Thai authorities confirm detention of Hong Kong democracy activist
By Christy Choi and Hathai Techakitteranun, dpa
Hong Kong/Bangkok (dpa) – Hong Kong student activist Joshua Wong has been detained at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport, Thai immigration police confirmed Wednesday.
Wong, secretary general of political party Demosisto, was due to give a talk at an event hosted by Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok about youth participation in politics, the Umbrella movement and his party, said Demosisto’s deputy secretary general Agnes Chow.
Wong left Hong Kong Tuesday night on a flight to Bangkok which was scheduled to arrive at 11:45 pm.
“We have, however, been unable to contact him until 4:18 a.m. Hong Kong time, when Netiwit Chotipatpaisal, the Thai student-activist expected to meet Wong in Bangkok, notified us that Wong has been detained at Suvarnabhumi Airport,” a Demosisto statement said.
Choitpatpaisal told Demosisto that Thai authorities had earlier received a letter from the Chinese government about Wong’s visit. He also said his request to see Wong had been denied.
“Thailand’s arrest of Joshua Wong…sadly suggests that Bangkok is willing to do Beijing’s bidding. Wong should be freed immediately and allowed to travel and exercise his right to free expression,” said Sophie Richardson, China director for Human Rights Watch .
In a statement Demosisto said it “strongly condemns the Thai government for unreasonably limiting Wong’s freedom and right to entry.”
Wong played a key role in the “Umbrella” protests of 2014 which saw parts of Hong Kong occupied for 79 days.
In August, Wong was convicted of illegal assembly and sentenced to 80 hours of community service for his role in the 2014 protests.
The so-called “Umbrella Movement” protests of 2014 posed the biggest challenge to China’s communist government since Hong Kong was returned from Britain in 1997.
Last year, one Hong Kong’s five missing booksellers, Gui Minhai, who sold books containing salacious rumours about communist party officials, went missing from his home in Pattaya.
Wong’s detention comes at a time when Hong Kong citizens are increasingly concerned that China is clamping down on critics in the former British colony, and that foreign countries are unwilling to challenge Beijing’s actions.
Hong Kong election puts asylum seekers under surprise spotlight
As Hong Kong gears up for landmark elections this Sunday, asylum seekers have found themselves the subject of unexpected – and mostly unwelcome – attention.
Hong Kong (dpa) – With just 11,000 asylum seekers in a metropolis of more than 7 million, Hong Kong has rarely paid attention to these arrivals from abroad, until this year’s recent election campaign.
The increased frequency of official press releases on asylum seekers, combined with recent heated public rhetoric has however created a great deal of misinformation, according to activists.
“What has been most shocking has been the pro-establishment parties putting up banners around Hong Kong with false stats [on asylum seekers and crime],” human rights lawyer Patricia Ho said.
“The government should set the record straight and say: No that’s not entirely correct.”
The Justice Centre, an asylum seeker advocacy group, has recorded an increase in articles linking asylum seekers to crime in a local media outlet singled out for praise by the city’s chief executive, Leung Chun-ying.
The Oriental Daily had published 257 articles by mid-June in 2016 which linked refugees and crime, compared to just 18 in 2015.
More than 80 per cent of asylum seekers are from South or South-East Asian countries including Vietnam, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia, according to data from the Security Bureau, the government body responsible.
Government and immigration department press releases making the same connection have also increased, despite the absence of police statistics to back up the claim.
The figures for 2015 show that 1,113 non ethnic-Chinese individuals committed crimes ranging from theft, drug offenses, assault, fighting in public places to serious immigration offenses, up from 665 in 2014.
However, the figure does not distinguish between asylum seekers and other segments of the non-Chinese population in Hong Kong.
“A year or two ago, if you’d ask any odd person on the street the response would have been: ‘We have asylum seekers?’ Nowadays it’s different … they say they’re all false claimants, they’re out committing crimes,” Ho said.
The Security Bureau has spoken of “concern over social and public order issues brought about by the ever-growing population of claimants,” referring to illegal immigrants or overstayers in Hong Kong.”
But the bureau did not indicate the reason for the increase in press releases, or provide more detailed statistics showing an increase in crime by asylum seekers.
Nevertheless, public opinion does appear to have hardened on the issue.
A recent survey conducted by the Education University of Hong Kong showed that 26.8 per cent of people felt negatively towards asylum seekers. In this group 61.1 per cent said it was because the group “made society unsafe.”
The same survey indicated that 66 per cent thought claimants were fake and 49.4 per cent thought they were criminals.
When asked about their stance on the issue, officials from the New People’s Party, which has been advocating for detention camps for irregular migrants and pre-screening mechanisms, declined to comment, citing tight scheduling ahead of the elections.
Despite negative views of asylum seekers, a large majority of respondents – nearly 81 per cent – indicated that they think people in Hong Kong should know more about other ethnic groups.
“[Their scaremongering tactic] is not working to such an extent,” said lawmaker Alan Leong of the Civic Party.
“It’s no different from what Mr Donald Trump is pumping out in the USA. It’s not a significant issue that is threatening life or death in Hong Kong.”
Democratic ambitions hang in balance as Hong Kong heads to polls
A pro-democracy alliance in Hong Kong is fighting to maintain power in upcoming legislature elections as the growing influence of mainland China is felt by many.
Hong Kong (dpa) – Voters in Hong Kong head to the polls on Sunday in an election seen as critical for those who wish to see the city become fully democratic.
A record 153 candidates are running for 58 contested seats on the Legislative Council, while 12 incumbents are to be re-elected uncontested.
The alliance of political parties known as the pan-democrats must hold on to at least 18 of the seats – if not, they would lose their veto power in the council, which has the power to enact, amend and repeal laws; endorse the appointment and removal of judges; and impeach the city’s top official, the chief executive.
It would also ultimately lose the power to oppose a controversial electoral reform bill that would see a majority pro-Beijing committee pre-select the candidates running for the city’s top job before a public election.
The bill, which triggered the 79-day Umbrella Revolution in 2014, has so far been blocked by the pan-democrats.
“If we lose the one-third critical minority [that gives us veto power in the Legislative Council] … the electoral model will be passed in no time,” Alan Leong, a current lawmaker for the Civic Party, told dpa.
It is a race closely watched, as Hong Kong residents fear they are gradually losing their long-cherished freedom to speak critically and openly about the governments in Hong Kong and mainland China.
Hong Kong has a legal and governance system separate to that of mainland China as part of a treaty that ceded the territory from Britian in 1997.
The disappearance and reappearance of five booksellers dealing in books banned by China but legal in Hong Kong, and their public confessions on Chinese television, has spooked residents.
“The problem is that, in the absence of full universal suffrage and the ability to vote out officials who are incompetent, or abuse their powers, there are very few direct actions we can take to bring about change,” the city’s former chief secretary Anson Chan said at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club on Tuesday.
The council, which also plays a role as a government watchdog, is a key battleground for those concerned political censorship is creeping into the operations of the government.
The latest point of contention is the disqualification of six candidates who were advocating varying degrees of autonomy and independence from China by the Electoral Affairs Commission.
The commission is intended to be a politically neutral body in charge of administering and regulating the Legislative Council elections.
Leong described the move as “trying to restrict the right to elect and the right to be elected.”
Candidates were for the first time asked to sign forms that stated they would not be advocating for the city’s independence from China in order for them to be eligible to run.
Some who signed were barred from running, while others were allowed to run without signing the declaration.
“The entire process has been arbitrary and politically biased,” Chan said.
The courts are now determining whether the commission has overstepped its boundaries.
Chan also warned that the city’s “proud history of clean elections” was “seriously in jeopardy.” She has accused pro-Beijing candidate supporters of shady tactics, including offering financial incentives to potential supporters and bringing in busloads of former Hong Kong residents living in China to vote in the election.
Calls to candidates in opposition parties by dpa were not returned.
The elections are also notable as a significant number of legislators who have served on the council for decades are stepping down to make way for younger, often independent candidates.
“It’s a changing of the guards. Almost a face-lift of the legislature,” said Leong.
Hong Kong’s legislature operates on a partially democratic system. The public directly elects half of the 70 lawmakers. These members are known as the geographic constituency. The other half is selected by members of professional associations and trade groups and is known as the functional constituency.
The world’s only Tiananmen Museum is shutting its doors
With China forbidding discussion of the crackdown on students in Tiananmen Square, a small Hong Kong museum that provided a fresh source of information faces shutdown.
Hong Kong (dpa) – Mid-afternoon on a Wednesday and the Tiananmen Museum in Hong Kong is busy. Since announcing its imminent closure in April, the museum has seen an uptick of visitors.
Around 25 people fill the 74-square-metre space, mostly schoolchildren and a few solo travellers from mainland China, where it is officially forbidden to discuss the events that took place in and around Tiananmen Square in Beijing on June 4, 1989.
“What we’ve been told [about the Tiananmen Square Massacre] is really quite different,” said Wang, a 40-year-old office worker from Guangzhou who asked to be identified by a pseudonym.
Disappearances or visits from Chinese government authorities are not rare on the mainland, which is why many Chinese visitors to the museum are alone.
For seven weeks in 1989, students gathered at the famous square, demanding government accountability, freedom of press, freedom of speech and democracy in a country that had experienced a spate of corruption and nepotism by elites in the ruling Communist Party.
The students were also mourning the death of Communist Party General Secretary Hu Yaobang, a liberal in the midst of conservative hardliners in the party.
When the students refused to leave the square and tensions escalated, the government sent in tanks, leading to the deaths of several hundred people.
China’s Communist Party leaders still refuse to discuss the details of the crackdown or even mention the incident.
Britain ceded Hong Kong to China in 1997, and since then mainland Chinese residents like Wang – dissatisfied with a censored media at home – have turned to Hong Kong for information.
The museum was once a temporary fixture of the yearly memorials to the dead. It became a permanent space in 2014 and has seen some 20,000 people come through its doors. Half visit from the mainland.
But Hong Kong’s protected status appears to be changing. Book publishers in Hong Kong have gone missing – only to turn up helping with police investigations on the mainland – for reporting on senior Communist Party officials, and politically sensitive book titles have been removed from shelves as China tightens its control over what can published in Hong Kong.
The museum is being forced out of its current location following a lawsuit initiated by the building owner’s corporation.
The corporation, headed by a man who runs a factory in China, accuses the museum of violating the building’s commercial code by operating the space as a museum and not an office.
Albert Ho, a local legislator and convenor of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, which runs the museum, believes the lawsuit is politically motivated.
“Before we opened, we let them know it was going to be a museum. We publicly let everyone know,” he said.
Hong Kong has its own history with Tiananmen. In 1989, the island provided a base of support for students and workers who camped out in Tiananmen Square. An estimated 1.5 million people took to the city’s streets on May 21, 1989 in solidarity.
When the Chinese government began arresting protest leaders, Hong Kong businessmen and celebrities, with the help of the government and others, launched operations to help free them.
More than 400 dissidents, including student leaders Chai Ling and Wuer Kaixi, escaped through Hong Kong to the United States, Britain, France and other Western countries.
The alliance and their supporters do not want this part of the Tiananmen Square crackdown to be forgotten.
“It’s my duty and my mission to let the young generation know about this incident,” said Connie Chan, a Chinese history teacher at a local secondary school who was visiting the museum with her students.
“I was in Hong Kong in 1989 and participated in the march. I was 20-something then, already a secondary school teacher. I went to march with the students [from our school].”
The spirit of the protests re-surfaced in Hong Kong in 2014 with student-led demonstrations calling for more choice in who should run the city.
Wang, the mainland Chinese visitor, came seeking a different point of view and said he would like to see full democracy in Hong Kong.
But he was less emphatic about China’s democratic prospects.
“We are such a big country, with so many different cultures and wants,” he says. “This is what I think … for now.”
A look into Hong Kong’s banned book industry
Hong Kong (dpa) – Hong Kong has a long history of publishing books considered objectionable by the Chinese government.
But the phenomenon of bookstores specializing in books banned by Beijing appears to have started in earnest a decade and a half ago, soon after the British returned the territory to Chinese rule in 1997.
These shops, frequented by visitors from mainland China, developed a viable business model after the city saw increased numbers of Chinese tourists. Last year, some 46 million mainland Chinese visited Hong Kong.
Hong Kong is able to publish the books as it maintains a separate legal and governing system to that of the mainland, under the “one country, two systems” arrangement that was part of the deal ceding Hong Kong to the Chinese.
The books can range from salacious tabloid fodder about the sex lives and scandals of senior party officials to well-researched academic tomes.
One example of the latter would be Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang, which tells the story of the leader who helped liberalize the Chinese economy, but spent the latter part of his life under house arrest for opposing the use of military force against students in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Other titles include: China’s Godfather Xi Jinping, a book which parallels the actions of current president of China to that of a mafia boss; The Secret Emotional Life of Zhou Enlai, which suggests the country’s first premier was gay; and a book on the sex life of China’s current first lady Peng Liyuan.
Causeway Bay Books, which was the common link between the five booksellers who disappeared since October, was set publish a book on Xi Jinping’s lovers. The Chinese co-author of the book, now based in the United States, told the BBC that he thought his book had provoked Beijing into detaining the five men.
It is hard to determine the number of places that publish and sell banned books, partly because there is no official list of proscribed titles, and partly because academic institutions such as the Hong Kong University and Chinese University of Hong Kong could also be considered to be publishers of banned books.
Books are often seized at the frontier with mainland China if border officials deem them too sensitive.
Missing Hong Kong publisher, wife meet secretly on Chinese mainland
Hong Kong (dpa) – The wife of a Hong Kong publisher who went missing had a secret meeting with her husband on the mainland, Hong Kong police said Sunday.
Lee Bo, a well-known bookseller who holds a British passport, was last seen outside the Mighty Current publishing house on December 30. His wife reported him missing but then withdrew the missing person’s report a few days later on January 4.
Lee’s bookshop, the Causeway Bay bookstore, is known for selling works containing unconfirmed rumours about high-ranking members of the Chinese Communist Party.
His name can also be written as Lee Po.
“According to Mrs. Lee, Lee Po was healthy and in good spirits, and said that he was assisting in an investigation in the capacity of a witness,” Hong Kong police said in a statement.
Lee was one of five Hong Kong-based booksellers suspected of being recently kidnapped by Chinese security forces. His travel documents were reported to have been left at home, which would be in direct violation of Hong Kong laws.
The mysterious disappearance of the five booksellers, all linked to the Causeway Bay bookstore, have stoked fear that the city is no longer a safe haven for anyone holding dissenting views.
Two of the five booksellers have reappeared on the mainland, while three still remain unaccounted for.
In a letter obtained by the South China Morning Post, Lee Bo said: “I really appreciate the police’s concern … I have not been kidnapped.”
The Hong Kong police said they will continue to investigate this case.
Second missing Hong Kong bookseller in mainland China, police say
Hong Kong (dpa) – Missing Hong Kong bookseller Lee Bo is on the mainland, Hong Kong police said Tuesday quoting officers from China’s Guangdong province.
Five Hong Kong-based booksellers who deal in publications critical of high-ranking Chinese Communist Party officials have disappeared recently.
“Police received a reply letter from the Interpol Guangdong Liaison Office of Guangdong Provincial Public Security Department this evening [January 18]” saying that “‘Lee Po is in the Mainland’,” Hong Kong police said in a statement released late Monday.
Police confirmed to dpa Tuesday that the man is the publisher who was reported missing by his wife after last being seen on December 30 outside the Mighty Current publishing house. His name can also be written as Lee Bo.
This is the second of the booksellers that Chinese authorities have said are now in mainland China.
Late Sunday, clips of Gui Minhai, another of the booksellers, was shown in a CCTV report claiming responsibility for his part in the drunk-driving death of a 20-year-old college student. The 56-year-old Swedish national disappeared while on vacation in Thailand.
The disappearances have stoked fear that Hong Kong is no longer a safe haven for anyone who holds dissenting views.
Lee Bo is thought to have been abducted from the streets of Hong Kong.
While his wife had withdrawn her missing person’s report after Lee reportedly made contact via letters and a video saying he was assisting in investigations voluntarily, earlier reports said his travel documents remained at home.
If he was taken from the streets of Hong Kong, his abduction would be in violation of Hong Kong law. Chinese law enforcement does not have jurisdiction in the city. The former British colony retains its own set of laws as part of an agreement that ceded Hong Kong to China in 1997.
Hong Kong police have written to the Guangdong authorities to seek a meeting with Lee to determine what happened.
The information from the Guangdong authorities also contained a letter from Lee addressing the Hong Kong governments similar to a letter received by his wife on January 17.
Three men who disappeared while traveling in southern China remain missing. They are Lui Por, Cheung Ji-ping and Lam Wing-kei.
Report: Missing Hong Kong bookseller confesses to hit-and-run
Hong Kong (dpa) – One of five booksellers suspected of being kidnapped by Chinese security forces turned himself in to authorities for a fatal hit-and-run that took place 11 years ago, China’s state broadcaster reported on Sunday.
The report is a bizarre twist in the disappearance of five Hong Kong booksellers who had connections to the Causeway Bay bookstore that sold books containing unconfirmed rumours about high-ranking members of the Chinese Communist Party.
The mysterious disappearances have stoked fear that the city is no longer a safe haven for anyone who hold dissenting views to that of the communist party.
Gui Minhai, a 56-year-old Swedish national, was shown in the CCTV report claiming responsibility for the death of a 20-year-old college student in a fatal drunk driving incident that allegedly took place in Ningbo, Zhejiang province in 2004.
“I thought if I left [China] I thought that the pressure would go away, but it became worse,” said Gui.
“I thought if I should I go back, I will take any punishment,” said Gui.
Gui, who went missing in Thailand, had returned to China in October last year and turned himself into Chinese authorities, reported CCTV.
This is the first confirmation in months that Beijing knew the whereabouts of any of the missing booksellers.
“Coming back to China was my own decision… I also do not want any other person and authority, including the Swedish authorities to become involved,” he said.
“Although I have Swedish nationality, I really feel I am Chinese. My roots are still in China.”
Hong Kong lawmaker Alan Leong said he was skeptical of the confession, saying there was “a lot of illogicality.”
“Why would he have left Hong Kong for Thailand than turned himself in? He’s taking a convoluted route,” said Leong.
Three of the missing booksellers remain unaccounted for. British national, Lee Bo, whose wife reported him missing before withdrawing her report to Hong Kong police at the end of last year, is allegedly assisting an investigation in the neighbouring city of Shenzhen of his own volition.
Lee is said to have left behind his travel documents.
His abduction would be in direct violation of Hong Kong laws. Chinese law enforcement does not have jurisdiction in the city. The former British colony retains its own set of laws as part of an agreement that ceded Hong Kong to China in 1997.
Hong Kong could withdraw from UN torture convention, leader suggests
By Christy Choi and Joanna Chiu
Hong Kong (dpa) – Chief Executive CY Leung’s suggestion that he would consider removing Hong Kong as a signatory to an international torture convention has set off alarm bells among rights groups.
“Withdrawing from an international human rights treaty would set a disturbing precedent for the future of human rights in Hong Kong,” said Piya Muqit, executive director of the Justice Centre Hong Kong, which advocates for the rights of asylum seekers.
Leung said at a press conference after his annual policy address: “The question was about this issue plaguing Hong Kong, of some people arriving and getting involved in illegal activities. If necessary, we could do that [withdraw from the UN Convention against Torture].”
“Hong Kong is an open society … We have these agreements … but we don’t want any country to use Hong Kong’s open exit entry policy environment,” Leung continued.
“The timing of this comment, so closely after the Committee Against Torture’s review of Hong Kong in November, sends the wrong message to the international community about Hong Kong being an open society and a global city,” said Muqit.
Under the UN Convention Against Torture, Hong Kong has a legal obligation not to send back refugees who face torture or degrading treatment in their home countries. Some 158 countries are party to the convention.
But the city is facing difficulties in handling asylum seekers, many of whom are viewed by residents as economic migrants and not refugees facing persecution.
Leung’s comments come at a sensitive time when concerns loom over the future of human rights in Hong Kong.
Five booksellers printing controversial and often salacious books on the Communist Party remain missing. One is feared to have been kidnapped from Hong Kong which has an independent legal system to that of the mainland.
When asked for clarification on Leung’s statement at such a time, his press officer said that it was just “one of the considerations,” and “nothing concrete.”
Between 2015 and 2016 the government will spend an estimated 644 million Hong Kong dollars (83 million US dollars) on screening asylum claims, according to a government paper published in July.
In July 2014 – following the introduction in March of a new screening mechanism – refugee groups estimated the number of asylum seekers at 6,000.
In less than a year, the number of asylum seekers increased to just under 10,000, according to the government. This figure included some of the 6,000 applicants under the old system who were required to resubmit claims as part of the new process.
The latest figure from the government obtained by the Justice Centre showed there were about 9,000 claims still being processed in October 2015.
Pakistan, India and Vietnam have the highest proportion of claimants.
“If Hong Kong were to withdraw, it would join the ranks of repressive regimes such as Zimbabwe, Central African Republic and North Korea,” said Muqit.
South China Morning Post confirms sale to China’s Alibaba
By Christy Choi and Joanna Chiu
Hong Kong (dpa) – Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post confirmed Friday it has entered into an agreement to sell the 112-year-old English language broadsheet to Chinese Internet billionaire Jack Ma’s Alibaba Group.
“The company has entered into an agreement in relation to the sale of its media business to a subsidiary of Alibaba Group Holding Limited,” SCMP Group board chairman David Pang said in a statement to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.
“The agreement includes the acquisition of the magazine, recruitment, outdoor media, events and conferences, education and digital media businesses of the company,” wrote Pang.
The purchase is the latest in a string of acquisitions of media outlets by Alibaba, which owns controlling stakes in the Chinese equivalent of Youtube; Youku Tudou as well as ChinaVision Media Group, which was renamed Alibaba Pictures Group. It also has a 32 per cent stake in microblogging platform Sina Weibo.
Ma’s deal with the South China Morning Post follows in the footsteps of Amazon founder Jeff Bezo’s acquisition of the Washington Post.
It is the first acquisition of a non-mainland media outlet by a mainland Internet company, and it spells an uncertain future for a newspaper considered one of the few moderate voices in the region willing to publish stories that don’t toe the Communist Party line.
“The paper had lost some of its willingness to report frankly on China in recent years, though it still takes stands and covers issues that just don’t toe the Beijing line,” said Bob Dietz, Asia programme coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists.
“Ma’s successes elsewhere would suggest he has some plan. But even if it’s successful financially, it’s hard to see the paper reclaiming much of the editorial ground it has shifted away from in the last decade or so.”
Chatter among the Post’s staff seems to indicate the editorial staff are taking a wait and see approach with Alibaba’s acquisition. They’re hopeful the Internet giant might bring with it some much wished for cash and business development strategies in a time where traditional print media struggle to make money – but are wary that the paper might become a state or company mouthpiece.
In an article published in the South China Morning Post Alibaba Group executive vice chairman Joseph Tsai pledged to make an investment to hire more journalists, more editors and said the company will back reporting that is objective, balanced and fair.
“China is a rising economy and it is the second-largest economy in the world. People should learn more about China, [but] the coverage about China should be balanced and fair,” he said.
“Today when I see mainstream western news organisations cover China, they cover it through a very particular lens … We believe things should be presented as they are. Present facts, tell the truth, and that is the principle that we are going to operate on.”
In an earlier interview with Bloomberg, Ma had been coy about the acquisition, but said such a partnership would be beneficial for both sides.
“We need media to help our small, medium-size companies to promote,” Ma said. “And by the way, our advertisement dollars [are] huge.” He said a media company could benefit from using Alibaba’s massive amount of data for “more accurate” economic indicators.
Ma’s estimated net worth stands at 24.1 billion US dollars as of December 11, according to Forbes Magazine. He takes over the Post from the Kuok family, who bought a majority stake in the paper from Rupert Murdoch.
The Kuoks are a Malaysian Chinese family, who count Kerry Properties, the Shangri-la hotels and Wilmar International, a palm oil production company, under their many assets.
In a city of lights, a quest to turn them off
Hong Kong’s famous city lights are targeted as the city strives for more sustainable energy consumption.
Hong Kong (dpa) – It’s midnight and the lights of Hong Kong’s storied harbour are shining. The names of casinos, major property developers, and major companies are emblazoned across the top of skyscrapers
The city is known for the stunning night views, but like many cities is increasingly concerned about electricity consumption. It is now even considering mandatory switch-off times for non-essential displays and advertising.
There is a “genuine need for the community to act together to address the problems of light nuisance and energy wastage that may be caused by external lighting,” said a spokeswoman for the environmental protection department.
A task force established in 2011 has made slow progress. A public consultation in 2013 was inconclusive on whether city residents thought authorities should impose lighting limits.
But with the government initiating a broader blueprint for energy saving this year, the matter is back on the table.
The aim is to reduce energy intensity – linking energy use to economic output – by around 40 per cent of the 2005 figure by 2025.
That translates to a reduction in energy use of around 6 per cent from 2015 over the next decade.
It is hard to calculate exactly how much of that savings could be achieved by shutting off the light show.
Building lighting consumes around 30 per cent of the 160,000 terajoules of electricity used yearly in Hong Kong, according to the environmental protection department. The breakdown of how much of that goes to large outdoor displays was not available.
Enthusiasm appears to be growing for action to cut energy use.
Sustainability consultants say their services are becoming more valued by corporations.
“Four years ago it was a nice-to-have. Now it’s a necessity,” said Mark Cameron, senior sustainability consultant with engineering firm Arup, which works with the government and several major real estate developers.
Swire Properties, one of the city’s biggest developers of shopping malls, office buildings and residences, has invested 470 million Hong Kong dollars (about 65 million US dollars) since 2001 in efficiency measures, which have produced savings of 910 million Hong Kong dollars in electricity, according to company figures.
Electricity consumption has fallen 5 per cent, it said.
One of its efficiency flagships is One Island East, a 70-storey curved blue office tower the company calls its “living laboratory.”
It features energy-saving bulbs throughout, and the building’s exterior works to keep out the sweltering heat. But the key energy-saving feature consists of the data and computer controls.
“Every building has a data centre,” said Cary Chan, Swire’s head of technical services and sustainability spokesperson.
Some two to three million pieces of data are gathered every 24 hours at One Island East alone. Hidden away in the fixtures are thousands of sensors: energy metres, temperature and pressure gauges, valves and dampers, all sending out information.
The system then reacts to changes in the environment. Sensors detect which rooms need more or less air conditioning. And data anlysis picks up, for example, unexpected power surges in the night.
“We found that the guards were going around and triggering the light sensors,” Chan said. “So every time they would make the rounds, the lights would stay on for 30 minutes of every hour.”
Energy efficiency brings financial savings and environmental benefits, but is not particularly glamorous, and sometimes ignored by research universities, he said.
“There’s not new technology that comes out every year. We had to do our own research.”
Since 2007, the company has been collaborating with Tsinghua University in Beijing, using data gathered from buildings like One Island East.
Swire also provides energy audits for all of its tenants to help with their own energy-saving goals. Some 30 per cent of the 17 million square feet of properties have undergone the audit, said Chan.
It also now turns off most of its major external lights around 11 pm.
As for the iconic harbour lights, authorities plan a voluntary program with a year’s time, the environmental protection department said.
“The government will also take the lead in switching off external lighting installations in government buildings, and facilities that are not necessary for security and operational reasons after 11 pm to minimise light nuisance and energy wastage,” the spokeswoman said.
But getting people to change their habits may require more than voluntary programs and a positive example.
“There is still a real disconnect for people in making that link between our behaviour and fossil fuels burned,” said Arup’s Cameron who admits that he has difficulty remembering to adjust the thermostat at home.
That, he says, is why some government regulation is a good idea.
Hong Kong stocks up after Chinese stocks stage recovery
Hong Kong (dpa) – Hong Kong stocks rallied Thursday, regaining some of the losses sustained the previous day caused by the Chinese stock market drop.
The Hang Seng Index closed up 3.73 per cent at 24,392.79 points.
“It’s still too early to say whether the market will resume an upward trend,” said Ben Kwong, head of research at KGI Securities Hong Kong.
Kwong said while the Hang Seng Index had responded positively to the recovery of mainland stocks, it was still not clear whether the Chinese government’s measures to instil investor confidence would work in the long term.
He added the uncertainty of Greece’s exit from the euro is likely to add to market fluctuations in the coming days.
On Wednesday, the Hang Sang Index saw a drop of as much as 8.53 per cent before stocks rallied to close down 5.75 per cent.
Analysts have blamed the volatility on retail investors, who make up around 80 per cent of the mainland market. They are investors who have a less comprehensive knowledge of the companies they invest in, and are more likely to sell off in a panic, experts say.
Hong Kong was hit as some 51 per cent of Chinese A-share stocks voluntarily stopped trading on the mainline, and investors took to selling off Chinese company stocks in the Hong Kong market to hedge their investments.
Around 6 to 9 per cent of the Chinese stock market is financed by debt, according to an analysis by Credit Suisse.
Hong Kong property and stock markets hit all-time high
Hong Kong property prices are soaring to all-time highs across the board, with no let-up in sight.
Hong Kong (dpa) – The stairwell is dark and dingy. The walls are crumbling, and scraps of plaster dot the stairs. The apartment itself is clean and light, but the walls show wear and tear with a hint of mould in the cracks.
At 63 square metres and with access to a private roof in the central district of Wanchai the landlord is asking for a monthly rent 22,000 Hong Kong dollars (2,800 US dollars).
It’s an almost 30-per-cent increase from just two and a half years ago.
The Hong Kong residential property prices were up 19 per cent year-on-year in February, according to data from the Hong Kong Rating and Valuation Department.
“I think Hong Kong people are quite used to it now,” said Chau Kwong-wing, professor of real estate at the University of Hong Kong. “They take it into calculation that the prices are just going to go up.”
The reason is that the supply of land zoned for residential use remains at just 7 per cent of the total land available for use.
While the chief executive has promised an increase in supply of 480,000 residential units by 2025, the public is not confident he will be able to keep up supply, said Chau.
David Ji, head of Greater China Research at Knight Frank agrees. “Looking at the 10-year horizon, it’s going to be hard to find the land,” he said.
The sky-high selling prices could in turn keep rental prices high, as people look to cover their mortgages using income generated from rents, said Ji.
For that reason, people are choosing to buy now, rather than later when the supply is set to dwindle.
But Chau warned that with the end of the US government’s policy of quantitative easing interest rates were likely to rise, and the 2-per-cent rate that buyers have been enjoying would be a thing of the past.
The Hong Kong dollar is pegged to the US dollar, and so the two economies are closely intertwined.
But for now, prices are still rising, despite a drop in investments from mainland buyers after the introduction of an additional 15-per-cent stamp duty on purchases by non permanent residents and corporate buyers in October 2012.
Mainland investors have turned to other Hong Kong assets, driving those prices up too.
On Thursday the Hang Seng Index of Hong Kong’s stock market reached a new seven-year high for the second day in a row, rising to 27,922.67 before closing at 26,944.39, a 707.53-point, or 2.7-per-cent increase from the day before.
The record-breaking rally was partly driven by demand from mainland Chinese investors, as part of the linkup between the Shanghai and Hong Kong stock markets known as the through train, launched this month, which allows investors in each bourse to buy stocks traded on the other.
Thursday’s “southbound” turnover of Hong Kong-listed stocks, which refers to sales and purchases by mainland investors, was a record 26.09 billion Hong Kong dollars, up from the previous record Wednesday of 21 billion Hong Kong dollars.
“The stock market rally in recent days is not a bubble but it was due to the stock through train,” financial services sector legislator Christopher Cheung Wah-fung told the South China Morning Post. “This is just the beginning of the bull run and we do not want the quota to restrict the trading,” referring to the daily limit on the amount that can be invested from Shanghai in Hong Kong stocks.
The rally prompted Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah to warn Hong Kong investors to watch out for market volatility. While he said he did not see a risk of a bubble, investors should “carefully consider the situation”.
Running around Pyongyang: one man’s story
As the Pyongyang marathon kicks off Sunday, Eugene Ng recalls his own experience running the race in the secretive nation of North Korea a year ago.
Hong Kong (dpa) – There aren’t many people who can say they have high-fived a North Korean. Eugene Ng is one of them.
The 27-year-old last year became one of the first amateur runners from outside of North Korea to run the Pyongyang marathon.
“My South Korean friends said: ‘Are you nuts?’” he recalled.
Waking in the early hours, he and about 200 others were ushered into Kim Il Sung Stadium, where a crowd had already gathered in the stands to cheer on the runners. It was an Olympic welcome, Ng says.
“There are only three races on earth that start and finish in a packed stadium, other than the Olympics. For amateur runners, it’s the only chance to experience something like that.”
Once the runners are off, the spectators are treated to a couple of football matches as they await the return.
The route runs through the capital city of Pyongyang, passing by monuments to past leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, with names like the Arch of Triumph and Eternal Life Tower, across bridges and past apartment blocks.
There was “no barrier” between him and ordinary North Koreans, said Ng, who was welcomed enthusiastically by crowds gathered along the way to watch the runners.
On Sunday, North Korea hosted the second ever open-entry installment of the marathon, after initially barring outsiders due to fears of an Ebola outbreak. About 650 foreigners are paying 1,100 euros for a four-day trip to the capital.
“We had spent around 10 years working on getting permission,” said Simon Cockerell of Koryo Tours, a company specialising in tours to the isolated country.
Ng learned about the marathon from Ronny Mintjens, a Hong Kong-based Belgian teacher who also works as an intermediary for Koryo Tours.
And while countries like the US caution against its citizens travelling to North Korea, it is one of the “safest places on earth,” says Mintjens, who has taken teenage students from Hong Kong schools to visit for several years.
North Korea is currently under international sanctions for failing to halt its nuclear programme. It has also detained and expelled numerous missionaries and political activists. Last week, the country said it was expelling a US aid worker for engaging in a conspiracy against the state.
“What you pay is not a lot of money. It covers the cost of the driver, food, accommodation, all the salaries of those people,” Ng says.
“I don’t know how big the profit is, but it’s probably a tiny proportion. Not enough to support a nuclear programme.”
North Korea does not release official tourism figures, but Cockerell estimates just 4,500 Western tourists visited North Korea last year.
“I wouldn’t say you can find out the truth,” Ng says of a brief visit by foreigners. “But you definitely know more about the people rather than the (image of a) ruthless country where a lot of ridiculous stories come out of.”
Dodging the taxman: The tools of China’s art industry
With fighting corruption top of the agenda on the mainland, the techniques used by art collectors to avoid China’s heavy taxes – often using Hong Kong – are increasingly coming under scrutiny in Beijing.
Hong Kong (dpa) – Andy Hei, the director of Hong Kong-based arts fair Fine Art Asia, says after a decade his event is continuing to grow, despite increased scrutiny of the art industry from Beijing in recent years.
“We keep expanding 5 per cent every year,” Hei says.
In October, Hei is expecting to host about 100 galleries from around the world. Last year, some 2.8 billion Hong Kong dollars (360 million US dollars) worth of art was on display.
Another major arts fair, Art Basel Hong Kong, drew to a close this week after welcoming tens of thousands of visitors.
But as Chinese President Xi Jinping ups the ante with a high-profile anti-corruption drive, the lucrative art industry is attracting the attention of the authorities.
The leadership of the Communist Party has sent a message “declaring war on corruption in art circles,” said an editorial in the official Xinhua News Agency in January, referring to the art world as a possible “blind spot” in the anti-graft drive.
Hong Kong is an obvious target. The Chinese territory is enjoying the benefits of being a tax-free hub on the edge of the world’s biggest art market.
“Hong Kong has now become the global market hub for the exchange of Chinese artworks,” lead author Claire McAndrew wrote in the latest report by Artnet and The China Association of Auctioneers on the Chinese art auction market.
The global market for Chinese art alone totalled 8.5 billion US dollars in 2013, the report said.
In the same year, the largest mainland auction houses, Poly International and China Guardian, sold 21 and 10 per cent of their art by value in Hong Kong respectively, the report said.
Up until a decade ago the enforcement of art import and export laws was extremely lax, but Hei says Chinese authorities have stepped up import and export checks on art shipments.
He admitted however that “We’ve not seen much impact at the fair.”
This may be partly because of the illegal ways that artworks can enter and leave the city.
Buyers or middlemen still carry artworks through customs in their luggage to avoid Chinese taxes, Hei says.
“Antiques are very small. You can carry them with you,” he says, adding that transportation was a matter for his clients.
The advantages of evading the taxman are considerable. The Chinese mainland levies taxes which can run up to nearly 30 per cent of the value of the art work.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong offers freedom from any sales, import or export taxes on art, so some collectors are choosing to store their works in the city instead of sending them on to China.
New art storage centres have opened up in Hong Kong, notably in the New Territories, Aberdeen and Chai Wan districts, said Hei.
Another common way to avoid the Chinese levies is to ship from Hong Kong to the mainland through traditional routes, but give a lower value on the customs forms than an artwork sold for, say gallery employees.
“The price of art is subjective,” said a long-time gallery manager who declined to be named. If the works are by lesser known artists, it is easier to put a lower sum, he said.
“There are ways to get around it [paying customs taxes],” another gallery manager said. “We just carry the works with us in luggage, or have someone bring it in with them.”
Non-profit private museums provide another way for Chinese art collectors to avoid taxes legally.
Shanghai-based collector Liu Yiqian stirred up controversy last year when he sent a 36.3-million-dollar, Ming-dynasty tea cup he had bought at a Hong Kong auction to West Bund, a bonded warehouse in Shanghai where he did not have to pay any duties.
He then “borrowed” the cup from the warehouse for six months at a time through his private museum in Shanghai’s Pudong district, and avoided paying some 6.2 million dollars in value-added taxes.
“In the [art] trade world, they always have solutions to get around it,” says Hei.
Hong Kong corruption trial sheds new light on old customs
Hong Kong’s administrative structure makes for a fluid exchange of individuals and interests between the business and political worlds. The territory’s biggest corruption trial to date has put the spotlight on the legal grey areas created.
Hong Kong (dpa) – The end of Hong Kong’s largest corruption trial this week saw a prominent property tycoon and a former top civil servant sentenced to jail.
Their eight-month-long trial shone a light on the murky world of Hong Kong politics, where the line between politics and big business is sometimes blurred.
The territory’s former number two Rafael Hui, 66, was found guilty of taking 25 million Hong Kong dollars (3.2 million US dollars) from Sung Hung Kai Properties chairman Thomas Kwok, 63, and his associates.
This was the first verdict of several high-profile investigations, as investigators are taking an interest in the sometimes cosy relationship its rulers have with businessmen.
Former chief executive Donald Tsang is being investigated for accepting gifts from tycoons. Current Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is under scrutiny for failing to disclose 4 million pounds (6.23 million US dollars) he received from Australian engineering firm UGL before he ran for office.
Leung’s office told dpa that under the current requirements it was not necessary for the chief executive to disclose those payments.
“It’s a structural problem,” said Albert Ho, chairman of the city’s Democratic Party. “There’s a lot of grey area” that exposes people to corruption opportunities.
The legislative assembly is half directly elected, with the other half – 1,200 people – appointed by functional constituencies. These correspond to the various interest groups, mostly business sectors such as finance or agriculture.
“This revolving door between public and private sector and small-circle elections easily gives rise to collusion, or some cases of quid pro quo that are difficult to prove,” Ho said.
He gave the example of former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa awarding a lucrative technology and property development contract to Richard Li – son of Hong Kong’s richest man Li Ka-shing – without any formal tender process.
Tung denied any collusion, after being grilled by legislators over the project in 2005. He said the legislative council had also backed the deal that saw the project green-lighted in 2000.
Others are offered lucrative consulting contracts once they retire from public office.
Ho said members of the legislature would be putting forth proposals to adopt more stringent integrity checks and disclosure systems for future candidates within the month.
The functional constituency system is a legacy from Hong Kong’s days as a British colony, legitimizing the colonial government by bringing on board business leaders as representatives of the local people.
Beijing has sought to entrench the system as a way of maintaining its own control over the territory’s legislature.
There is a danger that the functional constituencies may be coming to represent Hong Kong’s wealth more than its people, said Joseph Cheng, a democracy activist and political science professor at City University.
He also said dissatisfaction at the concentration of wealth and power contributed to the unhappiness of pro-democracy protesters who blocked three major thoroughfares for 10 weeks this year.
The increase in information about potential abuses by officials may have been driven more by infighting in the corridors of power, he said.
“The general consensus is that someone inside the pro-Beijing camp who wants to replace CY Leung is leaking this kind of information,” he told dpa.
“It takes time to find this kind of information and it’s not easy,” he said of the extensive evidence compiled against the property tycoon and his erstwhile contact in government.
The office of the chief executive said they had no comment on Cheng’s assertions.
Cheng said the central government probably supports a clamp-down on corruption to preserve the legitimacy of the current system, which is closer to Beijing than the alternative of an entirely directly elected legislative assembly.
While this week’s sentencings were a good start, he said there are still signs of trouble ahead.
The newly appointed chief of corruption watchdog ICAC’s oversight committee is the vocal pro-Beijing politician Maria Tam, he said.
“She was practically a spokesperson for Beijing on the basic law, and one cannot expect her to be politically neutral from the way she criticizes the pro-democracy activists.”
Ties remain close between mainland Chinese officials and local officials, he said, citing Hui’s testimony that the head of Beijing’s Hong Kong and Macau affairs office had paid him millions of dollars to stay on as chief secretary.
Riot police deployed to Hong Kong protest site near government HQ
Hong Kong (dpa) – Police clashed with pro-democracy protesters on Hong Kong island early Monday, after a fifth consecutive night of violence in the Chinese territory led to dozens of arrests.
As of 5 am (2100 GMT Sunday), 32 people had been arrested, a police spokeswoman said, including 20 in Admiralty district near government headquarters and 12 in the Kowloon district of Mong Kok.
Four police officers had been injured, government-run RTHK radio reported.
The clashes have intensified since authorities cleared out a major protest camp in Mong Kok last week.
The government advised staff Monday not to go to work at their Admiralty headquarters.
Television and social media images early Monday showed riot police running down the escalators adjoining government offices in Admiralty, where hundreds of protesters remained camped out.
Police accused protesters of moving away from their principles of non-violence by charging police lines.
Protesters had gathered overnight in response to a threat by a leading student union – the Hong Kong Federation of Students – that it could escalate its months-long protest against restrictions imposed by Beijing on who could become Hong Kong’s next chief executive.
Some protesters threw water bottles and umbrellas towards the police, hurling insults, who used pepper spray and batons to push back the crowds.
Protesters told dpa overnight they determined to stay, despite recent polls showing they are losing public favour.
“I don’t think the government will do anything if we leave the streets,” said Bernie Ma, a 25-year-old legal industry professional.