In a city where land is everything, a housing crunch is brewing.
Annie Zheng reports: According to a new study by think tank Our Hong Kong Foundation, the amount of new, developable land in the former British colony is shrinking. Add in a growing population that will outpace the supply of new apartment units, and there’s a pressing need for the creation of more land, says the think tank, led by former Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa.
“We see a substantial shortage in land and housing resources,” said William Tsang, senior researcher and author of the study. “The government is increasingly relying on changing the use of old land. This means the amount of buildable land is dwindling. When that runs out, what’s next?”
The study found that in 2012, 73% of the nine million square feet of public land for bidding was reclaimed land; by 2015 that had dropped to 50% of the 7.8 million square feet on offer. As a result, the government is relying more on selling converted forms of land, such as work sites, slopes and former staff quarters.
Public land sales in the form of 50-year land grants are a major source of revenue for the government and one way developers secure land on which to build. In recent years, a flurry of new developers including mainland Chinese have entered the bidding process as the government has put up smaller and more pieces of land. Read the rest of this entry »
Hong Kong stocks dived on Friday morning after vote counting indicated a win for the “Leave” camp in the referendum on Britain leaving the European Union.
The Hang Seng index nosedived 4.67 per cent or 974.22 points, trading at 20,132.02 at Friday’s morning close. At one point, the index lost 1,023.34 points or 4.9 per cent. The H-share Index also fell 4.58 per cent or 402.21 points to 8,382.86.
Pound sterling fell sharply by more than 12 per cent in morning trade to its lowest level in 30 years on the Brexit news, with analysts believing the currency has no hope to bounce back in the near term.
Chinese yuan also fell to a five year low with onshore yuan down 0.54 per cent to trade at 6.6101 before bouncing back to 6.6091 yuan per US dollar at 12.30am, while the offshore yuan down 0.79 per cent to trade at 6.6360 yuan per US dollar. Read the rest of this entry »
The city has gone to great lengths to contain protests during Mr. Zhang’s visit, but pro-democracy messages have slipped through.
BEIJING — Jason Lam reports: For more than a minute on Tuesday night, nine-digit numbers were displayed across the facade of Hong Kong’s tallest skyscraper, the International Commerce Center. Towering above Victoria Harbor, the glowing white digits blinked against the night sky: 979,012,493… 979,012,492… 979,012,491…
“Due to the high level of security, there’s almost no channel for the Hong Kong people to voice and protest.”
The seemingly innocuous numbers contained a subversive statement. The animation is a countdown of the seconds until when the “one country, two systems” framework — a guarantee that Hong Kong, a former British colony, would keep its civil liberties and a high degree of autonomy for 50 years after its return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 — is set to expire.
“Most of the animations shown on the I.C.C. are ad-like, meaningless videos. We wanted to show something relevant to the social situation of Hong Kong.”
The artists planned the display to coincide with a three-day visit to Hong Kong by Zhang Dejiang, a member of China’s governing Politburo Standing Committee, which began on Tuesday. Mr. Zhang is the highest-ranking official from mainland China to visit Hong Kong since the pro-democracy demonstrations in 2014 known as the Umbrella Movement.
The city has gone to great lengths to contain protests during Mr. Zhang’s visit, but pro-democracy messages have slipped through. At least seven members of the League of Social Democrats party were arrested on Tuesday in connection with at least two banners appearing in public — one on a hillside, the other along the route taken by Mr. Zhang’s motorcade — reading “I Want Genuine Universal Suffrage” and “End Chinese Communist Party Dictatorship.”
“Due to the high level of security, there’s almost no channel for the Hong Kong people to voice and protest,” Mr. Wong said. Read the rest of this entry »
New York judge bans eight parties from sending promotional materials, including a company with a branch in Sheung Wan.
US authorities have shut down a long-running international “psychic” mail fraud ring linked to a Hong Kong company that cheated over a million Americans out of more than US$180 million.
“This widespread scam targeted more than one million Americans, many of whom were elderly or in financial distress.”
— Benjamin C. Mizer, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division
It was understood Hong Kong police have not received any complaints about such a scam or the local firm, Destiny Research Center Limited.
A federal judge from the Eastern District of New York approved a consent decree on Monday, permanently banning eight parties, including Destiny Research Center and its president, Martin Dettling of Zurich, from using the US mail system to send ads, promotional materials and solicitations on behalf of self-styled psychics, astrologers and clairvoyants.
Since 2000, the defendants allegedly preyed upon vulnerable Americans’ superstitions and sent them over 56 million letters through the US mail purported to have been written by French psychics Maria Duval and Patrick Guerin. The letters predicted the recipients would become rich through means such as winning the lottery if they bought products and services to secure good fortune.
One such letter touted how Duval and Guerin shared “clear visions” that recipients would come into “massive sums of money on games of chance” if they paid US$50 for a “mysterious talisman” and a copy of “My Invaluable Guide to My New Life”. Read the rest of this entry »
A record net $674 billion left China last year, the International Institute of Finance estimates. A further $175 billion left China in the first quarter.
Saint Chatterjee reports: Hong Kong is conducting a multi-pronged customs, shipping and financial sector crackdown against so-called fake trade invoicing that allows billions of dollars of capital to leave China illegally.
Hong Kong’s central bank told Reuters it has beefed up its scrutiny of banks’ trade financing operations, while customs officials are doing more random checks on shipments crossing border posts and conducting raids on warehouses to ensure the authenticity of goods, senior officials working in shipping, logistics and banking said. The head of a logistics company said surprise customs inspections at Hong Kong border posts had doubled.
The sources declined to be identified given the sensitivity of the issues.
They said the increased efforts began this year and reflected concerns about billions of dollars in illicit cash authorities suspect are being channeled through Hong Kong following a stock market crash in China last year.
“Examinations and investigations reflect one of the strongest trends we are seeing now in the financial sector,” said Urszula McCormack, a partner at law firm King & Wood Mallesons, which helped co-author a report published by The Hong Kong Association of Banks in February that highlighted shipping as a sector where fake invoicing can thrive.
China has become increasingly concerned about capital outflows since the middle of last year when Chinese rushed to get money offshore for safekeeping or to invest following the stock market slump and unexpected yuan devaluation.
Hong Kong is the most popular route, analysts say, because of its proximity to China.
Chinese authorities have tried to staunch the outflows by tightening cross-border investment quotas, stepping up enforcement action of existing rules and restricting residents from buying financial products, such as insurance policies, offered in Hong Kong. But the trade channel had largely been left untouched given the complexity and magnitude of transactions involved.
A record net $674 billion left China last year, the International Institute of Finance estimates. A further $175 billion left China in the first quarter. China had been a long-term net importer of dollars. Read the rest of this entry »
A Chinese news portal’s publication of a mysterious letter calling for President Xi Jinping’s resignation appears to have triggered a hunt for those responsible, in a sign of Beijing’s anxiety over bubbling dissent within the Communist Party. As WSJ’s Chun Han Wong reports:
The letter, whose authorship remains unclear, appeared on the eve of China’s legislative session in early March, the most public political event of the year.
Since then, at least four managers and editors with Wujie Media—whose news website published the missive—and about 10 people from a related company providing technical support have gone missing, according to their friends and associates, who say the disappearances are linked to a government probe into the letter….(more)
Beijing (AFP) – The website of the South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong newspaper being bought by Internet giant Alibaba, has become inaccessible in China during a series of high-level government meetings in Beijing.
Attempts by AFP in China on Friday to open the newspaper’s English and Chinese-language websites returned only error messages saying that the pages could not be displayed.
The scmp.com website was blocked starting on March 3, according to the security website GreatFire.org, which monitors online censorship in China.
China’s Communist Party oversees a vast censorship system — dubbed the Great Firewall — that aggressively blocks sites or snuffs out Internet and TV content and commentary on topics considered sensitive, such as Beijing’s human rights record and criticisms of the government.
Popular social network sites such as Facebook and Twitter are inaccessible in the country, as is Youtube.
Several Western news organisations have accused China of blocking access to their websites in the past, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and Reuters. Read the rest of this entry »
‘Virus of the Mind’! ‘Ten Years‘: The Controversial Hong Kong Independent Film that China Doesn’t Want You to SeePosted: March 10, 2016
Communist Party mouthpiece Global Times has called ‘Ten Years,’ comprising vignettes that reveal a dystopic vision of Hong Kong’s future in which political freedoms have been eroded by China’s control, a “virus of the mind.”
Patrick Brzeski reports: The most talked-about recent film phenomenon in Hong Kong centers on the territory’s tiniest local release. The dark, provocative indie drama Ten Years was produced on a microbudget of $75,000 and opened in December at a single cinema in Hong Kong’s Yau Ma Tei district. A surprise run of sellout screenings resulted in the movie beating the local per-screen average of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which opened the following day.
Ten Years comprises five shorts — all set in the year 2025, and each directed by a different Hong Kong filmmaker — that explore ways in which life in the territory might change during the next decade. Collectively, the vignettes reveal a dystopic vision of Hong Kong’s future in which human rights and political freedoms in the semiautonomous territory have been eroded by the incursion of mainland China’s control.
The film struck an immediate chord among a Hong Kong populace worried about its future.
“Many in the audience told us they hadn’t gone to the cinema to watch a movie for a long time,” says Jevons Au Man-Kit, one of the film’s five directors. “But they came to support Ten Years. It was more than just a movie to them — it’s about their home.” Read the rest of this entry »
Te-Ping Chen reports: The case of a Beijing judge gunned down late last week — the latest in a slew of physical attacks against the profession — has triggered horror and introspection among China’s legal community, which is already facing problems of morale.
According to the Supreme People’s Court’s verified Weibo account, Ma Caiyun, 38, was shot and killed on Friday by two attackers. One of the attackers, the court said, was an individual whose post-divorce property settlement case had previously been heard by Ms. Ma. The duo killed themselves after the attack on Ms. Ma, the court said.
According to the Beijing police, the perpetrators also attacked several others, including a man married to one of the attackers’ ex-wives. The man died in the assault, police said, adding that the gun used in the attack was homemade.
China’s judges have faced violent assaults before, including physical beatings, knifings and more. Last September, a 43-year-old man involved in a Hubei labor dispute, unhappy with the verdict, stabbed four judges.
On social media, numerous judges and lawyers mourned and shared news of Ms. Ma’s death. While such postings were at first the subject of assiduous deletions by censors, on Sunday, the country’s highest court publicly confirmed her death. Read the rest of this entry »
Driving a Stake in the Heart of Bloodthirsty IRS Agents, Americans Living Abroad Renounce U.S. Citizenship in Record NumbersPosted: February 9, 2016
Uncle Sam’s Global Tax Police Crawl Over International Borders to Extract Tribute from U.S. Citizens.
The number of citizens and long-term residents cutting their official ties to Uncle Sam jumped more than 20% last year to 4,279, according to a CNNMoney analysis of the latest government data.
“Unlike most other countries, the U.S. taxes its citizens on all income, no matter where it’s earned or where they live.”
It’s a trend that’s been increasing in recent years. Many of those severing links are Americans living overseas who are tired of dealing with complicated tax paperwork, a headache that has worsened since new regulations came into effect.
“For Americans living abroad, that results in a mountain of paperwork so complex that they are often forced to seek professional help, forking out high fees for accountants and lawyers.”
Eighteen times as many Americans renounced their citizenship or long-term residency in 2015 compared with 2008. Last year was the third record-breaking year in a row.
“The burden has gotten heavier in recent years with the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, which became law in 2010.”
Unlike most other countries, the U.S. taxes its citizens on all income, no matter where it’s earned or where they live. For Americans living abroad, that results in a mountain of paperwork so complex that they are often forced to seek professional help, forking out high fees for accountants and lawyers.
The burden has gotten heavier in recent years with the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, which became law in 2010.
It requires individuals to report certain foreign assets and banks to disclose all foreign accounts held by Americans. That comes on top of another rule that requires Americans to disclose foreign bank holdings above $10,000. Read the rest of this entry »
Stanley Lubman writes: A trio of recent repressive actions by the Chinese party-state represents a disturbing three-pronged attack that treats legality as an unnecessary burden on governance over society, and illustrates how far China is willing to go to snuff out dissent.
The actions include the arrest of seven lawyers accused of “subversion” and four others charged with lesser offenses; the televised “confession” of a China-based Swedish citizen who worked for a rights NGO and has been charged with “endangering state security;” and the disappearance of five Hong Kong booksellers and publishers One reemerged on CCTV to confess to a prior crime years earlier, and a second has written to his wife from Shenzhen to say that he has been “assisting in an investigation.”
Arrests for “subversion of state power”
The lawyers who have been arrested have all been in the forefront of defending controversial activists. Seven are accused of “subversion of state power,” an offense that has been on the books since 1997 but infrequently used. More commonly, activists such as Pu Zhiqiang have been convicted for the lesser charges of “inciting ethnic hatred” and “picking quarrels.” (Pu received a three-year sentence that was simultaneously suspended for the same length of time; however, because of his conviction, Pu is barred from practicing law.) Conviction for subversion can lead to a sentence of anywhere from three years to life in prison.
Three of the other lawyers were charged with the lesser offense of “inciting subversion against state power” which, according to a recent posting by Chinese Human Rights Defenders, is used against individuals who “express criticism of the government” and is punishable by a sentence of up to five years. One other person, a paralegal, has been charged with “assisting in destruction of evidence; other lawyers have been detained incommunicado or forcibly disappeared for at least six months.
The arrests raise the severity of the charges by aiming at speech related to “subversion” — rather than acts. Foreign experts are dismayed; Eva Pils (Kings College London) comments that the situation “is basically about as serious as it gets for human rights advocacy.”
The arrest of the human rights lawyers is a continuation of the crackdown that exploded in July, but the rise of the accusation of “subversion” raises the odds of harsher punishment.
Arrest and televised “confession” of Swedish citizen affiliated with a human rights NGO
A Swedish man in his 30s, Peter Dahlin, a co-founder of the Chinese Urgent Action Working Group (China Action) that organizes training programs for human rights defenders, was detained in early January, on a charge of “endangering state security.” On Wednesday, he was paraded on China Central Television and shown admitting to have broken Chinese laws, in a televised “confession” that has been denounced by rights advocates as coerced.
According to a statement from China Action, the NGO focuses on land law and administrative law and trains non-lawyers to provide pro-bono legal aid to victims of rights violations. Dahlin is in need of daily medication due to affliction by a rare disease; Chinese state media reports say he is receiving it, but no other information has been available. China’s Foreign Ministry says it is granting Swedish consular officials access to him, although no information has been available on his whereabouts. Read the rest of this entry »
The billionaire founder of Metersbonwe, one of China’s best-known fashion brands, has gone missing, the latest in a series of Chinese business people and financiers apparently embroiled in the country’s anti-corruption campaign.
“The company said in a second statement on Thursday night that it was unable to reach Mr Zhou or the secretary of the board, Tu Ke. The statement gave no further details.”
Metersbonwe suspended trading in its shares on the Shenzhen stock exchange on Thursday while the company said it was investigating reports in the Chinese media that Zhou Chengjian, its chairman, had been picked up by police.
“Mr Zhou is the latest high-profile private sector businessman believed to have been caught up in probes, and his disappearance follows the detention last month of Guo Guangchang of the conglomerate Fosun, which owns Club Med.”
The company is a household name on the Chinese high street and Mr Zhou was China’s 65th-richest man last year, according to the Hurun Rich list, with a fortune of Rmb26.5bn ($4.01bn).
The company said in a second statement on Thursday night that it was unable to reach Mr Zhou or the secretary of the board, Tu Ke. The statement gave no further details.
Mr Zhou is the latest high-profile private sector businessman believed to have been caught up in probes, and his disappearance follows the detention last month of Guo Guangchang of the conglomerate Fosun, which owns Club Med. Read the rest of this entry »
Yifan Xie and Shen Hong report: China’s stock market regulator announced last month that come the New Year it would introduce a circuit breaker–a forced pause to trading–if shares fell too precipitously. On the first trading day of the year, officials had to reach for the newly installed system, twice.
“The U.S. adopted the circuit breaker system in 1988, and it was only triggered once. The history of China’s circuit breaker is one day, and we’ve triggered it twice.”
An index of the 300 biggest stocks listed in Shanghai and Shenzhen plunged Monday, triggering the circuit breaker and leading first to one 15-minute pause in trading and then a second halt, which closed the markets for the remainder of the day 80 minutes earlier than scheduled.
“Excessive interference with trading will affect market efficiency and become counter-productive.”
— Chief economist Lin Caiyi
The markets opened in negative territory and stayed there as a flurry of bad news arrived: a weaker-than-expected gauge of manufacturing activity and a further slide in the value of the country’s currency. Adding to the bearish mood are worries among investors about the lapse this Friday of a six-month ban on selling shares by major shareholders–those holding 5% stakes or larger in a listed company. The ban was imposed in July last year to stem a meltdown in the stock markets, and its end may lead to more selling.
Markets turned critical 12 minutes into the afternoon session, as the CSI 300 Index fell 5%, prompting the 15-minute suspension. Six minutes after trading resumed, at 1:27 p.m.,the hemorrhaging continued. The CSI 300 index dived further, hitting a 7% limit and bringing the trading day to an end.
Caught off guard by the plunge, traders speculated that the securities regulator was conducting a test of the new circuit breaker mechanism. Read the rest of this entry »
A fifth person affiliated with a bookstore that sells books critical of China’s government went missing last week, raising concerns over Hong Kong’s freedoms.
Fiona Law reports: Hong Kong police are investigating the disappearance of the co-owner of a bookstore specializing in works critical of the Chinese government, that has prompted local lawmakers to voice fears that mainland Chinese law-enforcement agencies crossed the border to detain him.
Hong Kong and foreign media have reported that the wife of Lee Bo, a shareholder of Causeway Bay Books, told police on Friday that Mr. Lee had gone missing and that four people who worked for the bookstore or a publisher affiliated with it have gone missing in recent months, including one who disappeared in Thailand.
“It is terrifying,” said Albert Ho, a pro-democracy lawmaker. “So the mainland police can publicly arrest people in Hong Kong?”
On Sunday, a group of lawmakers and activists marched to the central Chinese government’s liaison office in Hong Kong, demanding answers about the missing people. Read the rest of this entry »
Force backs down after being accused of trying to whitewash the city’s history and role played by pro-Beijing radicals.
Christy Leung reports: The Hong Kong police force has made an unexpected climbdown and is restoring its official account of the 1967 riots after causing a storm earlier this year by deleting parts of it.
A source told the Post the missing details would be reinstated on its archived website as early as Friday, and more historical details would be added to make the account “fuller”.
The U-turn was decided at a meeting of the Police Historical Records Committee yesterday.
It reverses a controversial move in mid-September to revise the official version of the riots, during which pro-Beijing radicals inspired by the Cultural Revolution sought to overthrow the colonial government.
The force replaced phrases like “communist militia” with “gunmen” and deleted detailed descriptions of events such as leftist mobs threatening bus and tram drivers who refused to strike.
Police were accused of trying to whitewash history out of political considerations. They were also ridiculed for claiming there was not enough space to publish full details online.
“[We are uploading the original version] to answer our readers’ calls and have no political agenda behind it,” the source explained yesterday.
“We think people nowadays are not into reading bulky and long paragraphs, but since they enjoy reading the full version, we are bringing it back.”
In addition to the original write-up, the history of women in the force and the Hong Kong Police College will be added to the website.
“We want to make the contents ‘finer’ and ‘fuller’, so that people can have a better understanding of police history,” the source said.
It is understood the committee is still reviewing the content and may upload the original version along with the new information on January 1 at the earliest. Read the rest of this entry »