 15 to 24 to undergo nine months of on-the-job training with the park's food services department. At yesterday's graduation ceremony, 21 out of the original 25 trainees were present. Among them, nine will work full-time for the park, and the rest will work elsewhere or continue to study. The park spent HK$1.4 million on this term's trainees, and HK$1.3 million on the last batch. Kit Wan Fung-ling, 20, joined the program with three years' work experience and completion of Form Five studies. She refused the park's job offer and decided to take a bar-tending course to follow her ultimate ambition of being a barmaid. "The programme has helped me find my professional bearings because nine months before I was clueless as to where I was going," she said. Throughout the nine-month program, the trainees worked for the park's restaurant four days a week and went to school two days a week. They received HK$4,000 a month from the park and HK$2,000 from the Labor Department.

More than 30 urban taxi companies have agreed to apply for a HK$2 increase in the taxi flag fall to HK$20, which would be the second rise in the minimum fare in two years. Thirty-seven taxi companies were polled by the Transport Department about the increase yesterday, with a consensus that the flag fall should be raised in February or March next year. The proposal still needs government approval. Three operators opposed the rise, fearing it would drive customers away, but most were in favour of the proposal to raise the flag fall, submitted by taxi firm Luen Tai on April 1. If the government approves the increase, it will be on top of a new fare structure introduced 15 months ago that charges more for journeys costing less than HK$70.50. The flag fall for urban taxis was raised from HK$16 to HK$18 in late 2008 and fares for short-haul trips increased, while long-haul journeys became cheaper. Each jump on the meter for the first nine kilometres was raised from HK$1.40 to HK$1.50 and the rate fell to HK$1 thereafter. The Transport Advisory Committee said it would conduct assessment and consultations on applications to increase public transport fares over the summer and submit them to the Executive Council and Legislative Council next year. The higher fares could take effect before the Lunar New Year. Urban Taxi Drivers Association Joint Committee president Kwok Chi-piu said some groups were unconvinced about the higher flag fall but appreciated that most firms wanted to "test the waters". "Fuel costs, insurance premiums and car parts cost each of us more than HK$10,000 a year. Everything else has become more expensive and will probably continue rising," he said. "We hope the rise won't affect our business negatively, but think it is worthwhile to test the waters and see how things pan out." Since the new fare model was introduced, the fee for a taxi licence has shot up from about HK$300,000 to more than HK$4 million, while taxi rental costs have also risen. The association's chairman, Kwan Yuk-wah, a night-time driver for over 20 years, said he thought the "mild" rise would not have much effect on business. "I've felt the changes in business each time fares increase. It will have little impact." The average number of taxi trips per day has fallen from more than one million before the last fare rise to 954,200 last year.

Apple's new iPhone features video chat, can shoot and edit high-definition quality video and will go on sale in Hong Kong next month.

Xue Ming, chairman of Poly (Hong Kong) Investments, says his job is to keep the company moving forward persistently and believes it will be a blue chip in eight years. Poly chief eyes steady pace to blue-chip status Strategy of HK-listed firm's chairman is to stay the course. In Aesop's fable about the race between the tortoise and the hare, the slow and steady one won the race. Xue Ming, the newly appointed chairman of Hong Kong-listed developer Poly (Hong Kong) Investments, may not be as slow as Aesop's tortoise. But like the tortoise, he believes that plodding on patiently and steadfastly will provide victory in the end. He estimates it will take eight years to turn his company into a blue chip. The consistency, or persistency of character, is reflected in the 48-year-old chairman's demanding work routine. "I wake up at 6 o'clock, go to the office at 7.30am and go to bed at 11pm. This has been my routine over the previous 20 years, no matter where I am," said Xue, who replaced He Ping, the son-in-law of the late Deng Xiaoping, as the firm's chairman at the end of April. That came a year after Xue was appointed managing director of the company. Prior to moving to Hong Kong, Xue was based in China Poly's Shanghai unit. In his days in Shanghai, Xue believed the property company's future depended on an international outlook. He invited university graduates from the US, Singapore and Canada to work in the company to exchange views and cultures. At the time, Xue was criticised for the policy but stubbornly refused to give it up. "A few years later, we realised that it had expanded the horizons of our staff," he recalled. Faced with property market tightening measures - which analysts describe as the toughest yet in the mainland's history - Xue said the company would take advantage of the slowdown to expand its market share. Poly (Hong Kong) Investments was set up in 1973 as Haikang Investment, a shipping company. In 1993, state-owned conglomerate China Poly Group acquired a 55 per cent stake in the company, and it was renamed Poly (Hong Kong) Investments in 2005. Net profit rocketed 1.97 times to HK$662.114 million for the year to December 31 last year.

 China*: China's central authorities have set down a more open policy to attract top-notch foreign talents to help promote the economic and social development and global competitiveness of the nation. Nation aims to increase talent pool.

A new strike has broken out at a factory in Foshan producing exhausts for Honda Motor's mainland car factories, just days after a strike at another Honda supplier was settled.

iPhone maker Foxconn International said it will seek higher prices from its clients to help offset wage hikes in its Shenzhen unit that has been hit by a series of suicides.

Low pay was blamed as the reason why about 50 percent of social workers gave up their jobs last year, triggering plans to improve the situation, said the Beijing Social Work Committee.

China's steel industry will face its toughest time of the year during the third quarter, the head of the parent firm of Baoshan Iron & Steel Co, the mainland’s biggest listed steelmaker, said on Tuesday. Iron ore contract prices will peak in the third quarter, while steel consumption by the auto and housing sectors will be sluggish, Xu Lejiang, chairman of Baosteel Group, told reporters. “The third quarter will be the most difficult time of the year because that’s when iron ore prices will peak if contracts are based on quarterly pricing as the three major iron ore suppliers have requested,” Xu said. “Demand from downstream industries such as auto, housing and home appliances will become relatively weak,” he added. Baosteel cut its hot-rolled product prices for July delivery by about 10 per cent and cold-rolled prices by 13 per cent, the first cuts since last November. Some small steel mills and traders may spurn iron ore purchase contracts and turn to the spot market for ore in the third quarter, when spot prices are likely to fall below contracted prices, Xu added. However, Baosteel will not buy in the spot market, Xu said, adding that the company would stick to long-term iron ore supply contracts, although it harbours doubts about the quarterly pricing mechanism the miners have initiated this year to replace annual term price agreements. Mainland’s largely state-run steel industry has steadfastly insisted on adhering to annual pricing, as it seeks greater price stability and fears a possible rise in prices later this year, although in practice it appears to be acceding to quarterly deals, in line with other Asian steelmakers. “We haven’t accepted the new pricing system but there’s nothing we can do about it by ourselves. We’re still trying to negotiate,” Xu said. “We will negotiate with each iron ore miner to figure out how to finalize payment for second-quarter iron ore deals.” Xu said spot iron ore prices were certain to fall in the fourth quarter as a large number of mainland steel mills would curtail production.

Guangzhou Automobile, mainland’s sixth-biggest carmaker, said it will hike its offer to take unit Denway Motors private by 25 per cent, as it readies for its own listing.

Naval convoys attend joint training sessions by China's 5th escort flotilla in the Gulf of Aden, off the northern coast of Somalia on June 7, 2010.

June 10, 2010

Hong Kong*: The Travel Industry Council has been urged to consider expelling agencies that repeatedly break the rules. Tourism Board chairman James Tien Pei-chun made the call yesterday following a recent incident in which a mainland tourist died from a heart attack after arguing with a tour guide who allegedly refused to let him leave a jewellery shop. The guide was reportedly unlicensed and was using the permit of another guide with the same surname. In Hong Kong, tour companies must be members of the council, which is the industry watchdog, to do business. "They should really consider expelling [a repeat offender], because once they expel the member from the TIC, the government will revoke their licence," Tien said. The council has fined its members before for breaches of its regulations but has never expelled any travel agencies. But fines of HK$40,000 to HK$50,000 did not seem to have had much of a deterrent effect, Tien said. To address the issue, the council is considering adopting a points deduction system. Travel agents would have their licences suspended for serious breaches of the regulations or if they had a certain number of points deducted. The council has received nine complaints since 2003 about the company suspected of hiring the unlicensed guide.

Chinese University's controversial decision to bar a statue of the Goddess of Democracy from its campus was immature, its vice-chancellor-designate said Monday.

Beijing offers definition of Hong Kong suffrage - June 23 2010 to vote for reform package - Beijing has for the first time offered a definition of what universal suffrage will mean for Hong Kong - "the equal right of election of all individuals". It left pan-democrats even more worried than they were already. The statement from Qiao Xiaoyang , deputy secretary general of the National People's Congress Standing Committee, came as the government confirmed that its proposals for 2012 electoral reforms would go to a vote in the Legislative Council on June 23, where democrats say it faces defeat unless key concessions are made. Pan-democrats said Qiao's statement only offered the right to vote rather than to stand and nominate others to stand in an election, and paved the way for keeping Legislative Council functional constituencies indefinitely. It also renewed their fears that a mechanism would be created to weed out, in the name of "democratic procedure", chief executive candidates not favoured by Beijing. Beijing also ruled out demands by moderate democrats to allow everyone a vote for the six seats proposed for Legco's district councils functional constituency in exchange for their backing for the reform plans. Democratic Party chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan said he was now even more worried than before hearing Qiao's words. Civic Party leader Audrey Eu Yuet-mee said the statement reinforced the camp's concerns. "The government keeps saying it wants us to move forward, but moving without looking means we are walking into a trap." At a press conference in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing hours after the Hong Kong government tabled its proposals in Legco, Qiao said he had noted Hongkongers' wish for Beijing to make clear the definition of universal suffrage for the chief executive election in 2017 and the legislature in 2020. "The core content of universal suffrage is to protect the equal right of election of all individuals," he said. "As can be seen from history, the emphasis of the concept of universal suffrage is that no distinctions are permitted between individuals in terms of the right of election on the grounds of property, sex or race," Qiao said. But he said it was a norm internationally that laws could be passed imposing "reasonable restrictions" on this right. "Within the international community, it is a fact that different countries have adopted different electoral systems to realise the universal and equal right of election in the light of their own situations," Qiao said. He reiterated that the authority and legal effect of the 2007 decision by the NPC Standing Committee, which allows universal suffrage for the chief executive election in 2017 and Legco elections thereafter, was "beyond any doubt". But he laid down five conditions - including balancing the interests of different sectors - that must be met for procedures to comply with the Basic Law. On the nomination threshold for chief executive election candidates, Qiao said the present system, under which an 800-member Election Committee nominates and elects the next chief executive would not be an example for the future system. "[These] are two entirely different nomination methods. The two nomination methods are not comparable," Qiao said. Under the Basic Law, future chief executive candidates should be nominated by a "broadly representative" nominating committee through democratic procedures, he noted. On whether functional constituencies were to be abolished, Qiao said consensus could only be built through rational discussion in the future and the issue should not become an obstacle to the passage of the 2012 proposals. "As to functional constituencies, we need to make an objective assessment, as they have been in existence since the electoral system was introduced in Hong Kong," Qiao said, and pointed to what he called "very diverse views" within the community. On a proposal by the moderate Alliance for Universal Suffrage for, among other things, the direct election of six lawmakers in the functional constituency for district councils, Qiao said it could not be done because it had long been a tradition for district councillors to return their Legco representatives through elections among themselves. Pan-democrats said Qiao's statement merely reinforced, if not increased, their concerns that the "universal suffrage" promised for 2017 and 2020 would fall short of the type of universal suffrage that allowed a real choice of representatives and an equal opportunity to stand for election. Ho, the Democratic Party chairman, noted the conspicuous absence of any mention of the right to be elected, the lack of a pledge to abolish the functional constituencies and the pegging of the definition of universal suffrage to the other conditions Qiao mentioned. "I think his statement has raised even more questions than answers," Ho said. A particular worry was the mentioning of "democratic procedures" under which the candidates for the chief executive election are to be nominated before being put to the vote by the public. Currently, the candidates merely require signatures from at least 100 eligible nominees, but Qiao said that in the event of universal suffrage for the election of the chief executive the nomination of candidates would be "entirely different". But Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong chairman Tam Yiu-chung urged the pan-democrats to take one step forward first and resolve other differences later. Still, he conceded that he was not optimistic the proposals would win enough support. A person familiar with the government's position said pan-democrats should appreciate the national implication of Qiao's statement, which was made on the mainland - a place yet to have direct elections. Speaking after Qiao's statement, Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen said the government's reform proposals as tabled were the best people could expect. He said Qiao's statement had already addressed key concerns raised by pan-democrats over the concept of universal suffrage through their dialogue with Li Gang , a deputy director of the central government's liaison office. "I hope Mr Qiao's speech can address the doubts these people have," Tsang said. Five-point plan according to Beijing, universal suffrage: Shall confer an equal and universal right to vote; Take into consideration Hong Kong’s legal status; Be compatible with the executive-led political system; Balance the interests of different sectors of society; Be beneficial for the development of the city’s capitalist economy.

Top Beijing figures yesterday praised Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and his ministers for launching a street lobbying campaign for constitutional reform, despite the campaign being widely dismissed by pan-democrats as being a disaster. Government officials also said the campaign strategy was effective, as protesters were drawn to follow Tsang and other top ministers, leaving others in the team to reach out to the people elsewhere on Sunday. Door-to-door visits are being planned in the districts in the next two weeks ahead of the key vote in Legco on the reform package on June 23. One official said the administration's strategy of letting the chief executive, chief secretary and financial secretary each lead a team during district visits on Sunday had borne fruit, making this street campaign better than the first. At a press conference to back the government's reform proposal, Li Gang , a deputy director of the central government's liaison office, said the campaign and the televised debate Tsang has scheduled on June 17 with Civic Party leader Audrey Eu Yuet-mee, demonstrated the government's sincerity. During the "Act Now" street canvassing campaign on Sunday, Tsang, who was mobbed by protesters, told them they were in the minority, while some of his ministers condemned protesters for disturbing the public. Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai, a member of the National People's Congress Standing Committee, praised the persistence shown by Tsang and his team. Pan-democrats yesterday described the campaign as a complete public relations disaster. "That was embarrassing. I've never seen government ministers taking a loudspeaker to the streets to argue with the people," Cyd Ho Sau-lan, an independent pan-democrat, said. Democratic Party lawmaker Lee Wing-tat said it was the worst publicity stunt he had ever seen in politics, and it had completely backfired. The chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, Tam Yiu-chung, said the chief executive was scheduled to drop in on the party's central committee meeting tonight to discuss the proposal further. He said there was no question of his party's votes of support being in doubt, but thought it responsible for Tsang to pay a visit now that the resolutions had been formally tabled in order to "show sincerity."

Haeco's privatisation bid will free up cash for Cathay Pacific to expand its aviation business and build a new cargo terminal. Swire Pacific (SEHK: 0019), the controlling shareholder of Cathay Pacific Airways (SEHK: 0293), is to offer HK$9.43 billion in a bid to privatise Hong Kong Aircraft Engineering Co (Haeco (SEHK: 0044)) and free up cash for the Hong Kong flag carrier. The cash deal will see Cathay Pacific sell its 15 per cent stake, equal to 24.94 million Haeco shares, for HK$2.62 billion or HK$105 per share. The offer represents a 25 per cent premium to the HK$84 the shares were trading at before suspension. The deal will allow the carrier to expand its aviation business and build a new cargo terminal. After the transaction, Cathay Pacific will cease to hold Haeco shares, while Swire Pacific will boost its holding to 60.96 per cent from 45.96 per cent. According to the listing rules, Swire will be required to make a mandatory unconditional offer in cash to buy out the remaining 39.04 per cent of Haeco shares it does not own, a deal totalling HK$9.43 billion. Cathay Pacific, Swire Pacific and Haeco suspended their shares from trading yesterday, pending announcements related to the deal. In a joint statement to the stock exchange, Swire Pacific said HSBC Holdings (SEHK: 0005) and Asia Pacific Advisers were the financial advisers. "The transaction is driven by the strategic priorities of Cathay Pacific and will benefit its core aviation business," said the statement issued by Swire Pacific, Cathay Pacific and Haeco. "It enables Cathay Pacific to apply the proceeds from the transactions towards other investments including new aircraft and the new cargo terminal being constructed at the Hong Kong International Airport." Cathay Pacific will record a profit of about HK$1.82 billion from the share sale. In September last year, the carrier announced it had recorded a one-off gain of HK$1.27 billion on the disposal of a 12.45 per cent stake in Haeco for HK$91.83 per share. Daiwa Institute of Research analyst Kelvin Lau said Cathay Pacific needed cash to fund its HK$5.5 billion construction bill for the cargo terminal. "The share sale will shore up its balance sheet," he said. Peter Kilgour, the finance director at Swire Pacific, said it had been Swire's consistent intention to acquire additional shares of Haeco as when the opportunity arose. "The transactions allow Swire Pacific to acquire the majority control of Haeco and consolidate its financials and cash flows, on terms which it regards as appropriate," Kilgour said. In a separate announcement, Haeco said Albert Lam Kwong-yu, an independent non-executive director of the firm, had advised the chief executive that he placed an order on June 4 for the acquisition of 4,000 Haeco shares at HK$84 each. Two days later, Lam resigned as a director of the company. Lam has confirmed that he is not aware of any matter relating to his resignation that needs to be brought to the attention of the company shareholders. Haeco was incorporated in 1950 and listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange in 1965. Its principal activity is the provision of overhaul and maintenance services for commercial aircraft. The privatisation bid of Haeco came after Swire Pacific last month scrapped its HK$20.84 billion initial public offering for its property arm, Swire Properties. Shares of Cathay last changed hands at HK$15.68 and Swire last traded at HK$85.50. Shares of the three companies will resume trading today.

Hong Kong's economy faces risks from the fallout from Europe's debt woes and uncertainty about the flow of capital, the financial secretary told lawmakers. With 12 per cent of goods and 19 per cent of services exported from Hong Kong destined for Europe, the city is highly vulnerable to external economic shocks. Briefing legislators on the economic situation yesterday, John Tsang Chun-wah said the government was wary of the European crisis. Hong Kong traditionally does much of its export business with the United States and Europe but is hoping to make up for any shortfall there with increased trade with markets such as India, Russia, the Middle East and Latin America, Tsang said. Like many open economies that are driven mainly by exports, Hong Kong was hit hard by the credit crunch, which led businesses in key overseas markets such as the US and Europe to cut back on goods and services from Asia. The weak euro, which makes Hong Kong exports relatively more expensive, is also hurting the local economy. Investors are spooked by the debt crisis enveloping Greece, Spain, Italy, Hungary and other European countries and global financial markets have been very sensitive to any negative economic news. Tsang said troubled European countries faced austerity measures and spending cuts in the short term, which could lead to budget deficits and hamper efforts by the global economy to emerge from last year's recession.

London-listed mining and exploration firm Petropavlovsk said there is no timetable for the flotation of its iron ore business on the Hong Kong stock exchange.

Shimao Property Holdings has acquired a luxury serviced apartment project in Beijing for 805 million yuan (HK$918.5 million).

Tough laws designed to hit gangland crime bosses where it hurts have been used for the first time to freeze the assets of a multi-million dollar cross-border diesel-smuggling syndicate. Customs Department chiefs have invoked the Organized and Serious Crimes Ordinance to freeze HK$200 million of the smuggling gang's assets, including bank accounts, property and cars. "Freezing their assets means we impose a more stringent punishment," customs special task force group head Chong Wai-ming said. "If we don't, the people involved can spend their money and enjoy their ill-gotten gains when they are released from jail. This stops them from doing so." Mainland and Hong Kong customs had been investigating the syndicate of several Hong Kong companies since the end of last year. The companies bought dyed diesel - which is exclusively for the Hong Kong marine market and not subject to SAR duty - from Hong Kong companies and smuggled it to the mainland using fishing boats with enlarged oil tanks. The dye would then be taken out and the fuel sold as normal diesel in bulk to petrol stations there. Investigators estimate 130 million liters of dyed diesel had been smuggled over three months. Intelligence bureau head Kwok Ngan-ping said the incentive to smuggle dyed oil was great because of the price difference. Dyed fuel is sold at around HK$4 (5 yuan) per liter, while diesel in the mainland is sold for around 7 yuan per liter. "This is about a two-dollar difference per liter of oil. The incentive for smuggling is, therefore, the huge profit," Kwok said. Mainland customs mounted an operation on January 31 in Shenzhen, Huizhou and Heyuan, seizing 600,000 liters of dyed oil and more than 4 million yuan, as well as arresting 134 people. With the help of mainland customs, Hong Kong then instigated "Operation Bottsand" on May 3. They arrested 19 people after searching 19 premises in a territory-wide operation. Oil barges, offices and homes were raided in a series of swoops. Those arrested include the suspected mastermind, company directors and oil barge workers. Smuggling proceeds of HK$200 million worth of assets were also uncovered and frozen. "As the supply of oil was from Hong Kong, but the distribution was in the mainland, smashing the syndicate needed a lot of cooperation," Kwok said. All those arrested have been released on bail.

Apple unveils new iPhone.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs poses with the new iPhone 4 during the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco, California, June 7, 2010. Calling it the "biggest leap since the original iPhone," Apple chief exec Steve Jobs proudly unveiled the widely expected iPhone 4, which has a higher-resolution screen, longer battery life and thinner design.

 China*: Workers at Foxconn factories in Shenzhen have greeted the latest announcement of big pay rises from October with disbelief, with most saying the offer is too good to believe and will be even harder to receive. Foxconn - a major supplier for many of the world's top electronic gadget manufacturers, including Apple and Dell - announced on Sunday that production line and senior staff in Shenzhen would be eligible for performance-based pay rises from October 1 that would boost pay levels by more than 120 per cent from those that workers enjoyed last month. It posted notices at its Shenzhen plants yesterday saying that the basic wage for first-line employees and their line leaders and supervisors would rise to 2,000 yuan (HK$2,284) a month from October 1.

A model of the 632-meter-high Shanghai Tower. It is scheduled to be completed in 2014 and will be higher than the nearby Jin Mao Tower and Shanghai World Financial Center in the Pudong district of Shanghai. Nation provides a business lifeline to struggling architect firms in the United States and Europe - China's construction boom is providing a lifeline for the world's leading architecture firms, which have been hit hard by the economic crisis. In the United States, architectural firms have shed a third of their jobs with fee income similarly down since the summer of 2008, according to the American Institute of Architects. Their salvation has been China, which has developed an almost insatiable appetite for the latest building technology and design. This has been symbolized in the past few weeks with the super columns emerging from the foundations in the Pudong district of Shanghai of what will be China's tallest building. The 632-meter Shanghai Tower is set to be completed in 2014 and will dwarf the nearby Jin Mao Tower and Shanghai World Financial Center - only the Burj Dubai in the Arabian Gulf will stand taller on the world stage. Dan Winey, managing director of Asia for international architecture firm Gensler, which designed the building, said China was an adventure for many firms. The practice has offices in Shanghai and Beijing and is hoping to open others in Chengdu and Shenzhen. "The really exciting thing about China is that clients are willing to take the risk and try something different. China has become a living laboratory for all of us. We are doing a lot of things a lot of developers wouldn't try in the United States," he said. The contrast with the United States - and to some extent Europe also - could not be starker. Kermit Baker, chief economist of the American Institute of Architects, said firms have been hit hard. "Demand just fell off a cliff when the economic crisis began. The recession is only second in magnitude to the Great Depression (of the 1930s) and construction activity completely dried up. The loss of 8 million payroll positions means there is less demand for office space," he said.

Expo shows its green side in Shanghai - Siemens unveils ground-breaking technology that offers environmentally-friendly devices for nation - It's estimated that over the six months of its duration a total of 70 million people will visit Expo 2010 in Shanghai. The huge number of visitors and the high temperatures will present something of a challenge to the comfort of visitors to this grand gala, but green technology is riding to the rescue. Located at the Urban Best Practice Area (UBPA) as a permanent construction, the Hamburg House is a unique and interesting building. It represents the first certified "Passive House" in China, which means it is an ultra-low energy building that uses only 10 percent of the heating or cooling requirements of traditional structures while maintaining a temperature inside of around 25 degrees. Behind the unique airtight design there is innovative technology from Siemens. The electronics and engineering company is committed to leveraging the world's leading "green" technologies to equip this Passive House with the world's most advanced and energy-saving devices. The Passive House boasts zero-gas emissions. It makes full use of the heat from human bodies and electrical equipment to create much of the warmth. In addition, renewables such as geothermal and solar power are used as additional energy sources for heating, cooling and other needs. Siemens' green technology helps to stage both a sustainable and the first green Expo in Shanghai. How to handle several million visitors was a priority for organizers. Siemens has supplied a lot of new technologies for the city's massive infrastructure construction, about 90 percent of which is related to sustainable, environmentally-friendly products and solutions. For example, Siemens provides efficient transportation and clean air and water in Shanghai. Also, Siemens supplies technology used in more than 40 projects at the exhibition ground. As Richard Hausmann, chief executive officer for Siemens Northeast Asia and president and CEO of Siemens Ltd, China said, "The entire Expo is our pavilion."

News of a fresh pay hike at Foxconn International Holdings (2038) pulled down the shares of mainland-based manufacturers - with investors afraid the trend will dampen profits. Foxconn yesterday announced plans to increase the base salary of assembly line workers at its Shenzhen factory to 2,000 yuan (HK$2,284) per month, subject to a three-month assessment. The decision effectively doubles workers' pay and comes after wages were raised by 30 percent to 1,200 yuan just last Wednesday. For Foxconn workers elsewhere in the mainland, the salary review will be based on local living standards and regulations.

Bid to cut campus red tape stifling growth of talent - University of Science and Technology of China president Zhu Qingshi was assigned a back-row seat at a recent meeting of university heads. When the organisers realised who he was, he was seated closer to the front, but still behind his peers from other universities. Unlike most others in attendance, Zhu did not hold any official rank. Zhu was amused, according to mainland media reports, but the seating shuffle helps illustrate the bureaucratic way that mainland universities are run. The growing trend, criticised for lowering teaching quality, killing creativity and hindering the cultivation of top-tier talent, has now been targeted for change by the central government. A medium- and long-term blueprint for talent cultivation between 2010 and 2020, released on Sunday, sets a target of having 180 million trained professionals by 2020 and 20 per cent of the population with higher education. The blueprint includes 12 measures to build up the mainland talent pool, including importing top-tier overseas professionals and initiatives to nurture the creativity of mainland youth and encourage graduates to spread their skills in poor rural areas and in factories. To reach the goal set out in the blueprint, the central government will push for the streamlining of administrative control over staff appraisals and promotions. The authorities will also move to abolish administrative controls and the official ranking system in research institutes, university schools and hospitals, to allow professors to have greater say in how schools should be run.

Beijing people spend an average of almost an hour commuting to work, topping a list of 50 cities, a report has revealed. The Chinese Academy of Sciences calculated commuting times and found Beijing's average was 52 minutes. The other so-called first-tier cities followed, with Guangzhou at 48 minutes, Shanghai 47 and Shenzhen 46. Residents in less developed cities spend less time on the road with an average of 24 minutes, the report said.

Exxon Mobil Corp is in talks with state oil firms to jointly invest in resources including unconventional ones, an executive said yesterday, as China pushes aggressively to boost use of natural gas. The partnership will cover oil and gas projects inside and outside the country, which are beyond the multibillion-dollar gas supply deals the United States oil giant has already lined up with the mainland, the world's fastest-growing key energy consumer. Such alliances would follow similar tie-ups like Shell's US$3.2 billion joint acquisition with PetroChina (SEHK: 0857) of Australian gas firm Arrow Energy Corp and BP's team-up with PetroChina to develop giant oilfields in Iraq.

June 9, 2010

Hong Kong*: The Legislative Council will vote on the government's controversial political reform proposals for 2012 on June 23, Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen said on Monday.

Mu Huaipengwho last headed the Financial Market department at the People’s Bank of China, has been appointed as a senior adviser of Hong Kong Monetary Authority on Monday. The Hong Kong Monetary Authority said on Monday that it has appointed Mu Huaipeng from mainland’s central bank as senior adviser, as the territory moves to further strengthen its position as a test-bed for internationalisation of the yuan. The announcement confirmed an earlier report in April, which indicated that Mu would be taking an advisory position with the HKMA. Mu, who last headed the Financial Market department at the People’s Bank of China, would begin at Hong Kong’s banking regulator on Monday, the HKMA said in a statement. “He will offer advice and assistance in the areas of financial cooperation between Hong Kong and the mainland, further expansion of renminbi business in Hong Kong, and the development of opportunities for Hong Kong’s financial services industry in the mainland,” the HKMA said. The appointment echoes a move late last year by Joseph Yam, the former chief of the HKMA, to join the People’s Bank of China as an adviser. Hong Kong has emerged as the testing ground for many of Beijing’s experiments with its currency as it takes small steps towards its ultimate aim of having the yuan stand alongside the greenback as one of the world’s major reserve currencies. Many financial institutions in Hong Kong already offer products such as yuan time deposits, yuan bonds and yuan-denominated insurance.

A currency trader reacts in front of screens showing the Korea Composite Stock Price Index (Kospi at the Korea Exchange Bank headquarters in Seoul on Monday. Asian shares plummeted on Monday after a slump in Wall Street on Friday and worries that Hungary’s public finances face a Greece-style meltdown. Asian and European stock markets tumbled on Monday, dragged down by weak US employment figures and fresh fears that Europe’s debt crisis is spreading to Hungary.
Oil was also buffeted, falling to near US$70 a barrel, while the US dollar fell against the yen and gained versus the euro. Wall Street was poised to open lower. Dow futures shed 66 points, or 0.7 per cent, to 9,880 while the broader Standard & Poor’s 500 futures dropped 6.6 points, or 0.6 per cent to 1,059.60. Selling was sparked in Asia on fears that Europe’s debt problems could spread after Hungarian officials said last week the nation was at risk of a Greek-style fiscal crisis. The comments shocked investors, pushing the euro to a fresh four-year low against the US dollar. Hungary is part of the European Union, but keeps its national currency – the forint, which dropped around 5 per cent last week. “The problem seems like a cancerous thing – it’s spreading from smaller country to smaller country, and many people are afraid that it will spread to a big country like France or Germany, although that’s unlikely,” said Jackson Wong, vice-president at Tanrich Securities, in Hong Kong. “We don’t have major good news on the horizon. We still have crises down the road.” Major European stock indexes were lower in early trading. The FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was down 1.2 per cent at 5,066.77 while Germany's DAX slipped 0.8 per cent to 5,889.71. The CAC-40 fell 1.3 per cent to 3,410.93. Asian indexes closed sharply lower on Monday: Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 stock plunged 380.39 points, down 3.8 per cent, to 9,520.80 with investors also cautious before Japan’s new leader, Naoto Kan, forms his Cabinet on Tuesday. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng dropped 2 per cent to 19,378.15 and Shanghai’s key index lost 1.6 per cent. South Korean shares fell 1.6 per cent, with banks like Hana Financial leading losses. The Kospi finished down at 1,637.97 points. Taiwan stocks dropped 2.54 per cent in their biggest one-day per cent fall in two weeks, dragged down by TSMC and other tech exporters. The main Taiex share index ended down 186.76 points at 7,157.83, a level not seen since late May.

Trading in carrier Cathay Pacific (SEHK: 0293) and property-to-aviation conglomerate Swire Pacific (SEHK: 0019) was halted on Monday pending the release of price sensitive information, the companies said. In a statement to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, Cathay asked that trading in its shares be halted ahead of an announcement “which constitutes price sensitive information”. Swire Pacific also asked for trading in its shares to be suspended before a ”takeovers and mergers” announcement, according to a statement filed to the exchange. Trading in shares of Swire’s affiliate Hong Kong Aircraft Engineering Company (HAECO (SEHK: 0044)) were also frozen. In September, Swire boosted its stake in HAECO to 46.96 per cent from 33.52 per cent, buying a chunk of Cathay Pacific’s holding in a deal worth HK$1.90 billion, according to Dow Jones Newswires. Last August, Swire Pacific and flag carrier Air China (SEHK: 0753, announcements, news) said they planned to boost their stakes in Cathay Pacific by acquiring shares held by troubled Citic Pacific (SEHK: 0267) in a deal worth HK$7.35 billion. The pair said Swire would maintain its controlling Cathay stake while Air China would boost its own shareholding in the airline to 29.99 per cent.

In the first quarter of the year, Hong Kong’s total port cargo throughput increased by 20 per cent over a year earlier to 62.8 million tonnes, new statistics released on Monday showed.

Local labor unions are hopeful that Beijing will support the setting up of an international labor convention for domestic workers as it recently rejected India's proposal to reduce the convention into a form of harmless recommendation. The convention - which details of its contents have yet to be set out - seeks to guarantee full-time and part-time domestic workers basic labor rights such as sick leave, pensions and medical insurance. If China becomes a signatory of the convention, the Hong Kong government is supposed to take it as a reference when devising local labor policies. Full-time domestic workers in the city are now protected by the Employment Ordinance, but part-time helpers are excluded from the benefits. "Employment and social protection to domestic helpers, regardless of whether they are full-time or part-time, are always limited around the world," Fung Ka-yan, chairman of the Hong Kong Domestic Workers General Union, said. "Although it may be a bit better in Hong Kong, our full-time domestic helpers still do not enjoy all labor rights - like a minimum wage and maximum work hours, and the situation for part-time helpers is even worse. They have no benefits." Representatives of the union are attending a meeting of the International Labor Organization in Geneva on the issue. A majority of the participating countries, including China, recently rejected a proposal from India to make the convention no more than a mere recommendation. Some employer representatives also demanded the convention cover only full-time domestic workers. The organization, which consists of employers, workers and the governments from more than 100 countries, will spend the next 12 months discussing details of the convention. Hong Kong has no voting rights. More than 70 unionists gathered outside the central government's liaison office in Western district yesterday, demanding support from Beijing for the convention.

Xinjiang Goldwind Science & Technology opens its retail books today to raise HK$9.09 billion in the second largest initial public offering in Hong Kong this year, after UC Rusal (0486) listed in January.

Bank of Communications (3328) announced it will raise as much as 33.07 billion yuan (HK$37.74 billion) from a 1.5-for-10 rights issue in both Hong Kong and Shanghai. The offer prices are more than 20 percent lower than previous estimates. Earlier, the bank was expected to raise 42 billion yuan. The rights issue comes ahead of similar exercises by the Bank of China (3988) and China Construction Bank (0939), as well as Agricultural Bank of China's new share sale. BoCom plans to issue 3.46 billion rights shares in Hong Kong at HK$5.14 apiece. This represents a 37.2 percent discount to Friday's closing price of at HK$8.19. Also, 3.89 billion rights shares will be issued in Shanghai at 4.50 yuan each -30 percent lower than the Friday closing price of 6.39 yuan in the mainland market. HSBC Holdings (0005), the largest holder of BoCom's H shares, has agreed to pour up to HK$7.24 billion to subscribe 1.408 billion rights shares. "Bank of Communications is our strategic banking partner in mainland China and we are very pleased with the progress we have made together over the last six years," HSBC chief executive Michael Geoghegan said. The mainland's National Social Security Fund and the Ministry of Finance, together will invest a total of at least HK$6.6 billion on the rights issue to maintain their stakes. Goldman Sachs (Asia), Hongkong and Shanghai Bank Corp, BOCOM International, CITIC Securities Corporate Finance, Merrill Lynch Far East, BOCI Asia and BNP Paribas Capital are underwriting the issue. BoCom is expected to raise net proceeds of 32.8 billion yuan if the rights shares are fully subscribed. Following the rights issue, H-shares will account for 47.08 percent of total issued shares while the A-shares will account for 52.92 percent. Shares of BoCom have fallen 5 percent since March 2, when it first announced plans to undertake the massive rights issue.

Two firms plan to sell more than HK$10 billion worth of new shares this week through initial public offerings despite the market volatility and the deteriorating European debt crisis. Xinjiang Goldwind Science and Technology, the mainland's second-largest producer of wind turbine generators, said its HK$9 billion IPO would be open from today until Thursday. On Wednesday, World Wide Touch Technology (Holdings), a touch pad manufacturer, will sell new shares to raise a much as HK$1.4 billion, people familiar with the deal said. The offering will close on June 14. Shares of the two firms will start trading on June 22. Xinjiang Goldwind chairman Wu Gang yesterday rejected suggestions the company had set the shares at a relatively high price-to-earnings ratio. The firm has a track record of achieving impressive performances over the past decade. The Urumqi-based firm, set up in 1988, plans to sell 395.29 million H shares at HK$19.80 to HK$23 each or 18.8 to 21.8 times this year's forecast earnings. "Our ability of achieving profitability is stronger than our rivals," he said. Xinjiang Goldwind's listing prospectus shows Cheng Yu-tung's privately owned company Chow Tai Fook Nominee has signed up as a cornerstone investor to buy US$40 million worth of new shares. Cheng, the chairman of New World Development, agreed to hold the shares for at least six months under a lock-up provision. As at April 30, the firm's total bank borrowings amounted to 3.09 billion yuan (HK$3.52 billion), up 19.77 per cent from 2.58 billion yuan last year. Meanwhile, Hong Kong-based World Wide Touch said its net profit grew 90.57 per cent to HK$151.7 million last year from HK$79.6 million in 2007. Chairman Kelvin Wong said the sharp increase in earnings was mainly because of the improving profit margins and the increase in new products. World Wide Touch's gross margins increased to 29.1 per cent last year, from 21.9 per cent in 2008, he said. The firm's largest customer, United States-based Synaptics, accounts for 80 per cent of its total sales of HK$888 million last year.

The site at the junction of Fat Kwong Street and Chung Hau Street in Ho Man Tin could fetch up to HK$10.58 billion, say analysts. The lowest price forecast is HK$7.15 billion. A residential site in Ho Man Tin up for auction tomorrow fulfils all the criteria for achieving a jaw-dropping price - a prize location, flats that will present buyers with panoramic sea views, and proximity to the proposed Sha Tin-Central MTR link. But for the government, which is selling the site, the timing could not have been worse and analysts are bracing for a poor outcome and a further blow to market confidence. The auction will follow on the heels of two disappointing land sale outcomes - a residential site in Tung Chung that was sold at 5 per cent below the bottom of market forecasts on May 11, followed by withdrawal from sale due to poor bids of a mega site at Nam Cheong Station by MTR Corp last month. Taking into account the message that developers have become more conservative about land acquisitions and concerned by declining home sales, property consultants have lowered their forecasts for tomorrow's auction by up to 10 per cent. The Ho Man Tin site is now expected to fetch between HK$7.15 billion and HK$10.58 billion. That will represent an accommodation value of between HK$8,226 and HK$12,180 per square foot on the total projected gross floor area of 869,247 sq ft. The site is about five minutes' walk to the proposed Ho Man Tin station along the Sha Tin-Central MTR link due to be completed in 2016. "If this luxury residential site also fails to live up to reduced expectations of analysts, it will give a severe blow to market sentiment," said Charles Chan Chiu-kwok, valuation and professional services managing director for Savills. A poor outcome will indicate that developers have lost further confidence in the outlook for sales in the high-end residential sector which has so far held up due to limited supply, he said. Chan has revised down his sales forecast by 7 per cent to HK$9 billion from HK$9.6 billion, while Midland Realty cut its prediction by 10 per cent to HK$9.8 billion because of worsening market sentiment. The winning developer would have to offer the project at an average price of HK$13,000 per square foot to make reasonable profit, Chan said. "[This] will be in line with prevailing transaction prices of HK$12,000 to HK$13,000 per sq ft in the area," he said. AG Wilkinson & Associates' director of valuation Ringo Lam expects the site to sell for HK$8,266 per sq ft or HK$7.15 billion - the low end of market expectations. "The site would have fetched a higher price two months ago but now we have to lower the forecast in order to match the market sentiment," he said. Lam said the site could provide 450 standard units ranging from 1,200 sq ft to 3,000 sq ft, and 10 houses ranging from 4,500 sq ft to 5,000 sq ft each. He believed that standard units could sell for at least HK$10,000 per sq ft or HK$20 million each and the houses could be pitched at prices of around HK$18,000 per sq ft or HK$90 million. Paul Louie, regional head of property research at Nomura International, has a more optimistic view of the likely outcome of the auction. "We expect to see a positive surprise from the auction as the market is overly pessimistic after three disappointing land sales," he said. Market sentiment suffered a blow after the Tung Chung site was sold to Nan Fung Development for HK$3.42 billion on May 11. This was about 5 per cent below the bottom end of market forecasts, which had ranged between HK$3.6 billion and HK$5.04 billion. Later the tender sale of the HK$33 billion Nam Cheong MTR station residential project in Sham Shui Po folded when a joint venture between the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corp and the government, Nam Cheong Property Development, announced it had decided not to award the tender for development.

Battle looms over private health care in Hong Kong - Prospective new players in the Hong Kong private hospitals market say they want to bring changes to a sector that has been lacking competition for years. Fee transparency through packaged services, an online cost estimation system, no more pegging of medical fees to room types, and a prepaid medical scheme are among some ideas the new operators want to introduce. The government's offer of four sites for new private hospitals, in addition to the current 13, has unleashed a new battle in the private health care market. The government will start the tendering process late this year for the sites at Wong Chuk Hang, Tung Chung, Tai Po and Tseung Kwan O. Thirty organisations have expressed interest. Wong Chuk Hang is the most popular site, with 12 organisations showing interest, including Great Eagle (SEHK: 0041) Group, Baptist University, Union Hospital and Asia Financial Holdings. Asia Financial Holdings, a listed investment company in Hong Kong, is a shareholder in the 550-bed Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok, the biggest private hospital in Thailand. Group president Bernard Chan said it was time for Hong Kong's private hospitals to face changes. "We have never considered Hong Kong for new hospitals in the past because of the high land price but now a new opportunity has arrived. We want to bring in competition and a model different from the one now in Hong Kong. Once there is a new player, there will be changes," Chan said. The group plans to provide up to 350 hospital beds in the first stage of development - with an investment of HK$3 billion - to be increased to 510 beds in the second phase and, ultimately, 600 beds. Chan, a former executive councillor and former insurance sector lawmaker, said land prices had been the biggest barrier to new entrants. The hospital on the drawing board would have a charging policy different from most existing hospitals - it will not peg medical fees to room type. It has been the norm for most local private hospitals and doctors to charge patients staying in first-class and second-class rooms more than those in general wards. Chan said that at the Bumrungrad International Hospital, for example, patients did not have to pay higher surgical, drug or nursing fees because of their room types. "The way I look at this is, when there is new competition, it [the current charging practice] is going to change," Chan said. Increasing fee transparency was vital, Chan said. "Many patients complain they do not know how much they have to pay until they see the bill. We want to offer more packaged services for more transparency," he said. The government requires new operators to provide a mix of services with a minimum number of beds - and no more than 20 per cent of beds should be allotted to maternity wards. It also requires 30 per cent of the services to be provided with packaged fees. At the Bumrungrad hospital, an online system called "Realcost" allows patients to check the range of prices and the median price for 40 different procedures, based on data from the previous year. "It is all about transparency. We have been doing this in Thailand, and there will be no difference," Chan said, adding that such an online cost estimation system could be introduced in Hong Kong. He said that whether his group would bid in the coming tendering exercise depended on the land price and attached conditions. Most of the 13 private hospitals are not for profit and enjoy a nominal land price. "How can we provide cheaper services while having to pay for expensive land?" Chan said. "The land price must be reasonable." Chan said the Wong Chuk Hang site's proximity to the University of Hong Kong was an advantage. He also hoped that the government could break "the wall" between public and private medical practice so public doctors could practise in the new private hospital. Another group that has expressed its interest in the Wong Chuk Hang site for a 500-bed hospital wants to introduce a prepaid medical plan similar to the Kaiser Permanente in California. Kaiser is the largest managed care organisation in the United States, now serving more than 8.3 million members through a network of 11,000 docors, 31 hospitals and 437 medical centres. Members have to pay a premium for full medical care. To discourage abuses, patients have to co-pay for procedures. "Health care is always the most difficult domestic policy to many countries, the cost keeps going, and solely relying on the Hospital Authority is not feasible. The private hospital market plays a role to provide affordable services to people," the group's person in charge, who does not want to be identified, said.

Wherever they went yesterday, officials were greeted by shouts, boos and accusations that the electoral reform package was "undemocratic". The barrage of words from angry people drowned out the government's slogan of "Act Now" at every step of the campaign to drum up public support for the 2012 package. In the second stage of the publicity blitz that began on May 29, democracy activists yesterday upstaged the appearances of ministers and aides led by Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen in Kowloon West and Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah in new Territories East. Tang got off to a slow start when he was stuck on a footbridge where protesters confronted him as he arrived at a Kowloon Tong shopping centre at about 3pm. Tang attempted to remain composed and tried to make his points heard with a loudhailer, only to be drowned out by jeers from the crowd.

A barrage of media and angry protesters boo Chief Secretary Henry Tang in the Dragon Centre shopping mall in Sham Shui Po yesterday. He used a back door entrance to avoid angry protesters at the front.

A vicious circle of lukewarm reactions from doctors and patients might be to blame for the low participation rate of the health care voucher scheme for the elderly. The latest Department of Health statistics show that in the 18 months since the launch in January last year, only 38 per cent of eligible people have used a voucher and only a third of doctors have signed up.

Foster vs Foster's battle hits Australian wine behemoth - A winemaker shifts oak barrels at Coldstream Hills Winery, owned by Foster's Group Ltd, in Yarra Valley near Melbourne, Australia. Adam Foster's annual wine production of 2,500 cases is a fraction of the sales of Foster's Group Ltd, the world's second-largest producer. Yet it's a factor in breaking up the rival he shares a name with. Foster's Group, the Australian brewer that sells lager in 150 countries, spent A$7 billion ($5.9 billion) building its wine unit, acquiring such labels as Beringer of the Napa Valley. Wine earnings fell 53 percent in the six months through December on a grape glut, currency moves and competition from thousands of smaller rivals unencumbered by shareholder and analyst expectations. After a decade, investors are left with about A$2.5 billion of dollars worth of writedowns and a stock that has gained 18 percent since the start of 2001, or less than half the 39 percent rise in the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index. Chief Executive Officer Ian Johnston said on May 26 he plans to spin off the wine business. Foster's Group "just don't seem to know whether they are selling beer or wine, but my customers know what I do because I do it all myself", said Adam Foster, 35, who started making wine in 2004 in a friend's vineyard. "I do this for my lifestyle and that is what drives me, not trying to make a million cases or dollars a year." He produces wine under the Syrahmi label that sells for about A$50 a bottle as well as Foster e Rocco, a joint venture with Lincoln Riley, the sommelier at Gordon Ramsay's Maze restaurant in Melbourne. Australia has about 2,300 wine companies and is the world's sixth-largest producer, according to the Australian Wine & Brandy Corp. Foster's Group gets 32 percent of its A$4.7 billion of annual sales from outside Australia, New Zealand and Asia, most of which is in the wine unit. "There are lots of little irrational Davids in the wine industry and many of them are not in it for an economic return," said Theo Maas, who holds shares of Foster's Group among the A$5 billion of equities he helps manage at Arnhem Investment Management in Sydney. "Many are in it for lifestyle, which makes it hard if you are the goliath." Currency moves sliced 13 percent off earnings in the six months ended December, compounding problems for Foster's Group, which paid "too much" for wine assets and has struggled to increase prices in the face of rising production, Maas said. The company makes 36 million cases of wine a year, generating A$2.1 billion in sales. Foster's Group shares were unchanged at A$5.59 at 10:45 am in Sydney on Friday. The stock has risen 1.6 percent this year and posted two annual gains since 2001. The company's wine business may be worth as much as A$4 billion given its brands, vineyards and inventory, Morgan Stanley analyst Martin Yule said in a May 31 report. The Australian dollar has risen more than 20 percent since the beginning of 2009. The gain helped slice earnings before interest and tax by A$83 million in the six months ended December. Foster's Group made its first wine acquisition in 1996 with the A$482 million purchase of Mildara Blass Ltd. It paid A$2.7 billion for California's Beringer Wine Estates Holdings Inc in 2001, and its A$3.2 billion purchase of Southcorp Ltd in 2005 cemented its ranking as the world's second-biggest winemaker. Top-ranked Constellation Brands Inc, based in Victor, New York, has taken more than $500 million in wine impairments and restructuring charges in the past two years.

 China*: Taiwanese IT giant Foxconn, hit by a series of suicides, said on Monday it would hike wages at its plants in, a move observers said could trigger industry-wide pay rises.

Chongqing Changan Automobile, Ford’s car manufacturing partner, is in talks to produce a mid-sized car in mainland using Ford technology but carrying a Changan brand.

The unpublished diary believed to have been written by former premier Li Peng on the 1989 student pro-democracy protests became the hottest topic in mainland cyberspace over the weekend after it became accessible online to millions of savvy internet users. The photocopy version of the book, entitled The Critical Moment and subtitled Li Peng Diaries, has been made available for downloading straight after the 21st anniversary of the military crackdown in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. It is not immediately clear who first uploaded the book, to be published later this month in Hong Kong. There are various downloadable versions of the unpublished book online and many of them appeared to be accessible to mainland internet users without the hassle of scaling the "Great Firewall" of online censorship. The photocopy version of the book available online is largely the same as the copy of the manuscript seen by the South China Morning Post (SEHK: 0583) on the eve of the anniversary, except that 34 photographs purportedly picked by the former premier and a foreword in the printed book by an aide to former Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang are missing. Yuan Weishi, a historian at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, said the timing of the emergence of Li Peng's manuscript was intriguing. "It would be good for him personally to see the book published when he's still alive. If anyone disputes his accounts, he still has chances to refute," Yuan said in a telephone interview. Li, 81, and reportedly in failing health, was obviously concerned about how his role at this critical moment in China's history would be portrayed later on. "It was possible that he covered [something] up, avoided or even distorted some particular issues. It will take time for readers and researchers to find that out," Yuan said.

US-China ties in troubled waters - Beijing's growing assertiveness over maritime interests raising tensions - General Ma Xiaotian listens as US Defence Secretary Dr Robert Gates addresses the Shangri-La Dialogue. Ma made clear that surveillance by US ships and planes would not be accepted. The vast calms of the South China Sea belie a turbulence that is increasingly defining tensions between China and the US as well as the region. China's increasing military and diplomatic assertiveness over the disputed South China Sea dominated discussions in public and in private during the informal Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore over the weekend. While Chinese and US officials sharpened divisions during open exchanges, behind the scenes, Southeast Asian nations discreetly raised alarms about a fresh push from Beijing to scupper a regional approach to finding solutions. US Secretary of Defence Dr Robert Gates gave the strongest outline yet of Washington's worries, describing it as a "growing concern". While he stayed out of the sovereignty dispute, he said "we oppose the use of force and actions that hinder freedom of navigation", adding that stability and "free and unhindered economic development" must be maintained. "We object to any effort to intimidate US corporations or those of any nation engaged in legitimate economic activity," he said. US naval officials confirm that US patrols in the area are increasing, despite China's warnings that it cannot accept surveillance activity - something the US and other countries insist is the kind of routine military activity allowed in international waters. General Ma Xiaotian, deputy chief of the PLA General Staff, made clear at the weekend that surveillance by US ships and planes would not be accepted. He listed it as a condition for resuming normal military ties, along with an end of arms sales to Taiwan. "We are not treating it as a 'Chinese lake', we do allow innocent passage," one PLA official said later. "But I'm sorry, US surveillance is not innocent passage ... the concern of China must not be underestimated."

Here on the pristine east coast of Taiwan, known as the island's "back garden", rice farmer Tang Chin-man shrugs when asked about the potential damage a landmark trade agreement with the mainland could wreak on his business. "I guess it could turn out to be very good or very bad for Taiwan. But we just won't know until the agreement is signed," he said, proudly showing-off a display of rice products for which his hometown, Chishang township, is well-known in Taiwan. Another farmer, Kao Chi-hsiung, adds that as long as their trademarks are protected, Chishang farmers will be safe from rival Chinese products. "The fruit farmers might have more to worry about. We are different as we sell a quality product," explained Kao, who said the high grade of Chishang rice was due to Japanese settlers during the colonial period planting their rice seeds in the area. Tang says he is confident that president Ma Ying-jeou is doing what he thinks is best for the people under the Economic Co-operation Framework Agreement (ECFA). "But a lot will depend on how well Ma protects local workers," he added, referring to the traditionally pro-Kuomintang allegiances of the county. This is the ambivalence the Taiwanese president can expect towards ECFA, the cornerstone of his cross-strait policy, which the government is striving to seal this month.

Japan's new prime minister, Naoto Kan, will visit Shanghai on Saturday on his first overseas visit in that role, the website of the People's Daily reports.

Prudential, which aborted the largest acquisition in its 162-year history, has ruled out reviving its bid to buy the main Asian unit of American International Group.

June 8, 2010

Hong Kong*: People under age 30 now form the largest group taking part in the annual candle-light vigil to remember the Tiananmen Square crackdown.

Hong Kong may be "Asia's world city" but it is a distant second to Singapore when it comes to motor racing. This was proved again last week as the city was passed over in favour of Singapore to stage Asia's first V8 Supercars Series race. Singapore's Formula One Grand Prix has already set the standard in Asia, where the event at the Marina Bay area of the city is the only one to be raced at night. It has proved to be a huge tourist attraction, drawing motoring enthusiasts from all over the world.

Ko Tak-leung, who lives in Shanghai Street, faces the prospect of being forced from the home he and his wife share for the second time in a decade because of an urban renewal project. "Moving house is a big burden for us," he says. With the redevelopment of Shanghai Street, where the couple have an 800 sq ft flat in an old tenement, due to start in the next couple years, it is unlikely to be fulfilled. The new disruption comes a decade after the family were moved from their home in Hong Lok Street, known as Bird Street. Now, the elderly couple want to stay in the area they're familiar with. After selling vegetables and fruit in the wet market for almost half a century, they go there several times a day to shop and meet old friends. "I hope that if we have to move, we can find another place in the neighbourhood so we can continue to visit our friends," Ko said. The couple's situation highlights a criticism often made of the authority - that it disrupts or destroys communities without giving due concern to the people who live and work there. Protests, sometimes violent, have occurred over issues including unfair compensation, forced eviction, destruction of social networks, failure to conserve old buildings and maximisation of building density that favours developers. But the government and the authority say that many old areas in the city urgently need to be revitalised or redeveloped. Among about 40,000 private buildings in Hong Kong, nearly 10 per cent are more than 50 years old. About 600 come to the end of their 50-year lifespans every year, but only about 150 buildings are demolished and redeveloped annually. The authority faces a difficult task in balancing competing interests, including the need to redevelop old and sometimes unsafe buildings, a desire to preserve heritage, the concerns of residents who do not wish to move, and those who hold out for more compensation.

How Cathay Pacifc Airline made the connection? Cathay Pacific's marketing campaign featuring its staff talking about their lives has been a runaway success for the airline and created some unlikely celebrities. Her beguiling smile has graced billboards, TV screens, newspapers and magazines worldwide and earned her admirers everywhere. But it was the words of a five-year-old boy from Frankfurt that melted flight attendant Doris Wong's heart. Little Theo Maxeiner was so taken with the image of 29-year-old Wong after seeing one of the Cathay Pacific (SEHK: 0293) advertisements featuring her that he posted her a drawing of a plane in an envelope plastered with love hearts. "I like Doris' smile and I like her so much I made a drawing for her," Theo wrote in his letter, which a weary Wong found in her staff mailbox at the end of a long flight. Wong said afterwards: "I was so touched I almost cried." Theo's letter is just one of thousands of little scenarios that show how a marketing campaign by the airline called "Meet the Team" - featuring real-life flight attendants, pilots and other staff - has turned the lives of some ordinary employees upside down. For more than a year now, Cathay Pacific has been running adverts in Hong Kong and dozens of countries featuring pictures and profiles of its staff in uniforms alongside images of them in their out-of-work clothes, talking about their lives, loves and interests. The campaign has offered an intriguing insight into the human side of a group of people many of us can only imagine existing in the cockpits, aisles and galleys and has unexpectedly become one of the most successful and talked-about marketing drives in the airline's history. More than 1.3 million people have visited Cathay's Meet the Team website since March, when the second phase of the campaign was launched - and staff who posed for pictures, receiving only a set of framed prints as payment, have found themselves transformed into unlikely celebrities. "I was actually overwhelmed when I began seeing my picture everywhere," said 27-year-old flight attendant Alice Wong. "It felt weird to see myself. I would be on the bus and I'd see a billboard and I would think 'Oh, that's me'. "At first my friends were so excited and happy. I think they were proud of me. They took pictures of the billboards and tagged me on Facebook. Then after a while they started saying: 'I'm so sick of you. I don't want to see you any more'." Perhaps the most recognisable face of the campaign is Nancy Hui, a 30-year-old flight attendant who has featured in previous Cathay Pacific advertising campaigns but who has been almost omnipresent in the current campaign. Even Hui has been taken aback by the scale of the promotion and the response to it. "All of a sudden I saw myself everywhere and I realised 'Oh my God this is huge'," she said. "It wasn't just on TV. It was at the bus stop and on the train - it was everywhere. I was astonished and very shocked at the beginning. "My friends were saying 'Wow Nancy, you are here, you are there, I saw you in Paris, I saw you in a magazine. It was overwhelming." At times, she admitted, the attention could be a little unsettling. "I was sitting by myself on the Airport Express after work one day and all of a sudden there was a Chinese man standing there staring at me," she said. "I thought I might have a problem with a passenger on my previous flight because he kept staring at me. I thought he was going to yell at me for something I had done wrong. All of a sudden he sat next to me and said 'Aren't you the one who was on the advertisement?' "He said 'Why are you involved in that? Why did you volunteer to do the job? Many people in Hong Kong will see you and look at you and know your face.' I guess traditional Chinese people think we should be more low profile and more subtle. "I told him I work as a member of the cabin crew and I am used to dealing with 300 passengers on a plane. What is the difference if I am on a poster that thousands of people see? I'm happy to be doing it." It isn't the only time that the use of flight attendants in the campaign has brushed up against Hong Kong's conservative attitudes. Alice recalled the reaction of an airport shuttle bus driver who saw her face on a poster and remarked: "I feel so bad for your boyfriend. He must be very worried thinking everyone is looking at you.' Doris Wong says her mother used to be disapproving of her earlier work as a model before she joined Cathay Pacific. "When she saw my pictures in the campaign, she didn't say anything because she is quite traditional Chinese but I could feel she was really proud of me," she said.

Hong Kong and Shenzhen tourist authorities will strengthen their cooperation to combat inbound travel agencies' malpractice, Hong Kong's Commissioner for Tourism Philip Yung said on Saturday. Speaking on a radio talk show, Yung said short-term improvement measures will be implemented to maintain Hong Kong tourism's reputation, following a growing number of complaints from Chinese mainland tourists recently and a mainlander's death in late May. He expressed regret over the death of the mainland tourist who allegedly quarreled with an unlicensed tour guide over forced shopping on May 22. Yung said the Shenzhen tourist authorities have agreed to pass packaged tours' information to Hong Kong to facilitate the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong's early supervision. The authorities will also consider sending undercover officers to conduct checks on inbound travel agencies, he added. Noting the incident was unacceptable, he said Hong Kong Police and the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong are investigating the case and will impose tough penalties if investigations uncover illegal acts. The incident showed that there is room for improvement in the arrangement of shopping itineraries and the authentication of tour guides' identity and qualifications, he said. The local government will also formulate medium and long-term regulatory measures to ensure the trade's healthy development in the city, known as "shopping heaven" to most of mainland travelers.

Thanks, but no thanks. That was Taiwan's response to an offer from the Hong Kong government to have Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah and constitutional affairs chief Stephen Lam Sui-lung meet a senior island official visiting the city. Dr Lai Shin-yuan, whose trip the island's semi-official Central News Agency described as a move to "test the waters for visiting the mainland", was too busy to see the pair, Taipei said. Besides, the purpose of her trip was solely to visit Taiwan's agencies in Hong Kong, it said, according to the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau. Indeed, on her low-key three-day trip, Lai, the island's top official for mainland affairs, met Taiwan government staff and Taiwanese residents of the city. Her visit follows the inauguration of semi-official cultural co-operation councils by Hong Kong and Taipei to facilitate bilateral exchanges. Tsang is honorary chairman of Hong Kong's council, and Lai said he was welcome to visit the island in that capacity. Tsang has already announced plans to do so. Lai also said Wang Yi , head of the mainland's Taiwan Affairs Office, would be welcome to visit the island and that reciprocal visits by herself and Wang were possible.

 China*: Gansu governor Xu Shousheng was appointed acting Hunan governor yesterday, filling the seat left vacant by Zhou Qiang, who was promoted to the province's party secretary in late April. Xu's appointment is the latest in a series of reshuffles of top provincial posts. His appointment also ended speculation that Beijing may appoint Shanxi vice-governor Li Xiaopeng, son of former premier Li Peng, as Hunan governor. Zhou, a political ally of President Hu Jintao, was elevated to the top party post in the province after his predecessor, Zhang Chunxian, was appointed Xinjiang party boss in what is widely seen as Beijing's attempt to adopt a more tactful approach in ruling the restive region. Many analysts have said the iron-fisted rule of former Xinjiang party boss Wang Lequan has worsened ethnic tensions. Xu, 57, climbed the political ladder in Jiangsu province. He was appointed party secretary of Lianyungang city, Jiangsu, in 1996, became Gansu deputy party boss in 2006 and Gansu governor in 2008.

Sino-US military tensions broke out into the open at a security conference in Singapore yesterday, as a senior PLA strategist directly challenged US Defence Secretary Dr Robert Gates over the freeze in ties. The rare exchange saw Major General Zhu Chenghu warn that "you, the Americans, are taking China as the enemy" in response to a strong speech from Gates defending arms sales to Taiwan and blaming Beijing for the breakdown in military relations. Gates insisted he wanted co-operation with China and did not view it as an enemy.

South Korea is considering deploying Patriot anti-missile batteries in the wake of North Korea's sinking of one of its warships - a move that risks angering Beijing by deepening Seoul's involvement in US-led regional missile defense. Senior South Korean officials say Beijing has already warned against such a move but that the plan could proceed once military policy and budget reviews are completed later this year. South Korea is likely to keep Patriot PAC-3 batteries on land for low-level protection against incoming missiles but will stop short of putting interceptor missiles on warships. The seaborne weapons operate high in the atmosphere and form a key element in a theatre missile defense network operated by the United States and Japan. The issue surfaced in US-South Korean military talks this year and is likely to be discussed further soon.

Shenzhen appointed a new mayor Saturday, a year after Xu Zongheng was removed amid a graft probe. The city's executive vice-mayor, Xu Qin, a close ally of Guangdong party chief Wang Yang, was appointed mayor of the border city. The appointment marked the end of a political storm whipped up by the corruption scandal. It is also the latest in a string of appointments that has been described as the largest political reshuffle in Guangdong in a decade. Former Shenzhen party boss Liu Yupu was appointed chairman of the municipal people's congress yesterday. Speculation have been rife for months that Liu would be given a post in Guangdong's provincial political consultative conference. Liu was former Guangdong vice-party secretary and was transferred to Shenzhen in 2008.

June 7, 2010

Hong Kong*: MTR passengers will soon be free to loiter and play their radios and other devices wherever they like, as long as no one complains, according to proposed changes to the corporation's by-laws. The proposed amendments, which are designed to clarify and align the by-laws of the city's two rail companies following the 2007 merger of their rail operations, do not change the original intent of the provisions and do not result in additional powers for the MTR. The changes include a clarification that passengers can use MTR emergency equipment to deal with an accident without fear of being prosecuted for doing so. The playing of radios and other devices, and the ringing of mobile phones, in stations and trains would not be considered an offence unless someone complained, the rail company's deputy legal director, David Fleming, told a meeting of a Legislative Council transport panel subcommittee on railways. Given the difficulty MTR staff would have in determining criminal intent in cases of loitering, the by-law on loitering would be scrapped, Fleming said. Being intoxicated or under the influence of a substance would not be an offence under the proposed by-laws, but staff would be able to refuse entry to people so affected if they were considered a danger to others or themselves or jeopardised railway operations. If they refused to leave, officials could choose to prosecute. But if they were accompanied by someone who was sober, staff could exercise discretion and allow them to travel as long as passenger safety and rail operations were not at risk. "In other words, a commonsense approach will be taken in respect of the implementation of this particular law," Fleming told the lawmakers. The same approach applied to improper dress, such as extremely dirty, soiled or contaminated clothing that could pose a health risk to other passengers. However, the maximum fine would be reduced from HK$5,000 to HK$2,000. The by-law covering use of foul or abusive language had been divided into two parts. One part dealt with instances where inappropriate language was "likely to cause annoyance or offence" to anyone. Breaches would carry a fine of HK$2,000, down from HK$5,000. The other part covered more serious behaviour described as indecent or offensive, with a maximum fine of HK$5,000. The penalty for not paying fares was set at HK$5,000. Generally, offences that were considered low-risk in terms of passenger safety and railway operation would carry a HK$2,000 fine, he said, while those involving higher risk were subject to the maximum fine of HK$5,000 and six months' imprisonment. "Prosecution will only be resorted to if there is no sensible alternative," Fleming said. Lost property would be kept for up to three months instead of the present one month. Eating and drinking on MTR premises and trains remains a common problem, with more than 10 people prosecuted last year and warning letters issued to nearly 2,400 in the first quarter of this year, up 15.7 per cent year on year. The MTR is running a campaign at present against eating and drinking on trains. More than 20,000 passengers have also be fined for riding in the first-class compartment of trains without paying the first-class fare.

Security camera footage shows mainland tourist Chen Youming viewing items at JW Jewellery Outlet in Hung Hom. - Cutthroat prices at 'heart of tour problems' - Compulsory shopping problem stems from unsustainable pricing, industry insiders say - While the case of a mainland tourist who died after quarrelling with a tour guide shows that compulsory shopping still occurs in Hong Kong, industry insiders say the infamous practice is hard to eradicate because intense competition has cut tour prices to unsustainable levels. Chen Youming, 65, a retired national table tennis player, died of a heart attack on May 22 in a jewellery shop in Hung Hom. He collapsed after quarrelling with a tour guide allegedly posing as another registered guide and who allegedly refused to allow him to leave the shop. Chen had paid 1,788 yuan (HK$2,036) to join the tour, Xinhua quoted his daughter as saying. Tour operators estimate about 3,000 yuan is needed to cover hotel, transportation and costs on such tours. Although zero-price tours were banned on the mainland, competition for tourists pushed agencies to offer extremely low prices and hire illegal guides to cut costs, they said. The financial meltdown could also have led to price cuts to lure customers. Lax regulation of guides had also facilitated the comeback of "compulsory shopping", highlighted by Chen's death. Many tourists expected shopping sessions when they signed up for such trips, but complained to authorities when confronted with bullying guides, director of the Travel Industry Council Leung Fu-wah said. One 12-day tour which covered Hong Kong, Macau and Hainan was priced as low as HK$3,000, he said. Trip members turned to the council after the guide threatened not to give them food unless they shopped more. Unless regulators followed Taiwan's example and set a minimum price for packages, the problem of forced shopping would persist. About 10 tours a season, or 5 per cent of the total, would be led by illegal guides, Hong Kong Association of Registered Tour Co-ordinators chairman Wong Wai-wing said. Only a guide registered in the city was eligible to lead a tour, but many Shenzhen tour agencies had illegally made their own staff guides to cut costs since the financial downturn, he said. As the Travel Industry Council did not have the power to check people's identity cards, it could only report such cases to police. But most illegal guides led day tours and would have left the city before anything could be done, he said. Meanwhile, the woman who led the tour which included the mainland man who died is being sought by police. Hong Kong resident Cheng Hok-kong, 45, is suspected of posing as licensed tour guide Cheng Ying-lai, 33. A police officer said the woman was suspected of obtaining pecuniary advantage by deception but would not say whether or not she had fled Hong Kong. Tour guide Cheng Ying-lai's documentation had not been stolen and police said they believed a bogus tour guide had used a fake pass. Tsim Sha Tsui crime-squad officers began a criminal investigation and established the suspect's identity after receiving a complaint from Cheng Ying-lai. Hung Hom police officers are investigating the death of the mainland man and would submit a report to the coroner, another officer said. Police said there was no evidence to suggest that the dead mainlander had been stopped from leaving the jewellery store. Complainant Cheng Ying-lai reiterated yesterday during a television interview that she had nothing to do with the incident and said someone posing as her also had been involved in another tour which ran from May 9 to 10. She had approached police after hearing complaints that she had been involved in coerced shopping.

Morgan Stanley Asia chairman Stephen Roach has said in the past that most of the stimulus loans went to infrastructure projects including railways and roads, instead of property. Stephen Roach, Morgan Stanley's Asia chairman, has said investors should not worry about the vast amount of empty office blocks that are sprouting up across the mainland following last year's record bank lending spree. Property developers are flush with borrowed cash after banks lent 9.6 trillion yuan (HK$10.93 trillion) last year, and this has led to an immense building boom. In Shanghai, developers are building 3.6 million square metres of new offices, according to figures from property agency Colliers International. That is equivalent to 36 of HSBC (SEHK: 0005, announcements, news) 's massive Hong Kong headquarters. In Beijing, where commercial property construction has been intense, 45 per cent of offices in the central business district stood empty in the first quarter, real estate adviser Jones Lang LaSalle reported. But Roach, who is one of Asia's most respected economists and not viewed as a China bull, said this was unlikely to become a problem. "The big story in China in looking at property, infrastructure, urban construction is that it tends to be more forward-looking than similar activity in more market-driven societies," he said. He cited the example of Shanghai's Pudong financial district, where office vacancies peaked at 60 per cent in mid-1997, the year most buildings were completed. Pudong was packed out by early 2002. "What looks empty today is likely to be inhabited tomorrow." Jack Rodman, the president of Beijing-based distressed asset consultancy Global Distressed Solutions, questioned Roach's assumptions. He argued that the early years of the last decade were a one-off boom for commercial property in Shanghai and Beijing. "This was when most of the global investment banks, accounting firms and law firms set up in China. That wave of new occupancy is unlikely to happen again." Some economists are fretting the vast amount of empty property in the country may cause a banking crash, because developers who cannot rent out buildings could go bust. Roach has said in the past, however, that most of last year's economic stimulus loans went to infrastructure projects including railways and roads, instead of property. He has argued that infrastructure loans are higher quality and less risky for banks than real estate debt. Roach was speaking as he also announced he is moving his office base from Hong Kong to New York. Roach, whose main role is to brief Morgan Stanley's clients on developments on the mainland, will continue doing that job. He is also joining the faculty at Yale University.

Gold sales to Europe from the Perth Mint surged in May as the Greek sovereign-debt crisis triggered a flight to haven investments, draining stockpiles at the producer of 6 percent of the world's bullion. Buyers from the continent accounted for 69 percent of gold-coin purchases last month compared with 51 percent a year ago, said Ron Currie, sales and marketing director. Individual German investors also bought silver, seeking to protect their wealth with "poor man's gold", Currie said from Western Australia. Greece's fiscal crisis roiled financial markets worldwide, driving the euro lower. Gold reached a record in May as sovereign-debt risks escalated. The mint is working at full capacity with 20 percent more staff than a year ago, Currie said. "As soon as it was announced the European Commission was bailing out Greece, the German population decided they'd better hedge their euros by buying precious metals," Currie said. "We had stock before this blip in the market, then it all went." Spot gold traded at $1,205.94 an ounce at 9:54 am in Singapore on Friday compared with last month's record of $1,249.40 and $1,096.95 at the end of last year. The precious metal has gained for nine straight years. Silver, which peaked this year at $19.8275 an ounce on May 13, traded on Friday at $17.9425. "Anyone throughout Europe who understands how the euro is being debased is seeking the safety of gold," said James Turk, founder of, an online gold-buying and storage service that has passed $1 billion of customer assets. The metal may advance further next week, a Bloomberg survey showed. European leaders have proposed an almost $1 trillion loan package to contain the region's fiscal crisis, including funds from the International Monetary Fund. The euro has declined against all 16 major counterparts in the past three months, dropping the most against the dollar, with a 12 percent fall.

The Hong Kong Housing Society is considering reviving "middle-class public housing" after a break of 15 years.
Society chairman Yeung Ka-sing questioned whether ownership is the only definition of stable housing, saying housing which spares tenants hefty rent rises or eviction by landlords should be available as an alternative. "Does living in peace mean someone has to buy his own flat? Can he rent a flat instead?" he said. Yeung said one problem is getting land, so the society has to look for areas from within. It is studying whether it can use its own resources to build more housing for middle-class families who cannot afford to rent privately. However, he said it would not be easy for the government to allocate more land to the society, which fills the niche between the private market and government. Yeung also said the recent sale of the remaining flats from the Sandwich Class Housing Scheme was not that popular, suggesting the public's desire to own a flat may not be that high. According to the society, a family of four with a monthly income of less than HK$26,000 can rent a flat in a middle- class estate for about HK$6,000 a month. The last middle-class housing estate, Bo Shek Garden in Tsuen Wan, was built in 1996. The society has three estates - Healthy Village in North Point, Prosperous Garden in Yau Ma Tei and Bo Shek Mansion - providing about 1,000 rental homes for middle-class households. The application criteria are more relaxed than for Housing Authority flats, with income caps from HK$13,501 to HK$32,000, depending on household sizes. Tenants are charged a monthly rent of HK$2,300 to HK$6,200 - about 60 to 70 percent of the market rate. However, turnover is low, with only about 3 percent of flats vacated every year. There are now about 800 households on the waiting list. It is understood that the society may redevelop some old estates in Aberdeen, Shau Kei Wan and Tai Hang to provide the housing. There has been a continuing debate on housing policy and the lack of affordable homes for the middle class. According to figures from Centaline Property, rents in some areas have risen about 30 percent over the past 13 months. The government earlier this week launched a consultation paper on subsidizing home ownership. It includes calls for the resumption of Home Ownership Scheme flats.

A packed Victoria Park last night as more than 100,000 people attend the candle-light vigil to mark the 21st anniversary of the June 4 crackdown. Police said 113,000 took part, the force's highest ever estimate for the event, while organisers put the figure at 150,000.

 China*: Workers at a Honda parts factory in Foshan reached a settlement with the company last night after more than six hours of negotiation.

Unprecedented algal blooms in Lake Tai in 2007 remain fresh in the minds of residents in Wuxi, who could not get their drinking water from the once scenic lake.

The country's first national regulation on tackling the severe pollution in Lake Tai has been posted online for public review. The draft regulation comes amid environmentalists' concerns over the effects of a costly clean-up led by the government. Three years ago, massive algal outbreaks in the lake choked sources of drinking water for millions of people in affluent Wuxi , Jiangsu province. The comprehensive bill details a slew of measures aimed at co-ordinating the efforts of local authorities in the region and reining in industrial polluters. Two of the key points are a stated limit on the total emissions which can be discharged into the lake and a guiding principle in lake management that conservation always comes first, according to environmental analysts. The proposed regulation will remain on the website of the State Council's Legislative Affairs Office ( till the end of this month.

Ex-premier Li Peng praised Wen Jiabao for his refusal to sign off on an important telegram that could have led to an emergency session of the National People's Congress over the legality of imposing martial law in Beijing in 1989, according to an unpublished book based on what are believed to be his diaries. The former leader also praised other current leaders, including President Hu Jintao and Politburo Standing Committee members Li Changchun and He Guoqiang , for their support of the military crackdown. Li said Wen, then the chief of the General Office of the Communist Party Central Committee, had done the right thing by refusing to send a telegram, ordered by the then party chief Zhao Ziyang , intending to call the then NPC chairman Wan Li , who was visiting Canada and the US, back to Beijing to convene an emergency parliamentary meeting to discuss the student protests. The book, in the form of a series of selected diary entries the former leader wrote from April 15 to June 24, 1989, details how the inner circle of the Communist Party leadership remained sharply divided on how to handle the protests, and the confrontation between Zhao and him. While Wan was believed to be a supporter of Zhao, he was also closely linked throughout his career with Deng Xiaoping .

College graduates from rural and less-developed regions earn barely more than half the national average, a report on graduate employment says.

Travelers are being advised not to bring milk products or meat imports into China from Japan following a ban due to the latest foot-and-mouth outbreak, the Guangzhou Daily reported Thursday. China stopped importing milk powder, milk, beef and cattle-related products from Japan at the end of April since the start of outbreak in the country. China's top quality watchdog, General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (GAQSIQ), and Ministry of Agriculture issued the ban on imports of cloven-hoofed animals and related products from Japan, to stop the disease spreading to animals here, but not due to food safety. Though foot-and-mouth disease cannot cross to humans, buying or taking milk powders from Japan is forbidden, an unnamed official of Guangdong Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau explained in the report. He also said Japanese milk powders with Chinese signs on the market were imported before the outbreak and can still be purchased. The outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease was discovered in southern Japanese prefecture Miyazaki on April 20.

Prices of daily necessities including milk powder, tissue paper and tea have risen nationwide in recent months, following previous price hikes in a number of farm products. The price of a number of high-end milk powder products increased by up to three times this year, while the price of tea from the spring harvest has risen by 20 percent year-on-year, media reported. Most tissue paper products also rose by 20 percent year-on-year. Citing the latest round of price hikes, a number of analysts have warned again of the heightened risks of inflation, though food prices have started to ease due to central government efforts to curb speculation. Ha Jiming, chief economist at China International Capital Corp, forecast that the country's consumer price index (CPI), a major gauge of inflation, will increase by 3.2 percent in May from a year earlier, Xinhua News Agency reported. CPI annual growth rate could peak at 4 percent in June and July, Ha told an investor conference in Beijing. The government also reiterated an inflation target of 3 percent for the year. But a surge in prices of certain products like garlic or mung beans will have a limited impact on overall inflation, authorities said. Recent price hikes in non-staple products like garlic, vegetables and mung beans were reportedly due to factors like regional drought, speculation and hoarding. Food prices account for one-third of China's CPI basket, official statistics showed. The recent price hikes will not affect the CPI significantly because the consumption of the affected non-staple agricultural products is relatively low and their demand is flexible, said Peng Sen, vice-minister of the National Development and Reform Commission, the country's top economic planner. Zhang Lin, a Beijing-based white-collar worker, thought otherwise. "Inflation will definitely pick up in China as the price of almost every thing is on the rise," she said. Speculative funds looking for new investment channels as stock prices fell and tightening measures hit the property markets are partly responsible for expectations of inflation, Peng said. Mung beans cost 9 yuan (US$1.32) a kilogram in October 2009 but soared to 20 yuan for the same amount by May, figures from the National Bureau of Statistics showed. Prices for black soybeans and glutinous rice have also increased significantly. The government has rolled out anti-speculation measures, including monitoring prices, punishing irregular trading activities and increasing supply, to help cool the price hikes.

It's not yet time for China to reduce or stop policy support for the nation's real estate industry, said Li Fuan, an official with the China Banking Regulatory Commission. "Real estate in China is far from being at the end of its development and we are far from the point where we no longer need to support the industry, where we need to reduce or stop support," Li, head of the commission's banking innovation department, said at a forum in Beijing on Friday. Concerns among investors that China will introduce a property tax and other policies to curb home prices fueled a 30 percent fall this year in an index tracking 34 real estate companies traded in Shanghai. China has already limited loans for third-home purchases and tightened down payment requirements, aiming to cool a market where growth in property prices topped 10 percent for three straight months. Real estate "will be an important industry that continuously supports China's economic growth for the next 10, 20, 30 and even 40 years", Li said. The real estate industry needs as much as 60 more years of development before living standards nationwide can be brought to a "harmonious" and "well-off" level, he said.

A wedding planner waits for customers at the China International Wedding Expo in Beijing June 5, 2010. The event lasting from June 4 to June 6 will dispaly wedding dresses, wedding jewelleries, wedding banquets and wedding services at Beijing's biggest exhibition hall. Some 1288 wedding companies took part in this year's exhibition.

June 6, 2010

Hong Kong*: Organizers hoped that at least 50,000 people would attend the candlelight vigil in Victoria Park on Friday, one-third of the turnout for last year.

Competition is heating up with more travel agencies promoting cheap tour packages to Bangkok. This follows the Travel Industry Council's announcement that it is lifting the two-month ban on tours to the Thai capital. Group tours will be allowed to set off from Wednesday. The government lowered the Outbound Travel Alert from black, which means stay away, to red two days ago. A spokeswoman for Wing On Travel said it is organizing packages jointly with the Thailand Tourism Authority and Thai Airways, starting at HK$899 for a five-day-four-night-trip. This followed an announcement by Hong Thai Travel of a HK$999 package tour to Bangkok. However, EGL Tours warned travelers to be wary of itineraries for some Thailand tours. "They may include items which must be paid for out of your own pocket," said senior marketing manager Jacky Hui Chung-ki. "We urge customers not to be taken in by cheap labels." EGL tours start from HK$1,889 but, according to Hui, "everything will be included, and we will be offering better accommodation such as at the 5-star Le Meridien." Both EGL Tours and Wing On Travel are starting to accept bookings today, with tours leaving from June 15 onwards. However, TIC executive director Joseph Tung Yao-chung warned the red alert for non-essential travel is still in effect. "Safety is still our priority," Tung said. "It is a must for all travel agencies to remind all customers that the red signal is still on. They must state it clearly on the receipt so that customers know about the situation, in order to avoid any future disagreement between customers and the agencies. "In case they want to cancel their tours, they will have to follow rules stipulated by the agencies." Agencies must also inform the TIC about the number of tours departing for Bangkok each day.

Researchers from the University of Hong Kong's Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine on Friday said they had identified a group of cancer stem cells responsible for the spread of colon cancer. The discovery might lead to better treatment in future of the potentially fatal disease. Professor Benjamin Wong Chun-yu said the new research isolated a group of cells [genes] which carried a marker called “CD26”. “Tumours that carry this specific marker [‘CD26’] have a high chance of spreading in the future, so patients will have very poor survival rate if they have this marker in their tumour,” Wong explained. He said the tumour markers were also found in people’s blood. “So, with a simple blood test, we are now able to identify patients carrying these markers,” he said. Wong told local radio that at present, chemotherapy on colon cancer patients could not kill all these cells. Dr Roberta Pang Wen-chi said the breakthrough should allow researchers to develop better drugs to combat colon cancer. “In the long-term, it should allow the long-term the development of more useful, safe and specific drugs that can be used in combination with chemotherapy.” she said. Colon cancer is the second most common cancer in Hong Kong. It affects both genders equally. Scientists predict that it would soon become the most common cancer in Hong Kong.

Engineer Chan Tze-ho says the concrete and steel structure built into Lung Fu Shan is the first reservoir of its kind in Hong Kong. HKU project makes the grade for going with nature's flow - Students at the University of Hong Kong's new Centennial Campus will attend classes close to two giant reservoirs of flushing water serving an estimated 120,000 people. But they will be blissfully unaware of their watery neighbours because the saltwater is housed in caverns cut into Lung Fu Shan, the mountain at the foot of which the campus will sit. Thanks to the design, which has won an International Water Association award to be announced in Shanghai today, none of the greenery which coats the slopes has been disturbed because all the work was done inside the mountain. Global engineering company Black & Veatch (B&V) was employed by the university in 2005 to manage the water reservoirs under the campus' new site. The campus, being built to the west of the current campus, is due to open next year on the university's centenary. Two salt or flushing water reservoirs beneath the prospective campus site held 6,000 cubic metres each, five times the amount of water in a standard Olympic swimming pool. Another reservoir under the site held 26,500 cubic metres of fresh water. Previous consultants suggested that the university cut away a large chunk of Lung Fu Shan to build large tanks where the Water Supplies Department could redistribute the reserves, effectively devastating 6,000 square metres of woodland. Working with the department, B&V's answer was to build twin caverns with a single entrance inside Lung Fu Shan for the saltwater reserves, and to replace the original salt-water reservoir with a larger one for fresh water. A senior engineer with the department, Chan Tze-ho, said local residents - "the primary stakeholders looking after the trees" - would never have agreed to the project if the 280,000 cubic metres of soil and vegetation were to have been destroyed. Chan said the largely concrete and steel structure was the first such reservoir in Hong Kong. Project manager Edwin Chung Kwok-Fai said no trees had been touched although some brush might have been removed when building roads to the site. "We can't stick to the conventional approach," Chung said. The design has already won the Innovation and Creativity Award in last year's Hong Kong Awards for Industries. The project cost the university an estimated HK$500 million, more than a quarter of the cost of the overall Centennial Campus construction, said Louis Chu Yiu-Leung of the university's estate office.

It is supposed to be a special music festival that appeals to tourists, but Summer Pop Live appears to be nothing more than an ordinary concert this year, with all non-local acts eliminated and the line-up narrowed from more than 80 artists to a mere four acts. Summer Pop Live in Hong Kong, funded by the Performing Industry Association and promoted by the Tourism Board, will feature local artists Joey Yung Cho-yee, Ekin Cheng Yee-kin, the Big Four and the Grasshoppers from August 27 to 28. Gone are popular Taiwanese act May Day, mainland rocker Cui Jian and tens of pop singers, hip hoppers and bands who made for a crowded scene last year at the festival's debut. The two-day show ran over eight hours each day at AsiaWorld-Expo last summer, but will be shortened to a four-hour concert per day at the Coliseum this time. The association suffered a seven-digit loss for organising the festival last year, chairwoman Florence Chan Suk-fun said. Chan said the loss was not the reason for hiring fewer artists; rather, Hongkongers and mainlanders could be more comfortable with a four-hour concert than a whole-day festival. Although the festival has been scaled back, the Tourism Board will spend HK$1 million on promoting it. Up to 80 per cent of more than 10,000 seats were filled last year. Board chairman James Tien Pei-chun said he expected a sell-out this year, as effects from the swine flu outbreak and financial downturn had eased. This year's theme is "Under the Lion Rock" - the name of a song sung by the late Roman Tam Pak-sin. Artists at the festival will perform Tam's classic songs.

Developers planning tall commercial buildings in Tsim Sha Tsui will have to comply in future with a more stringent set of design conditions. Government proposals to be discussed by the Town Planning Board today aim to define Tsim Sha Tsui as a central business district and a high-rise node while improving the streetscape and pedestrian environment. The proposals set out rules for developers wanting to exceed current height restrictions, including limiting the building to 65 per cent of the site area and providing green space equivalent to 20 per cent of the area. Building heights in Tsim Sha Tsui are limited to between 60 and 130 metres above sea level, depending on the location, but the limit can be exceeded on application to the board. The new proposals apply only to sites of at least 1,800 square metres, big enough to enable the design rules to be met while still providing offices of a reasonable size. A Planning Department study shows that a site area of 1,800 square metres will result in a building with a floor size of about 1,000 square meters, akin to the floor size for modern Grade A office buildings. Three sites are specifically excluded - New World Centre, Ocean Centre and The Masterpiece; these buildings are respectively 265 metres, 387 metres and 250 metres high. The lawmaker for architects, former Town Planning Board member Patrick Lau Sau-shing, said tall buildings should be encouraged in urban areas: "Given the same amount of floor area allowed, short buildings will be too flat and massive and block the wind flow." But he warned that design rules that were too rigid could discourage creative and unique designs. The proposed rules call on developers to provide a better pedestrian environment by, for example, putting car parks underground to minimise a building's bulk and improve air flow at ground level. Apart from orienting the building in a direction that will not block prevailing wind, the developer must provide uncovered greenery of at least 20 per cent of the gross site area at street level on the lowest three floors, so as to offer visual relief and improve the micro-climate for pedestrians. Floors close to the ground should be set back at least three metres from the site boundary facing open space, waterfront or principal streets to leave space for planting small to medium-sized trees. If the width of a building's facade facing principal streets or public open space exceeds 100 metres, gaps of not less than half of the building's total width should be reserved to let the air through and provide a view. Applications for a taller commercial building must be supported with technical assessments of the building's impact on the surrounding environment. The department also proposes relaxing the height restriction for sites southeast and northwest of Mody Road to 80 metres and 95 metres from 60 metres, to allow a stepped height profile.

Agricultural Bank of China, preparing for a US$30 billion initial public offering, saw net profit rise 26 per cent to 65 billion yuan, the Wall Street Journal reported.

HSBC Holdings (SEHK: 0005), Europe’s biggest bank, said on Friday it had appointed Helen Wong as China president and chief executive officer, replacing Richard Yorke. Wong, who has more than 25 years of commercial and investment banking experience in the Asia-Pacific region and joined HSBC in 1992, is currently deputy China CEO. The new appointment will be effective upon obtaining regulatory approval, and Yorke’s next move will be announced in due course, HSBC said in a statement. “China is a key focus of our emerging markets strategy and the growth engine of the global economy,” HSBC Asia Pacific CEO Peter Wong said in the statement. “Helen’s extensive banking experience and knowledge of the Greater China region will continue to build on our position as the leading international bank in China.” HSBC competes with rivals including Citigroup, Standard Chartered Bank and Bank of East Asia (SEHK: 0023) in wooing mainland customers and is currently the biggest foreign bank in the country in terms of network.

New World Development (0017) will support any government move to systematically sponsor aspiring homebuyers because of the large wealth gap. This comes after the launch of a public consultation on Tuesday over government subsidies for home ownership. "Home subsidies are necessary because Hong Kong's biggest problems currently center on people's livelihood," New World managing director Henry Cheng Kar-shun said. "If certain people, such as the sandwich class, cannot buy their first homes, they will be very resentful." But Cheng said restrictions must be put in place to prevent people from trying to profit from any sponsorship scheme. Reiterating his objection to the idea, Hang Lung Properties (0101) chairman Ronnie Chan Chi-chung said building new Home Ownership Scheme flats will throw the market off balance. A larger official land supply, instead, would be effective to "alleviate both the symptoms and roots [of the housing problem]," he said. Chinese Estates Holdings (0127) director Lau Ming- wai said it will take several years for a larger supply to take effect and HOS homes can, therefore, be an auxiliary measure. But there execution must be well-planned to ward off "side effects," he said. As land supply is limited in the SAR, New World's Cheng expects local home prices to be stable, with mild increases in the long run. Both Hang Lung and New World are keen to bid at the upcoming auctions for a site each at Ho Man Tin and The Peak.

 China*: Former Chinese premier Li Peng said he was prepared to die to prevent the 1989 student pro-democracy protests from getting out of hand, according to an unpublished book.

China has launched a round of minimum wage hikes to address the nation’s widening income gap, following growing labour disputes and a string of worker suicides, state media said on Friday. Beijing said the minimum monthly salary in the capital will be raised 20 per cent to 960 yuan (HK$1,093) from July 1, the Global Times reported. The hike is about double the average annual increase of 10.02 per cent since the city introduced a minimum wage system in 1994, the newspaper said. Beijing is one of around 30 provinces and municipalities across the country that have raised or will increase their minimum wages this year, the report said, citing government figures. After recent hikes, Shanghai now has the highest minimum salary in the country at 1,120 yuan a month, according to the paper. This year’s hikes come amid an emotionally charged debate over mainland’s fast economic growth and its poorly paid labourers sparked by a spate of suicides by frustrated factory workers in the south. Ten workers at Taiwanese high tech firm Foxconn’s giant plant in Shenzhen have fallen to their deaths in this year. An 11th worker died at another factory in northern China. Separately, workers at Honda’s China auto parts factory walked out last week seeking a pay rise, bringing vehicle production at the Japanese carmaker’s joint ventures in the country to a halt until Friday. The incidents have raised questions about working conditions for the millions of employees in mainland’s factories, sparking calls for better oversight from those who benefit from the cheap labor. Official figures show that the proportion of wages to mainland’s economic growth had been decreasing for 22 years, the Global Times reported. It fell to 36.7 per cent in 2005 after peaking at 56.5 per cent in 1983 and has not improved much in recent years, it said. In a circular published this week, the State Council said it would prioritise raising employees’ incomes on its policy agenda this year, pledging to “optimise national income distribution and improve the proportion of residents’ income” in the economy.

Staffers lay enclosure to control the "spilt oil" during an oil spill drill off the south coast of Chongming Island in Shanghai, June 3, 2010. A large-scale oil spill drill was held on Thursday in Shanghai, aimed at enhancing the capability to deal with ship accidents.

China exporters who made a big push only a year ago to bill in euros are increasingly turning their backs on the wounded European currency and demanding US dollars instead. By contrast, Beijing last week said a report it was reviewing the euro portion in its mountain of foreign exchange reserves was groundless and it calmed markets by saying that Europe remained a key investment market. But mainland exporters and the local governments that oversee them are less confident. They are trying to keep a wider berth from the euro, at least for now.

Workers met with managers of a Honda parts factory on Friday, holding talks aimed at avoiding the renewal of a strike that has stalled mainland production of the automaker.

China's capital is resorting to unmanned drone aircraft to root out what authorities say is an increase in opium poppy cultivation in mountains surrounding Beijing, state media reported on Friday. The city has unveiled its “first unmanned opium reconnaissance plane” which will conduct a month-long aerial survey targeting growers of opium poppies, from which heroin is derived, the Global Times newspaper said. A crackdown on opium cultivation in neighbouring Hebei province in northern China pushed growers into the rugged hills around Beijing, Zhao Wenzhong, head of drug control for the city’s police, was quoted as saying. The unmanned aircraft can fly as high as 6,000 metres and is mounted with a high-resolution camera. Its one-month mission is timed with what state press reports said was the summer opium blooming season. The newspaper quoted Zhao as saying anti-drug campaigns in January and April found that “opium cultivation in Hebei had increased by 13.4 per cent since last year”. The reports said officials would provide no further information on how much opium was believed to be under cultivation in Hebei or the survey area outside Beijing. Drug use was virtually eliminated after the Communist rise to power in 1949, but the scourge has returned since the country began opening up to the world again three decades ago.

June 5, 2010

Hong Kong*: Fashion icon Prada is considering a Hong Kong listing, four people familiar with the talks said. Prada, which has scrapped an initial public offering four times in the past 10 years, is considering listing in Hong Kong in addition to Milan, two of the people said. The company has not yet appointed banks to manage the share sale, and the talks may not lead to an offering. Prada has cut debt and opened stores in Asia as the industry rebounds. Perfume maker L'Occitane International sold shares in Hong Kong last month. "Prada has sailed well through choppy waters, thanks to its presence in Asia and the resilience of its shoe and handbag business," Armando Branchini, a vice-president of Milan-based consulting firm InterCorporate, said. "The strong rebound in the first quarter, which may continue to the end of the year, would make it an opportune time to consider an IPO." Prada, founded by head designer Miuccia Prada's grandfather Mario Prada in 1913, dropped plans to list in 2008 because of the poor market.

Mainland workers are illegally taking jobs locally as tour guides and this could drag down the trade, a union has warned. The warning from the Hong Kong Professional Tourist Guides Union comes as police search for a woman - who used a friend's tour guide license - in connection with the death of a mainland visitor. The woman was seen arguing with the Hunan man in a jewelry shop shortly before he had a heart attack. He died on the way to hospital. Police said she is wanted for impersonating a Shenzhen friend who is a registered local tour guide. The guide told police someone had used her license and that she did not take the group to the shop. It was later discovered the two women, both surnamed Zhang, were friends. The deceased was identified as Chen Youming, 65, a former national table tennis coach. It was alleged the fake guide refused to let him leave the shop on May 22. Chen's daughter broke into tears when she arrived in Hong Kong to claim her father's body yesterday. "I never imagined I would have to say goodbye to my father like this. It is something that could have been avoided," she said. His death, and a growing number of complaints from mainland visitors, prompted the Travel Industry Council to tighten its rules on tour guides. Guides will now no longer be allowed to force tourists to remain in shops. The council is also under pressure from the government to seriously discipline the travel agency concerned. Hong Kong Tourism Board chairman James Tien Pei-chun also condemned the travel agency, saying last night the incident was serious and unacceptable. Hong Kong Professional Tourist Guides Union chairman Yu Lihua said the prevalence of "zero- charge" tour groups has led to an increase in the number of illegal workers from the mainland. She said the fake guides make a lot of money by forcing tourists to shop at certain outlets. And because the Travel Industry Council publishes the personal information of all registered tour guides on its website, the data can be stolen and duplicated, Yu added. Tourism-sector lawmaker Paul Tse Wai-chun said he has received many complaints over fake guides. The woman whose identity was used works for another travel agency. She said she had not used her license since getting it in July. She blames the council for putting her Chinese and English name, as well as her tour guide license number, on its website. She also blamed Win's Travel Agency for not carefully checking the guide's identity. Agency director Tsang Ming-fai admitted they had not properly checked the license. The council insisted this was the first case of its kind and ordered the agency to submit a report within two weeks. The council also said the agency could lose its license.

Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and Civic Party leader Audrey Eu Yuet-mee will field questions submitted by the public during their televised debate on constitutional reform on June 17. The agreement was reached between the two parties, although other major requests made by Eu, including a live audience, were not accepted. The Civic Party denied it had caved in and signed an "unequal treaty", but admitted that Eu would be in a disadvantageous position since she would be playing in "enemy territory". In a statement issued minutes before the Civic Party was to announce the details at a press conference, the Chief Executive's Office said since both sides agreed to conduct the debate in a "fair, orderly and dignified manner", there would not be a live audience. Civic Party vice-chairman Albert Lai Kwong-tak admitted that the arrangement, which was made after weeks of negotiation with the Chief Executive's Office, was not perfect. "Audrey is in a very disadvantaged position. Not only will she be playing away in other people's territory, there will be a lot of variables in the coming days where the government may make some unexpected moves," Lai said. He denied the party had signed an "unequal treaty" and caved in over its requests, such as allowing public participation and holding the debate at a university, which he said the Chief Executive's Office had ruled out because of security concerns. "We have tried our best, but we are there as a guest," Lai said.

A day after a central slaughterhouse plan was shelved, market stall staff were slaughtering chickens with their bare hands and keeping poultry in overcrowded cages. Vendors of live chickens are not adhering to a set of hygiene rules and guidelines aimed at reducing the risk of bird flu outbreaks, with many slaughtering chickens bare-handed and some keeping poultry in overcrowded cages. This comes a day after the government said it would shelve a central slaughterhouse plan - once touted as essential to prevent bird flu - saying the risk of outbreaks had dropped. The vendors are also breaching requirements to keep the organs of slaughtered birds in a refrigerator and to keep the cages at least 30 centimetres above ground. The requirements - which vendors must observe to keep their licences - were put forward by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department in 2001. There is also a set of hygiene guidelines vendors are advised to follow. The department said that since 2001, eight wet market vendors had had their licences revoked for not meeting hygiene requirements. Five appealed to the Municipal Services Appeals Board, which exercised discretion in three cases, allowing them to resume trading. Under the hygiene guidelines, vendors are advised to wear gloves and aprons when touching chickens and putting feathers and faeces into bins with lids. Different types of poultry must be put in separate cages, with at least 300 sq cm of individual space for each bird. But observation of five stalls in three markets in Kowloon and Hong Kong Island revealed few vendors adhering to the rules or guidelines. Most were catching poultry with their bare hands, and staff slaughtered the chickens with only one glove. They did not wash their hands with soap afterwards. Instead of refrigerating organs, they were displayed in a basket on top of cages at room temperature. Feathers and faeces were scattered on the ground at some stalls. In one stall at a Kowloon market, at least 10 chickens were crowded into a narrow cage. In at least two stalls, birds of different species were put together. Some chickens were also put in cages which were only 10cm above the ground. But both vendors and shoppers were satisfied by the stalls' hygiene. "Bird flu has not struck us for many years. It is unnecessary to remain on such high alert," a worker at one stall said. A female shopper agreed that vigilance could be reduced. "The chicken vendors handle poultry every day for so many hours, and yet they do not have any problems. Why should we be fearful?" But an infectious disease specialist warned against such practices. Dr Lo Wing-lok said vendors should always wear gloves to minimise the chance of bird flu infection in wounds, and should wear aprons in order to keep the bacteria in poultry faeces off their clothes. But he said it was impossible to expect vendors to strictly follow the rules without many more inspections and prosecutions. "I have been observing wet markets for a decade. Some habits just cannot be changed," he said. The government on Tuesday announced it would shelve central slaughtering, saying the risk of bird flu was significantly lower since the 1997 outbreak that killed six people. The decision was made based on the fact that fewer live chickens were sold in the city. Between 2004 and 2008, the number of stalls selling live chickens dropped from more than 800 to 133, after the government began buying back the licences and banned vendors from keeping live poultry at markets overnight. Lo said it would be ideal to buy back the remaining 133 licences, but it would be practically impossible since that would also mean the entire closure of local chicken farms, thus affecting the livelihood of many. With most stalls ignoring the department's hygiene guidelines, one in Kowloon City was following the rules to the letter. Shop owner Chow Hon-ling was properly attired - in fact, she was wearing two pairs of gloves. "It is important to maintain our hygiene standard, so that more customers will have confidence in us," she said.

Aeon Stores (Hong Kong), a general merchandise retailer, will officially open a Jusco store in east Kowloon on Saturday, 12 years after the previous Jusco store opened in Tuen Mun in 1998.

The champagne corks were popping at American International Assurance offices in Hong Kong yesterday after the collapse of the deal with British insurer Prudential. AIA staff and agents feel more secure in their jobs and are hoping parent American International Group will revive the listing of the company in Hong Kong in the third or fourth quarter. Insiders at both AIG and AIA said a separate listing of AIA would give them a better chance of keeping their jobs and receiving share options. "I am a shareholder of Prudential and was prepared to vote against the deal," said one AIA staff member. "This is the time to celebrate and we plan to have a drink as our lives can get back to normal now." The staff member, who did not want to be named, said many AIA staff and agents had felt uncertain since Prudential's offer in March of US$35.5 billion to take over AIA. Their main concerns were job security and change of management style. "AIA and Prudential have many differences in their history, background and management style," the staff member said. "If the merger had proceeded, many staff and agents might have faced lay-offs." Another person familiar with AIG and AIA said the management and agents have never been happy with the idea of the merger with Prudential. "Management feared a merger would lead to the loss of their jobs while the agents worried about a change of house rules and sales practices," the person said. "For senior management and some agents, many of them hoped the listing of AIA would give them share options." An AIA spokesman declined to comment yesterday. Hong Kong brokers now expect AIG chief executive Robert Benmosche may revive an earlier plan for a public offering of AIA shares in Hong Kong during the third or fourth quarter to repay a US government bailout. A person close to the stock exchange said AIA submitted the listing application form in Hong Kong in December last year and that had not been withdrawn. The insurer may, however, have to resubmit a new accounting statement. Louis Wong Wai-kit, director of Phillip Capital Management, said an AIA listing would be more attractive to investors than Prudential's listing last month. "Prudential is a British firm while AIA has been the largest insurance company in Asia for many years. Many investors are also its customers," Wong said. "The listing of AIA would be attractive to many local investors as the business is profitable and the brand is well known." Louis Tse Ming-kwong, a director at VC Brokerage, said AIG may also consider selling AIA if there was another bidder but it would have to be prepared to pay a high price. "I think it is more likely that AIG would revive the listing plan of AIA and this should be a popular initial public offering," Tse said.

Hong Kong remains in demand as a platform for overseas developers to market their projects to cash-rich Hong Kong and mainland buyers, property consultants say.

 China*: Production line workers at Foxconn would be given pay rises of at least 30 per cent from Monday, the company told all its mainland workers yesterday, after a series of worker suicides at its main Shenzhen plant caused public concern over working conditions to boil over. Foxconn put out a statement at its Shenzhen plants yesterday, saying that the minimum basic wage for production line workers would rise by 33 per cent, from 900 yuan (HK$1,025) to 1,200 yuan a month. Senior workers and shift supervisors, whose basic salary was already higher than 900 yuan, will receive rises of 30 per cent. Only last week Foxconn had announced pay rises averaging 20 per cent, saying they were due to the improved economy. Factory workers in Shenzhen cheered the new increase, calling it a success in social supervision by internet users and the media.

A garlic farmer works her land in Jinxiang county of East China's Shandong province on June 1, 2010. The price of fresh garlic has multiplied eleven times from the previous year due to speculation and hype since 2009. The price of fresh garlic rose from 4 yuan for a kilogram to 4.6 yuan and continues to increase as new stock enters the market. Jinxiang county is home of the garlic and is considered a barometer of the market for the whole country.

Warming cross-strait ties have suffered their first chill, as Beijing objects to its allies entering any official deals with Taipei. The latest twist will put tremendous pressure on mainland-friendly President Ma Ying-jeou, who has been hoping that signing the Economic Co-operation Framework Agreement (Ecfa) - a semi-free-trade pact - with Beijing could facilitate free-trade deals between the island and other countries. Speaking in Beijing on Tuesday, Dr Ma Zhaoxu , spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, said the mainland would object to other countries signing any official agreements with the island. "We do not object to non-governmental economic and trade exchanges between Taiwan and countries having diplomatic relations with China, but we firmly oppose any form of official accord with Taiwan," the ministry spokesman said. His comment came at a critical time, with the two sides expected to sign the Ecfa later this month. Ruling Kuomintang lawmakers yesterday were concerned about a possible delay or even break-up of the deal.

China UnionPay Vice President Cai Jianbo (R) uses a UnionPay card at a Selfridges department store on Oxford Street in London, June 1. China UnionPay Co is expanding its overseas network rapidly to tap the rising number of Chinese traveling overseas. Meanwhile, Visa banning the use of dual-currency cards that sports a Visa logo on UnionPay network overseas from August 1 ostensibly for data safety issues. Visa was not available for comment Tuesday. UnionPay, China's sole bank card transaction firm, has allied with France's Bred network of more than 5,000 merchants as it seeks to deepen its footprint in that country, the Shanghai-based company said Teusday. Last week, UnionPay said that it has teamed up with Bank of Hawaii to bank on the lender's network of 4,000 merchants on the island. UnionPay is speeding up the development of its overseas network, especially when more Chinese are going abroad. UnionPay's biggest selling point is that it does not charge for currency exchange services. Visa and MasterCard Worldwide charge a 1.5 percent fee for converting overseas currencies into United States dollars when cards holders purchase or make payments abroad. Dual-currency cards, which sport the logos of UnionPay and Visa or MasterCard or JCB, were quite popular before UnionPay started to expand its own network overseas in 2004.

Beijing turned down a proposed fence-mending visit by US Defence Secretary Robert Gates during his trip in the region this week in what some American officials described as a snub to protest against US arms sales to Taiwan. Beijing has delayed several high-level military exchanges since January, when the Obama administration notified Congress of a plan to sell Taiwan up to US$6.4 billion in arms. But the rejection of a visit is a sign of continued friction in ties at a time when the Obama administration needs Beijing's help to rein in tensions on the Korean Peninsula and to curb Iran's nuclear program. Gates has spoken out publicly about his hopes to visit Beijing and to put military co-operation between the United States and China back on track. He will be in Singapore today to attend a major security conference but Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said a proposed China leg "did not come to be". A senior US defense official said the Chinese told their American counterparts that it was not a convenient time to host Gates but they were not explicit about the reason.

Europe's brewing economic crisis is threatening to halt luxury's rebound, but the industry is banking on growth from China and a recovering US. Leading executives from luxury retailers and design houses told the Reuters Global Luxury Summit that demand for fine merchandise was picking up in the United States, while China's shoppers were venturing frequently into Tokyo for top brands. "The euro zone is a sizeable market, but today the growth reserve is in the emerging countries, and particularly in China, whose demand is pulling the entire sector," said Isabelle Ardon, head of Paris-based SG Gestion's luxury fund. "For the Chinese consumer, luxury is synonymous with Western heritage. Today there are no big Chinese luxury brands, so there are no competitors." The debt crisis and depreciation of the euro have raised concerns of a double-dip global recession that could hurt luxury spending. Last week, upscale US jewellery retailer Tiffany reported that sales at its Asian stores open at least a year, excluding those in Japan, had risen 21 per cent during its most recent quarter. It operates 11 stores in China. US leather goods maker Coach, which generates 90 per cent of sales at home and in Japan, is making the Chinese market its top priority. "As we move towards becoming a global brand, the No1 opportunity for us is China," said Coach chief executive Lew Frankfort in New York. "We believe the opportunities are boundless in that market ... We are talking about the emerging professional female in China." Frankfort expects sales in China to rise to US$250 million in two years from about US$100 million this year. Japanese companies, facing a stagnant home market, are also turning to China to fuel their growth. Jeweller Mikimoto plans to open its fourth store in China next month, expecting double-digit growth in what it believes will become the world's biggest jewellery market, president Noriyuki Morita said. Shiseido, Japan's largest cosmetics firm, expects sales of its high-end cosmetics to grow up to 20 per cent a year in China over the near term, making it a key pillar of its global expansion plans, said company president Shinzo Maeda. US luxury demand has bounced back strongly in the first half of 2010 and is still somewhat untapped compared to Europe, making it a strong draw for big luxury names. A number of top French retailers such as Hermes and privately held leather good maker Longchamp have been raising their US profiles with new stores planned. Longchamp chief executive Jean Cassegrain said last week that the United States was still something of an emerging market, given that its consumers, despite their affluence, spend less on luxury items per capita than Europeans.

Agricultural Bank of China may sell up to 51.4 billion shares in what would be the world's largest initial public offering to raise as much as US$30 billion (HK$234 billion), China Daily reported, citing a banking source.

The U.S. Commerce Department Tuesday set final antidumping duties (AD) and countervailing duties (CVD) on imports of steel gratings from China, a move which might escalate trade disputes between the two countries.

China's central bank will push forward yuan settlement in cross-border trade and investment in the western Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Zhou Xiaochuan, governor of the People's Bank of China, said Tuesday.

June 4, 2010

Hong Kong*: The former head of the Hong Kong Medical Association, Dr Choi Kin, will run for his third term at the helm of the city's biggest doctors' group, with a mission to offer strong leadership for the profession. Choi, whose election platform carries a slogan "while your blood is warm", pledges to challenge any unfair policies of the government and the Medical Council in the interests of the profession and the community. "I used to be a stronger leader [of the association]. I will continue to be one," Choi said. Doctors Union president Dr Henry Yeung Chiu-fat is another potential candidate. The association, which has 8,000 members out of 10,000 doctors in Hong Kong, is an influential group that works with the government closely on health care policies.

Official pre-sale regulations for uncompleted homes took effect yesterday, as sales rules for completed homes continue to be discussed. The Real Estate Developers' Association announced nine pre-sale guidelines related to early price lists and sales brochures, as well as concurrent transaction disclosures, as proposed by the Transport and Housing Bureau. "There are practical details [for completed homes] that they are still checking." Housing chief Eva Cheng Yu-wah said. "Take buildings that are 10 or 20 years old," she said. "Should developers follow all measures if they are selling a very small number of homes, probably even just to its tenants?" Ricacorp Properties head of research Patrick Chow Moon-kit noted there can be a multitude of minor details of this sort. But as buyers can view actual, completed flats on site, he said, rules can indeed be looser for these properties and still sufficiently protect buyers. REDA released its pre-sale guidelines only late yesterday, raising concerns that developers are opposed to the new rules. But Henderson Land (0012) chairman Lee Shau-kee rejected the concerns, saying the new guidelines will bring "only a slight inconvenience." Lee added: "There are no big problems as we just have to do a bit of extra work. The government simply wants plain and clear pricing, no exaggeration and honest project launches." Lee said developers should feel no urgency in unloading their homes and may take some time to meet official requirements and other small details. Soundwill Holdings (0878) executive director Vivian Chan also welcomed the new guidelines as they will increase transparency. While Soundwill's Warrenwoods in Tai Hang has only two unsold units left and hence need not follow the new rules, Chan noted the developer will fully follow the guidelines for its upcoming project. Chow of Ricacorp believes developers know the regulatory framework well, so they can readily launch new projects. But developers such as Sun Hung Kai Properties (0016) and Sino Land (0083) have delayed their launches until after the football World Cup at least because of poor market conditions, Chow said. Echoing REDA's move, the Buildings Department also issued a new rule requiring developers to provide a detailed breakdown of building plans for all gross floor area concessions granted in new developments, such as car parks.

Government policies may be to blame for live chickens becoming "luxury goods", the health minister admitted yesterday, as it was decided to shelve a plan to introduce central slaughtering. The proposal had prompted hundreds of vendors to give up their licences. "Vendors are selling live chickens as if they are luxury goods. Their price is at least double that of chilled chickens," Dr York Chow Yat-ngok, the secretary for food and health, said. He could not rule out that this was related to government policy. As the risk of bird flu loomed in the past decade, the government offered compensation packages twice - in 2004 and in 2008 - to live chicken vendors who were willing to give up their licences. The number of stalls dropped from more than 800 in 2004 to 133 now, while imports of live chickens dropped from 30,000 to 7,000. Live chickens sell for HK$40 to HK$55 a catty, at least HK$10 more than before hundreds of vendors surrendered their licences from 2004 to 2008. The price is higher during festivals such as the Lunar New Year. Chow acknowledged that some retailers raised live chicken prices so much that they could make the same profits even though supplies had been cut. But he said the government had no plans to regulate prices as it supported a free market.

The Link Management will spend HK$95 million on renovating a wet market in Tai Po - the first time it has turned its attention to wet markets instead of malls. To compete with supermarkets, the 30-year-old Tai Yuen Market will be fitted with air conditioning and have walls, pipes and electricity systems renewed. Tenants are happy with a company promise to freeze rents for the first three years after renovation but some fear a rise in rents in the future. The market is among more than 100 wet markets under The Link, which also manages 180 malls at public estates. The renewal is a pilot project to test the feasibility of reviving traditional wet markets after the company spent two years researching examples in Taiwan and Japan. Work started yesterday and is expected to finish by the middle of next year. The 54 existing tenants will have their stores expanded after they move into the new market. Another 30 new stores - including restaurants, a cooking school, floral shop and bakery - will be provided. There will be a temporary market during construction. Link chairman Nicholas Sallnow-Smith said the company looked forward to attracting more tenants after the renovation. He did not say if rents would be adjusted after three years. Chief executive George Hongchoy Kwok-lung said wet markets had to keep up with changing trends. Cissy Tsang Yuk-ying, head of market development, said four other markets would be renovated next year. Tai Yuen Market tenants said business had declined since the 1990s. Although they will have to pay extra air-conditioning costs after the renewal, an improved shopping environment was vital to attract customers, they said. Chu Chun-por, who has operated a restaurant since the market was opened three decades ago, said he would expand from 24 square metres to 36 square metres. He will pay about HK$350,000 to renovate his own premises and expected to hire more staff. "Without air conditioning, the temperature can get as high as 40 or 50 degrees Celsius near the stove," he said. Tofu stall owner Cheung Ching-loi, 53, said business had dropped 60 per cent since the mid-90s as supermarkets and department stores drew customers away. While he will pay the same rent until 2013, Cheung feared an increase later: "Will rent double or triple?" After The Link renovated the Lok Fu Shopping Centre in 2008, one tailor said the monthly rent increased from HK$4,000 to over HK$6,000.

Macau casino revenue hits record - 4x of Las Vegas - Macau casino revenue smashed previous records last month, rising almost 100 per cent from May last year to more than 17 billion patacas, according to government-run broadcaster TDM. The city's winning streak continued despite unease in global markets and fears of a pullback in the mainland property market, as abundant liquidity and loose credit for gamblers continued to push high-stakes betting volumes to record levels. At more than US$2 billion, Macau's unprecedented haul last month was four times greater than the US$510 million average monthly casino revenue generated on the Las Vegas Strip during the first quarter, the most recent data available. "May is usually seasonally stronger in Macau given the May Day holiday so I wouldn't extrapolate this month as the running rate going forward," CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets gaming analyst Huei Suen Ng said. "Our expectation of an average monthly run rate of 12 billion to 13 billion patacas appears conservative if the current trend persists. We are factoring some form of contraction in liquidity into our numbers." For now, Macau remains awash in liquidity and buoyed by cheap credit. Several gaming companies have moved recently to step up issuing more credit directly to high rollers. At the same time, the junket agents who control the majority of the mainland VIP market by bringing in players, granting them credit and collecting their debts continue to allow the taps to flow. Analysts looking for leading indicators of Macau's casino revenue growth tend to focus on the local and regional stock and property markets, which have stuttered in recent months. Indeed, the year-on-year growth rate is expected to slow in the latter part of the year given the more difficult comparison. Casino revenue rose to 46.72 billion patacas in the second half of last year from 33.12 billion in the first half. Still, the pace of growth so far this year has been red-hot and shows no sign of slowing. Casino revenue has risen 67 per cent to 72 billion patacas in the first five months. "Current market expectations of a full-year gaming revenue growth rate of 30 to 35 per cent are still far behind the curve, as they imply an even worse situation compared to the previous financial crisis," Credit Suisse gaming analyst Gabriel Chan wrote yesterday in a research note.

Retail sales in Hong Kong rose strongly in April, helped by free-spending mainland tourists and also lifted by last year's exceptionally low base, but the sector still faces challenges over soaring rentals and a planned minimum wage law. The Census and Statistics Department said total retail sales increased to HK$25.1 billion in April, a 15.6 per cent jump from the year before. Total retail sales volume rose 12.4 per cent year on year after factoring in price change effects over the same period. For the first four months of the year, total retail sales rose 18 per cent in value, and 15 per cent in volume from the previous year. Caroline Mak Sui-king, the chairman of the Hong Kong Retail Management Association, said the lower rise in volume compared to sales indicated the effects of mild inflation. Sales volume for vehicles and parts showed the biggest increase of 54 per cent, followed by sectors popular with mainland tourists such as electronics, and jewellery and watches which grew 26.1 per cent and 22.1 per cent respectively. Mak said the increases can partly be attributed to a base effect as Hong Kong's retail industry had still not fully recovered from the recession this time last year. "A full recovery did not happen until September 2009, so only from that point onwards can we say that the comparisons are back to a normal level," she added. She said the minimum wage level, which has yet to be decided, would be a concern for small business owners like fast-food restaurants. In addition, retailers across all sectors were under pressure from rising rents. "Some sectors which can rely on spending by mainland tourists are able to afford renting out two or three floors of one property, thus pushing up rents and distorting the rental market," Mak said.

Hong Kong has maintained its ranking as the world's most popular destination for luxury brands, with nine in every 10 high-end global retailers present in the city, according to a survey by property consultant CB Richard Ellis. The annual CBRE survey polled 294 retailers of merchandise ranging from luxury goods to mass market products across 69 countries to establish in which countries and cities they were located, and to identify trends in the patterns of global expansion. "Hong Kong benefits from being regarded as a premier retail destination from both a Western and Eastern perspective, attracting luxury retailers from across the world, including those that are principally Asian in focus," said CBRE in its report, "How Global is the Business of Retail?" Hong Kong ranked No 1 for "luxury and business fashion" with 43 of the 47 luxury retailers that were surveyed - such as Louis Vuitton and Hugo Boss - reporting that they have stores in the city. Second was London with 41 stores, then Dubai with 40 stores. "Despite a difficult trading year for retail markets across the world, luxury retailers in particular have continued to expand in Hong Kong and across Asia. The inherent medium- to long-term growth potential in many Asian markets remains very attractive to international retailers," said Dominic Stead, head of corporate and client development for Asia at CBRE. Now in its third year, the CBRE survey also identified the top 20 cities that have the largest number of retailers, and in this category Hong Kong ranked fifth, with 43 per cent of the 294 retailers surveyed disclosing that they had a presence in the city. First was London, where 56 per cent of the retailers reported a presence, followed by Dubai (55 per cent), Paris (46 per cent), and New York (44 per cent). Stead said numerous apparel retailers such as Gap, Topshop, Forever 21, and Abercrombie and Fitch also reported that they were actively looking for retail space in Hong Kong. "They are keen to expand their presence in Hong Kong but the challenge is space," he said. The new stores are looking for retail space in prime locations such as Central, Causeway Bay, and Tsim Sha Tsui, of between 10,000 and 20,000 sq ft, Stead said. Given the shortage of space in the busiest shopping locations in the city, Stead said, it could take a prospective entrant several years to secure a lease and open a store. The concern for Hong Kong was that such a prospective new retail tenant would simultaneously be looking at Shanghai and Beijing to open an Asian outlet. But he did not think Hong Kong - ranked as the third most expensive retail location in the world - was pricing itself out of the market. "A new brand from the US or Europe would often prefer to set up its first store in Hong Kong as a way to test the Asian market," he said. In addition, the city remained competitive considering its strong retail sales and high quality of shopping centres such as Harbour City in Tsim Sha Tsui and IFC in Central. In April the value of total retail sales recorded a year on year 15.6 per cent growth to HK$25.1 billion, according to figures from the Census and Statistics Department. CBRE said it had received an encouraging response from prospective tenants invited to offer expressions of interest in a 51,188 sq ft space in the Capitol Centre at Jardine's Bazaar, Causeway Bay. The space is currently occupied by health and beauty chain store Watsons and the lease expires in August 2011. Stead said inquiries were received from both new overseas retailers who wanted to establish a foothold in Hong Kong as well as existing retailers looking to expand their networks.

 China*: The central government has decided to adopt a residence permit system nationwide as a step forward in the reform of hukou, the household registration system that has prevented rural residents enjoying the same social welfare benefits as their urban counterparts. Though some local governments have introduced residence permits, which give migrants access to basic services in cities, the State Council set out guidelines extending the system to all cities for the first time. In a document on deepening economic reforms released on Monday, the State Council proposed gradually implementing a system of residence permits nationwide and easing hukou requirements in small and medium cities. The latest proposal followed Premier Wen Jiabao's promise to push forward hukou reform in his annual work report in March and came just a day before Vice-Premier Li Keqiang published an article vowing to classify more farmers as urban residents.

Parents are shown how to help their babies exercise during an event in Beijing to mark yesterdays’ International Children’s Day. President Hu Jintao has called for more to be done to protect children as the nation grapples to deal with a rise in the number of violent cases involving them. Speaking at a public function at the China Science and Technology Museum on Monday to mark International Children's Day yesterday, Hu was quoted by the People's Daily as saying: "Society must give importance to the safety of children and do everything to safeguard our motherland's next generation." He was not directly speaking about the string of recent bloody school attacks, but his comments have sent the strongest indication yet of official nervousness over the risks posed to children's safety amid today's volatile society. In one of the most violent attacks, an unemployed doctor, Zheng Minsheng , from Nanping , Fujian , stabbed eight pupils to death at a primary school on March 23 and seriously injured five others. At least six school attacks have been recorded on the mainland since March, resulting in the deaths of 15 kindergarten children. Authorities have responded by shoring up safety measures at kindergartens and schools around the country. Public Security Vice-Minister Huang Ming reaffirmed the government's commitment over the weekend to protect children, especially in the run-up to the annual national college entrance exam on June 7-9, when more than 9 million high school graduates are expected to sit the exam all over the country. Social commentators say the attacks highlight growing social tensions which have been exacerbated by a widening wealth gap and the lack of a basic social security net. Attacks on children have posed a new challenge to authorities in recent years and have been highlighted in a report released by the Beijing Juvenile Legal Aid and Research Centre, an NGO advocating children's legal rights. The report, released over the weekend, highlights cases of abuse and violent attacks on children, and discusses the social implications. Zhang Wenjuan , the centre's deputy director, said beefing up security at kindergartens and schools was crucially important, but growing social unease meant the risk of attacks against children was still present. She said more forward-looking policies were needed to ease social tensions.

The first month's gate for the World Expo in Shanghai was 25 per cent below the organisers' initial target but they are confident of seeing a surge in visitors this month.

The mayor of Zhongshan , the first top official to be the subject of a graft investigation since it became a city in 1984, is allegedly involved in both insider trading of a listed state-owned enterprise, and property speculation, mainland media reported yesterday. The outspoken Caixin Online reported yesterday that Mayor Li Qihong , who was taken away by the Communist Party's anti-graft investigator, was allegedly involved in insider trading of the Zhongshan Public Utilities Group, the trading of which was suspended on Monday a few hours after the announcement that she was under investigation. The website quoted unnamed sources as saying that more than 10 others were detained besides Li, including the mayor's husband, her younger brother, younger sister and younger sister-in-law. "Li was formally informed by a party vice-secretary from the Guangdong Commission for Discipline Inspection on Sunday that central party disciplinary authorities had arrived in Guangdong, and she was soon taken away by those who flew from Beijing," the report said.

As the most alluring consumer market in the world, thousands of foreign retailers attempt to establish a foothold in China every year. But the road to success is not easy and many fail. To secure and retain tenants in this challenging retail market, developers of mainland shopping centres are therefore going beyond simply marketing space to provide an advisory service to their customers. Consider the case of Japanese restaurant chain Itacho Sushi, well-known to Hong Kong customers since it has 19 outlets in the city. Itacho Sushi has been on the expansion trail on the mainland and will open 10 restaurants in Guangzhou, Shanghai and Shenzhen this year. Last month it opened its first outlet in Beijing. Its restaurants are situated in prime locations and in Beijing it opened in a 10,000 square foot space in the basement of Sun Hung Kai Properties (SEHK: 0016)' Beijing apm on Wang Fu Jing Street, the best known shopping destination in the capital city. "It is more complicated to open a restaurant on the mainland than in Hong Kong. There are more procedures and more government departments that you have to go through," Liang Wai-yip, the chain's operation manager, said. "We are also not familiar with issues like the local fire safety and public health ordinances."

June 3, 2010

Hong Kong*: More than 73,000 families have used the Hong Kong Mortgage Corporation's scheme to buy flats since 1999, but critics say the figure is small compared with total transactions in the same period. The corporation says a steady increase in the use rate from 3 per cent in 1999 to 18 per cent last year shows the mortgage insurance scheme is doing its job. But Democratic Party legislator Lee Wing-tat said the number of transactions using the scheme was only about 8 per cent of almost 870,000 total transactions over the past 11 years. "This shows the scheme is not very successful," he said. The scheme aims to help people with insufficient savings to become homeowners. It offers mortgage loans of up to 95 per cent of the property's value by insuring the amount of the loan above the standard 70 per cent that a bank will offer. People who take up the offer must pay a premium which varies from borrower to borrower. The premium, which is calculated on factors such as the amount borrowed, the loan-to-value ratio of the property and the length of the repayment period, varies from less than 1 per cent to about 4 per cent of the amount borrowed. Its annual report published on Friday showed the scheme had helped more than 73,000 families to buy homes, with drawdowns totalling more than HK$151 billion. "The average loan size under the program is HK$2.1 million, indicating that it mainly helps first-time buyers to acquire homes," Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah, the government-run corporation's chairman, said in the report.

A visitor looks at a Delta's 13" colourful E-magazine on the first day of Taiwan Computex 2010 at the Taipei World Trade Center on Tuesday. Taiwanese electronics firms displayed a slew of e-readers at an industry show on Tuesday, with one maker unveiling a lightweight model that can display a full magazine page in color. The colour model – developed by Delta Electronics and expected to go on sale by December – stood out among a number of monochrome e-readers at the Computex Show in Taiwan. Named e-Magazine, the model uses particle-based technologies that Delta has developed in collaboration with Japan’s Bridgestone Corp, in contrast with ink-based technologies available in the market. The 13-inch display would allow users to read a magazine page by page without scrolling it up and down like the smaller sized e-readers on the market, said Delta executive Hui Lee. E-Magazine – about half the weight of Apple’s iPad – is made especially for professionals to read magazines or documents with color charts, Lee said. Apple’s iPad and some e-readers sport LCD displays, which can show color. But those are harder to see in sunlight, cause eye-fatigue and consume much more power than the e-paper displays used in other e-readers. While Delta’s new technology is yet to be tested by the market, most other e-readers displayed at the industry show use ink-based displays.

Prudential’s bid for rival AIG's Asian unit AIA appeared close to collapse after AIG rejected the British insurer’s lowered offer of US$30.38 billion in cash and shares.

Archibald Chan Tai-wing, husband of former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang and former commissioner of the Royal Hong Kong Auxiliary Police, died in Queen Mary Hospital yesterday. He was 76. After feeling unwell at home early yesterday he was taken to hospital by an ambulance and died at 4pm, Anson Chan's office said. Anson Chan, their son Andrew Chan Hung-wai and daughter-in-law Jessica Lee were at his bedside. Anson Chan had requested privacy for herself and her family, the office said, adding that details of funeral arrangements would be announced in due course. She was seen in the hospital but did not address the press. Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen said he was profoundly saddened by Chan's death and would offer his deepest condolences to Mrs Chan and her family. He said Chan had outstanding leadership and management skills and was fully committed to public service. Chan, or "Archie" as he was popularly known, headed the Royal Hong Kong Auxiliary Police from 1987 to 1996. He met Anson Fang in 1959, the year he graduated from the University of Hong Kong and she began her studies there. They married in 1963 and had a son and a daughter. He taught physics and chemistry for five years at St Joseph's College before joining Caltex in 1964 and was a senior executive at the fuel giant when he retired. Chan was last seen publicly on February 28 when Anson Chan, her twin sister, Ninson Loh, and Baroness Dunn celebrated their 70th birthdays at the Grand Hyatt in Wan Chai. He underwent minor surgery in 2006, and pictures in 2008 showed he had lost a lot of weight, but Anson Chan denied he was suffering from a chronic illness. In September last year he was admitted to an intensive care unit after surgery for a perforated duodenal ulcer. Anson Chan later said his condition had stabilised and he was recovering. But she put a temporary halt to her public events to take care of him.

About one-quarter of the Tourism Board's HK$62 million mainland marketing budget for this year has gone towards summer promotions targeting Shanghai's wealthy residents and families as well as World Expo visitors. The almost HK$15 million worth of promotions is forecast to attract some 5.4 million to 5.7 million mainlanders to Hong Kong from June to August, according to board estimates, an increase of between 26 per cent and 33 per cent year on year. The total number of visitors during the period is projected to be about 8.5 million to 8.8 million, up 20 per cent to 25 per cent. Advance summer bookings are also up 40 per cent for Dragonair's Shanghai flights, the carrier's eastern China manager, Wilson Yam, said. However, the expected improvements are based on last year, when tourism was still suffering from the global downturn. In Shanghai, the board has plastered popular Huaihai Road, nearby subway exits and the Xintiandi district with banners highlighting attractions like Ocean Park and Disneyland in the first such large-scale Hong Kong promotion of its kind. The board is hoping to exploit the expo in Shanghai and November's Asian Games in Guangdong to attract visitors. The board's chairman, James Tien Pei-chun, said he expected many expo visitors to be from affluent and more well off backgrounds.

Fung shui master Tony Chan Chun-chuen is challenging an effort by the Inland Revenue Department to recover almost HK$350 million in profits tax he allegedly owes by asking a bank to hand over this sum from his account. In April the Inland Revenue Department submitted a writ to the District Court claiming Chan owed the government profits tax of HK$115.6 million for the 2005-06 financial year and HK$231.2 million for 2006-07. This corresponded to the tax that would be likely to have accrued on three sums of money Chan received from Nina Wang Kung Yu-sum, Chinachem chairwoman, before she died in April 2007. Chan yesterday applied to the court to set aside the Inland Revenue Department's action. He argues that the money was given to him by Wang as a gift, while her family argues the money was payment for fung shui services.

 China*: China's ambitions to become a major global power in the world of supercomputing were given a boost when one of its machines was ranked second-fastest in a survey. The Nebulae machine at the National Supercomputing Centre in Shenzhen can perform at 1.271 petaflops per second, according to the Top 500 survey, which ranks supercomputers. A petaflop is equivalent to 1,000 trillion calculations. The United States still dominates the list, holding top spot with its Jaguar supercomputer at a government facility in Tennessee, and more than half of the systems on the list, released at a supercomputing conference in Germany. But China has a total of 24 systems on the list, and two in the top ten, with the Tianhe-1 supercomputer in Tianjin ranking number seven. And the Nebulae, built by Dawning Information Industry, has a theoretical speed of 2.98 petaflops per second, which would make it the fastest in the world. The machine’s uses include scientific computing and gene sequencing, according to Chinese state media. The supercomputers on the Top 500 list are rated based on speed of performance in a benchmark test. Submissions are voluntary, so it does not include all machines. The survey is produced twice-yearly.

Authorities at the Shanghai Expo are reviewing procedures for issuing free tickets for an upcoming concert by popular Japanese pop group SMAP after a stampede on Sunday. More than 100 people were injured when the more than 2,000 mostly teenagers, who had been queuing for free tickets to a classical and pop concert, stormed the South Korean Pavilion. The show, scheduled for 7pm at the Expo Cultural and Performing Arts Center, featured several top Korean pop stars, including boy band Super Junior. Videos released by mainland media showed two layers of railings being torn down as a large group of people rushed toward the center. There were also rumors of a girl dying after she fell from a height. However, a spokesman for the expo insisted no one died. He also played down the chaos. "Dozens of people suffered from abrasions and heat stroke at the Korean Pavilion [on Sunday] and were given medical treatment at the expo. No one died and there was no chaos," the spokesman said. How they got the abrasions was not explained. A spokeswoman for the Korean Pavilion also denied any stampede, despite an eyewitness telling The Standard of a crush. The spokeswoman said the concert was held as scheduled. On Sunday morning, the concert organizer gave out tickets from 10 counters with each person limited to just one. During the process, however, some visitors suffered abrasions while some others suffered from heat stroke, the spokeswoman said. The SMAP show is scheduled for June 13 at the same venue. The Bureau of Shanghai World Expo Coordination said free tickets can be reserved at the center - which can hold 18,000 people - on the day for the 1pm concert. When asked if any safety measures will be implemented, the spokesman said these had yet to be formulated and an announcement will be made at the appropriate time. An official at the Japan Pavilion said it is not organizing the concert or handling ticket distribution.

Premier Wen Jiabao warned global economic growth remains vulnerable to sovereign debt risks and the possibility of a second downturn, but said China's growth remains on track. Wen told an audience of Japanese business executives in Tokyo that it is too early for economies to consider exiting stimulus spending that has shored up growth since the global financial crisis hit in 2008. But he also warned mounting government debt risks could frustrate full economic recovery. "Some people say the global economy has already recovered, and now we can consider exit mechanisms. I believe that this judgment is premature," Wen said on the second day of a three- day visit to Japan. High joblessness in the United States and other economies, and sovereign debt risks laid bare by Greece's crisis could all drag down global recovery and trigger a second dip in growth, Wen said. "Some countries have experienced sovereign debt crises, for example, Greece. Is this kind of phenomenon over? Now it seems that it's not so simple and we must take a full measure of the difficulties," he said. He added later: "Some people ask is there the possibility of a double dip in the world economy? I believe that we can't say with absolute certainty, and so we must undertake close observation and act to prevent a double dip. "The world economy is stable and beginning to revive, but this revival is slow and there are many uncertainties and destabilizing factors." Wen stayed away from mentioning the yuan exchange rate, which many politicians and economists in the United States and elsewhere say is held artificially low, exacerbating the global economic imbalances. Wen's cautious assessment of China's trade outlook suggested that he could see dangers in quickly moving to lift the value of the yuan, which would make the mainland's exports relatively more costly. China's exports appeared to have bounced back in the first quarter, but that was compared to a low base last year, Wen said. China recorded a US$1.7 billion (HK$13.26 billion) trade surplus last month, defying expectations of a second straight deficit after March's US$7.2 billion shortfall.

Mainland’s factories scaled back production last month and slowed the pace of hiring in response to a drop in new orders from both home and abroad, an official survey showed on Tuesday. The purchasing managers’ index (PMI) compiled by the China Federation of Logistics and Purchasing (CFLP) fell to 53.9 in May from 55.7 in April. The reading, which was close to the median forecast of 54.0 in a Reuters poll of 10 economists, marked the 15th straight month that the PMI has stood above the threshold of 50 that demarcates expansion from contraction. The decline comes against a background of slowing money and credit growth, the gradual withdrawal of fiscal stimulus and measures to deter speculative buying in real estate. However, Goldman Sachs economists Yu Song and Helen Qiao said the PMI has consistently fallen in May versus April since it was launched in 2005. “After adjusting for this seasonality, the May reading was slightly higher than its April reading. Therefore, we would not view the softening in the headline PMI as a sign of much softer industrial growth in May,” they said in a note.

Premier Wen Jiabao on Tuesday left Japan after meeting Japanese Emperor Akihito at the imperial palace, ending a three-day visit to Tokyo, officials said. In talks Monday, Wen and Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama agreed to set up a hotline following a series of naval incidents, and to resume formal negotiations on jointly exploring offshore gas and oil fields. Japan and China, the world’s second and third-biggest economies, are rivals for resources and have competing claims to parts of the East China Sea. The palace meeting was the Japanese emperor’s second with Wen, and his first with a top Chinese official since he met in December with China’s Vice President Xi Jinping – who is tipped to become president by 2013. Xi’s meeting created a squabble in Tokyo as Japan’s centre-left government broke with protocol to allow him to meet Akihito in a hastily arranged audience. Wen was heading to Mongolia and visits Myanmar later this week.

Shenzhen will expand its special economic zone to cover the entire city, which should solve problems caused by "one city, two systems". I have good news here that the approval documents [of Shenzhen's proposal] by the central government now are ready in print house," Wang Rong , Communist Party secretary of the city, said on Sunday at a meeting of the city's people's political consultative conference. Shenzhen has eight districts. Four of them - Luohu, Futian, Nanshan and Yantian - are in the SEZ, but Baoan and Longgang, which make up four-fifths of the city's land mass but are suburban, are not. In 2007 two new districts were established - Guangming and Pingshan - which had been part of Baoan and Longgang before. The expansion - which would merge the eight districts and see the zone increase from 395 sq km to 1,948 sq km, or nearly twice the size of Hong Kong - is a key plank in the city's restructuring plan. Shenzhen contends its development has long been held back as only a part of it is within the SEZ, and it has had to operate under different legislative systems for 17 years. "First, Shenzhen will have more power and space for trial reform after the expansion," said Zhang Hongqiao , a member of Shenzhen's CPPCC. "As the special economic zone, Shenzhen has been given a specific legislative right to launch some pilot regulations different from other parts of the country. Before, we could use that only within the four districts. Now we can introduce them to all eight. "Second, it would be good for the development of integration between Shenzhen and Hong Kong since the scope of the twin cities would be several times what it was before. "Third, Baoan and Longgang districts had been slighted in investment, public facilities and good public security because they were without the crown of the SEZ. In the future, the imbalance can be made up step by step." Baoan and Longgang, site of most factories and the districts where migrant workers live, have been separated from the four districts by a 100 kilometre border, although in recent years, the government has allowed entry to the SEZ with special passports. Those outside the SEZ have to live with poorer public services. Crime is rampant in the two suburban districts and there is also a gap in monthly minimum pay between those inside the SEZ and those outside. Last year it was 1,000 yuan (HK$1,141) and 900 yuan. A young female migrant worker from Hunan said of Baoan: "There are no municipal parks, libraries, universities or cinemas nearby. Transport to the downtown area is too expensive and inconvenient. We can find only clusters of rented houses, cheap restaurants and karaoke clubs. I can't find any kind of decent urban life here." Even white-collar workers are usually too embarrassed to say they live in Baoan and Longgang, as it means they cannot afford to live in the four urban districts. "If the merger is approved, the four districts would enjoy the same legislation, same urban planning and same infrastructure. The integration will allow the city to achieve balanced development," said Dr Guo Wanda , vice-president of the China Development Institute, a government think tank. "We will see the authorities invest greatly in Baoan and Longgang in the future. That will also help and attract talent to live there when the property and living costs downtown have been soaring."

Ningbo Port Co plans to raise about 13.25 billion yuan (HK$15 billion) in mainland’s second largest IPO this year, braving a weak stock market that has dropped nearly 20 per cent since mid-April, mainly due to official property-cooling steps. Ningbo Port, based in Zhejiang, planned to issue 2.5 billion A shares denominated in yuan, or 18.8 per cent of its expanded share capital, for a listing on the Shanghai Stock Exchange, it said in a draft prospectus for the A-share initial public offering (IPO). Proceeds would be mainly be used to develop port projects but also to buy port-related machinery and supplement working capital, it said in the prospectus published late on Monday on the mainland stock regulator’s website. ( The regulator, the China Securities Regulatory Commission, would review Ningbo Port’s Shanghai IPO application on Friday, it said in a statement. Ningbo Port, one of the busiest in the country, chiefly handles containers, iron ore and crude transportation as well as logistics. It also aims to issue 2.35 billion Hong Kong-listed H shares, although it has yet to work out the details, it said. “H-share issue should bear a price no less than that for A shares, although final pricing will depend on market conditions,” Ningbo Port said, adding it has appointed China International Capital Corp (CICC) as the Shanghai IPO’s lead underwriter. Its Shanghai offer will fall just below the US$2.3 billion IPO by Huatai Securities launched in February but will lag far behind a US$30 billion IPO planned by Agricultural Bank of China in Shanghai and Hong Kong in the near term. Mainland’s benchmark Shanghai Composite Index ended down 2.4 per cent on Monday at 2,592.1 points, continuing a downtrend since mid-April that has been fuelled by concerns over further tightening policies for the real estate sector. The government said on Monday that it would begin to implement property tax reform.

Honda Motor Co made slow progress on Tuesday in bringing production back at an unusually prolonged and high-profile strike at a parts factory in Foshan, Guangdong province. Japan’s No 2 automaker said most of the 1,900 workers – including about 600 interns – at the wholly-owned parts factory had agreed to management’s offer for a 24 per cent wage hike, with less than 100 holdouts still refusing the terms after violent clashes on Monday. But as of midday on Tuesday, production at the factory had yet to resume, while workers inspected equipment and prepared to restart the line, Honda spokesman Yoshiyuki Kuroda said. Mainland has been hit with a string of labor disputes at foreign companies, whose migrant workers have begun to demand better pay and conditions.

Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (1398), the world's biggest lender by market value, is seeking acquisition opportunities to expand in the Middle East and North Africa, to cash in on booming trade between China and the Gulf region.

Chinese President Hu Jintao joins the children delegates to the 6th National Congress of Chinese Young Pioneers to visit China Science and Technology Museum in Beijing, May 31, 2010. Chinese President Hu Jintao on Monday encouraged children to be ambitious and pursue an all-round development while touring a museum in Beijing along with children from home and abroad ahead of the International Children's Day. "You will be the driving force of the country's development in the future... You should be always ready to contribute your wisdom and strength to the building of a prosperous, democratic, civilized and harmonious modern socialist country," Hu told Young Pioneers who accompanied him at the China Science and Technology Museum.

A French worker introduces wine to a visitor at the Top Wine China 2010 held at China World Trade Center in Beijing, capital of China, June 1, 2010. The Top Wine China 2010, an international exhibition for Chinese wine market, kicked off in Beijing on Tuesday, in which 200 enterprises from China and abroad exhibited their products.

Workers introduce wine at the Top Wine China 2010 held at China World Trade Center in Beijing, capital of China, June 1, 2010. The Top Wine China 2010, an international exhibition for Chinese wine market, kicked off in Beijing on Tuesday, in which 200 enterprises from China and abroad exhibited their products.

A foreign worker introduces the wine preserving machine at the Top Wine China 2010 held at China World Trade Center in Beijing, capital of China, June 1, 2010. The Top Wine China 2010, an international exhibition for Chinese wine market, kicked off in Beijing on Tuesday, in which 200 enterprises from China and abroad exhibited their products.

Foreign workers introduce wine at the Top Wine China 2010 held at China World Trade Center in Beijing, capital of China, June 1, 2010. The Top Wine China 2010, an international exhibition for Chinese wine market, kicked off in Beijing on Tuesday, in which 200 enterprises from China and abroad exhibited their products.

Heavy rain causes flood in SW China.

June 2, 2010

Hong Kong*: The ivy league gloss of the mainland's elite universities appears to have lost some of its lustre in the eyes of Hong Kong's top students, admission records show. Academic agencies helping students apply to study over the border attribute the decline to the rising stature of Hong Kong universities, difficulties in entering local specialist professions like law with mainland credentials and the rising popularity of the city's early admissions scheme for secondary six students. Since 2004, Tsinghua and Peking universities have exempted Hong Kong applicants from taking further admission exams beyond their Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination. Agencies like the Beijing-Hong Kong Academic Exchange Centre helped the institutes, along with Fudan University in Shanghai, promote themselves and conduct admission work in Hong Kong in the past, but the three universities now send their own staff down. Minimum entrance requirements for Fudan and Tsinghua are 4As in the HKCEE results, while Peking University requires 5As. There has been a marked decline in the number of Hong kong students admitted on scholarships from Peking and Tsinghua universities over the past few years. The quota set aside by Peking dropped from 50 in 2004 to 20 in 2008, with the number of the city's students admitted by the two universities decreasing 52 per cent, from 71 in 2005 to 34 in 2007. Last year, 423 students skipped Form Seven and entered local universities through the early admission scheme open to those students who score a minimum of 6As in the HKCEE, a 5 per cent rise from the 404 students in 2007.

Within the exclusive portals of Hong Kong's poshest private club, the future looks rosy. Having resumed full ownership of its premises in Central in the middle of last year, the Hong Kong Club is looking forward to rental income of at least HK$60 million from this financial year on. Even better, it pays government land rent of just HK$324 a year, thanks to a 999-year lease inked in February 1895, after the club was formed by eight taipans in 1846. A few blocks away in Harcourt Road, Wan Chai, the Hong Kong Red Cross pays HK$1,370 for its Anne Black headquarters, while the Chinese Anglican Church is charged HK$1,000 for its St James' Settlement Multi-Service Community Centre in Stone Nullah Lane. Many of the tycoons who enjoy the Hong Kong Club's exclusive facilities would probably welcome such a deal for their own businesses. In addition, the club paid no premium for the land from which it will now reap tens of millions of dollars a year. Under a 1983 deal, Hong Kong Land redeveloped the prime site next to Statue Square and opposite the Legislative Council building into a 24-floor tower. It took rental income for 25 years from all but four podium floors reserved by the club for bars, restaurants, a fitness centre with two squash courts, a billiard room and four bowling alleys. The club also took a small portion of rental income from the higher floors.

They took to the streets in T-shirts with the slogan "Act now", handed out pamphlets and shouted slogans. But these were not your average election candidates. This was Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and his ministers, who launched a campaign yesterday to sell the constitutional reform package to the public. Despite an effort to conceal their itinerary, top officials were still surrounded by protesters and journalists when they visited various districts. The campaign aimed to get support for the 2012 electoral reform package, on which the Legislative Council is due to vote by next month. They also used a Chinese slogan, "Weigh anchor", making an analogy between Hong Kong's democratic development and the sailing of a ship, meaning one should start moving forward. Adverts with the slogans had been put up at MTR stations, ahead of the officials' street campaign. A television commercial with three executive councillors - Anna Wu Hung-yuk, Ronald Arculli and Dr Leong Che-hung - appealing for support was also launched. Riding on an open-top bus, the officials waved to people. A team led by Tsang, with justice minister Wong Yan-lung and five bureau chiefs, first visited Pacific Place, Admiralty, in the afternoon.

Mainland art collector Richard Chang seen on Thursday behind a stainless steel sculpture by Jonathan Monk at the Hong Kong art fair in Wan Chai. Chang says Hong Kong has become a hub of the Chinese art scene. Art means more than just making a profit for young Chinese collector Richard Chang. By putting together a collection in a systematic way and sponsoring exhibitions as well as opening his own museum, Chang is striving to set himself apart from his mainland counterparts. "If you think your art piece is worth more money and you want to sell it, that's fine, but that's not what I want to do," said 37-year-old, New York-born Chang. He is the founder of the Beijing-based non-profit Domus Collection, a foundation that promotes contemporary art. "Art is meant to be accessible but it's not so accessible because of the prices. My role is to try to make it as accessible as possible. "Every year I do a show of my collection to bring art to the people. A lot of people can't travel to London to see a show. I want to create a contemporary dialogue by colliding Chinese and Western art," said Chang, who is in Hong Kong for ART HK, for which he serves as a member of an advisory group. Chang founded the Domus Collection in 2008, showcasing his work at regular shows, including "Roundtrip: Beijing-New York Now", opening tonight at the Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art in Beijing.

When you're a young model drinking for free at Dragon-i in Central, one of Hong Kong's trendiest bars, it's understandable. It would be stupid to turn down a night of free drinks in such a club - that is, so long as you're old enough to drink there. Dragon-i regularly uses young models to promote the club, providing them with free drinks all night to help give out a cool vibe, but it's also a way to keep customers drinking. You're more likely to have another beer if there's a beautiful young woman to talk to. The question is: exactly how young are the women?

 China*: Government officials on Friday urged more Chinese companies to invest in Africa's agricultural and manufacturing sectors to help the continent improve its economic structure.

Canada's BlackBerry Partners Fund, a $141 million venture capital fund backed by the maker of the BlackBerry, Research In Motion Ltd (RIM), said on Friday it will launch a $100 million affiliate fund in China to invest in the world's largest mobile market.

Premier Wen Jiabao yesterday joined the leaders of South Korea and Japan in a three-way summit on the southern Korean island of Jeju, saying he hoped it would help promote peace. He earlier offered condolences to South Korea for the sinking of a warship blamed on Pyongyang after promising that Beijing would not defend any country guilty of the attack. A multinational team of investigators said last week that evidence proved a North Korean torpedo struck the ship, and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has pledged to take the North to the UN Security Council. North Korea has denied responsibility and warned that any retaliation or punishment would mean war. It also blamed the Obama administration for putting China in an "awkward position". " became possible for the US to put China into an awkward position and keep hold on Japan and south Korea as its servants," the Korean Central News Agency of the DPRK yesterday said. The two-day summit was expected to be overshadowed by the sinking in March of the 1,200-ton Cheonan, which killed 46 sailors. But the summit's first session focused on improving economic co-operation. The ship sinking was not discussed but is on today's agenda, said Kazuo Kodama, a Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman. Before the meeting, the three leaders observed a 10-second moment of silence for the Cheonan's dead crew members, a gesture proposed by Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama. Laying out the investigation results, Lee urged the Chinese premier during bilateral talks yesterday to play an "active role" in convincing North Korea to admit its wrongdoing, the presidential Blue House said. Wen told Lee that his country "will defend no one" responsible for the sinking, Lee's office said. As North Korea's main ally, China has faced growing pressure to take action against Pyongyang for the sinking of the warship. But Beijing has been cautious about taking a stance, saying it still needs to examine the investigation results, Wen told Lee, according to a briefing by presidential adviser Lee Dong-kwan. Wen offered condolences earlier Saturday to the South's people and the families of the dead sailors at a meeting with South Korean Prime Minister Chung Un-chan, the prime minister's office said. "China is a responsible nation which insists on justice and is seriously considering the findings of the multinational investigation," Wen said, according to Chung spokesman Kim Chang-young. "China has maintained consistent views on the stability of peace on the Korean peninsula and opposes acts that destroy it," he quoted Wen as saying. Japan has already given its backing to Seoul, and Tokyo recently instituted new sanctions against North Korea. South Korean President Lee met with Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama yesterday in Jeju ahead of the three-nation summit. Hatoyama reaffirmed Japan's "active support," pledging to play a leading role in backing South Korea's stance at the UN Security Council, according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency. Before the busy schedule yesterday, Wen, well-known for his habit of morning exercises, jogged in a park in Seoul at around 6.15 am. He also played badminton and baseball briefly with park visitors. The charm offensive appeared to work well, a Korean rushed to hug him and said: "I am your fan ...we all like you very much."

Despite an earlier donation controversy that almost damaged Zhang Ziyi's reputation, the actress was listed among the Top 10 Chinese Celebrities with the Best Public Images announced by the Huading Awards on Saturday. Zhang didn't show up at the star-studded awards ceremony held in Beijing. quoted unnamed jury members as saying that the actress deserved the honor because of her continuing charity efforts in spite of the controversy. Zhang said she donated one million yuan (146,402 U.S. dollars) to the Chinese Red Cross Foundation after a major earthquake hit southwestern China's Sichuan Province on May 12, 2008. However, news leaked this January that the Chinese Red Cross only received 840,000 yuan from the actress' side. Zhang then denied accusations that she intentionally committed fraud, claiming she wasn't aware of the shortfall. She fulfilled the remaining amount thereafter. As another earthquake occurred in Yushu in northwestern China this April, Zhang appeared at a televised fundraiser, donating 200,000 yuan (29,280 dollars) and reading aloud prayers. She also visited a teenage survivor several times. Other celebrities listed in the Huading Awards' Top 10 are Feng Xiaogang (director), Liu Yan (dancer), Li Shaohong (director), Chen Weiya (choreographer), Yan Weiwen (singer), Chen Baoguo (actor), Hu Mei (director), Tang Guoqiang (actor) and Eric Tsang (actor). The annual Huading Awards recognize Chinese celebrities' public images and social influences based on a jury panel's decisions and results of nationwide polls. Honored celebrities are from the film, television, opera, pop music and broadcasting fields. Other honorees this year include Cui Yongyuan (TV personality), Eason Chan (singer), Joey Yung (singer), Lu Chuan (director), Xiao Shen Yang (comedian/actor), Xu Jinglei (director/actress), Zhao Benshan (comedian/actor), and Zhou Xun (actress).

June 1, 2010

Hong Kong*: The Hospital Authority is modernising its ageing equipment with new government funding as a study shows Hong Kong scores poorly among some developed economies in the availability of advanced medical devices. While the city takes pride in its average life expectancy being among the world's highest, and its maternal and infant mortality rank among the lowest, one area in which its health care system lags behind is the provision of advanced medical equipment such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners and computerised tomography (CT) scanners. A study commissioned by the authority shows that the numbers of MRI scanners and CT scanners in the public health care system per million people are about a third of those in Singapore or Britain. Armed with a record high of HK$600 million in funds for medical equipment this financial year, the authority, which runs more than 40 public hospitals, hopes to gradually catch up with the latest technology and shorten patients' waiting time by buying more new machines. Its goal is to get rid of all major equipment more than 10 years old.

Hong Kong investors who buy certain complex "derivative" products from banks or brokers will be entitled to a five-day cooling-off period, during which they can change their mind and get a refund. The new cooling-off measure, which goes into effect next month, is being introduced by the Securities and Futures Commission. It comes just a week after the Hong Kong Monetary Authority announced its own cooling-off period for derivatives. But SFC chief executive Martin Wheatley said the two measures were different. "The SFC cooling-off period is a post-sale one that applies to all investors, while the HKMA cooling-off period is a pre-sale one that applies only to certain investors," Wheatley said. The SFC's reform also includes a measure that bans banks and brokers from giving investors ice-cream or supermarket coupons as inducements to boost the sales of the complicated financial products. "These are very complicated derivative products and they should not be promoted by offering any ice-cream or supermarket coupons to investors," Wheatley said. The cooling-off period and the coupon ban are among a range of reforms the SFC announced yesterday as part of its efforts to prevent a recurrence of the Lehman Brothers minibond fiasco. Since 2008, more than 20,000 disgruntled investors have complained to both the HKMA and the SFC that banks and brokers had misled them about the risks of the minibond products issued or guaranteed by Lehman Brothers. When the United States investment bank collapsed in September 2008, the minibonds became almost worthless, and the 16 banks and three brokers that sold them had to repay investors more than HK$5.2 billion. Contrary to their name, minibonds are not a safe, fixed-income instrument but a form of risky credit-linked note. Under the SFC's cooling off measure, to be implemented immediately after it is gazetted next month, investors who buy unlisted derivatives with a contract of one year or more from banks or brokers can change their minds and cancel within five days. They will get a refund minus an administration fee and any price difference due to a change in the market price. The HKMA's cooling-off period starts in January and will require bank employees, when meeting customers 65 years or older or first-time buyers, to wait two days before executing the purchase. Investors will not need to pay any costs if they change their minds. The two different measures arise from Hong Kong's split regulatory model. The SFC regulates the stock markets, brokers and fund managers, while the HKMA oversees banks and their staff. However, when bank employees sell any SFC authorised products, they will need to follow the SFC rule as well. Meena Datwani, the HKMA's executive director of banking conduct, said the two-day pre-sale cooling off period was aimed at giving extra protection to bank customers. "Many bank customers are not familiar with derivative products, whereas brokers' customers tend to understand more about these complicated products," she said. However, legislator Chim Pui-chung, who represents brokers, said the two sets of cooling off periods had led to confusion. "Under the HKMA plan, investors of different ages will receive different treatment," Chim said. "Those who invest through the banks will receive different protection from those who purchase the same products from brokers. "This is all very confused," he added. "Many overseas markets have a single regulator for all investment matters. Hong Kong should follow suit and let the SFC be the sole regulator for all investment-related issues, including bank securities departments. The Lehman minibond fiasco has showed us the problems but the government has not addressed the problems."

The central government's liaison office has agreed to convey to Beijing a constitutional reform proposal from the Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood, which suggests increasing the number of Legislative Council seats to 80. The pledge by Li Gang , a deputy director of the liaison office, at his meeting with the moderate pan-democrat party yesterday, contrasts with his response to the Alliance for Universal Suffrage's proposal, which he dismissed as contravening the legislative intent of the Basic Law.

The incoming chief executive of the West Kowloon Cultural District sees one of his main tasks as ensuring that the arts hub is "artistically led". Graham Sheffield said the need for this was one of the lessons to be learned from the failures and controversies of the past decade, including the scrapped proposal to hand it over to a single property developer. "My job is to ensure programmes of the highest standard," he said. On a week-long visit before starting work in August - coinciding with Hong Kong Art Week and the second stage of public consultation on the arts hub - the British arts administrator also vowed education would play a key role under his leadership. He said he firmly believed arts and culture were key components of quality education. "The best society is created with arts and culture education at an early level," he said, adding that with educational elements added to London's Barbican Centre, where he is artistic director, the centre was completely transformed. Sheffield said he hoped to see the establishment of an education department or even the addition of an education director to draw up strategies for such development, including forming alliances with existing institutes. He said he was also open to any form of collaboration with overseas institutes. Sheffield expressed confidence on Hong Kong becoming a regional arts hub. "Hong Kong has not yet claimed to be a world art city. It's a great world city undeniably, but it has potential if the city can take art to the next level with ambition. There is no lack of talent and I'm absolutely confident." The incoming WKCD chief executive said he had been meeting the arts hub team, with whom he had had productive discussions, and was already working closely with its executive director for performing arts, Louis Yu. The appointment of an executive director for museums was "coming along well", and he hoped an announcement could be made soon. During his visit, Sheffield has also met officials from local arts and education institutes, including the major arts groups, the Academy for Performing Arts and universities. He said he was very keen to learn about the region's cultural scene and with that in mind attended a City Contemporary Dance Company show last night and was to attend a performance by the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra tonight, before flying back to London. Sheffield said that there was clearly room for the growth of an art market in Hong Kong, which had huge potential to be a major player in the contemporary art world. He envisioned an arts hub hosting a number of international events but said local contributions were also essential. "West Kowloon will only succeed if there's creative local input," he said, adding that collaboration with the international scene was another key to success. Sheffield said the second stage of public consultation on the cultural district would be "simple, direct and not over-elaborate".

The withdrawal of a tender for the HK$33 billion Nam Cheong MTR station residential project in Sham Shui Po yesterday is another signal that developers have turned cautious on the property market. Nam Cheong Property Development, a joint venture between the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corp and the government, yesterday announced it had decided not to award the tender for the development. The project attracted bids from the city's three biggest developers - Sun Hung Kai Properties (SEHK: 0016), Cheung Kong (Holdings) (SEHK: 0001) and Henderson Land Development (SEHK: 0012) - on Tuesday. It is the third site put up for sale this month to receive a poor response, following the sale of sites in Tung Chung and Fanling at lower than expected prices. MTR Corp, the manager of the project, declined to comment on the result and the reason for the withdrawal. Henderson chairman Lee Shau-kee on Wednesday said the project would not be profitable as the land premium levy of HK$13 billion, or HK$6,582 per square foot, imposed by the government was too high. However, David Ng, the head of regional property research at Royal Bank of Scotland, said the levy was reasonable. "Property prices at nearby Harbour Green have reached HK$9,000 to HK$10,000 per square foot already," Ng said. "It is reasonable for developers to forecast the property prices of Nam Cheong station project could reach more than HK$10,000 per square foot." Eric Yuen Chi-fung, the head of research at Guoco Capital, echoed those views. "It proves developers feel uncertain about the market outlook and that may be because of the government's intervention in the property market and the economic uncertainties in Europe," Yuen said. The government will sell two luxury residential sites in Ho Man Tin and the Peak in the next two months but he did not think this affected the Nam Cheong tender. "Developers are cash-rich. They don't need to save money for bidding on two luxury sites by giving up the Nam Cheong project," Yuen said. Surveyor Alnwick Chan Chi-hing estimated the Lands Department will have to cut the land premium levy by 12 per cent to HK$5,800 per square foot to attract developers. "The property market has changed in the past two months. Land and residential supply is increasing. The upside potential in property prices is limited. It made developers submit conservative offers for the tender," he said. The 6.2-hectare waterfront site above Nam Cheong MTR station will accommodate nine seven to nine-storey low-rise blocks and nine 42 to 46-storey high-rise residential towers, plus a 287,732-square-foot shopping centre. The project will provide 3,300 flats with a total residential floor area of 2.96 million square fee.

Vincent Ko has seen diners packing his ninth-floor Wan Chai restaurant in its first week of business, thanks to his many loyal customers and his TV audience. After closing Tai Hei Hing Restaurant in Causeway Bay in 2006 because of a substantial rent increase, celebrity chef Vincent Ko Wing-sun reopened his restaurant last week, opting for an increasingly common survival strategy - moving to the higher floors. Master Ko, as thousands of TV viewers know him, and which also is the name of his cooking programme, said restaurants have moved upstairs for more affordable rent and many more will follow. Tai Hei Hing is on the ninth floor at 83 Wan Chai Road, where Ko pays about HK$45,000 per month for the 2,000 square foot space, about one-third the rent for the same area on the ground floor.

 China*: Having made his name as a tough crime buster, Chongqing's top party official, Bo Xilai , is back in the limelight again, this time showing himself to be a sophisticated politician by garnering the support of mainland internet chiefs for the promotion of revolutionary ideology. Bosses from 42 internet media companies, including the mainland's most popular websites such as Sina, Sohu, Netease and Baidu as well as MSN China, Yahoo China and, gathered in Chongqing this week at the invitation of the party chief and pledged to extol "revolutionary spirit" and pass on "red culture" on their websites. "We should make our national spirit ... a main driving force for building socialism and carry forward the Hongyan [red rock] spirit - the spirit and tradition of the revolutionary - and endeavour to make the internet an important base for promoting advanced culture," said a joint statement by the internet bosses carried on the People's Daily website. Bo is one of the strong candidates jockeying for power in the run-up to the next leadership succession when Premier Wen Jiabao , President Hu Jintao and most of the rest of the Politburo Standing Committee are expected to give up their party posts at the party's 2012 congress. On Tuesday night, he hosted a gala at the Chongqing Grand Theatre for the internet media bosses, where they waved red flags and sang classic songs from the revolutionary era, according to state media reports. Hongyan was a revolution base in Chongqing where prominent founders of the Communist Party such as Zhou Enlai and Dong Biwu held negotiations with then ruling Kuomintang during the anti-Japanese war. Underground Communist Party members faced a brutal crackdown from the Kuomintang at the time. In communist ideology, "Hongyan spirit" emphasises the "purity" of the party, class struggle, the condemnation of "bourgeois" corruption and decadent lifestyles and "severe punishment of traitors". The spirit represents the devotion, perseverance and diligence shown by the early founders of the party. Popular in the Mao era, the doctrines had largely been forgotten by the public until they were recently whipped up by Bo in what appears to be the latest move by the charismatic and ambitious party secretary to gain popular support. He has attempted to portray himself as a tough, clean communist official who dared take up difficult tasks with his massive crackdown on triad crime. But the war against the criminal syndicates has aroused suspicion that he is seeking to gain political capital for a future elevation in the next political reshuffle. Bo, the son of revolutionary elder Bo Yibo , has been keen to burnish an image of himself as a faithful follower of Mao Zedong - who is still widely revered by ordinary Chinese - through a series of nostalgia campaigns in Chongqing since taking over as party chief in December 2007. Bo leads party meetings in the singing of revolutionary songs, has had statues of Mao erected and sent text messages of Mao quotes to millions of Chongqing mobile phone users. Political analysts say Bo's latest move is aimed at boosting his political capital but warn it could be a risky move. "He wants to show off his bloodline as an offspring of the old revolutionaries," said political commentator Li Datong , a former editor at the China Youth Daily. "Under the current political culture, this is a useful card because there is still a market for Mao nostalgia." Zhang Lifan , a former Chinese Academy of Social Sciences historian, said Bo was trying to exploit ordinary people's discontent with the government to achieve his political goal. "Stirring up ordinary people's emotions ... advocating revolutionary ideas to overthrow the old rule and inciting nationalism are dangerous and might threaten (the party's) ruling status," Zhang said. Li questioned Bo's sincerity in his promotion of orthodox communist ideologies, pointing out that he sent his son to Britain's exclusive Harrow School and Oxford University, instead of having him educated on the mainland. Bo, a so-called "princeling" due to his status as a son of a revolutionary leader, has been praised in newspaper editorials for his operation against criminal gangs in Chongqing, which saw dozens of police arrested for working with the crime syndicates. The People's Daily named him "Man of the Year" in an online poll, and a sycophantic internet singer has written a song praising his virtues. Apart from good looks, he has the right pedigree, a sizeable track record and smooth rhetoric. He also knows how to use modern electronic media to his advantage and speaks reasonably good English. But it remains to be seen whether he can turn this popularity into a spot in the central government's inner circle. Analysts have been critical of his anti-triad crusade, which was supported by local people who were fed up with lawlessness but widely questioned by intellectuals for "riding roughshod over the rule of law".

Leaders of China, Japan, South Korea begin summit meeting.

Chinese mainland selects pandas to give to Macao.

iPad frenzy spreads to Europe and Asia - Diehard fans mobbed Apple stores in Asia and Europe as the iPad tablet computer went on sale outside the United States for the first time yesterday.

A shop assistant displays a iPad at a store in Hefei, Anhui province. Apple has yet to announce a launch date for the mainland. pirates hawking a new crop of Apple iPad knock-offs are hoping the real product's global launch will provide much-needed publicity for their slow-selling wares. They could find the sailing anything but smooth, however, as increasingly sophisticated mainland consumers are seeking the real deal of a product known for its hard-to-copy performance as much as its easier-to-replicate looks. This week at an outlet in one of Shanghai's top computer marts, the owner surnamed Li was trying his best to sell a new iPad clone, called the iRobot, passing it off as the iPad's identical twin. "It is expensive and it just arrived from Shenzhen. We haven't sold many of these yet, maybe only two a day," Li said, surrounded by an array of Apple-branded products of unknown origin, including three types of iPhone. "So far, not many people know about the iPad, but after the Apple launch a lot of people will want one. If they can't afford it, they will buy the fake." The iPad officially went global yesterday with launches in Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, and Switzerland. It is set to come to Hong Kong next month, but no mainland date has been set yet. An Apple spokeswoman in Beijing had no information on when the iPad would be available in the mainland and no comment on the fake iPads.

May 31, 2010

Hong Kong*: Prudential Plc halted trading in its Hong Kong listed shares on Friday as the British insurer sought to cut the US$35.5 billion price tag it originally negotiated for AIG’s main Asian assets. Prudential is trying to lower the price of the planned deal to purchase American International Assurance (AIA) amid rising pressure from investors, a source familiar with the situation said on Thursday. Prudential in Hong Kong declined to comment on the reason for the suspension in trading, but the company was likely to issue a clarification statement to the HK exchange in the due course, one source told reporters.

A month after university graduates were told to expect up to HK$2,000 less on joining the civil service from October, civil servants are being told they can expect pay hikes of up to 1.6 percent.

An artist's impression of the interior design of a suite in the TwoTwoSix project at Hollywood Road. A nearly 50-year-old tenement building on Hollywood Road in Sheung Wan is due to get a new lease of life. Rather than knock down the vintage residential building or tong lau and replace it with what he calls a "toothpick skyscraper", new owner Alan Lo, a co-founder and executive director of developer Blake's, says he will refurbish it into a "hip" development with just five large-sized apartments. "One of the biggest draws of the area is its sense of community and village-like quality. Walk the streets and you find a mix of neighbourhood restaurants, cafes, antique shops, high-end stores and boutiques," Lo said. "I would like to do something that will maintain that character rather than build a toothpick skyscraper." Lo and his partner Darrin Woo acquired the old five-storey building in 2008 for HK$50 million and their project, named TwoTwoSix after its street address on Hollywood Road, will be their first development. Lo, 30, an architect by training, and Woo, 33, a town planner, set up the firm in 2007 with a vision of reviving local neighbourhoods by celebrating an area's history and character, and incorporating this rich heritage into their properties. Their company's name, Blake's, reflects this philosophy and is derived from Blake Garden, the name of a Sheung Wan park. "It is an old building and we will need to make extensive structural changes to ensure the safety, and add a lift, which is a basic requirement for modern users. The refurbishing cost will be as much as creating a new building," Lo said. Lo is also a co-founder of Press Room Group, which opened the Pawn restaurant in Wan Chai. The restaurant was established in a renovated pawnshop. Woo, executive director of the company, said the Hollywood Road building was formerly owned by a single landlord, who leased out 15 units - three on each floor. Given the demographics, the area was dominated by smaller flats of about 500 sqft. "Our project will be in a good position, supplying larger units." With only one residence per floor and only five in the building, the partners believe the development will appeal to like-minded individuals who share an appreciation for beauty and design integrity. They have teamed up with Ilse Crawford - who heads Studioilse in London with clients such as Gucci Group, Volvo and Marks & Spencer - to design TwoTwoSix. Woo said the units would have an efficiency rate of 70 per cent, as the building only had five units and each would have to share a higher proportion of common area. But with one unit per floor and an area of 1,280 to 1,450 sqft each, the five apartments would be spacious, he said, with enough room for a second bedroom. Given its proximity to Central, the project will target young couples who work in the core business district and couples from overseas looking for a second home in Hong Kong. Lo said the units were expected to be available for sale in November and would be priced in line with deals done at new projects in the surrounding area. In March, units at nearby Island Crest sold for between HK$11,000 and HK$19,000 per square foot, which would price the units at TwoTwoSix at about HK$14 million.

Li Ka-shing, chairman of Hutchison Whampoa (SEHK: 0013), is confident the Hong Kong-based conglomerate's business this year will be better than 2009 despite the European debt crisis. "The world is getting smaller and any nation failing will have an impact on the rest of the world," he said after the general meetings of his two corporate flagships - Cheung Kong (Holdings) (SEHK: 0001) and Hutchison. "But I am not overly pessimistic." He said the company's "retail operations in Europe will see profit slightly affected by the weakening euro, but the impact will not be significant as it is made up by the Asia operations". "I remain confident that the businesses [of Hutchison] this year are highly likely to be better than last year," he said. Hutchison Whampoa operates in 54 countries with investments in ports, telecommunications, retail and infrastructure businesses. Li, Hong Kong's richest man, said he might buy shares in Agricultural Bank of China's initial public offering and more land in the city, betting China would withstand the impact of Europe's debt crisis. China's economy is "looking good" and the Hong Kong property market is a safe long-term bet for homebuyers, the 81-year-old billionaire said. Li, known as "Superman" for his investment acumen, correctly forecast in 2007 that China's stock- market bubble would burst and last year predicted the rally in Hong Kong home prices. Li said Husky Energy, the Calgary oil producer of which he is a controlling shareholder, planned to spin off its Asian operations for a separate listing in Hong Kong. "The plan is not yet finalised but it would be a benefit on all fronts if the Asian business is listed," he said. In March, Hutchison managing director Canning Fok Kin-ning indicated Husky could complete the separate listing of its Asian assets this year. Oil prices would pick up when the economy stabilised, Li said, adding that Husky would continue to develop the oil sands business. Commenting on the Hong Kong property market, Li said people who could afford to buy, could consider buying. Inflation would follow after the European debt crisis stabilised. Cheung Kong sold HK$12.5 billion worth of flats in the city during the first four months of the year, Li said. Shares of Cheung Kong rose 2.28 per cent to HK$87.5 yesterday while Hutchison climbed 3.11 per cent to HK$48.1.

Elsie Leung warns of crisis over trade seats - A former top government legal official has warned of a possible constitutional crisis over moderate pan-democrats' proposals to reform the functional constituencies as the proposals sparked intense debate in the Beijing-friendly camp. Former justice minister Elsie Leung Oi-sie, now a vice-chairwoman of the Basic Law Committee, said the proposal, for the public to elect six seats designated for district councils, would "upset the 50-50 balance" between directly and indirectly elected seats. If the government bowed to pressure from lawmakers threatening to veto its political reform package unless the proposal was included, there was a real possibility the package could be vetoed by the national legislature, which would "trigger a constitutional crisis and undermine social stability", she said. Leung was speaking a day after former committee member Ng Hon-mun said in a newspaper article that the proposal would not contravene the National People's Congress Standing Committee's 2007 decision, which set a timetable for election of the chief executive and the legislature by universal suffrage. In the Ming Pao Daily article, Ng said the decision stipulated only that the 50:50 ratio of directly and indirectly elected seats should remain in 2012 and did not lay down any rules for functional constituencies. "Election of district council functional constituency seats by 'one man, one vote' does not contravene the NPC decision," Ng said. But Leung said she agreed with the views of Li Gang, a deputy director of the central government's liaison office in Hong Kong, that the proposal would trigger doubts over whether it was in line with the NPC's decision. The Democratic Party, which met Li on Monday, proposes increasing the number of Legco seats from the present 60 to 70 in 2012, with six seats for district councils that would be nominated by district councillors and elected by all registered voters. The Alliance for Universal Suffrage, a coalition formed by 13 moderate pan-democratic groups, suggests increasing the number of seats from 60 to 80, with 11 seats for district council functional constituencies. "The NPC's decision in 2007 stated that functional constituencies and those elected by direct election should be equal in number. By having six seats designated for district councils directly elected, then you upset the 50:50 balance," Leung said. The Standing Committee was empowered not to register legislative amendments to Basic Law Annex II, which governs the Legco elections, if the changes deviated from the policies and principles set out in the mini-constitution, she said. "If the electoral package is vetoed by the Standing Committee, it would trigger a constitutional crisis and undermine social stability," she said. Leung added that the pan-democrats' demand for reassurances of "genuine" universal suffrage for election of the chief executive and the legislature in 2017 and 2020 as a precondition for supporting the Hong Kong government's proposal for 2012 was also unacceptable to Beijing. Former Legco president Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai, a member of the Standing Committee, also said the proposal was not in line with the NPC's decision. "The proposal cannot be implemented for the 2012 election but there is room for further discussion after 2012," she said. Basic Law Committee member Albert Chan Hung-yee said the proposal amounted to a de-facto direct election and was not in line with the NPC's decision. "The NPC decision aims at maintaining the existing methods for electing Legco in 2012 and does not authorise the invention of new electoral methods," said Chan, a professor at the University of Hong Kong's faculty of law. Functional constituencies - electorates based on trade and professional sectors - were introduced by the colonial government in 1985. They were at the centre of a massive row between the colonial administration and Beijing after then- governor Chris Patten pushed through amendments for the 1994-95 elections - dismantled after the handover - that turned the trade-based seats into de-facto directly elected seats by giving everyone in the sectors a vote. In early 1994 - a few months after talks on the issue broke down - Beijing declared that the Chinese and British sides had an understanding that the functional constituencies were a form of indirect election and they must not be turned into de-facto direct elections on an occupational basis.

Li Gang, the deputy director of the central government’s liaison office in Hong Kong, attends a book launch at the Hong Kong Central Library in Causeway Bay on Friday after meeting with members of the Association for Democracy and People’s Livelihood.

Veteran politician Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai is not confident that the Legislative Council will pass the 2012 political reform package. The National People's Congress Standing Committee member and former Legco president hopes the rapport between pan-democrats and the central government will continue, but doubts a consensus can be reached within a month, with the scrapping of functional constituencies the main sticking point. Fan also said it is hard for the central government to accept the pan-democrat idea of allowing people to choose lawmakers directly from district councils in 2012. "How can the central government ask the National People's Congress to eat its words?" Fan said. She said the proposal is not viable at this stage, but could be considered for election methods beyond 2012. Fan noted the pan-democrats' views on the Legco election methods are still very different from the government's though the proposals regarding the election of the chief executive are less controversial. Earlier this week central government liaison office deputy director Li Gang said the pan- democrats' proposal to let people choose lawmakers directly from district councils in 2012 was against the Basic Law and could raise doubts as to whether it was in line with the decision of the National People's Congress. Basic Law Committee vice chairwoman Elsie Leung Oi-sie said that allowing certain electors to choose some functional constituency lawmakers directly from the district councils is against the 2007 National People's Congress Standing Committee decision. Meanwhile, property tycoon Li Ka-shing, the chairman of Cheung Kong (Holdings) and Hutchison Whampoa, weighed into the debate, saying the functional constituencies should not be done away with without a lot of thought.

Public support for all major political groups in the city has declined significantly amid the debate on constitutional reforms, a university poll has found. In the latest random telephone survey of 1,015 people by the University of Hong Kong's Public Opinion Programme between Tuesday and Thursday last week, popularity ratings for all 10 of the most widely known political groups dropped compared with the previous poll in February. The Beijing-friendly Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong saw the largest slip in ratings by 5.1 points, from 48.1 to 43 on a zero-to-100 scale. The smallest drop was for the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, going down by 2.4 points to 47.6 from 50. The ratings for three organisations, the Civic Party and the League of Social Democrats - both pan-democratic groups that launched the "de facto referendum" movement - and the pro-business Liberal Party, dropped to historic lows since they were formed. Their latest ratings were 44.5, 36.6 and 40.8, respectively. The pan-democrat Confederation of Trade Unions continued to top the list as the most popular political group, with a rating of 49.9, compared with 52.8 in February. Dr Robert Chung Ting-yiu, director of the programme, said: "The ratings of all groups have dropped significantly. Many of them are either at a new or record low. The row over political reform and full-fledged by-elections has apparently taken its toll on all political parties." The sampling error for the ratings was below plus or minus 1.9 points.

SKH St. Simon’s Leung King Nursery School in Tun Mun on Friday was advised to suspend classes for two weeks starting from Saturday after a hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) outbreak there. Centre for Health Protection director Thomas Tsang Ho-fai said six pupils at the school had symptoms of HFMD. But he said their symptoms were relatively mild. Tsang said a 34-year-old woman, whose three-year-old son was studying at SKH St. Simon’s Leung King Nursery School, had also showed symptoms of the disease. “She was now in a stable condition,”Tsang said. Another 43-year-old man also showed symptoms of HFMD. He too was in a stable condition. The man’s seven-year-old son also showed symptoms of HFMD. The boy was studying in the St Francis of Assisi’s English Primary School in Sham Shui Po. The school was also advised to suspend classes for two weeks from Friday. Tsang said it was now the peak season for HFMD and that he expected more children would be infected with the disease. “Children are particularly vulnerable to the disease. We will continue to closely monitor the situation.... I want to stress that there has been no mutation of the virus so far,” he said. The CHP has recorded over 200 HFMD cases since January.

 China*: Beijing will have more than 1,000 km of rail transit lines in operation by 2020 according to a new construction plan, Beijing vice mayor Huang Wei said Thursday. The Chinese capital plans to have 15 rail transit lines in operation with a total length of more than 561 km by 2015, Huang told a forum on urban rail transit in Changchun, capital of northeast China's Jilin Province. Beijing had 228 km of subway and light rail transit lines in operation by 2009, and total rail length will exceed 330 km by the end of 2010 with five new lines being put into operation this year, Huang said. China is witnessing a boom in urban rail transit construction as many cities struggle to tackle traffic congestion in wake of fast growth in private car ownership. Shanghai, the nation's business and financial center, plans to have 970 km of rail transit lines by 2020. Li Bingren, chief economist with the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, said: "The most effective way to ease traffic congestion is by investing more in public transport, especially urban rail transit lines, and by reducing the number of vehicles on the road." China had 962 km of rail transit lines in operation by 2009 and the total length will exceed 2,500 km by around 2015, said Tan Qinglian, president of China Civil Engineering Society.

China's fastest high speed train "380A" welcomes its first batch of visitors when it comes off the production line in Changchun, northeast China's Jilin province, May 27, 2010. China's fastest high speed train rolled off the production line Thursday in Changchun, capital of the northeast China's Jilin province, a company executive said. Dong Xiaofeng, chairman of Changchun Railway Vehicles Co., Ltd., said the new generation train "380A" has the maximum operating speed of 380 km per hour. Changchun Railway Vehicles Co., Ltd. is a subsidiary of China CNR Corp, one of the country's two big train makers. The trains, which China has the independent intellectual property rights of, will run for the first time on the Beijing-Shanghai high speed railway that is to be completed and opened in 2011. On March 16, China's Ministry of Railways signed a contract to buy 100 new generation trains from China CNR Corp. High speed trains with the maximum operating speed of 350 km have been running on three lines that link Beijing and Tianjin, Wuhan and Guangzhou, Zhengzhou and Xi'an.

The Taiwanese electronics company buffeted by a spate of suicides at its mainland factories said on Friday it will raise workers' salaries by an average of 20 per cent.

Lending by Chinese banks may drop to 600 billion yuan (88 billion U.S. dollars) in May as the central government winds down its stimulus program and cools the property market to prevent the economy from overheating.

A car gets through the six-lane traffic tunnel under the Yangtze River in Nanjing, east China's Jiangsu Province, May 28, 2010. The tunnel, connecting the city of Nanjing on both sides of the river, is the third traffic tunnel built under the Yangtze River, China's longest river. The tunnel opened to traffic on Friday.

A variety of brews are on display at a supermarket in Chengdu, Sichuan province. The average beer consumption per person in southwestern China is 29 kilograms annually. The nights are certainly getting longer and louder in Jinli. No, it is not any geographical phenomenon, but the hustle and bustle of a typical summer night as more and more revelers head to the streets to chill out. Loud banter, music and sounds of "ganbei" ring the air in Jinli in Chengdu, one of the largest cities in southwestern China. With the mercury sizzling, it is the chilled beverages that are selling like hot cakes. And for several years now beer has been the most popular beverage in Sichuan province. The taste for beer also has its roots in the relaxed and easy life style of the region. So much so, that there is tremendous competition among the beer majors to boost investments and corner bigger market shares in the premium beer segment. The popularity of beer can also be seen in the clutter of billboards displaying various brands dotting the streets. "Most of our clientele come to have a drink after 7 pm, and we usually sell around 200 bottles of premium beer, priced at 15 yuan each, every day, even though our main business is food," said Xiao Li, a waiter at the Guan Jin bar in Jinli. Molson Coors, the world's fifth-largest brewer is one of the biggest that have stepped up their investment pace here. The company recently spent $40 million to buy a 51 percent stake in a new joint venture with the Hebei Si'hai Beer Company. The joint venture plans to launch premium beers with lower production cost in China. "Chengdu and Chongqing are among the cities that had the best sales figures last year for our premium brand Coors Light. We will consider making another new investment if the market keeps on growing," said Peter H. Coors, chairman of Molson Coors. Companies like Molson Coors are also encouraged to expand as premium beer sales in southwestern China are five times larger than the Northern regions, said John Zhang, general manager (operations), China of Molson Coors. The Guangzhou-based Molson Coors has been selling its premium brand, Coors Light, mainly in bars and night-clubs in southwestern China. The brand now accounts for 10 percent of China's premium beer market. Molson Coors' competitor, Carlsberg, the world's fourth-largest brewer, is also planning new investments in the southwest. The brewer is currently waiting for the outcome of a bid to acquire 12.25 percent stake in Chongqing Brewery Company. Carlsberg has also shown interest in the nation's southwestern market. Jorgen Buhl Rasmussen, president of Carlsberg, said he was planning to move the headquarters of Carlsberg China from Chengdu to Chongqing. With competition heating up, there is also a price war. Both Carlsberg and Coors Light are priced the same, and sell at around 180 yuan per dozen in Guan Jin bar. "Carlsberg and Coors Light are the two best-selling brands due to their reasonable price and good taste," said Li. The world's largest brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev's China arm started work on a new brewery in Ziyang, Sichuan province, this year. Fu Meikai, president of Anheuser-Busch Asia-Pacific region, said: "Anheuser's production in southwestern China will mainly focus on the premium restaurants and bars. Average beer consumption per person in southwestern China is 29 kilograms annually, below that of northern cities like Beijing, where beer consumption is 91 kilograms, according to China Jianyin Investment Securities. "The beer industry in southwestern China is focused on premium beer due to the more relaxed and easy lifestyle here. In addition, the local economic growth and relatively low consumption base signifies huge growth potential," Huang Wei, a food and beverage analyst with China Jianyin Investment Securities, said.

A 10-day-old strike at a key Honda component factory outside Guangzhou has forced Japan's No 2 carmaker to suspend production in China, the world's largest and fastest-growing car market.

Prime Minister Wen Jiabao waves upon his arrival at the Seoul Military Airport in Seongnam, South Korea on Friday. Premier Wen Jiabao told South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on Friday that he condemned all acts that threaten peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and would not "harbour" anyone over the sinking of a South Korean naval ship in March. “China objects to and condemns any act that destroys the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula,” Wen said during a meeting with Lee in Seoul, according to a South Korean official citing the Chinese leader’s comments. Wen is on a three-day visit to South Korea.

A landmark China-Taiwan trade deal scheduled to be signed in June could be pushed back as the two sides wrangle over import tariffs, the government and analysts said on Friday.

China's one-time richest man and the founder of a major retail chain has appealed his 14-year jail sentence for bribery and insider trading, the Legal Daily reported on Friday.

Jinjiang residents can travel to Xiamen in 30 minutes and Fuzhou in an hour on the 250km/h high-speed rail service. Just 12 months ago, the railway station in Jinjiang, Fujian province, part of the mainland's new high-speed rail network, was an untidy construction site. On April 26, when the inaugural high-speed train from Xiamen in the south to Fuzhou in the north passed through Jinjiang, the station was still far from completed, with its unpaved entrance area, stationary escalators and blank television information panels. But every day the train service runs, it is weaving Jinjiang - the country's shoe capital - closer into the economic fabric of the rest of the province. The city is the production base for 40 per cent of the nation's sports shoes - or 20 per cent of the world's total. The 250 km/h rail service has cut the journey time between Jinjiang and Xiamen to only 30 minutes whereas before it took one-and-a-half hours by road; and it is only an hour to Fuzhou, previously a two-and-half-hour road trip away. Adding to the Jinjiang's makeover was the opening of its first international hotel in March - Hong Kong conglomerate Wharf Group's 296-room Marco Polo Hotel.

Mission Hills Group, owner of the world's largest golf club in Shenzhen, will boost investment sixfold in a golfing complex on Hainan island which is undergoing a tourism and property boom. Mission Hills will spend a further 25 billion yuan (HK$28.5 billion) by adding more golfing, retail and community facilities at its five billion yuan club in Haikou, the island's capital, vice- chairman Ken Chu said. "We have confidence in the rise in Chinese consumption and them having a holiday mentality," Chu said. Mission Hills is switching its focus from foreigners to Chinese golfers as the nation's newly wealthy seek aspirational leisure pursuits, he added. Mission Hills opened a 12-course club, the world's largest, in 1992 in Shenzhen.

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

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