China.Hawaii Chamber of Commerce ®
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China President Hu Jintao USA State Visit January 19 - 21 2011

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Mainland and Hong Kong Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA)

成功之道 武进制造 Wujin - Changzhou - Jiangsu Province - China 

  Year of the Snake - February 10 2013 -  Dance w/ Firework 

President Obama's Lunar New Year Message - Year of the Dragon

Under the Hawaii State Law "Asian Lunar New Year Commemoration Week" The one week period following the day of the Chinese New Year shall be known and designated as the "Asian Lunar New Year Week of Commemoration in Hawaii". This week is not and shall not be construed as a state holiday. [L 2007, c 48, §2] click for more details

The Hong Kong Advantages under One Country Two Systems - when most of the world want to do business with China, there is only one place that China gives 100% backing - that is Hong Kong. Quoting the former Chief Executive of Hong Kong SAR Honorable Tung Chee-hwa "背靠祖國 - 面向世界" "backed by China and engaged globally". Whether you are an international business wanting to do business with China, or just wanting to get connected with Asia and the rest of the world - Asia's World City: Hong Kong is the right and smart choice.

TED: Martin Jacques Understanding The Rise of China 马丁·雅克:了解中国的崛起 

Hong Kong Education Bureau (click on the links for details) 德育及國民教育指引 Moral and National Education Guidelines

Hong Kong Chief Executive Policy Address, please visit The website contains all the documents and official video clips (including the recording of CE's presentation at the Legislative Council, press conference and TV forum, etc.).

Hong Kong*:  May 2 2013

'Golden week' losing its lustre for Hong Kong businesses (By Emily Tsang, Anita Lam and Lo Wei) Traditional Labour Day holiday spending spree may be in danger of falling flat, with arrivals by tour groups from mainland down on last year - A jewellery store in Mong Kok starts to fill display cases in readiness for the expected rush for gold products this week. Shops and hotels hoping for a major "golden week" boost were left disappointed yesterday. The Labour Day holiday got off to a sluggish start, prompting fears that Hong Kong may have lost some of its appeal for free-spending mainland shoppers. About 270 tours arrived in the city, with 900 more expected before the end of the week. But Travel Industry Council executive director Joseph Tung Yao-chung said the number of tour groups had dropped 15 per cent year-on-year. The Labour Day holiday is one of the most important of the year for Hong Kong businesses. The city usually sees an influx of hundreds of thousands of mainland shoppers snapping up everything from luxury flats to gold and expensive watches. But many in the tourism and retail industry believe the Labour Day holiday has fallen out of fashion. Tung said: "The holiday has not been 'golden' since 2008." And Michael Li Hon-sing, executive director of the Federation of Hong Kong Hotel Owners, said his industry had suffered a major downturn. This was despite many hotels cutting their rates by 10 per cent compared with last year. The overall occupancy rate remained around 80 per cent, about the same as a year ago. But Li said this was only because of international exhibitions also taking place in the city. He described bookings from the mainland as poor and said three-star hotels, where the main source of customers is tour groups, had been particularly hard-hit. Also, the average tourist is not splashing out as much. Hong Kong Retail Management Association president Caroline Mak Shui-king said: "It's true the sales volume per head [of mainland visitors] is falling. "Many visitors are from the second or third-tier mainland cities these days and they tend to spend much less." But Mak remained optimistic that overall sales during the holiday would go up by about 10 or 12 per cent. She added: "The sales agents must just work harder to keep up the sales volume." While the number of tour groups has dropped, more individual travellers are arriving. Figures from the Immigration Department showed the number of inbound individual travellers on Sunday jumped about 20 per cent year-on-year. But individuals tend to be more careful with their cash than those in organised tour groups, where trips to shopping malls are a key part of the itinerary. The picture is also complicated this year because many mainlanders rushed to Hong Kong to buy gold - traditionally a big item for Labour Day shoppers - two weeks before the holiday. Stephen Chan, the owner of Perfect Jewellery in Causeway Bay, said his small shop had only four or five customers during the whole of yesterday morning. He said: "Much of the consumption power was used up in advance. We believe we will see only moderate growth." He expected sales per customer would drop to around HK$3,000 throughout the week, compared with HK$10,000 per head when the price of gold hit a two-year low two weeks ago. One mainland tourist, Zhou Xueling, agreed the "golden week" had lost its lustre and said she preferred doing her shopping in Hong Kong on day trips. "The accommodation is too expensive," she said.

Pictured: Dark storm clouds gather over Hong Kong (By SCMP) Amber rainstorm and thunderstorm warnings issued - It could be a scene from a Hollywood movie: thick black clouds roll across Hong Kong's historic Victoria Harbour ahead of a superstorm. But this was the real thing on Tuesday afternoon as the city prepared for an amber rainstorm. The image below, tweeted by Reuters financial news reporter and presenter Cathy Yang, was taken at 3pm from the 42nd floor of Gloucester Tower in Hong Kong, and shows dark clouds rolling into the harbour. Hong Kong's Observatory issued the amber rain and thunderstorm warning as gusts of 90km per hour were recorded at Tai Mei Tuk. It predicted winds would reach 100km per hour across the city. “Locally, rain and thunderstorms [on Tuesday afternoon] brought more than 10 to 20 millimetres of rainfall to most part of the territory, and rainfall even exceeded 30 millimetres over Sai Kung,” a spokesman said. It brought strong winds across Hong Kong, blowing off stacked containers and a scaffold and halting services at a tourist cable car system. In the Kwai Tsing container ports, several stacked containers fell and hit a truck, injuring its driver. A six-storey-high scaffold collapsed in a Kowloon City site. It hit on a private car but no one was injured. Services of cable car at the Ngong Ping 360 on Lantau were suspended in the afternoon due to the bad weather. The Mobile M+: Inflation! exhbition at West Kowloon Cultural District announced on Tuesday afternoon that it was closing due to the weather. An announcement on its Facebook page read: "Special announcement: Amber Rainstorm warning signal and thunderstorm warning are now in force, ‘Mobile M+: Inflation!’ is closed until further notice. Sorry for the inconvenience caused and we will keep you posted with the latest news.” Last week's sudden downpour caused Paul McCarthy’s Complex Pile - which resembles a giant pile of excrement - to deflate.

Rubber Duck floats to Hong Kong (By China Daily) Hong Kong actor Andy Lau and Dutch artist Florentijn Hofmans (L) pose in front of Hofmans’ installation Rubber Duck in Hong Kong, April 29, 2013. The Rubber Duck knows no frontiers, it doesn't discriminate people and doesn't have a political connotation, according to the artist's website.

 China*:  May 2 2013

China ranks second to US in money to Africa (By Agence France-Presse in Washington) China committed more than US$75 billion to Africa in the past decade, coming close to the level of US money although the nature of Beijing’s support was far different, a study said on Monday. The database released by the Center for Global Development aims to be the most comprehensive account yet of foreign assistance by China, which has faced criticism in Western countries suspicious of Beijing’s motives. The report found that China committed US$75.4 billion to Africa from 2000 to 2011, just under the US$90 billion by the United States and representing about one-fifth of the total from all major donor nations. But the researchers verified that only around US$1.1 billion a year from China was official development assistance as defined by the club of major donors under the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. As defined by the group, aid needs to have economic development as the main objective and any loans must have concessional rates – or at least 25 per cent of the money coming as a grant. “Pound for pound, when you compare the US versus China, the total official finance is roughly comparable. However, different people mean different things when they talk about Chinese aid,” said Bradley Parks of the College of William and Mary, who is executive director of the AidData initiative behind the study. “The composition of the official finance is very different,” he said. Amid the rapid growth of China’s economy, the emerging Asian power has increasingly been seen as a major player in international development, but it has resisted calls to be more transparent on its spending. Faced with opaque data from Beijing, the new database instead draws on thousands of media reports about Chinese projects, tracking them to verify that they are going forward. Western nations have led the charge that China is primarily interested in Africa for its natural resources and ignores the conditions of democracy and good governance on which the United States, Europeans and others insist. The database showed a wide variety of Chinese initiatives in Africa. The most funding went to debt relief, followed by transport and storage projects and then by the agricultural sector. Items funded by China ranged from a defence college in Zimbabwe, whose veteran leader Robert Mugabe is a pariah in the West, to an opera house in Algeria. Ghana was the top recipient of Chinese money, although Beijing gave widely across the continent – except to countries that recognise Taiwan, which Beijing considers part of its territory. Parks, the co-author of the study, said that the researchers’ main goal was to improve public information about Chinese assistance, not to answer questions on Beijing’s intentions. “Frankly, there are a lot of people out there who have taken very strong opinions on one side or the other,” he said. “From our perspective, the value of what we’ve accomplished is to try to create a public good of use to researchers, journalists and civil society organisations and they can draw their own conclusions,” he said.

Beauties turn entrepreneurs (By Xu Junqian) Zhang Wenjing, a model-turned-storeowner on Taobao, China's largest online bazaar, parades products from her online store. More fashion models for online shopping site,, are changing roles. Instead of just posing for the site, they are selling clothes online. Xu Junqian finds out their motivations in Shanghai. Getting paid 50,000 yuan ($8,090) a day to dress in the latest fashion and have their pictures taken is no longer attractive for models working for Instead, more of these beauties nicknamed as Tao Girl, are changing roles — selling clothes, not only modeling them, on the country's largest online shopping bazaar. Competition on Taobao, home to about 1.3 million women's wear stores, is getting fiercer and well-taken photos have become the main bargaining chip for these virtual stores to survive the competition. Seeing the potential, girls who used to make a decent living by modeling on Taobao, are now becoming their own boss. "It's like a fashion trend," says Arzugul Nijat, a Tao Girl of the Uygur ethnic group. "Almost everyone of my Taobao model friends is thinking about opening a store, or has already opened one, on the website." The 21-year-old college student who lives in Shanghai, started a store of her own after her two-year career as Tao Girl. Though she gave up just two months after the "grand opening" because of her "lack of business sense", the spirit of entrepreneurship has been ignited ever since. The 1.65-meter-tall, 43-kilogram petite girl started her modeling career for a Japanese fashion magazine in 2009 and transferred to Taobao because money comes "faster and easier". She charges 1,000 yuan an hour for shooting. Statistics from Taobao showed that by the end of 2012, there are more than 37,000 Tao Girls modeling for its online stores, 85 percent of whom work part time and the average age is 23. The "most expensive face" costs 50,000 yuan a day. One of the base camps of the online models is Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang province, which is also the headquarters of Taobao and home to the country's biggest apparel wholesale market. Online models are paid in three ways: hourly or daily, by the pieces of clothes they put on during one shooting, or based on contract. And the charges vary greatly, from 100 to 200 yuan a day to several hundred yuan for a piece of dress. "An online model doesn't have to be, or rather, cannot be super-pretty or super-curvy," says Nijat, whose "runway name" is Azi. "Everyone can be an online model, because the clothes displayed is sold to everyone." "But once you become the face of the shop, you may be the determining factor for the success of the shop. Tens of thousands yuan of sales may be lost if you jump ship to another shop," she shares. 

Alibaba pays $586 million for stake in Sina Weibo (By Yu Wei in San Francisco Alibaba Group, China's largest e-commerce company partly owned by Yahoo Inc, has spent $586 million for an 18-percent share of Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, in an attempt to monetize the hugely influential social media platform. The two companies said in a statement on Monday that Alibaba has made a payment and has an option to boost its stakes in Sina Weibo to 30 percent. The deal was expected to combine Alibaba's e-commerce strength with Sina Weibo's user base to explore social commerce and develop marketing solutions to merchants. The transaction put the value of Sina Weibo at $3.26 billion. The market capitalization of Nasdaq-listed Sina Corp was $3.67 billion on Monday. Sina's American depository shares rose by 9 percent to $55.03 on Monday. Hangzhou-based Alibaba Group, which Yahoo holds about a 23-percent stake, is the largest e-commerce empire in China. It currently runs a business-to-business online trading platform called, the eBay-like and, as well as the Paypal-like Alipay. Transactions on its websites last year reached about 1.1 trillion yuan ($170 billion). Beijing-based Sina Weibo started as an imitator of Twitter, but later developed features tailored to Chinese users. In November, the number of registered users had exceeded 400 million. But Sina Weibo has been facing challenges to generate equivalent revenue to its huge user base and influence in China, similar what social media sites Twitter and Facebook are trying to do in the United States. Li Kaifu, former Google China president and the founder of an angel investment firm, said Sina Weibo used to rely on advertising, but now with Alibaba's e-commerce platform, it will be an easier way to make money out of its user population. The two companies said the deal is expected to generate approximately $380 million in advertising and revenues from social commerce services for Sina Weibo over the next three years. "The $586 million deal offered by Alibaba is higher than Sina's valuation prior to this news," said Echo He, an analyst from New York-based financial services firm Maxim Group. She said over the longer term, the deal will help Sina's profitability. "Benefit to both sides is long-term. Sina may get Alibaba's business long term and Alibaba may be able to provide its users a public media venue," she said. As part of the alliance, the two companies would cooperate in user account connectivity, data exchange and online payment and marketing. They would explore new business models for social commerce based on the interactions of users on Sina Weibo and on Alibaba's e-commerce platforms, according to Sina. "We believe that the cooperation of our two robust platforms will bring unique and valuable services to Weibo users, as well as making the mobile Internet a core part of Alibaba's strategy," Alibaba Chairman Jack Ma said in a statement. Social media in China such as Sina Weibo is playing a much bigger role in China's consumer market. About 2.5 percent of Taobao's traffic comes from Sina micro-blogging, higher than some social shopping sites such as Mogujie and Meilishuo, according to a report released by analyst firm Hitwise. Taobao and Tmall, the two online shopping sites operated by Alibaba, have nearly 500 million registered users. More than 100 million people visit Taobao or Tmall a day. Yang Miao, a writer from the technology blogging website, said the deal between Alibaba and Sina is by far the largest stock deal in China. "There are 300,000 enterprises registered on Sina Weibo. If the integration is smooth, Weibo will no longer just a branding platform or customer relationship management platform for those enterprises; it will become an integrated platform of brand marketing, communications, online payment, and after-sales service," Yang said.

Hong Kong*:  May 1 2013

Mandarin Oriental has no fear of crackdown by Beijing (By Daniel Ren in Shanghai Hotel firm brushes aside fears that crackdown on wasteful use of public money will hit income - The luxury hotel chain operator Mandarin Oriental, brushing aside concerns that a crackdown by Beijing on wasteful spending of public money will dent hotel revenues, said it would continue expanding in China to tap into the rising affluence on the mainland. "For anybody who does a good job of understanding their customers, China will always be a place to be," said Andrew Hirst, the group's operations director for Asia. "In such a large and diverse market, there is room for everyone to compete, and we will continue to do so in all the cities where we are represented," he said, adding that the group was actively searching for partners and properties on the mainland to consolidate its foothold in the world's second-largest economy. The mainland is now the luxury hotel brand's second-largest source of businesses, trailing only the United States, and mainland customers account for 13 per cent of all visitors to its hotels in China. "We expect this contribution to grow as we increase our portfolio of operating hotels in the mainland in the next few years," Hirst said. The group opened the Mandarin Oriental Pudong, Shanghai, in the Lujiazui finance and trade zone last week, its third project on the mainland, with two more hotels, one in Beijing and the other in Chengdu, in the pipeline. The expansion comes at a time of mounting concerns about a possible oversupply in China's hotel market as global brands aggressively expand in the country. The new mainland leadership's efforts to curb wasteful spending of public money is also believed to be hurting the catering and hospitality sectors. However, Hirst said, the impact of Beijing's clampdown in his company's business was minimal, and he believed the increasing numbers of wealthy mainland tourists would become a growth engine for international hotel brands. China could become the Mandarin Oriental's largest source of businesses in future, he said, and the company's hotels in Hong Kong would also help its mainland outlets woo more domestic travellers in future. Mainland visitors account for about 20 per cent of the revenues earned by the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong and the Landmark Mandarin Oriental.

Boom in local boutique hotels not abating (By Kylie Knott From Dali-inspired foyers to fairy-tale-themed suites, Hong Kong's multiplying boutique hotels are providing luxury in every shade of glamour, writes Kylie Knott - Girish Jhunjhnuwala, founder of the Ovolo Hotel Group. Lodgewood''s reception lounge & Mira Moon's moonshine suite. He looks very much at home in the newly opened Ovolo 2AR hotel in Central. That's not just because Girish Jhunjhnuwala heads the group running the joint, but because anyone would feel at home here. And that's the point - Jhunjhnuwala wants guests to feel comfortable in his properties. In a suite decorated in warm chocolate and cream, the little details make a big impression: a cool stone shower, an Apple TV and super-fast Wi-fi that guests can access all over the city - and a cheeky picture by local artist Tsang Kin-wah. "We really deliberated over the details: should we have a sofa, should we have a side desk? We are targeting guests who want to be connected for business but also want to have fun. So the rooms appeal to those who appreciate design and art." Jhunjhnuwala is an authoritative voice on Hong Kong's booming boutique hotels scene. He saw the demand for short-term stays in the city a long while ago, and left his family's successful watch business to set up Ovolo, initially to operate serviced apartments. That was in 2002, and he hasn't looked back since. The group has become one of Hong Kong's largest independent operators, with two serviced apartments and five hotels (including one that is due to open this year), and another property in Melbourne. "I travelled a lot when I was in the watch industry, and when I was back home in Hong Kong I noticed the city lacked a hip and cool boutique hotel scene. There was real potential for this sort of accommodation, so I followed my instincts and set up Ovolo," Jhunjhnuwala says. "There's no doubt about the rise of the boutique hotel trend globally, and there's no reason why Hong Kong wouldn't follow suit, especially because an increase in property prices in the city has made the construction of larger hotels more difficult. "And with more than 48 million visitors coming to this city every year, and just over 65,000 hotel rooms to accommodate them, supply has not yet met demand. So there will always be opportunity to grow and innovate," he says. Millions of dollars are being poured into the refurbishing and building of "lifestyle" hotels to help meet this demand. Last month, it was the 79-room V Wanchai². But it didn't wear its crown as "Hong Kong's newest boutique hotel" for long - that was handed to the 87-room Lodgewood in Mong Kok, which opened earlier this month. But that will also have to pass on the sceptre, as the 150-room Hotel Indigo opens in Wan Chai in May. In July, two boutique hotels - the Mira Moon, also in Wan Chai, and the Ovolo in Southside - welcome their first visitors. This flurry of openings seems a long way from a decade ago when Asia saw the arrival of its first boutique hotel, the Philippe Starck-designed JIA (now known as J Plus) in Causeway Bay. It was 2004 and the region was playing catch-up with a global trend that started in 1981 when the world's first boutique hotels opened: The Blakes Hotel in London (designed by celebrity stylist Anouska Hempel) and the Bedford in San Francisco. New York City followed in 1984 with the Morgans Hotel designed by the French stylist, Andrée Putman. Putman's portfolio now includes The Putman boutique hotel in Sheung Wan, which opened in 2007. The hotels signalled a shift in the global hospitality landscape - a move away from amenity-heavy chain hotels to smaller, more intimate properties. It also showed that the modern traveller wanted "wow" satisfaction on every level: accommodation with cutting-edge style balanced with the comforts of home; interiors and architecture that inspire; a location that tells a story and artwork that challenges. "Stylish travellers want to take their standard of living with them when they travel. The irony is that in interiors magazines, you'll see the reciprocal influence that contemporary boutique hotel room design is having on people's bedrooms and bathrooms at home," says Grant Thatcher, the Hong Kong-based founder of Luxe City Guides. For regular traveller Lucie McCullough, it's the personal touches that appeal: "I want to feel doted on when I'm on holiday and not feel like I'm one of 1,000 behind a credit-card key door," says the Hong Kong-based interior designer. Every taste is catered for. If you want colonial-style comfort there's the Tai O Heritage Hotel and the Hullet House; lovers of abstract art have the Dali-inspired Luxe Manor; and fans of top designers can get their fix at J Plus or the Mira Moon. For minimalistic Asian-inspired elegance there's the Upper House. The boom in boutique hotels also speaks volumes about the healthy state of the city's tourism industry. According to the Hong Kong Tourism Board, visitor arrivals between January and September 2012 increased 16.3 per cent year on year to reach 35.37 million. Boutique hotel operators reap a few financial perks. They don't have to pay a franchise fee to become part of a chain, and can survive without costly amenities. They also have a higher percentage of repeat business. "Today's seasoned traveller prefers smaller hotels to big chain hotels that often lack character,'' says Vivien Chan, founder and chairman of the V Group that operates V Wanchai². But to keep their competitive edge, boutique hotels must also adapt to the changing needs, tastes and fashions of a market in rapid flux. "V Generation properties are not homogeneously styled hotels and serviced apartments. Each accents its own individuality," she says. "It offers a fresh take for modern travellers." Chan, who plays a hands-on role in the seasonally changing decor, points to details on doors as an example. Each features intricately etched carvings of birds and flower motifs that reappear on the headboard of each bed. Even with the spate of openings, Hotel Indigo general manager Bryan Gabriel believes the trend will continue to grow: "It's an exciting time for Hong Kong's hospitality industry with a number of boutique hotels to open in the next two years." Although "boutique hotel" has become an overused term, Gabriel is thankful that Hong Kong owners have remained faithful to its original spirit. "In the 1980s, when the concept first appeared, the understated glamour was an experience. The label is now flung around so often that it's lost its original meaning, slapped onto descriptions by default," he says. "But [here], we're lucky that a few recently opened hotels still do the term 'boutique' justice." At Indigo, the design highlight is obvious: a giant bronze dragon hugging the building. Gabriel says the target market is equally well-defined. "There's definitely a type of guest: independent, well-travelled, savvy … usually between the ages of 30 and 55 and always people keen to explore the culturally rich neighbourhoods." One of the city's most anticipated openings is the Mira Moon, under the creative direction of Dutch design star Marcel Wanders. It's not for the minimalist, however. With room themes inspired by Chinese fairy tales, the hotel's decor is as trippy as a big night out in Wonderland with an LSD-fuelled Alice. It all starts in the lobby with glazed ceramics, flowery carpets and cut crystal. Those seeking more muted decor should opt for Ovolo Group's latest addition to its portfolio, Wong Chuk Hang Road, which opens later this year. "We've spent two years creating a signature Ovolo hotel that has our hallmark interior design concepts, hi-tech features and services in a building full of unique industrial character," says Jhunjhnuwala. The variety of boutique hotels sprouting up shows that hoteliers are listening to travellers' growing needs and are more than eager to please.

 China*:  May 1 2013

Chinese officials fill up first Sansha cruise in disputed seas (By Chris Luo and Agence France-Presse) But specialists have warned that an unrealistic high standard on the industry by the government may drive some illicit producers to try to cut corners to save money on production and earn a profit. Sansha, on an island in the disputed Paracel chain, is now considered by China part of Hainan province. More civil servants than actual tourists climbed aboard the first Chinese cruise ship to visit disputed South China Sea islands on Sunday. Only 100 of 240 passengers were regular citizens, the Shanghai Morning Post reported on Monday. The rest were civil servants from various government organs in Hainan province. The debut cruise went to the Paracel Islands' Sansha, the newly established prefecture-level city created last year to consolidate China's de facto control. As many as 100 tourists paid between 7,000 yuan (HK$8,800) and 9,000 yuan for the four-day voyage, but stayed in second-class cabins or lower. Officials and civil servants, however, were free to choose more luxurious cabins and pay less, the report said. A price chart obtained by the newspaper also showed that tourists were charged an extra 3,250 yuan per person than civil servants in similar cabins. But the newspaper said the tourists were not bothered by the unequal treatment. A Hunan passenger surnamed Ma said it was worth the money to experience the “original beauty” of Sansha. Everyone was subjected to the same high security checks during boarding, however. Passengers went through security checks twice, taking two hours for the whole process, the newspaper said. Plans to allow tourists to visit the Paracel Islands is the latest stage in China’s development of the territory, which has previously angered Vietnam and caused concern in Washington. Vietnam and China have a longstanding territorial row over the Paracel Islands. Hanoi last month accused a Chinese vessel of firing on one of its fishing boats which had sailed in disputed waters in the area. Officials earlier this month confirmed they would open up the islands to tourism. China has occupied the Paracels since a brief war with South Vietnam in 1974. It is a cluster of about 40 islets, sandbanks and reefs. Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia all have rival claims to parts of the South China Sea, while the United States is also watching Beijing’s increased assertiveness. In his address opening China’s parliament last month, former Premier Wen Jiabao said Beijing should “develop the marine economy... and safeguard China’s maritime rights and interests”.

Chinese-made milk powder better than imported ones, says study by dairy association (By Chris Luo A woman selects milk powder for her child at a supermarket in Beijing. Chinese-made milk powder is better in quality and half the price of imported products, said the national dairy association, in an effort to promote the domestic industry and allay concerns stemming from the 2008 melamine scandal. In a study commissioned by the China Dairy Industry Association, formula made in China, regardless of domestic or foreign brand, had more nutritional content, the Beijing Times reported on Monday. The research also said home-made products cost, on average, only about half the imported ones. A third-party Chinese inspection agency randomly tested 25 milk-powder brands sold in Beijing and capital cities of nearby provinces. The results indicated that all 16 of the domestic products were in line with national nutrition standards. But three of the nine imported products failed to meet national standards in lactose-carbohydrate ratio and calcium-phosphorus ratio. Association chairman Song Kungang said that none of the tested brands, homegrown or foreign, were found to have food safety problems. The foreign brands that didn't meet Chinese standards mostly failed on "nutritional standards," he said. China’s milk powder industry has become a focal point of public anger over food safety in recent years after a spate of scandals. A major crisis emerged in 2008 when a leading domestic brand was found to be using the industrial chemical melamine, usually found in plastics and glue. The scandal has since sickened 300,000 babies and resulted in six premature deaths. The milk-powder endorsement by China’s leading dairy industrial association comes as mainland parents resort to buying the product in Hong Kong and overseas. Overseas milk-powder suppliers and retailers have noticed the demand, and several governments have issued restrictions. The Dairy Industry Association also said the industry has undergone a thorough overhaul in the past years. The current standards are also “among one of the most stringent in the world”, it added.

Models pose for Fuzhou Auto Fair - Model poses for photos with a sedan at Fuzhou Auto Fair in Fuzhou, capital of southeast China's Fujian Province, April 29, 2013.

Technology fair eyes innovation (By LI JIABAO) China's best-known annual high-tech fair aims to boost industrial innovation and serve as a driving force to improve the quality and efficiency of economic growth as the nation's economy slows down, officials said on Sunday. "Industrial innovation will demonstrate an outstanding advantage in building up a new competitive edge and boosting economic development, especially at a time when the economy is not doing well," Xu Qin, mayor of Shenzhen, told a press conference. The 15th session of the China Hi-Tech Fair, jointly hosted by the Shenzhen government and ministries including the National Development and Reform Commission, the Ministry of Commerce and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, will be held in Shenzhen from Nov 16 to 21. The fair, with an exhibition area of more than 100,000 square meters, has become China's largest and most influential technology fair. The 2013 session will focus on enhancing the quality and efficiency of economic growth through industrial innovation, said Luo Lei, deputy director of the department of mechanical, electronic and high-tech industries of the Ministry of Commerce. "We do have concerns about the external economic situation as the global economy slightly improved this year and quantitative easing measures in developed economies added negative influences," Xu said. "But strengthening the linkage among industries, academia, research and capital will be an important way to enhance the quality and efficiency of economic growth. "Demand at the 2013 fair will be more robust than in previous years and I am confident the fair will help enterprises with industrial innovations ride out the impacts of the financial crisis, just as it did in 2009 after the onset of the global financial crisis," he added. This year's fair will include high-tech trading, product exhibitions and a forum on Chinese technologies. More advanced technologies and products will be on show to meet demands for environmental protection, while the latest technology from strategic emerging industries and low-carbon sectors will be the focus of the fair's exhibitions, according to Xu, who also heads the fair's organizing committee. The world's second-largest economy grew 7.7 percent in the first quarter, failing to extend a pickup that began in the fourth quarter of last year when economic growth rose 7.9 percent, stepping out of a seven-quarter slowdown. Profits of industrial companies with annual revenue of 20 million yuan ($3.24 million) or more registered 464.9 billion yuan in March, an increase of 5.3 percent from a year earlier, compared with a 17.2 percent gain in the first two months of this year, the National Bureau of Statistics said on its website on Saturday. Xiao Chunquan, a spokesman for the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, said on Tuesday the industrial sector is confronted by considerable pressure. This stems from a lack of robust growth in consumption as well as in investment of fixed assets. The preliminary reading for a purchasing managers' index, a gauge of manufacturing activity that was released by HSBC Holdings Plc and Markit Economics on Tuesday, stood at 50.5. This compares with a final reading of 51.6 for March, indicating an unsatisfactory economic performance in April, said Tang Jianwei, an economist at Bank of Communications in Shanghai. A reading above 50 indicates expansion.

'Taiwan independence' not to be promoted: Ma (by Xinhua) Taiwan will not promote "one China, one Taiwan" nor "Taiwan independence" inside or outside of the island, its leader Ma Ying-jeou stressed on Monday. Ma made the comments when addressing a ceremony, held by Taiwan-based Straits Exchange Foundation, to mark the 20th anniversary of the historic "Wang-Koo meeting," which laid the foundation for peaceful development of cross-Strait relations. "We are all people of Chinese descent and we share blood ties, history and culture," he said, adding that the Chinese mainland and Taiwan have set a precedent for peacefully working out disputes. Ma said he hoped the two sides will continue to deepen cooperation and exchanges in multiple fields, including the economy, trade, culture, science and technology and environment. He said, "It is of significance that we hold the ceremony here today."

Hong Kong*:  April 30 2013

Book sheds light on Hong Kong's war tribunals (By John Carney Clockwise from top left: Japanese vice-admiral Ruitaro Fujita signs Japan's surrender in Hong Kong September 16, 1945; a parade in Central a month later; the Union flag is raised at Government House. A new book by a legal scholar offers rare insight into the military prosecutions of Japanese soldiers in the city after the second world war - Memories of the cruelty of the Japanese forces in Hong Kong have faded over time - and even less is known about the aftermath of the city's second world war occupation. But a new book is set to change all that by turning the spotlight on the military tribunals that were the local equivalent of Europe's Nuremberg trials. Between March 28, 1946, and December 20, 1948, four British military tribunals tried war crime cases from across Hong Kong, Kowloon and the New Territories. They also heard cases involving war crimes committed in Taiwan, the mainland cities of Huizhou, Guangdong (the city was then known as Waichow), as well as Japan itself and on the high seas. Professor Suzannah Linton, a former academic at the University of Hong Kong, will offer insight into this forgotten period in her book Hong Kong's War Crimes Trials, to be published in August. As well as shedding light on the trial themselves and reminding the world of the brutality of the Japanese campaign in Asia, Linton explores key issues in international law that the tribunals raised. They were part of a radical and historic shift towards individual criminal responsibility that had been made Allied policy during the war years, and which was put into practice in Europe and Asia when the war was over. Thousands of Japanese were tried in Asia, whether by the British, Australians, Chinese or Dutch. Of these, 123 were tried by the British in Hong Kong. Linton believes these cases were part of a much neglected Asian tapestry that has become part of the bigger global picture. "They were certainly not problem-free trials, let alone by today's standards," she said. "But, even today, with all the expertise, technology and skills involved, there are many examples of trials that go badly wrong at our international courts and tribunals. In my view, these Hong Kong trials were, warts and all, a genuine effort to do justice in a fair way, and they were remarkable for that time and place and in those conditions." Contributors to the book have worked on many aspects of the extraordinary crimes of the second world war in Europe and Asia, as well as other war crimes - the Rwandan genocide, the horrors of Yugoslavia, the killing fields of Cambodia, the crimes against humanity in East Timor and the depravity of Sierra Leone's war. The contributors have been engaged with the legal institutions that dealt with these tragedies, Linton said, and used that expertise to draw out secrets of the Hong Kong trials. "Those of us involved in this book have all seen the dark side of humanity in our work over the years, and we hope that this book can be seen as part of the wider project of contributing to the truth and doing justice," she said. Despite her experience and past research, Linton was shocked at the scale of what happened in Hong Kong under Japanese occupation. In particular, she pointed to the forced displacement programme that removed a million people from the city, and the famine and starvation that preceded it. She found it disturbing that sexual violence against civilians in Hong Kong, which is said to have been on a very large scale, was almost invisible in the tribunal reports, although they were pursued in a minor way in the cases arising from the invasion. The scale of the prisoner-of-war- camp system in Taiwan and some of the accounts of cruelty and suffering there also had a major impact on her. She found that the atrocities in Hong Kong fitted into a clear and well-established pattern of conduct across Asia during the second world war, in Korea, China, the Philippines and the rest of Southeast Asia and the Pacific. The abuse in Hong Kong's police stations, for example, was textbook Japanese military police practice - it was not "hi tech" and is still used by some regimes to this day: "water torture", which equates to today's waterboarding, burning, beating, and forms of forced body contortions such as "aeroplane torture". But, she said, the way Hong Kong bounced back from this traumatic period is an example of the resilience and spirit that still pervades the city today - people pick themselves up and get on with things. However, Linton does qualify this view when discussing the "amnesia about the past" in the introduction to her book, exploring the reasons why these trials became forgotten. Not that this experience was unique to Hong Kong. While the trials in Europe went on for years - and from time to time old Nazis are still brought to justice - the trials in Asia seem to have stopped by the end of the early 1950s. People did not mull over the Asian trials as they did in Europe, she said. Global geopolitics meant that Japan, and West Germany, became important allies in the cold war. Even the mainland, where records of the trials of Japanese war criminals remain locked up today, half a century on, had a form of reconciliation with Japan and released incarcerated war criminals in the 1950s and '60s. Linton believes that most people moved on and the world moved on, especially in Asia, where independence struggles erupted and new nations were born. Also, every one of the trials of the war was conducted by a victor on the vanquished. "The Hong Kong trials were conducted by a victorious colonial power on a failed colonial power, and this pattern was repeated in Malaya, Singapore, Burma [Myanmar], Borneo and elsewhere in Asia [apart from China]," she said. "Thus, there could have been the reek of Empire's revenge associated with these trials that made forgetting about them desirable." Linton lived and worked in Hong Kong from 2005 to 2011 as an associate professor of law at HKU, and is now chair professor of international law at Bangor University in Wales. In June 2008 she was awarded a research grant by the Hong Kong Research Grants Council to study the war crimes trials that had been held in Hong Kong from 1946-48, but about which next to nothing was known. "With this grant, I was able to identify the relevant files in the UK National Archives, have them electronically copied and made accessible to the public through the database that I created with the assistance of Hong Kong University libraries. This book is the culmination of that research project," she said. Linton learned a huge amount about what happened during the war, and had insights into a forgotten legal process. Colleagues who contributed are all either legal or historical experts, and have written perceptive chapters. In their forewords, mainland judge Liu Daqun and Kevin Zervos, Hong Kong's director of public prosecutions, share their insights into the importance of chronicling this chapter of the city's past. "We have been like archaeologists discovering a lost city in today's concrete jungle of Hong Kong," she said. "We have learned an extraordinary amount about history, and about legal issues, ranging from the procedures that governed the proceedings, to the law of war crimes used, to the concepts of individual criminal responsibility to the pleas of subordinates that they were 'only following orders'." She hopes the book will help Hong Kong's law students realise that something very important happened here in the 1940s, and that the law can be about redeeming humanity and momentous events in history. But above all else, Linton wants to express how very moved she was by the many people, either from Hong Kong or with links to Hong Kong, who contacted her to support the work that she had done. "I know they will agree when I say that remembering the past in order to derive lessons for our generation is critically important, but remembering alone, as a way of honouring the victims must also be done," she said.

Hong Kong losing its competitive edge, Beijing warns (By Joshua But Top official hopes city will forge ahead, but is accused of trying to divert attention from reform. Hong Kong is losing its competitive edge and will be "swept downstream if it does not forge ahead", warns Beijing's man in charge of Hong Kong affairs. Zhang Dejiang, No 3 on the seven-man Politburo Standing Committee, is by far the highest-ranking figure to voice such concerns. But one observer believes Beijing is trying to divert public attention from current political controversies over patriotism and universal suffrage. Zhang sounded the alarm at his first meeting with a political grouping from Hong Kong since taking charge of the Communist Party's leading group on Hong Kong and Macau Affairs. "Every country in the world is trying to get out of the shadow of the global economic crisis," he told a 31-strong delegation of the Business and Professionals Alliance in Beijing yesterday. "Hong Kong's competitive edge is weakening and will fade away if the city does not put its focus on economic development." Quoting Deng Xiaoping's warning that "development is the only hard truth", Zhang said: "Only when the economy continues to thrive will livelihoods improve. Everything else is empty talk. Like a boat sailing against the current, it will be swept downstream if it does not forge ahead." Without elaborating, he said "deep-rooted conflicts in economic development" had begun to emerge in the city. Zhang's comments came on the heels of a similar warning by Zhou Bo, deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, in the city last week. Professor Chan Ka-keung, secretary for financial services and the Treasury, disagreed that Hong Kong was losing its edge. "The city's advantages are in our own hands," Chan said, citing the legal system and financial market as examples. "[The economy] depends on ourselves after all, but we have the necessary conditions to reach new heights." Alliance chairman Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen said he saw Zhang's remarks as a reminder rather than a warning. Leung quoted him as saying the coming three years would be crucial. Leung took aim at the current debate on electoral reform, saying: "The political feud is hindering our competitiveness." Veteran China watcher Johnny Lau Yui-siu said Zhang wanted to shift the public focus from political reform to the economy.

US health leader warns of human-to-human H7N9 bird flu (By Agence France-Presse in Washington) Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. There is no evidence that the deadly H7N9 bird flu has yet spread between humans in China but health authorities must be ready for the virus to mutate at any time, a top US virologist has warned. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), said officials in China had studied more than 1,000 close contacts of confirmed cases and not found any evidence of human-to-human transmission. “That is powerful evidence because if you had a thousand contacts with someone with the flu you would be pretty sure some of them would have been infected,” Fauci said. Nevertheless, Fauci cautioned that authorities needed to be ready for the possibility of the virus mutating and spreading between humans. “It’s unpredictable as are all the influenza. One of the things we need to be concerned about is this might gain the capability of going human-to-human which up to this point has not happened and is somewhat encouraging news,” Fauci said. “But we still need to be very prepared for the eventuality of that happening. ”Researchers are already developing a diagnostic test to identify H7N9, along with a vaccine, with clinical trials due in July or August. “Work is under way on making a diagnostic test to be able to pick it up quickly,” Fauci said. “We have already started on an early development of a vaccine as we did with H5N1 years ago... Hopefully, we will never have to use it.” More than 110 people in mainland China have been confirmed to be infected with H7N9, with 23 deaths, since Beijing announced on March 31 that the virus had been found in humans. Most of the cases have been located in eastern China, although Taiwan has reported one case. Another case has been found in southern China, while Chinese officials confirmed a further outbreak in the central province of Hunan. Chinese authorities have identified poultry as the source of the virus and have confirmed that patients became sick from contact with infected live fowl. A visiting team from the World Health Organisation, which wrapped up a week-long visit to China on Wednesday, said there had been no human-to-human transmission but warned H7N9 was “one of the most lethal” influenza viruses ever seen. Fauci praised Beijing for its handling of the current crisis, contrasting it to the response of the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome in 2002-2003, when China stood accused of covering-up the scale of the crisis. “It was not the case with SARS in 2003 but the transparency has been excellent,” Fauci said. “I am quite satisfied with the Chinese response.” Fauci likened the current H7N9 strain of bird flu “in some respects” to the H5N1 bird flu strain of several years ago. “The similarities are that it is fundamentally a chicken or bird flu that jumps from chicken to humans and is quite severe when it infects humans,” he said. However, Fauci added: “The difference between H7N9 and H5N1, is that H5N1 kills chickens very rapidly so it is easy to identify where the infected flocks of chickens are. H7N9 doesn’t make the chicken sick, so it has been difficult to pinpoint where the infected chickens are.” There have been 566 confirmed cases of the H5N1 strain of bird flu, which killed 332 people in the world - a mortality rate of 58 per cent, compared to 20 per cent for the H7N9 bird flu strain. The H1N1 “swine flu” pandemic o 2009, which appeared in Mexico at the same time of year as the H7N9, eventually infected 60 million people throughout the world and killed more than 12,000. The 1918 Spanish flu, which has been called one of the deadliest plagues in human history, had a mortality rate of only two per cent.

 China*:  April 30 2013

'Punished' for Dalai Lama meeting, British PM cancels Beijing visit (By The Guardian in London) Cameron, 'punished' for seeing Dalai Lama, was to be denied access to senior leaders this month - British Prime Minister David Cameron abandoned a trip to China planned for this month as Beijing punished him for meeting the Dalai Lama. Cameron is understood to have cancelled the trip after Beijing indicated that he was unlikely to be granted meetings with senior figures. He is now expected to visit in the autumn, two years after his first and only visit as prime minister. In a blow to Cameron, who had hoped to hold an annual summit with the Chinese leadership, French President Francois Hollande was on a full state visit a few weeks after the British prime minister was due to visit China. Cameron met the Dalai Lama in London last May. British government sources said tentative plans for Cameron to visit this month were put on hold for the simple reason that the new Chinese leadership only took over in March. But The Guardian understands from diplomatic sources that a visit was firmly placed in the prime minister's diary for this month. This was abandoned when it became clear that the prime minister would be denied the access usually granted to a leader of a member of the Group of Eight. Douglas Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary who has just returned from China, told The Guardian: "David Cameron came to office claiming he would prioritise the UK's diplomatic and trade relationship with China, and yet the real difficulties in relations have now been laid bare. I was in China … and it is clear that the new Chinese leadership is focused on the French president's visit, along with a large number of French companies looking for business." Zhang Xiaojing, the director of Renmin University's Centre for European Studies, said: "I think The Guardian's report quite makes sense, although Cameron's meeting with the Dalai Lama is not the key reason for Beijing's new leadership choosing French President Francois Hollande as their first guest from the EU." The tight schedules of President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang in the two months since the leadership reshuffle were the key reason for putting off the British prime minister's trip, he said. Shi Yinhong, a foreign-relations professor at Renmin University, said: "China looks at Britain, France and Germany as the three most important key UN friends." However, he said, the central government was disappointed that Cameron had met the Dalai Lama "in disregard of Beijing's core interests".

Travel rush seen around China - China sees a travel rush around the country as the three-day May First national holiday comes around the corner.

China, EU 'to renew ties' (By Fu Jing in Brussels and Zhao Shengnan in Beijing) First visit by top EU official to Beijing since the accession of new leadership - Foreign Minister Wang Yi held talks with High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton on Saturday, to further enhance EU-China relations. China and the European Union on Saturday pledged to promote their mid- and long-term cooperation plan, address disputes and strengthen coordination over international affairs, as the first top-ranking EU official visited China under its new leadership. China values relations with the EU, and will continue supporting the integration of the 27-member bloc, and deepen the bilateral comprehensive strategic partnership, Foreign Minister Wang Yi told visiting EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. "You are the very first head of an EU institution to visit China after the inauguration of the new government in China," said Wang, adding the visit's timing was symbolic of the importance "placed by both the EU and you yourself on the Chinese-EU relationship". Ashton, who is also a vice-president of the European Commission, said the European side would like to expand cooperation with China in the field of green economics and global security. Before departing Brussels, Ashton had said in a statement that given China's recent change in leadership, it was time "to renew ties". China's once-a-decade leadership transition saw Wang become foreign minister last month, while his predecessor, Yang Jiechi, moved up to be a State Councilor, as the country's top foreign policy official. Ashton also met China's top political adviser Yu Zhengsheng, Yang and new Defense Minister Chang Wanquan. While listening to Beijing's stances on Europe's economic problems and key global issues - including Syria and the Korean Peninsula nuclear issues - Ashton would have done warm-up work for the upcoming EU-China Strategic Dialogue in June, said Pierre Defraigne, executive director of Madariaga-College of Europe Foundation. Ashton would also have focused on the eurozone's stabilization, which is critical for preserving the unity of the EU Single Market and therefore the capacity of Europe to contain protectionism, especially vis-a-vis China, Defraigne said. The EU has been China's largest trading partner for eight consecutive years and China has emerged as the EU's second largest trading partner. But ties have been strained at times by disputes over market access. "I think she is very keen on seeing a better relationship between the EU and China, not only being better in the political way but also economically, as we are in trouble in Europe," said Frederic Carlier, an analyst with the Belgium-based FCA Consultancy Services. "The leaders should face these troubles squarely, recognize their severity and put them on the table," Carlier said.

Hong Kong*:  April 29 2013

Swire first to sell homes under new 'honest marketing' rules (By Sandy Li Brochures altered for development at Dunbar Place as 'honest marketing' regulations arrive - Swire is launching the first batch of units at Dunbar Place on Tuesday at an average HK$20,869 per square foot. Swire Properties will be the first developer to offer a brand new residential project for pre-sale after new rules to shield buyers from dishonest marketing practices take effect on Monday. The developer will launch the first batch of 30 units at Dunbar Place in Ho Man Tin on Tuesday at an average of HK$20,869 per square foot in terms of saleable area. The units are mainly three or four-bedroom flats with 1,200 sq ft to 1,830 sq ft of saleable floor area, and all come with a balcony. Unit prices are from HK$23.23 million to HK$41.63 million. The sale will be on a first come, first served basis. Adrian To, the general manager for residential at Swire Properties, said the sales brochure for the development "has been revised in accordance with the suggestions given by the Sales of First-hand Residential Properties Authority". The company decided to proceed with the sales arrangement after seeking legal advice, To said. Under the new rules, developers must publish their sales brochures seven days before the official sale and must release the price list three days before the launch, to give potential buyers time to study the details. The authority said it had received and gone through the brochures of two new residential projects, Dunbar Place and Hong Kong Ferry's Green Code. "Both sales brochures are largely compliant with the requirements of the new rules but still have room for further improvement," it said. The authority said there must be sufficient measurements showing the internal and external dimensions of each residential property on the floor plans in a sales brochure. In the description of fitting, finishes and appliances, it said there was no need to mention the brand names of interior fittings in the bathrooms and kitchens. The hard copy of the sales brochure for Dunbar Place, together with the price list and sales arrangement, must be available for collection at any time for seven days before the official sale. The project's show flat also comes with a "bare-shell" unit and a furnished unit. Instead of using a picture in the show flat which purports to show the scenic view from the window, the developer has covered the windows with white paper in order not to cause misrepresentation. Hong Kong Ferry will offer the remaining 146 units at Green Code in Fanling for sale on Monday. The number of construction starts of new flats plunged 56 per cent in the first quarter from the previous quarter. Data from the Transport and Housing Bureau yesterday showed the construction of a total of 1,100 new homes in the first three months of the year.

Monetary authority chief's salary tops HK$9.4m (By Kanis Li City's monetary authority chief now earns six times more than head of US Federal Reserve - Norman Chan saw his bonus rise 20 per cent. The chief executive of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority received a pay rise of 4.1 per cent last year, giving him a total take-home annual salary of HK$9.41 million. While Norman Chan Tak-lam's basic salary remained at HK$6 million, the raise mainly came in the form of a 20 per cent increase in variable pay, an amount that depends on individual performance and is equivalent to a bonus at private firms. The variable pay component of his package, which amounted to HK$2.45 million, represented 4.9 months' salary for Chan. In contrast, the average variable pay for HKMA staff last year amounted to 2.7 months' salary. The Hong Kong Monetary Authority recently announced a 4.5 per cent rise in basic salary for staff this year. With last year's raise, Chan's pay is more than six times that of the chairman of the US Federal Reserve Board, Ben Bernanke, who makes US$199,700 (HK$1.55 million). But it is still less than his predecessor Joseph Yam Chi-kwong's HK$10.9 million in 2009 and the HK$16.92 million - including bonus - given to the chief executive of Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing, Charles Li Xiaojia, last year. Christopher Cheung Wah-fung, the legislator for financial services, said Chan's pay rise was "acceptable" as "the market was quite volatile last year but the Exchange Fund's performance was not bad under the authority's management". The Exchange Fund reported investment earnings of HK$108.6 billion last year, the best since 2007, with an overall investment return of 4.4 per cent. The authority started investing in new asset classes in 2008. The aggregate market value of these investments rose to HK$148.9 billion at the end of last year, from HK$83.6 billion the year before. Among those investments, emerging-market bonds and yuan assets returned 8 per cent while private equity and property generated a 10 per cent return. The authority said it could invest HK$63.8 billion more into these assets. It will post the details of the Exchange Fund's first-quarter performance on May 6. Hong Kong banks' loans grew 12.4 per cent on an annualised basis in the first quarter, the HKMA said. The faster credit growth was due to greater trade financing and loans issued for use outside Hong Kong, it said. That led the Hong Kong dollar loan-deposit ratio to increase slightly to 81 per cent at the end of March. After the government rolled out fresh measures to cool the property market in February, the average loan-value ratio declined to 54 per cent. Mortgage loans drawn down jumped 52 per cent to HK$18.6 billion in March from the previous month while mortgage loans approved grew 16.1 per cent to HK$21.6 billion. The number of applications increased 14.2 per cent to 10,291.

Hong Kong to work on free trade deal with Asean (By Stuart Lau Hong Kong and Asean have agreed to pursue a bilateral free trade agreement, Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Gregory So Kam-leung announced in Beijing yesterday. The latest move, however, followed a counterproposal by Asean that came after the city government's original request that it join the China-Asean free trade area, which came into operation in 2010. Asean comprises 10 Southeast Asian member states, including key economies like Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. "In terms of negotiation, there will be a lot of work as there are 10 countries [in Asean]. We can't set a deadline and say the negotiation will be completed this year," So said. "As there are so many countries, the negotiation process will be considerably complicated. "The agreement can help Hong Kong businesses create more opportunities, and, in the long run, help us boost our economic growth." A public consultation would be conducted to gauge the interests of local businesses in the Asean market, So said. Professor Chong Tai-leung, an economics professor at Chinese University of Hong Kong, said one possibility for the counterproposal was Asean's desire to get around the mainland's protectionist trade policies when negotiating with Hong Kong. As Hong Kong already imposes a zero-tariff for most trade activities, it is believed the agreement will be more beneficial for the city than it will for its Asian counterparts. Meanwhile, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, also in Beijing, announced that the early and pilot measures for Hong Kong's services industry currently applicable in Guangdong would be extended to the whole of the pan-Pearl River Delta region, which included a total of eight provinces and the Guangxi autonomous region. He also said he gained assurance from the National Development and Reform Commission that the city would play a role in the preliminary discussions relating to the 13th national five-year plan that takes effect in 2016.

Striking dockers make surprise march to Government House (By Johnny Tam, Jolie Ho and Stuart Lau) Dockers and their supporters turn up in their thousands to protest chief executive's inaction - Participants in last night's unannounced demonstration are stopped by police as they mark the first month of the strike. The striking dockers last night made an unannounced move to mark their walkout's first month by marching to Government House, although their target, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, had yet to return from his Beijing trip. Chaos ensued and traffic lanes on Garden Road were blocked when the dockers tried to break police blockades on their route that started from the Cheung Kong Center in Central, where hundreds of strikers and their supporters had earlier gathered for their second public rally. Strike organiser Stanley Ho Wai-hong, of the Union of Hong Kong Dockers, claimed 3,000 joined the march against Leung's inaction in the past month. The police put the number at 600. Police said the protesters informed them of the plan only in the afternoon, rather than a week in advance as required. Deputy Central district commander Chan Yee-lai said they would gather evidence to see whether there was any legal liability. Meanwhile, the High Court granted an injunction banning the strikers from entering the Cheung Kong Center. "We have no intention of entering the tower to protest, so the ruling won't affect the dockers' determination," Ho said. A war of words over the strike at the Kwai Tsing Container Terminals escalated yesterday, with the Li Ka-shing empire publicly slamming unionist lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan, a key leader in the walkout. Hutchison Whampoa hit out at the unionists' "Cultural Revolution-like criticism". Hutchison - the parent company of port operator Hongkong International Terminals (HIT), whose contractors employ the 450 striking dockers - for the first time took out advertisements in most Chinese-language newspapers to publish a statement. Titled "Behind the industrial action", the statement said: "The Cultural Revolution-like criticism has led the industrial and business sectors to face unprecedented pressure, causing a domino effect". It accused Lee and other unionists of "stirring hostility to the rich and encouraging verbal abuse to hurt and vilify Li Ka-shing". Lee said: "The strikers are only fighting for a pay rise. There is room for negotiation." Also yesterday, strike-hit HIT contractor Global Stevedoring Service told the Labour Department it would bring forward its closure to Tuesday, from June 30.

Legco chief suggests combining debates (By Tony Cheung and Gary Cheung) A mega merger of multiple sessions sparked by filibustering is among Jasper Tsang's options to strike balance between debate and practicality - The head of the legislature is mulling two options to kill filibusters launched by radical lawmakers so as to cut short the delay in the approval of the budget. The Legislative Council began deliberations on Wednesday on 710 amendments to the proposed budget that were expected to take up 148 debate sessions. Legco president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing said that a week before a yet-to-be-defined deadline, he might merge all remaining debates into one session, or impose a limit on how long each session could last. Tsang, sharing his thoughts with the South China Morning Post yesterday, dismissed fears that such actions were tantamount to doing the government's bidding. There was no better solution, he said, because it was unlikely the government would heed the demand of the radicals even if he did not kill their filibusters. "It is difficult to dispute that filibustering is a weapon for the minority to wrestle with the government, but you have to strike a balance," he said. "In this case, I cannot see the possibility of the lawmakers succeeding in forcing the government to give in to their demands." He pledged to listen to legislators' opinions before making a decision. Four lawmakers from People Power and the League of Social Democrats launched the filibusters to protest at the omission of a universal pensions scheme from the budget. The resulting marathon debates ended the third day yesterday without concluding the second session - discussions on Executive Council funds. The session will continue on Monday. On April 19, Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury Professor Chan Ka-keung wrote to the Legco secretariat urging it to pass the budget bill by the middle of next month. He said any undue delay in its passage "is clearly not in the public interest". In the Post interview, Tsang suggested he might consider a debate merger. "If I have no other choice in the end, I will have to set a date, and I will notify all the lawmakers in advance," he said. "For example, [I will tell them] we have only a week left … and then we will have to start voting. If I have no other choice in the end, I will have to set a date, and I will notify all the lawmakers in advance - "This will be a final debate on everything. This is a possibility." Another possibility was to impose a time limit. "If there are more than 100 debates to go and we have about 100 hours left, I might suggest [limiting] each debate to one hour, then I won't need to merge everything." But if most of the legislators resisted killing the filibusters, he would consider letting the debates continue. "I don't mind and the government cannot pressurise me," Tsang said. He admitted that his options were not prescribed in legislature rules but the Basic Law gave the Legco president the power and responsibility to decide on the time of meetings. An interim fund of HK$75.5 billion will sustain spending into next month, and pan-democrats have suggested the administration could table a second interim fund. But Tsang said another "stopgap measure" meant the government could forget about winning budget approval.

 China*:  April 29 2013

Beijing cancels finance talks with Tokyo, Seoul (By Teddy Ng Diaoyus tensions and Japanese MPs' visit to shrine honouring war criminals seen as behind scrapping of talks on sidelines of ADB meeting - Beijing has cancelled an annual financial meeting with Japanese and South Korean officials set for next week, amid strained relations over the Diaoyu Islands sovereignty dispute. The decision came shortly after Japan's Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister, Akihiro Ota, said his planned trip to China next week would not go ahead. The cancellation highlights China's unwillingness to hold high- or ministerial-level dialogue with Japan, even as both sides attempt to maintain contact at lower levels. The chief of Japan's defence ministry policy bureau, Hideshi Tokuchi, in Beijing for talks on maritime affairs last night. The defence talks are only symbolic to show that both nations can still hold some kind of talks - "The defence talks are only symbolic to show that both nations can still hold some kind of talks," said Professor Yang Bojiang from the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations. Japan's Finance Ministry said yesterday that the meeting, which was to happen on the sidelines of the annual meeting of the Asian Development Bank in New Delhi on Friday, had been called off by China, which was serving as chair of the trilateral meeting of finance ministers and central bank governors this year. The meeting was scrapped because "there were no issues that needed to be discussed by the three countries", Japan's Kyodo news agency quoted a Japanese official as saying. In another incident revealing tensions, Ota said yesterday that his three-day trip to China, due to start on Thursday, had been cancelled because of a "co-ordination" problem. Sino-Japanese ties have been deteriorating since September, when the Japanese government announced it was buying three of the five uninhabited Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea. The islands are known in Japan as the Senkakus. Tensions escalated further this week when almost 170 Japanese lawmakers visited Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine, which glorifies Japan's wartime past, and both nations sent ships to waters around the disputed islands. Da Zhigang , a Japanese affairs expert at the Heilongjiang Academy of Social Sciences, said the maritime communication mechanism could prevent military confrontation. "But there won't be any significant outcome because neither side will concede much regarding territorial rights."

China military planes 'flew close to disputed isles' (By Agence France-Press in Tokyo) Chinese military planes, mostly fighter jets, made more than 40 flights close to Tokyo-controlled islands at the centre of a territorial dispute on a single day this week, a press report said on Saturday. The flights took place on Tuesday, when eight Chinese marine surveillance ships entered the 12-nautical-mile territorial zone off the islands in the East China Sea, which Japan calls the Senkakus and China calls the Diaoyus, the Sankei Shimbun newspaper reported. The conservative daily, citing senior government officials, said F-15 fighter planes from an airbase on the Japanese island of Okinawa scrambled to intercept the Chinese aircraft which flew in waves towards the skies over the islands. “It was an unprecedented threat,” one of the officials was quoted as saying. Another said: “If such a show of force continues, it is feared it could lead to a situation where the [Japanese] air defence force may not be able to cope.” The report said the military planes included updated Sukhoi Su-27 and Su-30 fighter aircraft. The report, which did not say whether the planes intruded into Japan’s airspace, could not be immediately confirmed by Japan’s Defence Ministry. Chinese government ships have frequently sailed around the five Tokyo-controlled islands in recent months sparking diplomatic clashes. But Tuesday’s flotilla was the biggest to sail into the disputed waters in a single day since Tokyo nationalised part of the island chain in September. On December 13, a Y-12 turbo-prop plane from China’s State Oceanic Administration breached airspace over the disputed islands, prompting the launch of Japanese F-15s. It was the first known incursion ever by a Chinese plane into Japanese airspace, the government said at the time.

Li Keqiang tells France's Hollande China wants more balanced trade (By Agence France-Presse in Shanghai) French President Francois Hollande met Premier Li Keqiang on the final day of his visit in Beijing on Friday. French President Francois Hollande wrapped up a two-day visit to China on Friday, confident that France could achieve more balanced trade with the world’s second largest economy. Hollande became the first Western leader to meet China’s new president Xi Jinping and picked up a deal potentially worth billions for 60 new Airbus aircraft. France runs a 26-billion-euro (HK$261 billion) trade deficit with China and Hollande said Beijing “responded perfectly to the requests that we made”. On the second and final day of his visit, his first to China, Hollande met Premier Li Keqiang. “China is not looking for a trade surplus but wants to import more French goods,” Li said, according to a source close to the delegations. China’s rapid development, far from scaring France, presented a “significant opportunity”, Hollande said, urging Beijing to ease market access. France accounts for just 1.3 per cent of China’s foreign trade compared with around 5 per cent for Germany but Hollande said the food industry and urban development could help diversify co-operation from its traditional aviation and nuclear sectors. Jean-Pierre Raffarin, a former prime minister travelling with Hollande, said the visit had been very useful and would contribute to narrowing France’s trade deficit with China. On Thursday, the first day of Hollande’s visit, the two sides announced a lucrative deal for 60 Airbus planes. The deal, signed in the presence of Hollande and Xi, was part of the French leader’s attempt to press China to help reduce its trade surplus with France. China’s pact with Airbus could be worth at least US$7.7 billion at list prices, although customers generally negotiate discounts from plane manufacturers. The French president later vowed to remove obstacles to Chinese investment in France as he vies to drum up anaemic rates of growth in the euro zone’s number-two economy. Hollande told a press conference on Thursday that during his talks with Chinese leaders he also raised the issue of Tibet and human rights, with all topics discussed in a “frank and respectful manner”. He said such discussions were not the only purpose of his trip, and that they wanted to talk about political partnership, the Chinese presence in Europe and economic growth. On Friday, Hollande highlighted the importance of co-operation between the two countries on a range of issues. “The world needs China and France to deepen regulations, strengthen certain procedures, govern the planet better and to resolve certain conflicts or stave off threats,” Hollande told Li. “We are, like China, aware that we must fight against global warming.” A French source said that both countries’ finance ministers would begin to hold regular dialogue, which would provide a forum for discussing sensitive issues such as the view – shared by Paris – that China’s yuan is undervalued. Hollande had lunch with Xi on Friday with their respective partners, Valerie Trierweiler and Peng Liyuan – both women credited with bringing glamour to their career-politician other halves. Both Hollande and Trierweiler described the lunch as “friendly”. Twice-divorced former journalist Trierweiler made waves in France by winning Hollande away from the mother of his four children while Peng, a popular soprano who carries the rank of general, was until recent years far better known than Xi. Speaking to students in Shanghai, Hollande said stronger ties between the European Union and China were essential to both sides. Europe is “the world’s top economic power... China’s top trade partner and the main destination for Asian exports”, Hollande said. “There will be no recovery in Europe without China, without Asia, and there will be no sustainable development in China without Europe,” he said.

France leads eurozone in offshore RMB payments (By LI XIANG in Paris and WANG XIAOTIAN in Beijing) People walk past the entrance of the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China in Paris. Last month, 21.4 percent of the payments made between China and France were denominated in yuan. France now holds the leading position in euro countries for exchanging RMB payments, after recording a 249 percent growth in the value of payments since March 2012. According to the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or SWIFT, last month 21.4 percent of the payments made between China and France were denominated in yuan, against only 6.5 percent a year ago. SWIFT said 95 percent of RMB payments made were institutional transfers, with 5 percent being customer payments. France is ranked fourth in the world in terms of the value of offshore RMB payments— excluding Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland, trailing behind the United Kingdom, Singapore and Taiwan, according to SWIFT. "This is an interesting development as it signifies France's drive to become a leading RMB trading center in Europe," said Lisa O'Connor, RMB director at SWIFT. French acceleration in RMB payments reflects increased competition with the UK since the Bank of England announced that it had signed a three-year currency swap agreement with China in March, she added. "It will be interesting to see how France's work toward setting up a currency swap agreement with China progresses, and the impact that this activity may have on the RMB." Zhao Xijun, a professor at Renmin University of China, said France's location at the heart of the continent means it is perfectly positioned to handle more customer payments than other European cities. "Robust consumer payments have led to more institutional transfers in the currency. "And a large proportion of trade and investment between China and Europe is related to the country, which has helped France accumulate a yuan pool." The RMB continues to ascend the ranks as a major international payments currency. It is the 13th most-used currency overall with an all-time high market share of 0.74 percent. Overall, RMB payments grew in value by 32.7 percent, in comparison to the average increase of just 5.1 percent across all currencies, according to SWIFT. According to a report released by Standard Chartered Bank last week, 150 senior executives it surveyed in 16 locations globally in the first quarter said they planned to increase their use of yuan offshore products. "Many foreign central banks have expressed an interest in holding more yuan assets, and we expect that within two years the currency will be widely adopted as a reserve currency," said Tommy Ong, a senior vice-president at DBS Bank. The Reserve Bank of Australia announced on Wednesday it plans to invest 5 percent of its total foreign currency assets in Chinese sovereign bonds, making the currency its fifth-largest reserve currency after the US dollar, euro, Japanese yen, and Canadian dollar. Philip Lowe, deputy governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia, said the People's Bank of China has approved the purchase of about $1.9 billion's worth. The Australia and New Zealand Banking Group said that further liberalization of the offshore yuan market would improve liquidity and is fundamentally positive for the currency.

Relics to be returned (By Lin Shujuan) Two imperial bronze sculptures that were looted from Beijing's Old Summer Palace will come home later this year, thanks to the donation of the French art-collecting Pinault family, China's top heritage authority announced on Friday afternoon. French billionaire Francois-Henri Pinault will return the bronze rabbit (right) and rat fountainheads to China. The State Administration of Cultural Heritage announced the news on its website after a meeting with the visiting Pinaults on Friday morning. The sculptures, of a rat and a rabbit head, were made for the zodiac fountain of Emperor Qianlong's Old Summer Palace, and looted when the palace was razed by invading French and British forces in 1860. The sculptures made news when their auction by French auction house Christie's in February 2009 aroused controversy worldwide. The statues' winning bid was more than 31 million euros ($40.3 million), but the deal collapsed when Chinese buyer Cai Mingchao refused to pay. The Pinault family — the majority shareholder of PPR, whose brands include Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent and Puma — bought the two sculptures after that. Francois-Henri Pinault, CEO of PPR, promised the donation on behalf of the family, which also owns auction house Christie's, during a meeting with SACH officials on Friday. Earlier this month, Christie's was granted a license that will enable it to become the first international auction house to operate independently in China, which has overtaken the United States as the world's largest art and auction market. The SACH highly endorsed the donation, saying it was "in accordance with the spirit of international conventions" and "of friendliness to Chinese people", which will help push forward the "common international understanding that cultural relics should be returned to their country of origin". Song Xinchao, deputy director of SACH who met Pinault at Beijing's Park Hyatt Hotel on Friday morning, said China hopes to see the return of the sculptures by July and add them to the collection at the National Museum of China. To date, five of the 12 bronze animal fountainheads from the Old Summer Palace have been returned to China through purchases in auctions or donations by overseas Chinese collectors. Like other ancient civilizations, China saw many cultural relics taken overseas when the country was subjected to wars and occupation. According to the Chinese Cultural Relics Association, more than 10 million Chinese cultural relics were taken from the country from 1840 to 1949, a large number of which are now stored at major public museums in Europe and the US. The number of relics plundered from the Old Summer Palace alone is estimated at about 1.5 million, now housed in more than 2,000 museums in 47 countries. A majority of them are being showcased in the British Museum and the Fontainebleau Art Museum in France, experts said. China has been actively seeking the return of overseas relics during the past decade through purchases at international auctions, donations by private collectors or overseas Chinese, and increasingly through diplomatic means based on international conventions. "We're open to any channel for the return of cultural relics," Song said.

Students lower their heads during a silent tribute to the victims of the Lushan earthquake on April 20 at Lushan Middle School, Ya'an city, Southwest China's Sichuan province on April 27, 2013. A public mourning ceremony was held Saturday in Southwest China's Sichuan province for those who died in the 7.0-magnitude quake a week ago. The quake claimed nearly 200 lives and destroyed about 126,000 homes, according to official figures. 

Hong Kong*:  April 28 2013

Butcher introduces bespoke dry-aged beef (By Catharine Nicol Butcher offers bespoke dry-ageing service to discerning customers - Dry-aged beef at the InterContinental's Steakhouse Winebar + Grill. Hong Kong food fanatics are familiar with choosing rib-eye or sirloin, medium-well or rare. But what about wet- or dry-aged? The soon-to open Butcher's Club, a butcher's shop combined with a private kitchen and catering company, will be offering in-house, dry-aged prime black Angus beef. Dry-aged beef isn't common in Hong Kong. In North America, any steakhouse worth its salt has dry-aged beef on the menu. The Steakhouse Winebar + Grill at the InterContinental hotel has a daily rotation of dry-aged prime beef, the Grand Hyatt Hong Kong's Steakhouse has a small selection of bone-in dry-aged beef and the Blue Butcher has grain-fed wagyu dry-aged in house. Fans say once you've tried dry-aged beef, you can't go back. Because the beef is more expensive, given the time and care it takes to produce, Hong Kong and its gastronomic elite seems a prime market, and it was with this in mind that Jonathan Glover founded The Butcher's Club. "It's been a dream of mine for 10 years," he says. Customers buy a hunk of beef, called a sub-primal, and entrust it to dry-age specialist chef Aarik Persaud. Thirty to 45 days later, he'll make the "Your beef is ready" call and they can pick it up or have it delivered to cook and eat at home, or take up to nine friends to The Butcher's Club's private kitchen and have it all done for them. Persaud is from Toronto, where he worked in dry-ageing for restaurateur and chef Jason Rosso. "In New York or Toronto, a lot of restaurants have meat lockers in the centre to show them off, like wine. Canada breeds a lot of cattle, so beef is a huge part of our diet, and the dry-ageing trend is travelling." Wet-ageing (vacuum-sealing beef in a bag) was invented in the 1960s. The beef stays in contact with its blood, and there is no shrinkage due to loss of moisture. The huge cuts in cost and time mean that only some butchers carry on the traditional dry-ageing. Persaud says dry-ageing had its North American renaissance 10 to 15 years ago. The Butcher's Club dry-age room is far more than a locker. The 100 sq ft space has room for 250 sub-primals, each between 4kg and 5kg (enough for about 12-14 steaks). The process takes place in controlled conditions. "The dry-age room is kept at a constant 70 per cent humidity, the temperature is between zero and two degrees Celsius, and there is rapid air circulation," says Persaud. "The sub-primals are wrapped in muslin cloth, rewrapped and turned daily." The enzymes in the meat break down the connective tissue, increasing the flavour and tenderness. David Hoffman is a South African who has lived in Hong Kong for 11 years. His mission is to eat at every steakhouse in the city; his favourite is was Morton's, even though it doesn't serve dry-aged steak. "I got a couple of cuts [from Glover], and the rest was history," he says. "It's the flavour and tenderness, that's where the difference is. When you cut through the meat and taste it for the first time, there's a lot more flavour, and it is so soft." Every sub-primal is different, so how does Persaud know it's done? "Through a mixture of the senses," he says. "By touch [it should feel like a medium-rare steak]; by sight [there should be a good crust]; by sound [there should be a bready, hollow sound when you tap it]. We weigh it, and once it has lost about 15 per cent, it's ready." "We're celebrating a birthday at The Butcher's Club in May, and I'm sure we'll be doing a lot more there," says Hoffman. "We're always looking for different places, and it's hard in Hong Kong to find comparable steaks to those in South Africa." The sub-primals cost HK$1,200 to HK$1,300 per piece, with a 25 per cent surcharge for the ageing, but when divided up into 10 or more steaks, that's a good price for dry-aged perfection. A typical evening startswith a seafood platter and end with cheese. The steak course is served with three-time duck fat fried chips, a green salad with mustards, sauces and smoked salts. It's bespoke but simple.

A French revolution (By Charley Lanyon A steady stream of arrivals is giving the city's cultural melting pot a distinct Gallic flavour - La Cabane founder Karim Hadjadj (left) and manager Alban de Grully. La Rôtisserie's Aurelien Malik-Benbernou (left) and managing director Marie Ranc. In an alley in Sheung Wan, an area often better known for its dried seafood shops, the smell of freshly baked baguettes now sometimes obscures the familiar odour of salted fish. Where young professionals used to stand around downing pints after work, there are now people seated with glasses of wine and cheese platters. The street sounds are also different: mothers pushing strollers, residents running errands and shopkeepers greeting one another in their mother tongue - French. A certain je ne sais quoi has emerged across the city from Stanley to Shek O, but perhaps most obviously in Sheung Wan, which some French residents have likened to parts of Paris. That's not as surprising as it seems; the French consulate estimates the number of its nationals in Hong Kong at 15,000 - the largest French community in Asia and a 60 per cent increase over the past decade. This recent influx, drawn by the region's lively economy, has added a more cosmopolitan flavour to Hong Kong's cultural melting pot. The expatriate influence on the bread of city life, previously dominated by English speakers, is being increasingly leavened by Gallic savoir faire. For the French community, swelling to critical mass has its advantages. New publications have surfaced, including Hong Kong Madame, an online lifestyle magazine. French toiletries and cleaning products are beginning to appear on supermarket shelves, to the relief of many families. Specialist online stores and neighbourhood shops such as Home Flavour and Monsieur Chatte have also sprouted up, offering bargains on items from wine to pâté. It's a sea change from before, when imports were so expensive and "eating a good French chicken was like eating caviar", says Catya Martin, founder and editor of Trait d'Union, the only print magazine serving the community in Hong Kong and the mainland. Marie Ranc, a restaurateur, agrees: "More and more you feel at home. We can live in Hong Kong the way we used to live in France and at affordable prices." The population boom has brought some headaches, too. For the first time, the French International School had to introduce a waiting list for enrolment to its secondary campus on Blue Pool Road. Its student population, 90 per cent of whom are French nationals, has ballooned from 621 youngsters in 2003 to 1,637 this year. "The school is at its physical limit," says FIS executive director Laurent de Meyere. An extension is being built. While it's being completed, some classes are being sent to Jordan, site of one of FIS' primary campuses. Fortunately, the school has employed more teachers to maintain its cap of 25 students per class. Families with toddlers have more options too: Martin says when she arrived with her children in 2008, there was only one French-language kindergarten; now there are five preschools totalling about 150 pupils. In many ways, the French enjoyment of life sits at odds with high stress, mile-a-minute Hong Kong. And that is part of the appeal of their ventures, says Ranc, co-founder of La Rôtisserie restaurant. "Hong Kong people love food, but if you go to a dim sum place, for example, everyone is on their phones. That's not the way we enjoy food," she says. "I think that whenever locals go to real French places they should feel like they are not in Hong Kong. They shouldn't feel the stress." Martin agrees: "We know how to eat; we know how to behave - the food and the wine, the way of life, taking your time, having time for a lunch during the weekdays. That's typically French, and that's something new for Hong Kong," Younger entrepreneurs are bringing genuine diversity to the city's French dining choices, which was previously focused on high-end restaurants with plenty of snob appeal. In Sheung Wan, epicentre of the new French wave, there's La Cantoche, a casual canteen offering hefty portions of no-frills French home cooking. Just down the road, Ranc and her partners at La Rôtisserie serve roasted chicken (imported from France, of course) with simple side dishes along with a small selection of quiches and pastries. Many of their customers are Chinese, but with the significant French community these days, Ranc reckons: "We could have even opened the shop without speaking English." There are so many French residents in the area, bartender Rob Cabacungan says many of his colleagues are adjusting to the culture to serve their customers better. "I know a lot of people who are trying to learn French now," he says. Many snooty wine lounges of yesteryear have been supplanted by laid-back establishments serving unfussy but well-chosen French wines with casual foods such as country-style terrines or cheese platters. Le Tambour, a neighbourhood hangout opened by wine importer Samuel Weil, is among the most popular. The bar would not seem out of place in Paris, but Weil says that's not by design. "There is no real concept, and maybe that's what people like ... I love going out in Hong Kong, but I don't really like how every place is a marketing concept: the Argentinian place, the Italian place, the French place. I just wanted to open the kind of place I used to like when I was a customer in Paris." At nearby La Cabane, general manager Alban de Grully has a similar vision. "What I do is not just for the French. It's just a way to express what we do best, and what I know best is French culture," he says. "I don't know how to sell dim sum, but I know how to sell cheese and wine, and people seem to like it." If the turnout is anything to go by, de Grully has got it right: the wine bistro has patrons spilling out onto Hollywood Road every evening. Handbag designer Michelle Lai Zee-kai, who grew up in Hong Kong, enjoys the new French vibe around Sheung Wan. "There are a lot more galleries, boutiques and concept stores," she says. "It's a really cool place to be right now." French influence is being felt in almost every aspect of Hong Kong culture. Les Boules, a basement bar in Shek Tong Tsui dedicated to French-style lawn bowling, has become a surprise hit with Hongkongers looking for an alternative night out. Le French May, the annual festival starting next month, has grown to a three-month celebration of Gallic culture in areas from theatre and dance to visual art and popular music. Emilie Guillot, artistic director of the Hong Kong Theatre Association, has been doing her part to bring the French theatrical tradition to Hong Kong. She started by putting on cafe-style theatre in the early 2000s. As the audience expanded in recent years, she began staging not only well-known French plays but also original productions. There is talk recently that the city's French wave is starting to recede and the population is beginning to plateau. But consulate officials reckon the numbers will most likely resurge. Culturally, the city's French love affair may only just be starting. Says Clémence Trancart, a founder of Hong Kong Madame : "It's funny because in Hong Kong people are all talking about France, but back in France, everybody is talking about Asia. There are a lot of articles about French entrepreneurs finding success in Asia ... You can really enjoy your life here."

No chanting, no entering Cheung Kong, court tells protesting dockers (By Austin Chiu) Cheung Kong on Friday afternoon obtained an injunction against demonstrators outside its Central headquarters, barring them from entering the office tower but permitting them to protest outside. Granting the injunction, Mr Justice Derek Pang Wai-cheong, of the Court of First Instance, said: “Since you have confined yourself to the office tower and a balance is sought, I will grant the injunction until next Friday.” The judge earlier said he would not deal with the injunction application seeking to bar protesters from staying outside the office tower in the absence of the demonstrators. Under the order, walkout organiser and unionist lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan, Union of Hong Kong Dockers members Ho Wai-hong, Chan Ka-kui, Wong Yu-loy, Mung Siu-tat and “persons forming a group of demonstrators” are restrained from “entering into or occupying without the prior permission or consent” of Cheung Kong or trespassing inside the office tower of Cheung Kong Centre. They are also barred from “parading, protesting or demonstrating” inside the tower. They must not chant slogans or display any notices, banners, placards or posters nor can they use loudhailers or any broadcasting devices. The defendants are also barred from “inciting, procuring or causing” others to do what they are banned from doing. The injunction order will be sent to the named defendants. “Persons forming a group of demonstrators” can inspect the injunction at the office of Cheung Kong’s solicitors Woo Kwan Lee& Lo. The defendants were not in court.

Meet Florentijn Hofman, the man who's sent Hong Kong a little bit quackers (By Vivienne Chow Rubber Duck creator Florentijn Hofman. The 16.5-metre tall Rubber Duck that is taking up residence in Victoria Harbour next week will bring more than just love and joy to the city, says its creator. It will also change people's perspective of the iconic skyline. "Victoria Harbour will never be the same," Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman says in an exclusive interview with the South China Morning Post. His theory is that when his art works "kidnap" public spaces, it changes the space around them. "I want to interact with people. I create big works because I want people to see them. And by placing them in public spaces, they offer a different perspective for the space," Hofman says. Hofman says he is overwhelmed by the enthusiasm the city's media has showed for his work of art over the past few weeks, including sneaking around trying to locate it. He also spotted the social media frenzy, with a picture of his "baby", as he calls it, taking a dip going viral. But he hopes people will also go and see it. A tugboat tows a 16.5-metre-high "Rubber - "Go see it for real, then discuss it with your neighbours how it changes the Victoria Harbour," says the 36-year-old. "And I want readers to think about this: why are people so crazy about this Rubber Duck? This is food for thought." The inflatable Rubber Duck, which had its first incarnation in France in 2007, has to go through numerous tests before it can be towed into Victoria Harbour on May 2. This version is the second-largest Hofman has ever created, his largest one being a 26-metre tall duck shown in France. Hofman said that even though Rubber Duck has travelled to arts festivals around the world, including making an appearance at the opening of the Sydney Festival at the beginning of this year, the logistics remained a challenge. Three concrete anchors, each weighing three tonnes, will be needed to stop the rubber bird from floating away in Victoria Harbour's rough waters. The duck is made up of 200 component pieces. The bottom of the duck is a floating stage with a diameter of 13.75 metres. Inside the duck, air pumps work around the clock to ensure it holds its shape. Hofman is well-known for his "larger-than-life" public artworks that break the boundaries between people and the aloofness of public art spaces. "Huge works stand out amid architecture," he said. The artist, a father of three, has a list of inspirations: objects from different parts of the world; things found in flea markets; toys; and his children. "Once I had my first child ... I saw their needs from a parent's perspective. It's very important to me," said the artist.

HK, other off-shore RMB centers 'cooperative' (Xinhua) With different but irreplaceable advantages, Hong Kong and other off-shore renminbi center can build a "cooperative and supplementary rather than competitive" relationship, experts from the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan agreed on Thursday. Participating in a discussion in the third economic forum for mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan, Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority Norman Chan said with more than two decades of growth, Hong Kong has become the world largest offshore RMB center. More recently, Taipei, Singapore, London and Sidney are developing their own RMB businesses. "The relationship between Hong Kong and other offshore RMB centers is cooperative and supplementary rather than competitive," he argued. Echoed with Chan's comment, Jin Zhongxia, head of the research institute of the People's Bank of China, believed Hong Kong has its own irreplaceable advantages as the offshore RMB center. Bridging between the mainland and the world, Hong Kong is the ideal platform for enterprises wishing to enter the market of the other side. Besides, Hong Kong has mature financial infrastructure, talented professionals, well-established legal systems, and more importantly, support from the central government. All these advantages guarantee the city broader development space of RMB business, Jin said. Meanwhile, he said other offshore RMB centers, such as Taiwan, Singapore and London, could serve its special role respectively. "Taiwan and the mainland have large trade volume; Singapore has its advantage in East Asia market; located in the western hemisphere, London could become the platform where RMB enters into the Middle East and African," he added. According to Li Shude, chairman of the Taiwan stock exchange, the trade volume between Taiwan and the mainland mounted to nearly $170 billion last year. Using RMB as the settlement currency can reduce substantial cost for enterprises, therefore enhance their competitiveness. Li believed financial deregulation, information transparency and diversified financial products are substantial to the modernization of financial market. "Taiwan and the mainland need cooperate more on financial services in order to serve the real economies," he said, adding that Taiwan could learn from Hong Kong the useful experiences of RMB business so as to improve its own performances. Themed "New Economic Opportunities for Greater China", the forum aimed at promoting economic and financial ties among the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan, and providing an efficient platform for representatives from the three regions to exchange ideas.

 China*:  April 28 2013

H7N9 bird flu spreads to southern China (By Agence France-Presse in Shanghai) Local health bureau in the southeastern province of Fujian confirms a 65-year-old man has the H7N9 virus. China’s deadly outbreak of H7N9 bird flu has spread to a province in the country’s south, the government said on Friday, marking the second announcement in two days of a case in a new location. The local health bureau in the southeastern province of Fujian said a 65-year-old man was confirmed to have the virus. On Thursday, the eastern province of Jiangxi confirmed its first case of H7N9, in a 69-year-old-man. More than 110 people in mainland China have been confirmed with H7N9, with 23 deaths, since the government announced on March 31 that the virus had been found in humans. Most cases have been confined to eastern China. The island of Taiwan has also reported one case. A Chinese expert earlier this week warned of the possibility of more cases in a wider geographical area. “Until the source of H7N9 avian influenza is ... brought under effective control, sporadic cases might continue to appear,” said Liang Wannian of China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission. “The area of the epidemic might continue to expand,” he was quoted by the official Xinhua news agency as saying on Wednesday. Chinese researchers, reporting in The Lancet on Thursday, said they had confirmed poultry as a source of H7N9 flu among humans. Experts fear the prospect of such a virus mutating into a form easily transmissible between humans, which could then have the potential to trigger a pandemic. A visiting team from the World Health Organisation (WHO), which wrapped up a week-long visit to China on Wednesday, said there had been no human-to-human transmission, but warned H7N9 was “one of the most lethal” influenza viruses seen so far. Chinese health officials have acknowledged so-called “family clusters”, where members of a single family have become infected, but have declined to call it human-to-human transmission.

Chinese ships enter Japan's territorial waters despite Abe's warning (Agence France-Presse in Tokyo) The maritime surveillance ships entered the 12-nautical-mile zone off the disputed islands - Chinese surveillance ships sail in formation in waters claimed by Japan near disputed islands called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, on April 23. Three Chinese government ships entered Japanese territorial waters on Friday, the coastguard said, days after Japan’s premier vowed to expel any Chinese landing on a chain of disputed islands. The maritime surveillance ships entered the 12-nautical-mile zone off the Senkaku islands, which China calls the Diaoyu, around 9am, the Japanese coastguard said in a statement. On Tuesday, eight Chinese government vessels sailed into the disputed waters, the biggest flotilla to sail there in a single day since Tokyo nationalised part of the island chain in September. The move sparked an angry response from Tokyo, with Japanese premier Shinzo Abe vowing to “expel by force” any landing by the Chinese on the archipelago, which is believed to harbour vast natural resources below its seabed. Abe’s comments came as China and South Korea launched diplomatic protests over a visit by nearly 170 Japanese lawmakers to the controversial Yasukuni war shrine in central Tokyo, seen as a potent symbol of Japan’s imperialist past and wartime aggression. Since the nationalisation, state-owned Chinese ships have frequently spent time around the five disputed islands, also claimed by Taiwan.

Car horns to signal period of public mourning for Sichuan quake victims (By SCMP Staff reporter and Agence France Presse) All entertainment activities throughout the province would be halted in public places on Saturday - A period of public mourning will be observed on Saturday for those who died in a 7.0-magnitude quake that jolted Lushan County in Sichuan Province on April 20. It will begin with all transportation vehicles sounding their sirens at 8:02 a.m., the time the devastating earthquake hit. A silent tribute will follow and last 3 minutes, according to the notice. The provincial government issued a notice that all entertainment activities throughout the province would be halted in public places on Saturday. The strong earthquake has claimed nearly 200 lives and destroyed about 126,000 homes, according to official figures. On Friday the rescue effort was continuing. On Thursday evening a 78-year-old man was rescued “on a hilltop” in Muping township, in Baoxing County, Xinhua said. “The man suffered a rib fracture but is in a stable condition,” the report said, adding that he was taken to Baoxing People’s Hospital by helicopter. The state news agency said he was the first person to be rescued since the crucial first 72-hours after the earthquake, which the US Geological Survey registered at magnitude 6.6. Tens of thousands of people have been left homeless after the quake struck Saturday morning, causing widespread devastation in Sichuan province. Rescue teams have been hampered by blocked roads caused by landslides and traffic congestion in their hunt for survivors.

French President Francois Hollande (2nd R, front) visits the Palace Museum in Beijing, capital of China, April 26, 2013. 

A Long March-2D carrier rocket carrying a high-definition earth observation satellite "Gaofen-1" and other three small satellites made by Ecuador, Argentina and Turkey as well as two satellite splitters from the Netherlands blasts off from the launch pad at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Jiuquan, northwest China's Gansu Province, April 26, 2013. China successfully sent high-definition earth observation satellite "Gaofen-1" into space at 12:13 p.m. Beijing time on April 26.

Prices at scenic spots to go down (By ZHAO YINAN) Tourists enjoy whitewater rafting at Chaotianhou in Xingshan county, Hubei province, on Tuesday. The stretch of river is 5 km long and descends 100 meters from start to finish. Legislators approve first legislation covering tourist market in China - A senior official from China's top economic planner said on Thursday that the entry fee at scenic spots should gradually go down, since they are natural and ancient resources that belong to the public. In the first official response to the high-profile pricing dispute in Fenghuang, Hunan province, Wang Wei, director of the Social Development Department under the National Development and Reform Commission, said natural resources and ancient relics are masterworks made by nature and the Chinese people's ancestors, so they should belong to all Chinese as well as people from all over the world. "We should never draw a line between visitors who have paid money and those who have not, but we should encourage all of them to appreciate and enjoy the masterpieces," Wang said. "In general, the ticket price will go down gradually in the future." Wang made the remarks at a news conference on Thursday when the National People's Congress Standing Committee, the top legislature, passed the Tourism Law after three readings. The law, which will take effect in October, marks China's first legislation covering the tourist market. It will apply to China's domestic travel market, which is now the world's largest and ranks third globally in terms of overseas tourists. During the three readings, which began in August, the law drew widespread attention as the public hoped it would curb the trend of rising entry fees at scenic spots. Fenghuang, an old town in Hunan province that is known for its 300-year-old architecture, started charging visitors an entry fee of 148 yuan ($24) this month. Many other tourist sites followed suit. In a notice issued in 2007 by the NDRC, the top economic planner, ruled that scenic areas could change admission fees only once in three years. March marks the start of the second three-year cycle, and many tourist sites have raised their entrance fees. "Their practice is contradictory to our original intention. Our three-year-no-raise policy has in fact become a three-year-must-raise. There are places that lowered the price or even canceled the entry fee, which may even be beneficial to their overall economic results," Wang said. The law said the tourist sites should provide tourists with six months' notice before a price hike. Those built on public resources, such as natural scenery and ancient relics, should hold hearings six months before raising prices to solicit opinions from tourists and business owners on whether the charges are necessary and reasonable. Wang admitted canceling the entry fee for all tourist spots is unrealistic at the moment. "We will try to work out a solution that can satisfy all parties in the issue, and we are considering allocating more revenue to support tourist areas," he said. Ticket revenue for China's 153 national 5A-level scenic spots and more than 2,000 4A-level ones generated more than 40 percent of the country's 140 billion yuan in ticket sales in 2012, according to Yang Yanfeng, associate researcher with China Tourism Academy. Yang Congyu, a college teacher in Beijing, said she welcomed the restriction on raising prices, which she said protects the rights of tourists. "But I'm concerned there will be a lot of price hikes between now and October, since the law will only be effective in six months," she said. Yang said she is also concerned about how revenue from the tickets is being used. "How much is being spent to restore the relics or to protect the natural resources? Local governments running these tourist spots have the responsibility to release this information to the public."

Meeting delivers big deals (By Zhao Shengnan and Wu Jiao in Beijing and Li Xiang in Paris) Xi, Hollande vow to push ties and build multipolar world order - Beijing and Paris signed 18 deals on Thursday, including deals for 60 Airbus planes and a nuclear project, as President Xi Jinping hosted his first head of state from a major Western country, French President Francois Hollande. The trip by Hollande, described by many in the French media as "a sales tour" since he brought along a planeload of businessmen, also saw the two countries agree to establish an economic and financial high-level dialogue to further promote economic cooperation. President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan welcome French President Francois Hollande and partner Valerie Trierweiler in Beijing on Thursday. Analysts said the visit will help the countries renew dialogue under new leaderships and enhance China-EU ties. A significant portion of the 60 planes will be manufactured at an Airbus factory in Tianjin, an industry source told AFP on condition of anonymity. The countries signed 17 other agreements ­on tourism, agricultural products, nuclear power and urbanization. French nuclear giant Areva and Chinese energy group China National Nuclear Corporation signed letters of intent on the construction of a nuclear-waste treatment plant. "I look forward to the future of our global strategic partnership and to working with you to make our relationship closer, healthier and more vibrant," Xi said at a news conference with Hollande. Hollande said he brought a group of businessmen to provide the most suitable and most needed products for the Chinese market. He promised that Chinese investments will not encounter obstacles as long as they bring jobs and development. "I welcome them all, and the sooner the better," the French president said. Observers said the visit comes amid the most difficult time for Hollande since being elected in May last year. His domestic approval rating has been driven to a record low 26 percent by stubbornly high unemployment amid the protracted financial crisis. France registered a $34 billion trade deficit with China last year, and the country accounts for less than 2 percent of China’s foreign trade. "There is an imbalance in our foreign trade, and we hope to correct that," Hollande said. "Not by reducing our investment and exports, but by increasing them further, and we will be discussing this throughout our meetings and on this trip." More Chinese investment in France and further opening up in transportation, energy and urban services, where French firms excel, are part of the solution to correct the deficit, said Francois Godement, China specialist and professor at the Paris Institute of Political Studies. But the imbalance, partly from France’s economic structure, can hardly be changed overnight, said Ding Yifan, deputy director of the World Development Research Institute at the Development Research Center of the State Council. "For example, nuclear energy and aircraft are two pillars of the French economy, while exports of these products are limited," he said. Martine Aubry, special representative of the French Foreign Affair Ministry to China, said France should develop its market share in China. "China has major challenges in which France has huge potential, such as the ageing population and chronic diseases, urbanization and sustainable development, and healthy diets," Aubry said. Jean-Marie Le Guen, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the French National Assembly, said tightening ties with China will facilitate the access of EU companies to the Chinese market. "Growth in China is a chance not only for Asian countries, but for the EU as well. Our mutual responsibility is to ensure that everybody can benefit from it," he said. Xi said at the news conference that the two countries would "actively promote a multipolar world and the democratization of international relations". "China and France both want a multipolar world. We want there to be a balance. We refuse a world of powers, and of superpowers," Hollande said. "When China and France agree on a position, we can drive the world." The two-day visit will also take Hollande to Shanghai. Paris aims to have a candid dialogue with Beijing without letting its domestic politics influence its external strategy, Christian Lechervy, special foreign affairs adviser to the French president, told media prior to the visit.

Hong Kong*:  April 27 2013

Training dream finally comes true for Chris So with Jockey Club licence (By Jolie Ho Hard work and a tough constitution bring the crowning success of a Hong Kong licence - Chris So Wai-yin achieved his goal of becoming one of the few licensed horse trainers in Hong Kong. Chris So Wai-yin knows what it is like to suffer for his sport. As a young rider, the man who will take up a position as a fully-fledged Jockey Club trainer in July, started his career two decades ago braving the freezing Canadian winter. "I had to exercise the horses in temperatures of minus 30 degrees, counting the wind chill. I asked myself why I moved to Canada," he said. "My fingers were blue with the cold after riding." The 44-year-old had always wanted to follow in his father's footsteps and become a jockey, but his dream did not come true because he did not meet the height regulations. After his family migrated to Canada in the early 1990s, So found casual work doing all kinds of chores on farms and in stables, hoping this would help him become a horse trainer one day. "We were laid off after a couple of months because Canada's economy was not doing so well," he said. "But if you can get near horses, then you have the chance to learn and people will really let you ride or take care of them." In time, So got to work more closely with the animals he loves and became an exercise rider and assistant trainer. He had his share of mishaps while he was working. "Once I was riding a young horse that saw something that scared it and it rolled over and collapsed on my leg," he said. "My leg was broken and it took eight months to recover." Fortunately this did not deter his training ambitions. After working in Canada for five years, So moved back to Hong Kong and in 1997 he joined the Jockey Club. He was a work rider for six years before being promoted to assistant trainer working with champion trainer Caspar Fownes in 2003. In July, So will finally fulfil his dream to become a horse trainer - a position that is not easy to obtain in Hong Kong. "There are only 24 trainers in Hong Kong, half of them are local and half of them are foreigners. Hong Kong trainers can only replace local positions," he said. "If a trainer wins a minimum of 13 races in a year, they can hold on to their position until they retire at 65." So will replace a local trainer who has been in the business for 30 years. But for now, what So wants most is for Thumbs Up, the New Zealand mount he and Fownes have trained for three years, to win the Queen Elizabeth II Cup this Sunday. "This is the last race in which I am the assistant trainer, and I really want Thumbs Up to win to repay Mr Fownes' kindness," he said. The Queen Elizabeth II Cup was first run on sand over 1,575 metres in 1975 at Happy Valley racecourse to commemorate the visit to Hong Kong by Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. It was upgraded to an International Group 1 race in 2001 and is now run at Sha Tin Racecourse.

Hong Kong-funded schools survive Sichuan earthquake (By Keith Zhai in Lushan and Joyce Ng) Safety of buildings funded by HK government shows better construction saves lives, but city lawmakers say money can be misappropriated. It may have suffered a few cracks around the edges in the Sichuan earthquake on Saturday, but Lushan Middle School, in Yaan city, built by Hong Kong donations, is still standing. A proposal by the Hong Kong government to donate HK$100 million to the Sichuan government is on hold as lawmakers argue that the money might be misused. Longxing Central School escaped the latest earthquake relatively unscathed, unlike many neighbouring buildings. Hong Kong-funded buildings at two schools in Sichuan hit by Saturday's magnitude-7 earthquake are among the few structures that did not sustain major damage. Many local homes were either seriously damaged or collapsed. Both schools - Lushan Middle School in downtown Lushan and Longxing Central School in Longmen township - were at the epicentre of the quake, which claimed at least 196 lives. The schools were opened in 2010 and 2011, with support from the Hong Kong government of 31.37 million yuan (HK$39 million) and 8.64 million yuan, respectively. The Hong Kong -funded school buildings in Lushan county, Yaan, were not badly built and would be safe after maintenance, mainland housing authorities said after an initial investigation on Wednesday. Dr Greg Wong Chak-yan, former president of the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers, said: "Judging from the photos shown to me by the media, the roof, the slabs and the walls have not collapsed. The Lushan school survived the quake." The quality of Hong Kong-funded reconstruction projects five years after a much stronger quake hit the region is at the centre of a growing public debate in Hong Kong. As a result, a proposal by the Hong Kong government to donate HK$100 million to the provincial government for relief and reconstruction was put on hold after a Legislative Council Finance Committee meeting ended without a vote. "The fact the building structures are sound doesn't mean officials won't misappropriate donations," said lawmaker Cyd Ho Sau-lan, a member of the Labour Party. "We'd rather the money went to NGOs so they can buy relief supplies such as food, which will reach people directly." The Hong Kong Jockey Club said yesterday it would donate HK$10 million for immediate relief efforts by institutions in Yaan city it had supported since the quake five years ago. Questions have also been raised about the use of shale-perforated bricks and expanded polystyrene foam in Hong Kong-funded school buildings. That has raised anger in certain quarters in Hong Kong, with some critics seeing it as evidence that mainland officials misused donations. But experts say such construction materials are common on the mainland in the building of non-load-bearing walls and for insulation. Wong agreed that the use of foam and hollow bricks was acceptable in non-load-bearing structures, and backed the use of expanded foam in walls for insulation, but said too much foam could weaken concrete. The ground floors of the two schools were hardest hit. Blackboards were damaged and wall tiles fell off and broke, leaving scattered debris. Books were knocked off desks and pictures fell from walls. No one was injured at the schools, according to officials. "I have to say, it's quite lucky that the tremor happened on Saturday morning, when school was out," said Zhang Jianhong, deputy head of Lushan Middle School. "Otherwise … some students or teachers may have panicked and anything could have happened." The light damage stands in stark contrast to the collapse of schools in the 2008 Sichuan quake while buildings around them remained standing. Nearly 90,000 people died in that quake, which the government said destroyed about 7,000 classrooms and dormitories, killing thousands of students. Parents blamed poor school construction for the high death toll. Zhang said many precautions had been taken at his school since the 2008 quake, and students take part in a quake drill at least once every term. Zhu Wenhua, Lushan's education chief, said the quality of school buildings could be enhanced further. "Having realised that our city is sitting atop volatile fault lines, future designs of schools will require materials such as rubber that will help keep students safe during tremors when furniture or debris falls," he said. As she recovered her textbooks, Zeng Shuanghuan, a 15-year-old at Lushan Middle School, said: "I like this school building. It is so beautiful compared with the old one." Another of the school's building suffered serious damage. It was built in 2007.

Fewer Hong Kong teens expect to complete university (By Ada Lee More 15-year-olds in Singapore and South Korea believe they will go on to complete university. Less than half of 15-year-olds in Hong Kong expect to complete a university education, compared with more than 80 per cent of their peers in South Korea, a study shows. The city also trails rival Singapore, where more than seven in 10 youngsters expect to graduate. The figures raise questions about the quality of Hong Kong's workforce in an increasingly knowledge-based environment. Academics at Chinese University will use the figures, compiled in 2009 from a Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), to keep track of how pupils progress under the new secondary school curriculum and how their career choices are affected. The study found that 47.2 per cent of Hong Kong pupils thought they would finish a university education, compared with 80.9 per cent in South Korea and 70.1 per cent in Singapore. Only 18 per cent of students in the city gain admission to publicly funded universities, compared with more than 80 per cent in South Korea. Taiwan's admission rate, in theory, is 100 per cent, while Singapore is 26 per cent. Education lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen said Hong Kong's admission rate could increase to 30 per cent because of the decline in the number of young people and he hoped it could be pushed up to 40 per cent in five years. But he conceded: "The low rate must have an effect on Hong Kong's competitiveness, when we are talking about building a knowledge economy." The Hong Kong figure rose to 51 per cent in a 2012 test, which showed that students with higher socio-economic backgrounds were more optimistic. Some 81.1 per cent from the top 10 per cent group expected to finish university, compared with 34.8 per cent for the lowest 10 per cent. About 4,500 15-year-olds took part in the test last year, and researchers from PISA's Hong Kong centre and Chinese University will follow 3,500 of them over the next three years. Professor Esther Ho Sui-chu, of the university's department of educational administration and policy, said the financial burden on poorer families could explain the low expectations. "If they don't even dare to expect to go to university, how can they put much effort into their studies?" she said. Ip agreed the low university admission rate was a major factor among student expectations. "The students are thinking practically," he said. "The banding system plays a part, too. By grouping students of different levels into different schools, there might be an atmosphere in poorer schools where students think they have little chance." Ho said Hong Kong should go in the direction of adding university places. "But it's difficult to say how many is enough. We lack research and planning. It's not that the more young people entering university the better. The government could invest in education programmes that suit the city's development as well."

HKMA beefs up anti-money laundering push (By Reuters) The HKMA plans to double the size of its anti-money laundering team. Hong Kong’s banking regulator said on Thursday it was doubling the size of its anti-money laundering team to strengthen supervision amid intensifying scrutiny of monitoring and compliance systems at global financial institutions. The Hong Kong Monetary Authority said it would increase its team to 22, just months after the city’s two largest money-laundering cases drew unwanted attention to banks in city and its vast cross border money flows. “Where we don’t see improvements, where we do see money laundering and terrorist financing risk, where we do see breaches of the legal and regulatory requirements we will be prepared to take tough actions,” Stewart McGlynn, the head of anti-money laundering supervision at the HKMA, told reporters. Hong Kong benefits from a surge of capital flows from the mainland that some groups say is one of the world’s biggest sources of dirty funds. Macau’s massive casino industry has also drawn fire for a murky financial underbelly that has ensnared it in money laundering scandals and sources of illicit financing for regimes such as North Korea. Hong Kong’s new anti-money laundering (AML) ordinance came into effect last April, bringing stricter requirements for bank monitoring of customers and the reporting of suspicious transactions to authorities. The new law empowers the HKMA, the de facto central bank, to prosecute or discipline banks for ignoring or assisting in money laundering, including fines of up to HK$1 million and revoking licences. While the HKMA has faced criticism for never having taken any disciplinary actions against local banks for money laundering offences, the HKMA’s chief executive Norman Chan recently briefed the heads of 180 banks during a money laundering seminar, in which he stressed a need for tougher compliance. While the public resources devoted to anti-money laundering in Hong Kong remain small compared with its vast financial services sector, some industry players expect the HKMA to be more aggressive toward supervision in future, similar to that of the city’s Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) that has successfully prosecuted bankers for insider trading. “It (the regulator) will be keen to flex its muscles,” said Abdulali Jiwaji, a partner with law firm Simmons & Simmons and an expert in financial compliance and regulation. Banks globally are reviewing monitoring systems after US regulators handed heavy fines to HSBC Holdings and Standard Chartered, both of which have a strong presence in Hong Kong, for money laundering last year. HSBC Holdings and its unit Hang Seng Bank, which was named in one recent Hong Kong laundering case, have both advertised for anti-money laundering jobs in the city recently. Jittery banks - The Joint Financial Intelligence Unit (JFIU) – a police and customs anti-money laundering expert group – received 23,282 suspicious transaction reports last year, almost double the figure in 2003. Of the reports last year, 82 per cent were made by banks. Hong Kong authorities convicted 166 people of money laundering last year and 37 people so far this year, according to data from the JFIU, which is responsible for analysing suspicious transactions and is the main channel for banks and other institutions to red-flag suspect transactions. Two recent court cases in which a young delivery man from Guangdong province and a 61-year-old Hong Kong public housing tenant received jail terms of about 10 years for laundering billions of dollars have hit a nerve in the city, with some saying authorities are only targeting the small fry. To some extent, you need to rely on the minor players ... to assist the authorities to identify the major miscreants - “To some extent, you need to rely on the minor players ... to assist the authorities to identify the major miscreants,” Hong Kong director of public prosecutions Kevin Zervos was quoted as saying in local media on Monday. The public housing tenant was jailed in March for laundering more than HK$6.8 billion through Standard Chartered, Hang Seng Bank, Chiyu Bank, National Commercial Bank, Hua Chiao Commercial Bank, Dao Heng Bank, First Commercial Bank, Hua Nan Bank and Bank of East Asia between 2002 and 2005. Her conviction came just after the 22-year-old delivery man was jailed for 10 and a half years for laundering HK$13.1 billion in the late 2000s through a corporate account set up with Chiyu Banking Corp, a unit of Bank of China.

'You are trespassers,' Cheung Kong tells dock strikers (By Phila Siu Cheung Kong Center issued a notice to try to kick out strikers in Central. Cheung Kong put up notices around the dock strike’s base in Central on Thursday, urging the workers to leave or risk being criminally prosecuted. The notices said part of the area outside Cheung Kong Center was private property. The area can be used by the public for passage, it said, but they are not allowed to occupy, obstruct or “cause a nuisance by erecting structures or placing other articles” there. Since April 17, strikers have been camped out the corporate headquarters of Li Ka-shing’s Hutchison Whampoa, the parent company of port operator Hongkong International Terminals (HIT). Workers are demanding a 17 per cent pay rise, citing inflation and exploitation. “You are therefore trespassers and you must leave these areas immediately ... by noon today,” the notices said. The notice warned that violators might be criminally prosecuted. But past noon on Thursday, about 20 strikers were still gathered outside the building. The other strikers - about 300 of them - were still protesting outside the Kwai Tsing International Terminals. As well, Cheung Kong lawyers were in court on Thursday afternoon seeking an injunction to force the dockers to move their camp from the area around the building. Earlier in the morning, they had staged a blockade that caused traffic delays on a road outside the Kwai Tsing Container Terminals. At least 50 trucks and cars were back up along Container Port Road South around 10.30am. The strikers were marching slowly along the road in a bid to deal a blow to HIT. 

Leung urges more economic ties with mainland China and Taiwan (By Colleen Lee A Beijing official also says Hong Kong is losing its competitive edge - (From left) Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, Wu Po-hsiung of Taiwan and Zhang Xiaoming of the liaison office. Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying urged Hong Kong business leaders to boost co-operation with the mainland and Taiwan at a financial forum on Thursday. He acknowledged worries among the business community that Hong Kong might lose cross-strait trade following a trade pact between Beijing and Taipei, but he said the city could benefit as well. The Economic Co-operation Framework Agreement, implemented in 2010, reduces import tariffs between the mainland and Taiwan. If the city could think out of the box, further open up and boost co-operation, Leung said, it could make better use of development opportunities. Echoing Leung’s remarks, a Beijing official said Hong Kong was losing its competitive edge and that its people should be self-reliant. “Some of Hong Kong’s advantages are weakening. Our neighbouring countries and places, particularly in the Pearl River Delta, are quickly catching up,” said Zhou Bo, deputy director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office. Officiating at the event in Wan Chai, Zhou warned that the city would face increasing pressure to compete. “Hong Kong is like a boat sailing against the current. It will go backwards if it does not move forwards. Development opportunities could be gone soon after they arise, so Hong Kong should move ahead with speed,” he said. Zhou also applauded Leung’s mission to seek change while maintaining stability, develop the economy and improve people’s livelihoods. The platform showed “vigilance in peace time” and “the mainstream opinion of society”, Zhou said. Despite his warnings, Zhou made sure to acknowledge a “Hong Kong miracle”. “Hong Kong has grasped one opportunity after another ... establishing itself as an international icon, making historical contributions to mainland reform, and opening cross-strait development,” he said.

Taiwan steps up screening of China travellers after H7N9 (By Associated Press in Taipei) Travellers walk past temperature detectors at Taoyuan International Airport, northern Taiwan. Taiwan heightened surveillance of travellers from China on Thursday after authorities confirmed the island’s first case of a new deadly strain of bird flu. The 53-year-old man became ill with fever after returning from a visit to the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu on April 9, the Centres for Disease Control said. He twice tested negative for H7N9 but eventually tested positive on Wednesday after his condition deteriorated, CDC official Chang Feng-yi said. He said on Thursday that authorities would step up screening of visitors from China at airports for signs of fever and other ailments. News reports said Taiwanese airlines will suspend providing chicken and ducks that come from China. China and Taiwan have close trade and economic ties. An estimated one million Taiwanese live on the mainland. Many Taiwanese laptop and other electronics makers have operations in Jiangsu province, where the first case of H7N9 was confirmed March 31. Some 6,000 Chinese tourists visit Taiwan every day. 

 China*:  April 27 2013

Soho China sets record for Shanghai site value (By Yvonne Liu and Kwong Man-ki) Soho China won a commercial site in Shanghai for 3.19 billion yuan (HK$4.01 billion) yesterday. The deal puts the accommodation value of the site, in the Gubei area of Hongqiao district, at 31,000 yuan per square metre, more than double the previous record in the district. The developer outbid three companies, Shanghai Takashimaya, Zhongying Enterprise and Kuo Yang Group, in the government land auction. It is Soho China's 12th project in Shanghai since it moved into the city in August 2009, and takes its spend on development sites in the city 28.7 billion. yuan. It estimates the projects will be worth nearly 50 billion yuan when completed. Chairman Pan Shiyi said: "The price is reasonable. The project could provide a total gross floor area of 150,000 sq m, which is a suitable for office development. We are optimistic on the market outlook of Shanghai." The 16,560 sq m site in the core business district of Hongqiao could become a retail and office project. It is close to the Japan Takashimaya department store and Gubei International Fortune Centre and could yield a total gross floor area of 150,000 sqm, including the basement. Jim Yip Kin-shing, the managing director of investment at DTZ China, said: "The land price for the site is very aggressive, as it is a second-tier business district. It may be because there is a lack of land supply in business areas in the city. The site is also close to the airport and the neighbourhood is well-developed." Shares in Soho China fell 0.3 per cent to close at HK$6.68 yesterday. Growth in outstanding property loans picked up pace on the mainland in the first quarter, driven by frenetic home sales ahead of the start of tougher local government measures to rein in the property market. Banks' outstanding loans to the property sector amounted to 13 trillion yuan (HK$16.2 trillion) in the January-March period, up 16.4 per cent from a year ago, according to central bank data. Loans had grown at a slower clip of 12.8 per cent in the preceding quarter. Mortgage loans rose 17.4 per cent in the first quarter from a year earlier, accelerating from the 13.5 per cent growth in the previous three-month period.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (L Front) holds a welcoming ceremony for French President Francois Hollande (R Front) in Beijing, capital of China, April 25, 2013. French President Francois Hollande arrived in Beijing on Thursday, starting his state visit to China. During his trip, President Xi Jinping will hold talks with Hollande. Premier Li Keqiang and Zhang Dejiang, chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, will also meet with him. At Xi's invitation, Hollande will visit China from April 25 to 26.

China still top spot for Japanese companies (By BAO CHANG) A Uniqlo store in Nantong, Jiangsu province. The Japanese casual wear designer, manufacturer and retailer is planning to open more stores in China, at a time when many Japanese companies still consider China to be their top investment destination. Investment from Japan surges 43.2% to $1.02 billion in March. China will remain the top destination for Japanese investment over the next five years, although Japan's capital inflow to the country may slow down and India is growing fast as another attractive option, according to a survey by the Japan External Trade Organization. JETRO Beijing Deputy Director-General Dai Hakozaki said: "China is still the most suitable place for Japanese companies to invest in the coming five years." A poll on Japanese companies' foreign investment orientation over the next three to five years was conducted by JETRO earlier this year. Of the more than 1,000 Japanese companies surveyed, 62.1 percent chose China as the first place they would invest within the next five years, 10.7 percentage points lower than in 2011. India has been developing into an alternative and is the second most attractive overseas investment destination for Japanese companies, Hakozaki said. India was favored by 56.4 percent of respondents, down from 58.4 percent in the previous year. "Low labor costs in other developing economies including India and Vietnam have increased their competitiveness as investment markets for Japanese companies," said Yao Haitian, a researcher at the Institute of Japanese Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. "It's still difficult to estimate whether India will overtake China as the biggest overseas investment destination for Japanese investors," Hakozaki said. According to the survey, Japanese enterprises with a shorter presence in China have a stronger willingness to increase investment in the market. Some large-scale investment projects have been launched by Japanese companies in several Chinese cities in the first three months of the year. Sumitomo Group, one of the largest Japanese conglomerates, invested 3 billion yuan ($482.7 million) to jointly expand real estate business with Hong Kong Yida Group in Dalian, Liaoning province. Japanese food manufacturer, Ajinomoto Group Corp, is planning to spend $13.6 million to expand its production line in Shanghai. As the first step toward gaining a foothold in the Chinese market, Meiko Trading Co Ltd invested $6 million to establish electronic equipment leasing shops in China, the first of which will be opened in Hong Kong. "Being optimistic about economic growth in China, Japanese companies will continue to invest in the Chinese market," said Jiang Yuechun, director of the Department for World Economy and Development at the China Institute of International Studies. "More capital from Japanese companies may flow into the retail and service industries in which business could be developed very well without enormous spending on technology," said Yao from the CASS. Fueled by huge demand in China, Japanese casual wear designer, manufacturer and retailer Uniqlo is planning to open more stores in China. Japanese investment in China declined 6.7 percent year-on-year to $1.27 billion in the first two months, but its investment in China in March surged 43.2 percent to $1.02 billion, according to the Ministry of Commerce. Chinese enterprises are trying hard to promote competitiveness, including technical skills and brand image, in which they are weaker than their Japanese counterparts.

Zhanjiang seafood haven (By Zhang Yuchen in Zhanjiang, Guangdong) You may not find the name of the city in the latest edition of Lonely Planet China, but there is no question what the main attraction in Zhanjiang is - its seafood. Fringed by the sea on three sides and with five islands just off shore, Zhanjiang has many fishing ports which supply fresh and plentiful seafood that is cheap but of high quality. Among the many offerings are all manner of fish, shrimps and crabs, and exotic shellfish, sandworms, seaweed, abalones and sea cucumbers. Fortunate locals love their seafood lightly cooked, usually quickly boiled to retain all the natural sweetness. As a famous prawn-fishing area, the annual production of prawns in Zhanjiang is about 2,000 metric tons. Most Zhanjiang chefs dry-boil the prawns, turning them bright red while retaining their flavorful taste and texture. Dry-boiling is simply cooking the food over medium heat without adding any water, but only condiments such as garlic. The city's famous prawns are well-known at home and abroad and have won it a huge reputation. Some believe that out of every eight prawns eaten in the country, at least one comes from Zhanjiang. Most seafood in the city is freshly caught and is carefully kept alive until they are set on the table and feasted upon. Much of its excellence is due to the unpolluted environment. Zhanjiang's air quality ranks among the top five in the country. Apart from its famous prawns, sandworm and spiral whelks are the two other famous local seafood dishes. These are often cooked in soup or porridge. Sandworms, which look like fat earthworms, are hard to catch as they dig deep into the sand, and that makes them relatively more expensive. They taste delicious. As you chew on the meat, the natural sweetness of the juices floods the mouth. Other favorite food for the locals includes crabs, both the green mud crabs and the spotted sea crabs. The better quality mud crabs are also known as roe crabs, famous for its thin shell, yellow cream, delicate flesh and delectable taste. Compared to the green mud crab, spotted sea crab is less expensive but equally good. A well-known recipe is also to dry-boil the crab, by which its flavor can be fully preserved. Both species of crabs are a bit different from those in other places, being unique to Zhanjiang. But, beyond all doubt, it is the oyster that Zhanjiang is most known for. In the right season, visitors will chance upon vendors selling neatly arranged rows of oysters cooking on charcoal burners in street side shanties for midnight snacks. The secret behind the famous oysters of Zhanjiang is not in the size but more in the simple cooking method, often using nothing but a little garlic. It is little wonder then that there is a popular saying here: "If you want to eat really fresh seafood, don't let the fish come to you, go to Zhanjiang." Seafood sold in Guangzhou, the provincial city of Guangdong, cannot be considered fresh, in the eyes of Zhanjiang residents. To them, it must be just out of the sea. Apart from seafood, Zhan-jiang sliced boiled chicken is so famous that the dish is simply known as "Zhanjiang Chicken". Even in the days of bird flu spreading in other places, Guangdong people say, "No problem with Zhanjiang Chicken". There is a missing chapter on the best seafood in Lonely Planet China, and perhaps you may want to contribute after experiencing Zhanjiang's excellent harvests from the sea, especially the oysters in summer.

Canada to return illegal assets (By By Zhang Yan and Qin Jize) Agreement would help facilitate repatriation of economic fugitives - China and Canada will sign an agreement to share assets that Chinese fugitives illegally transfer to Canada, the North American country's top envoy in Beijing said. Negotiations are in advanced stages and an agreement should be reached in the next few months, Canadian Ambassador Guy Saint-Jacques said in an exclusive interview. "It will provide a legal basis for Canada to share the proceeds of forfeited assets with China, once we identify the transferred illegal money belonged to some criminals or criminal organizations," he said. Canada is considered a paradise for Chinese fugitives, including many corrupt officials, who flee to the country because it has no extradition treaty with China. According to the Ministry of Public Security, thousands of Chinese economic fugitives have transferred "billions of yuan" overseas. Chinese police face difficulties bringing the fugitives back to face trial and recovering illegally transferred funds because of political differences or complex legal procedures, according to the ministry. "After the bilateral agreement is completed, it will facilitate the return of the money the fugitives illegally transferred and the recovery of the losses, which will help combat such crimes," said Wang Gang, a senior officer with the international cooperation bureau under the Ministry of Public Security. Since 2008, judicial cooperation between China and Canada has made great progress, and Canadian judicial authorities are working closely with Chinese police to identify the criminals and repatriate them, he said. Canadian judicial departments have sent 590 Chinese nationals back to China since July 2011. Of those, 53 were repatriated in connection with crimes such as drug trafficking, murder, fraud and gambling. The others were mostly related to illegal immigration. "Once we find someone has entered Canada illegally or was suspected of committing crimes abroad, we will immediately start the judicial procedure to investigate," the ambassador said. "Once we have identified they were fugitives, we will start the investigation as soon as we have enough evidence. Then we will contact the Ministry of Justice to start the legal procedure against the criminals, and start the process to remove them," he said. Liaison officers in the embassy and the Canada Border Service Agency worked closely with the Ministry of Public Security and Chinese airlines to stem the flow of illegal immigrants, and provided training to airlines on identifying false visas and stopping criminals from boarding planes to Canada. These measures have reduced the number of people who tried to illegally enter Canada by air. Liao Jinrong, director of the international cooperation bureau under the Ministry of Public Security, said that in recent years Canada has engaged in productive judicial cooperation with China. "They paid close attention to information Chinese police provided and cooperated closely with us on case investigations, fugitives' arrests and repatriation work," he said. "Meanwhile, they are adopting a better understanding of our laws and judicial procedures, and welcomed Chinese witnesses to testify in Canadian courts to help charge those Chinese criminals," he said. A number of high-profile fugitives have been brought back from Canada, including Lai Changxing, who was found guilty of operating a huge smuggling ring and was deported from Canada in 2011. Although the ambassador said there are no plans to conclude a bilateral extradition treaty, there is an annual meeting in May or June with both countries' judicial authorities to discuss major cases. In 2010 the Ministry of Public Security signed a cooperation memorandum with Canadian police to fight cross-border crime. "I believe more and more Chinese fugitives will be brought back, and Canada is no longer the imagined haven for Chinese fugitives, including many corrupt officials, to flee to," the ambassador said.

Hong Kong*:  April 26 2013

Hong Kong's parents raising 'spoiled brats', warns study (Dennis Chong HK raising a spoilt generation only out for themselves, academic warns. "Monster" parents in Hong Kong are turning out a generation of spoiled brats who have an inflated view of their abilities and may resort to aggression to get ahead, a City University study warns. Annis Fung, associate professor in the department of applied social studies, said Hong Kong children rated themselves a lot more highly than youngsters in the West - to an extent that some are at risk of developing disorders that could turn them into violent offenders. "The city is at high risk as it is producing spoiled children who are overconfident about themselves," Fung said yesterday. The city is at high risk as it is producing spoiled children who are overconfident about themselves - She tested 9,400 pupils with an average age of 11 using an antisocial process screening device (APSD) - a questionnaire that detects antisocial traits. The average level of narcissism displayed by youngsters in the city was 3.89 on a 14-point scale - higher than the 2.9 for children in the United States, 2.36 in the United Kingdom and 2.81 in Australia. The test measures children's self-regard and their views of the outside world, as well as their means of achieving their desires. Fung said she was worried because 16 per cent of children showed signs that they were aggressors or tended to bully, while similar studies in the US found about 10 per cent of children with such a tendency. This category of children had an APSD score of 6.23, similar to that of adolescent criminals in the US and Canada. "Action must be taken. We don't want murders," she said, adding such children may try to achieve their goals without thinking of the consequences. Fung said the study was the first of its kind in Hong Kong. Registered social worker Cecilia Ng Kam-kuen said that Hong Kong's outcome-based education system encouraged people to be more selfish and "only look at the results". Such a culture is likely to influence children and make them self-centered. Fung warned: "Parents are giving too many things to their kids, making them feel good about themselves. Such monster parents overprotect and make children narcissistic. This can be potentially dangerous." 

SPOILT? ME? Classic signs of a narcissist: 
- Fake expressions of emotion
- Over-regard for one's abilities and achievements
- Getting ahead by cheating and using others
- A tendency to tease and play pranks
- Using charm to seek benefits
- Being upset by dissenting opinions
- A sense of superiority

Taiwan confirms first case of H7N9 bird flu - HAWAII AND UNITED STATES seems to be unprepared as it may travel here (Agence France-Presse in Taipei) A woman wears a face mask as she walks past a poster showing how to avoid the H7N9 avian influenza virus. The CDC warned people to avoid touching and feeding birds and visiting traditional markets with live poultry when visiting Chinese regions with H7N9 cases. 

Legco fails to pass Hong Kong donation to Sichuan quake on April 24 2013 (SCMP) A Legislative Council panel has failed to approve a controversial request from Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to donate HK$100 million to Yaan earthquake relief efforts.

Hong Kong to work closer with ASEAN in tourism (By Xinhua) Hong Kong will trigger off more tourism cooperation plans and increase investment in ASEAN countries, aiming to further promote the city as a top destination. As Hong Kong's second-largest source market region, Southeast Asia contributes over 3.6 million visitors a year, of which Singapore, the Philippines and Malaysia are the top three performers, according to the government-subvented body Hong Kong Tourism Board. "Hong Kong maintains a good bilateral co-operation with ASEAN member states," HKTB's spokesperson said in an email interview, adding that the current mutual agreement on visa exemption is in force between Hong Kong and six ASEAN member states, namely Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. In addition, the relatively stable political and economic conditions, and the increased flight capacity between Hong Kong and various countries in the region give the Board a great platform to promote Hong Kong as a top destination. Its spokesperson said HKTB will increase investment in the region in the year of 2013-14. The Board will launch a promotion campaign to attract the Muslim populations in Indonesia and Malaysia to visit Hong Kong during the post-Ramadan holidays. It will organize road shows in Southeast Asia including Thailand and Indonesia and encourage travel trade to develop multi-destination itineraries featuring Hong Kong and its neighboring city Shenzhen. In Vietnam, HKTB plans to work with airlines to attract visitors to Hong Kong during summer, in order to make a head start in its promotions once the visa issue is resolved. HKTB is also joining hands with some ASEAN members such as Thailand and Singapore to promote multi-destination itineraries in long-haul markets such as the US, Canada and Europe. These initiatives help raise the profile of both ASEAN and Hong Kong and achieved maximum benefits for all parties. "We are planning to launch a major regional promotion, leveraging our brand of 'Asia's World City' in the region to create top-of-mind awareness for Hong Kong," the spokesperson said. Not only is Hong Kong known for its achievements in international trade and finance, it is also a city instilled with the exciting duality of a modern metropolitan's vitality enhanced by a traditional society's historical richness and color, where travelers can experience a vibrant living culture featuring a unique blend of the East and the West. These combined to make Hong Kong one of the most popular destinations for tourists from all over Asia, if not the world.

Hong Kong entrepreneur tells how to do business in ASEAN countries (By Xinhua) As economic activities in the US and Europe remain in the doldrums, more and more businesses and investors are shifting their focus to Asia. Southeast Asia, a region with multi-faceted economies, diverse culture and huge population, is also a region that has been drawing increasing attention in recent years, particularly given its largely untapped market potential and cheap labor costs. Hong Kong businessman Jonathan Choi, who has decades of experience in doing business in Southeast Asian countries including Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand, shared his experiences and lessons learnt in doing business there in a recent interview with Xinhua. Make friends first - Choi's initial involvement with Southeast Asian countries dated back to the 1970s, when his company Sunwah Group established subsidiaries in Vietnam to process and export frozen and dried marine food products. He then ventured into other countries, accumulating over 30 years of business experience in Myanmar and 20 years in Cambodia. He said it is always important to get familiarized with the country and build local connections before expanding the size of business. "We must remember when investing in these countries, we're foreigners," he said, adding that language, culture, the way of doing business, and mentality are all important factors to consider when investing in ASEAN countries. He also stressed the importance of social responsibility when doing business overseas. "If you have been there for a long time, being friendly with them, showing your responsibility and care to the local people, you would have a better return and better cooperation with the local community and government," he said. Choi's usual strategy of expanding business abroad is to start with the most familiar industry, in his case, sea food processing and trading. After getting fully accustomed to the business environment, he then dabbled into other types of business such as property and finance. He cited business in Vietnam as a successful example of diversifying operations. With decades of experience on sea food processing and trading, he embarked on new business projects in real estate, becoming one of the largest property developers in the country. Ten years ago, he seized an opportunity to venture into the financial sector and founded VinaCapital, thereby establishing his conglomerate's asset management business in Vietnam. VinaCapital has three listed funds in the AIM market of the London Stock Exchange. Leaping at the opportunity is also crucial for business expansion. Prior to Myanmar's opening-up to foreign investors, Choi stayed for sea food businesses only in the country. "Now the time has come," he said. "I'm now looking into property and financial business." Unstable business environment and unexpected political and social changes are some of the biggest difficulties during the years of his business operations in Southeast Asia. "Things may just happen suddenly," Choi said, recalling some unrest in Indonesia, Vietnam and Cambodia which caused him to shut down factories and draw back investment. When unrest broke out in Cambodia in 1997, Choi had to leave the plants idle for five years. Yet, he did not move out completely. "When everything recovered, we resumed the production and had a really good business," he said. "Confidence in the country is very important. You should have a long-term strategy, so you work together and grow together with the country and the people." Numerous business opportunities - Economic links between Hong Kong and the ASEAN countries are historically strong, and ASEAN now is Hong Kong's second largest trade partner after the Chinese mainland, with $94.1 billion trade value in 2012. The average trade growth between Hong Kong and ASEAN for the past 10 years is around 7 percent, with a particular big increase of 10 percent last year. Choi noted that business opportunities in ASEAN nations are not just limited to trade, but also investment and service industries. As the land price and salary costs are surging for Hong Kong companies operating in South China's Pearl River Delta, Choi suggested that they could consider relocation in Southeast Asian countries like Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia and Indonesia. ASEAN boasts a combined population of over 600 million, nearly half of China's or Indian's population. According to International Market Assessment, the hourly wage rate in China is $1.56, compared to $0.81 in Vietnam and $0.51 in Indonesia. Another strength of the region is affluent natural resources. Many Southeast Asian countries, including Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Myanmar and the Philippines, have vast natural gas reserves. As developing nations, ASEAN countries also manifest huge untapped potential for infrastructure investment. Airport, toll roads, bridges, railways, to name but a few, are all in need of development, particularly given the trend of greater integration within ASEAN member states and more trade connections between China and the bloc. Choi said such infrastructure investments are not only business opportunities for Hong Kong enterprises, but also for state-owned enterprises in Chinese mainland. In Choi's opinion, the concept of Hong Kong companies should be a broad one, including those mainland enterprises listed in Hong Kong with a business operation base in the city. When then-vice-premier Li Keqiang visited Hong Kong in August 2011, he said the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong companies should work hand-in-hand to "go out" and make foreign investment. Choi sided with this idea and said this would allow companies from both sides to demonstrate their own distinctive strengths. "Many Chinese enterprises are strong in manufacturing, mining and power supplying, whereas Hong Kong companies have more experience in the service sector, such as financial service, professional service, management and human resources," Choi said. "Therefore, we should work together and go to ASEAN side by side." A win-win deal - Choi has been ardently advocating Hong Kong's access to ASEAN-China Free Trade Agreement for the past few years. He said this is not just beneficial to Hong Kong, but would also spur growth and development within the region and bring benefits to all ASEAN members. Hong Kong is widely known for its expertise in the financial service sector, such as in company mergers, fund raising, consultancy, auditing and logistics. Hong Kong's role as a premier offshore renminbi center also helps in meeting ASEAN businesses' financial needs, said Choi, citing that 92 percent of the Chinese mainland's cross-border renminbi trade were settled in Hong Kong in 2011. According to a research report from the Asia Strategy and Leadership Institute, Hong Kong's participation in the ACFTA is projected to further enhance the city's bridging role between the Chinese mainland and ASEAN, bringing about a 28 percent increase in the regional bloc's exports to the Chinese mainland. It will principally benefit the ASEAN's food processing, electronic industries, finance, insurance, construction and business services. Hong Kong expressed its interest in joining the ACFTA to the ASEAN Secretary-General in November 2011. Acknowledging that the final decision would require consent from all 10 members of ASEAN, Choi said, "It takes time, but we hope that they will understand our wish to participate and I think it will be beneficial to both parties."

 China*:  April 26 2013

21 killed in ethnic 'terror' clashes in China’s Xinjiang (By Associated Press in Beijing) Anti-terrorism police in Urumqi, Xinjiang. A violent clash between authorities and assailants described as a terrorist gang left 21 people dead in China’s restive northwestern region of Xinjiang, the local government said on Wednesday. Among the dead in the Tuesday afternoon fighting were 15 police officers and local government officials, the Xinjiang government propaganda office said in a news release. It said six assailants were killed on the spot and another eight were captured alive. “Initial investigations show this was a gang plotting to carry out terrorist acts and the case is now being further cracked open,” the release said. A leading activist from the region’s indigenous Turkic Muslim Uygur ethnic group questioned the official account, saying local sources said that police sparked the incident by shooting a Uygur youth during an illegal search of homes. The death toll was the highest for a single incident in months in Xinjiang, which sees recurrent outbreaks of violence pitting Uygurs against the authorities and majority ethnic Han Chinese migrants. Rioting in July 2009 between Uygurs and Han killed nearly 200 people in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, and there have been sporadic attacks since, all of them quickly suppressed with overwhelming force by local paramilitary units. Tuesday’s violence appeared to point to the chaotic nature of much of the Xinjiang violence, as well as problems with how authorities respond. It began when three local officials reported a group of suspicious men armed with knives hiding inside a home in Selibuya township outside the city of Kashgar, the news release said. The three were then grabbed by the men in the house and local police and officials rushing to the scene were taken by surprise and attacked, it said. Those inside the house killed their three captives and set fire to the building, while the fighting ended only after armed units – who are often stationed in larger towns and barracks and must be specially summoned by commanders – arrived and began firing on those continuing to resist, the report said. The release said 10 of those killed on the government side were Uygurs, three were Han, and two were from the Mongolian ethnic group. It said two other Uygurs were injured. The ethnicity of the assailants wasn’t given and local police and government officials reached by phone said they had no additional information to give. “We know only what is in the release and have no more to add,” said an officer with the Xinjiang regional police, who gave only his surname, Meng, as is common with Chinese officials. Xinjiang, a sprawling region that borders Central Asia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, is home to millions of Uygurs, many of whom complain of tight restrictions on religious and cultural life by Beijing and say they have been marginalised by policies favouring Han migrants. China claims much of the violence is orchestrated by Uygur activists based in the West or in Pakistan and other neighbouring countries, but has provided little evidence publicly. The US initially placed one group, the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, on a terrorist watch list following the 9/11 attacks, but later quietly removed it amid doubts that it existed in any organised manner. Uygur activists say violence largely results from heavy-handed policing by the authorities, including the frequent detention of Uygur men with little or no due process. Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the German-based World Uyghur Congress, said repression has intensified in the area around Kashgar, with an unknown number of Uygurs detained. He denied those involved in Tuesday’s clash were part of an organised group and dismissed the government’s terrorism claims. “They always use such labels as a way of justifying their use of armed force,” Raxit said in a phone interview.

Beijing Int'l Film Festival drops curtain - Chinese film stars attended the closing ceremony of the 2013 Beijing International Film Festival in Beijing, capital of China, April 23, 2013. The festival closed on Tuesday.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) meets with former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, capital of China, April 24, 2013. 

China Premier Li Keqiang thanks nations for aid (By By Zhou Wa) China appreciates international support and help in earthquake relief and reconstruction, Premier Li Keqiang said on Tuesday. During his meeting with President of the Thai National Assembly Somsak Kiatsuranont, Li expressed gratitude to the Thai royal family and government for their condolences sent soon after the magnitude-7 earthquake hit Lushan county, Sichuan province, on Saturday. The earthquake has caused heavy loss of life and property to the Chinese people, and the government is conducting relief work in an orderly way by trying its best to save lives and rescue the injured, relocate people affected by the earthquake and decrease losses to the greatest extent, Li said. Li also said the government is planning for reconstruction, adding that all Chinese people are supporting and helping with the relief work in various ways. "We appreciate the international community's sympathy and condolences as well as their support of, and help with, earthquake relief and post-disaster reconstruction. With these, we have the confidence to overcome the disaster and rebuild the homeland," Li said. Li said friendship between China and Thailand created a good example for China's good-neighborly cooperation with other countries. China hopes the two countries can expand the scope of their relations, and continue to let the relations lead ties between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Li said. "China supports the building of the ASEAN community and backs ASEAN's dominating role in cooperation in East Asia. China would like to work closely with Thailand to promote stable development of China-ASEAN ties," Li said. Somsak, also the speaker of the Thai House of Representatives, showed concern and sympathy for earthquake victims, and spoke highly of the quick and efficient response and rescue efforts by the Chinese government. On China-Thailand relations, Somsak said Bangkok is keen to work with China to promote practical cooperation.

Hong Kong*:  April 25 2013

Analysts expect steep fall in Hong Kong flat prices (By Paggie Leung and Bloomberg) Higher mortgage rates and cost curbs 'may take a quarter off values' in the housing market. Research company Sanford C. Bernstein forecasts that cooling efforts will take as much as a quarter off home prices. Hong Kong home prices will fall by as much as a quarter as a result of the government's stepped-up measures to cool the housing market and rises in bank mortgage rates, equity research firm Sanford C. Bernstein Hong Kong forecast. But other institutions are less pessimistic and expect prices to drop 20 per cent at most in the coming two years or stay flat this year. Holding the most bearish view so far, Bernstein analysts, led by Kenneth Tsang, wrote in a report yesterday that the number of new flat sales would "remain largely subdued", with developers shifting their focus to cheaper and smaller units to boost sales. Cheung Kong, which last month lowered prices by almost 10 per cent at its One West Kowloon project in Lai Chi Kok in response to the government curbs, could introduce more price cuts to boost sales, the analysts said. However, UBS Investment Research forecast that overall home prices might drop by only 5 to 10 per cent from now until the end of this year even with the official measures driving away investors and overseas buyers. The bank said that because prices increased about 5 per cent in the first quarter, home prices this year would remain flat or decline 5 per cent or less year on year. "We don't think home prices will drop as much as others have predicted because the supply problem is not yet solved," UBS head of Hong Kong and China property research Eva Lee said. Lee said that all the sites sold in the past year could together yield only about 16,000 flats, fewer than the government's annual target of 20,000 units. The undersupply is expected to continue until the 2016-17 fiscal year. Undersupply would not be the only factor supporting home prices, she added. It was unlikely that mortgage rates would rise again this year because banks' cost of lending was still low. The buyer's stamp duty, the special stamp duty and the double stamp duty have cooled the high end of the market and UBS said luxury home prices could drop 5 to 10 per cent this year. Lee said growth in rents was expected to slow to 5 to 10 per cent this year, down from about 20 per cent last year. An index tracking home prices had its biggest drop in almost three years in the week to April 14 after the government introduced its toughest measures yet to cool prices on February 22. Prices could fall as much as 20 per cent over the next two years, Deutsche Bank said last month. Macquarie expects home prices to fall 10 per cent this year. Centaline Property Agency founder Shih Wing-ching has said that prices of new homes could drop by between 5 and 20 per cent.

Legco president Japser Tsang defends actions in approving 710 amendments (By Tony Cheung Jasper Tsang says he was following procedure when he approved 710 amendments to bill - Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing tells reporters he was only thinking of the rules. Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing said radical lawmakers' intention of filibustering, and its possible effects on the administration, were not on his mind when he approved 710 amendments to the budget bill tabled by radical pan-democrats. He also defended his suggestion that Legco's rules might need to change to let debates continue even without meeting the 35-member quorum, as lawmakers "could be doing their job even if they were not in the Legco chamber". Lawmakers from the League of Social Democrats and People Power filed 754 budget amendments, which include cutting the budget of each government department, to protest at the omission of a universal pension scheme. Tsang approved 710. "Some said since the lawmakers made it public that they filed the amendments as delaying tactics or [part of a] filibuster, the amendments should not be allowed," Tsang said. "But I must clarify that when we decide whether to approve amendments, we do not consider what effects they might have on the meeting's proceeding … [neither have we ever] considered whether the amendments are good or bad, the rules of procedure were my only consideration." Tsang said on Sunday that the government advised him not to approve the majority of the amendments because the resultant debate would hamstring the administration, but he said he was not convinced of this. He also suggested that Legco's rule might need amendment to allow plenary sessions to continue even without meeting the current rule for a 35-member quorum to be present at all times. A meeting must be adjourned until the following week if this is not met within 15 minutes of a summons to legislators to attend. In a filibustering bid last summer, People Power legislators forced an adjournment when the summons was not answered. Tsang said an internal committee could consider loosening the requirement to apply to the start of the meeting, and when a vote was needed. Pan-democrats worried that the change would encourage lawmakers to skip meetings. Tsang said legislators could make use of the time during plenary sessions to "fulfil relevant responsibilities, such as meeting officials and constituents".

 China*:  April 25 2013

Chinese President Xi Jinping (R), who is also chairman of the Central Military Commission, meets with Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, in Beijing, capital of China, April 23, 2013. Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday met with U.S. top military officer Martin Dempsey and called for deeper mutual trust between the two militaries as well as the two countries. China-U.S. relations are in an important historic period, Xi said during the meeting. Recalling a telephone discussion with U.S. President Barack Obama last month, Xi said he and Obama reaffirmed their commitment to developing China-U.S. cooperative partnership. Xi said both countries should take a strategic and long-term view of China-U.S. relations and enrich the framework of their cooperative partnership in quest of a new type of relations between major powers that features equality, mutual trust, tolerance, mutual learning and win-win cooperation. Xi, also chairman of the Central Military Commission, said the military ties constitute an important part of the cooperative partnership between the two countries. The healthy and stable development of China-U.S. military ties would help to enhance the strategic mutual trust, and prevent risks and manage crises, according to the Chinese leader. Hailing the progress achieved in China-U.S. military exchange, dialogue and joint training over the past year and more, Xi said China attaches great importance to military-to-military relations between the two countries. He added that China is willing to make joint efforts with the U.S. side to deepen military trust in each other and expand exchanges and cooperation to establish a new type of military relationship between the two countries. During the meeting, Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, offered condolences to victims of the recent earthquake in southwest China's Sichuan Province, adding that he appreciated the Chinese military's swift participation in disaster relief there. Xi thanked the U.S side for their condolences and support after the quake, adding that China is able to cope with the natural disaster. For his part, Dempsey said he was satisfied with the candid, in-depth and fruitful interactions with Chinese military officers during his China trip. The U.S. side is ready to work with the Chinese side to strengthen mutual trust and overcome obstacles to boost the military-to-military relations in the direction set by the two presidents. Later on Tuesday, Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi also met with the U.S. general in Beijing. The two sides exchanged views on the military ties between the two countries and other issues of concern. Dempsey arrived in Beijing on Sunday for a five-day visit, the first since he took office as chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff in 2011.

A fleet of Chinese marine surveillance vessels has driven Japanese fishing boats out of waters surrounding the Diaoyu Islands, the State Oceanic Administration said Tuesday. The Chinese fleet's enforcement of the law had forced the Japanese fishing boats out of waters surrounding the islands as of 10 am, thwarting the attempts of "Japanese right wingers," the administration said in a statement on its website. Three Chinese ships on regular patrol duty spotted several Japanese vessels in the waters on Tuesday morning. The administration immediately ordered another five ships in the East China Sea to meet the three ships. The eight Chinese ships organized in four formations monitored the Japanese boats from different angles, collected evidence of their infringement upon China's sovereignty and safeguarded national interests, the statement said. The fleet continued to patrol the waters after the incident, it said. Diaoyu Island and its affiliated islets have been an inherent part of China's territory since ancient times, but tensions grew between China and Japan over the islands after Japan's so-called "nationalization" of Diaoyu Island and some of the affiliated islets last year. In its latest national defense white paper, China accused Japan of "making trouble over the issue of the Diaoyu Islands." Diplomat protests Japanese intrusion into waters near Diaoyu.

Japan's Shinzo Abe threatens to 'expel by force' Chinese landing on Diaoyus (By Reuters in the East China Sea) A Chinese marine surveillance ship Haijian No 66 (top) approaches a Japanese fishing boat (bottom) as Japan Coast Guard vessel Ishigaki cruises nearby in the East China Sea. Japan’s prime minister on Tuesday vowed to "expel by force" any Chinese landing on islands at the centre of a territorial row, after eight Chinese government vessels sailed into disputed waters. Japanese nationalists sailed a flotilla of boats on Tuesday in waters near islands at the centre of a row between China and Japan, putting further strain on Tokyo’s tense ties with Beijing as a group of more than 160 Japanese lawmakers visited a shrine seen by critics a symbol of Japan’s past militarism. Last year members of the same right-wing group landed on one of the disputed islets and triggered anti-Japanese protests in China, where lingering bitterness over Japan’s wartime aggression has been rekindled in recent days. Eight Chinese government ships also entered Japanese territorial waters on Tuesday, the most in a single day since Tokyo nationalised part of the archipelago, the Japanese government said. Japan’s coastguard confirmed the vessels had entered waters near the East China Sea island chain around 8am. “We would take decisive action against any attempt to enter territorial waters and to land” on the islands, Shinzo Abe told parliament in response to questions from lawmakers. “It would be natural for us to expel by force if [the Chinese] were to make a landing.” China blasted Tokyo for a lack of contrition over its past on Monday after Abe made an offering and Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso and two other ministers visited the Yasukuni Shrine, which honours 14 leaders convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal along with Japan’s war dead. South Korea’s foreign minister cancelled a trip to Japan. Homage paid by leading Japanese politicians at the Tokyo shrine typically angers Japan’s neighbours, who contend that it glorifies wartime atrocities. “It is natural for lawmakers to worship at a shrine for people who died for the nation and every nation does this,” Hidehisa Otsuji, a ruling Liberal Democrat Party (LDP) lawmaker who chairs the parliamentary group behind the visit, told a news conference. “I don’t understand why we get a backlash.” A group of 169 lawmakers visited Yasukuni for its spring festival, more than double the usual number in recent years. Aso also shrugged off the rebuke. “I first visited Yasukuni on April 28, 1953 and often went there ever since,” Aso, who doubles as finance minister, told reporters. “I go there two or three times every year and it’s not something that should be taken up now. There’s a reaction from overseas? But that’s their reaction and I don’t think it will much affect Japan’s diplomatic relations with other countries.” A group led by LDP Vice President Masahiko Komura has cancelled a trip to China planned for early May, but said the move was not related to the Yasukuni visits. Abe who has enjoyed sky-high popularity ratings of more than 70 per cent since he took office in December and launched his “Abenomics” plan to boost growth and beat deflation with hyper-easy monetary policy, spending and structural reform. The prime minister, who has said he regretted not visiting Yasukuni during his 2006-2007 term in office, has been walking a fine line between talking tough in the territorial row over the chain of rocky islets and leaving the door open for dialogue with Beijing. Voters want Abe to put priority on fixing the economy rather than other issues close to Abe’s heart, such as revising Japan’s pacifist constitution, an opinion poll showed this week. Japanese and Chinese patrol ships have been playing a cat-and-mouse game near the Japanese-controlled East China Sea islands, where China is seeking to assert its claim to sovereignty by sending ships into the disputed waters. The flotilla of 10 boats carrying about 80 activists from the nationalist Ganbare Nippon (“Stand Firm, Japan”) group sailed into waters around the islets early on Tuesday but then began to withdraw from the area on the orders of Japanese Coast Guard patrol ships, because Chinese government surveillance ships were nearby. The Coast Guard, which had 13 ships shadowing the flotilla, said eight Chinese patrol ships had entered what Tokyo considers its territorial waters near the uninhabited isles, known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China. “The intrusion into territorial waters is extremely regrettable. In any case, the Senkaku islands are Japan’s own territory without a doubt,” Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference. “Japan strictly protests through diplomatic channels and demands they leave our waters swiftly.” Ganbare Nippon had said the purpose of their trip was to survey fishing grounds. Last August, about 10 activists from the group landed on one of the islets. “This is all about asserting our ownership of the islands, going there to conduct a fishing survey to prove that Japanese fishermen can indeed make a living there,” said group leader Satoru Mizushima. Tit-for-tat landings by Chinese and Japanese nationalists last summer preceded a sharp flare-up in the dispute when Japan nationalised the islands in September, drawing angry rhetoric from Beijing and anti-Japanese demonstrations across China. “If you encounter problems from Chinese vessels, please run away,” Mizushima, a right-wing filmmaker, told activists at a briefing before the flotilla departed from Ishigaki, a Japanese island west of Okinawa, on Monday. “Don’t let them come on board, but try to avoid fighting or shouting insults. We want to show everyone that we are polite and upstanding Japanese citizens.” Japanese ships are allowed to sail to waters around the islets, but the Japanese government generally prohibits landing. The waters around the islets are rich fishing grounds and also have potentially huge oil and gas reserves. The territorial dispute has escalated in recent months to the point where China and Japan have scrambled fighter jets while patrol ships shadow each other, raising fears that an unintended collision could lead to a broader clash. Ganbare Nippon is not officially affiliated with any political party, but its members have organised rallies to support Abe, who swept to power last December promising economic revival and a more assertive stance towards Japan’s neighbours.

'Ambitious' scholarships launched (By Michael Barris in New York Stephen A. Schwarzman (center), founder of the US private equity firm Blackstone, attends a news conference in Beijing on Sunday to announce the establishment of a $300 million endowed scholarship program in China for students from around the world. Sitting on the right is Chen Jining, president of Tsinghua University, and on the left is Robert A. M. Stern, dean of the Yale School of Architecture. The $300 million scholarship fund for foreign students to study in China launched by US private equity tycoon Stephen Schwarzman represents a "remarkably ambitious" effort to boost understanding of China by the United States and other Western nations, an executive member of the Asia Society said. "For Americans looking beyond their shores, there is no nation that matters more than China, no relationship that matters more than the US-China relationship, and, frankly, no place where there's a more profound need for greater understanding," Tom Nagorski, the society's executive vice-president, told China Daily. Schwarzman, founder and chairman of New York-based Blackstone Group LP, announced the scholarship on Sunday at a ceremony in Beijing. Beginning in 2016, the program will send 200 mainly US students to Beijing's Tsinghua University each year. Schwarzman, whose net worth has been estimated by Forbes at $6.5 billion, will donate $100 million of his own money to the project and raise an additional $200 million from blue-chip companies that already have signed on as donors. The project, which organizers called the largest philanthropic effort with foreign money in China's history, will pay for full scholarships, along with a building to house the program at Tsinghua, the alma mater for both President Xi Jinping and former President Hu Jintao. Schwarzman told the ceremony his aim is to spur greater understanding of China by the US and other Western nations, and to end in particular Americans' "isolated" view of China. Most Americans, Schwarzman declared, "know next to nothing about China". Xi and US President Barack Obama praised the gift in statements read at a ceremony in the Great Hall of the People. Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, whose 1971 China visit opened diplomatic relations, said in a videotaped message he hoped the program would influence future "international discourse and diplomacy". Nagorski, whose non-profit New York-based Asia Society focuses on educating the world about Asia and has Schwarzman as one of its trustees, wrote in an e-mail that "the Chinese are investing heavily in the education of their people about the rest of the world". Now Schwarzman is making "a major investment in the education of Americans, and others, about China", he wrote. Schwarzman said China's fast growth and increasing world influence would define the 21st century, as US connections to Europe did for the 20th century. The Rhodes Scholarship program, created at the turn of the last century to attract international students and potential world leaders to the UK's Oxford University, inspired Schwarzman's project, he said. The executive said he hoped partnering with Tsinghua would help "build a culture of greater trust and understanding between China, America and the rest of the world," essential conditions for worldwide stability and prosperity. Scholarship winners will be allowed to take part in a one-year, all-expenses-paid master's program at Tsinghua in public policy, economics and business, international relations or engineering. The program's advisory board includes former world leaders such as France's Nicolas Sarkozy, Britain's Tony Blair, Canada's Brian Mulroney and Australia's Kevin Rudd. Former US secretaries of state Henry Kissinger, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice are also on the board, as is cellist Yo-yo Ma. The program already has $100 million in commitments from sponsors including companies whose China business is important to their global success. The sponsors include Boeing Co, General Electric Co, Caterpillar Inc and Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Tom McLean, Boeing's director of international communications, said the Chicago-based plane maker is supporting the program "because it will help develop future leaders with global sensibilities and further strengthen the ties between our two countries." Blackstone's rising stock prices in the past year have driven up the 66-year-old Schwarzman's net worth by $1.3 billion to $6.5 billion, according to Forbes, which ranks him 63rd among the 400 richest people in the US. At the end of 2012, the firm had $210 billion assets under management. The donation comes as Blackstone is stepping up its investment in China, particularly in the property market. The firm seeks to raise a $4 billion real-estate fund to focus on China and other Asian countries, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter. 

Funerals begin for Boston bombing victims (By China Daily) Zheng Minhui, a classmate of Lu Lingzi, gives a remembrance speech during a memorial service for Lingzi at Metcalf Hall in Boston University's George Sherman Student Union in Boston, Massachusetts, April 22, 2013. Friends, families and fellow students packed Metcalf Hall in Boston University's George Sherman Student Union for a memorial service in honor of graduate student Lu Lingzi in Boston, Massachusetts, April 22, 2013. Lingzi died in the Boston Marathon explosions.

Relief reaches isolated village (By China Daily) Supplies of instant noodles arrive at Wuxing village in Lushan county. The isolated Wuxing village is located less than five kilometers away from Lu'an county, Sichuan province. Many villagers were left homeless due to the quake though luckily there were no serious casualties. The relief goods could not get to the village until rescuers restored damaged roads.

Hong Kong*:  April 24 2013

Another one bites the dust … Ngau Kee Food Cafe closes after 62 years (By Johnny Tam Another one bites the dust ... restaurant owner Mak Ping-keung is sad to close his Ngau Kee Food Cafe at 3 Gough Road. Hundreds of diners yesterday flocked to a 62-year-old cha chaan teng in Sheung Wan on its last day of business. Ngau Kee Food Cafe, at 3 Gough Street between Sheung Wan and Central, was forced to close down after its landlord refused to lease the unit out for catering purposes. "It's OK if you want me to go, but you can't say Ngau Kee isn't special, you can't say you won't lease the unit to a cha chaan teng any more," said restaurant owner Mak Ping-keung. Mak, 60, took over Ngau Kee in 1996 as its fourth owner, when the eatery was still at Staunton Street. It moved to Gough Street in 2005 because of an urban redevelopment project. The restaurant was a family-run business, with Mak's wife, three sons and a daughter helping out with different tasks. Mak said he suspected the landlord wanted them to move so he could lease the space out to high-end boutiques for higher rent. The monthly rent for the 1,300 square feet unit was HK$49,000. "It's a loss to the residents in the neighbourhoods if there are only money-making boutiques around but not any local restaurants - which are harder and harder to find in the Western and Central districts," he said. Mak said the area around Gough Street used to have more popular local eateries, but many upmarket boutiques and houseware shops had moved in and displaced them in recent years. Several popular eateries had been forced to move away from Central and other prime locations because of the city's skyrocketing property prices. In February, Czarina Restaurant - a localised Russian eatery which served rich Borscht soup and good steak at Bonham Road in Mid-levels - closed down after serving the neighbourhood for half a century because the landlord decided to sell the unit when its price hit a record high. In January, Lei Yuen Congee Noodles - known for its wonton noodles, pork liver congee and rice dumplings in Causeway Bay - closed down after the monthly rent doubled to HK$600,000. Yesterday afternoon, Ngau Kee was swamped with visitors who came to bid their farewells and to enjoy the signature dishes of crispy minced meat cake and beef brisket in clear soup. "We discovered this restaurant years ago when we were just passing by," said a five-year patron, Peter Law, who was at the eatery with his wife. "We love the food and have come regularly since then." Mak said he was still looking for an appropriate unit in Sai Wan to reopen Ngau Kee. The eatery would begin serving the neighbourhood again as soon as he received a HK$3 million bank loan as a start-up fund, he said.

CY Leung to ask Legco for HK$100m quake donation (By Lai Ying-kit The Hong Kong government would seek a HK$100 million fund from the Legislative Council to support relief work in the quake-hit Sichuan province, it announced on Monday. The fund would be injected into the Disaster Relief Fund to support the Sichuan government’s relief work. The move was announced by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying in view of the significant casualties caused, the government said in a statement. It said Legco finance committee chairman Tommy Cheung Yu-yan had agreed to call a special meeting as early as possible to discuss the government’s funding request. A 7.0-magnitude quake hit the mountainous Yaan area – 140 kilometres southwest of the provincial capital Chengdu — on Saturday. By Monday, the death toll from the quake had risen to 188, with more than 11,000 people were injured, as relief teams battled to gain access to the isolated areas of devastation through roads partly blocked mudslides. A Hong Kong rescue squad has been put on standby to help in search and rescue operations in Sichuan. It is formed by personnel from the Hospital Authority, Fire Services Department, Government Flying Service and Civil Aid Service. Leung on Sunday pledged that Hong Kong would offer maximum support. “As part of the country, Hong Kong will not shirk the responsibility to contribute to the rescue and relief work,” he said.

Non-striking dockers challenge strikers' work conditions claims (Lai Ying-kit Non-striking dock workers on Monday challenged striking dockers’ claims about working conditions in the Kwai Tsing container terminals, saying what they faced was not as dire as the strikers claim. Three workers who have not participated in the three-week strike spoke about their work experiences during a press conference on Monday arranged by port operator Hongkong International Terminals. One of the workers, a crane operator surnamed Chan, contested the dire stories told by strikers of having to relieve themselves inside the cabin because they did not have toilet breaks. “Many colleagues climb down the crane and raise their request for the toilet to port staff. A patrol car will then be arranged to take us to the toilet,” he said. “When you tell them of your need, they don’t give you any trouble,” he said. Chan also said the crane cabin was comfortable, with air-conditioning, an adjustable chair and a shield against sunlight. Another worker, a cargo loader surnamed Lam, accused the striking workers of not being truthful when describing what is required of workers on the so-called 24-hour shift. He said workers actually had a six-hour break after six hours of work, and did not work continuously throughout the shift. “It is impossible that everything about the job is negative. There must be something positive,” he said. Their remarks came as the strike by more than 400 dock workers entered its 26th day. About 100 workers have been camped outside Cheung Kong Center to demand meetings with the contractors hiring them and the port operator HIT, which employs the contractors. Strikers are seeking a pay rise of 17 per cent and better working conditions. Responding to the non-striking workers’ remarks about work conditions at the docks, strike organiser Stanley Ho Wai-hang said their stories might well be true, but many dockers work in much worse conditions. “We have heard from more [than a few] workers that the conditions inside the port are very bad,” he said.

 China*:  April 24 2013

County struggles to recover (By Tang Yue in Ya'an, Sichuan and Peng Yining and He Na in Beijing) Although Baoxing was badly hit by Saturday's earthquake, the physical damage in the mountainous county was compounded by a failure of communications, a power outage and roads rendered impassable by fallen rocks. For many hours, Baoxing, just 30 kilometers from the quake's epicenter in Lushan county, was one of the most isolated places in the province. A lack of medication meant a 40-year-old Baoxing resident underwent surgery on his injured legs without anesthetic. He resorted to biting on a piece of wood to prevent the excruciating pain from causing his facial muscles to go into violent spasm and damage his teeth, according to Chen Yuyong, leader of a 40-member medical team. "Baoxing was completely cut off from the outside world at the time. There was no medication and no supplies, nothing," said Chen, who spent two hours hiking to the isolated area, arriving 14 hours after the quake. "But we had to perform the operation as quickly as possible. If we had left the dead tissue in place, it would have become infected and we might have been forced to amputate his legs." Chen described how the surgeon made an incision in the man's lower leg to allow congealing blood to escape, and also picked out debris embedded in the wound. "Thirty minutes . . . in a tent. You can't imagine how painful the operation was. The man's face was as white as a sheet of paper and his face was contorted in pain." According to Chen, the injured man was evacuated by helicopter on Sunday morning, along with 20 other seriously injured people. However, more survivors kept arriving, sporting a variety of gruesome leg injuries: Fractured bones, shredded tissue and deeply embedded debris. By noon on Sunday, the local government confirmed that 26 people had died in Baoxing and more than 2,500 were injured, around 86 have life-threatening injuries. Chen said the first priority was to prevent the severely injured from bleeding to death. Many required immediate surgery to control blood loss and prevent muscles and nerves from dying from lack of blood. "But the place was totally isolated and the situation was too poor for the complicated operations, such as amputations," he said. The most severely injured were evacuated by helicopter, according to Chen, but medication, including skin creams and cold remedies, is urgently needed for those whose injuries were not as severe and those who remained in the county. Chen said his team's overriding aim in the coming days will be to prevent post-disaster illnesses, including diarrhea and dysentery, which could result from a lack of safe drinking water.

Sanya tops the tourism stakes (By Wang Zhuoqiong) Four Points by Sheraton in Sanya, South China's Hainan province. A recent survey covering prices paid in China by all travelers shows that the tourism market in the southern tropical city of Sanya will grow exponentially over the years in line with the local government plans to make it a global tropical island resort destination by 2020. Higher inflows to provide strong growth momentum for hotels this year. Sanya, a city in South China's Hainan province, continued to be highest paid tourism destination in China amongst all travelers, followed by Chengdu and Xi'an, according to a recent survey conducted by a leading online hotel booking system. The's recent survey covering prices paid in China by all travelers shows that average hotel rates in 2012 remained more or less flat at 695 yuan ($112). The survey noted that the tourism market in the southern tropical city of Sanya will grow exponentially over the years in line with the local government plans to make it a global tropical island resort destination by 2020. According to the survey, the city's daily hotel prices were the highest at an average rate of 1,165 yuan, despite a 15 percent decline over the previous year. Lower demand from Chinese tourists was one of the main reasons why hotel rates in Sanya remained low last year, said Jessica Chuang, senior marketing manager, Greater China of Asia Pacific. In 2012, nearly 11.02 million tourists visited Sanya, an 8 percent growth over 2011, while tourism revenues grew by 11 percent over 2011 to 19.2 billion yuan. Two other popular destinations - Chengdu, home of the giant pandas in Sichuan province and Xi'an with its world-renowned Terracotta Warriors - saw slight decreases in tourist inflows. Overseas travelers still prefer Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou as their first destinations when they visit China, said Chuang. Hotel owners in destinations like Lijiang city in Yunnan province have benefited due to strong demand from domestic and overseas travelers, she said. Qingdao, the major seaport famous for its beer festival, saw an 18 percent decline in hotel rates to 653 yuan. Other double-digit fallers included Ningbo and Kunming, making them the destinations where travelers paid the lowest average rates. Amongst the stronger performers were Dongguan, home to the world's largest shopping mall, up 18 percent to 703 yuan and Quanzhou up 15 percent to 617 yuan. Hotel rates in Beijing rose 6 percent to 709 yuan, while the neighboring city of Tianjin recorded a 1 percent increase to 621 yuan. The new 72-hour visa policy for foreign visitors, which came into effect on Jan 1, is likely to stimulate more travel numbers, which in turn will impact prices in the future, considering that many of the leading international hotel companies are planning major expansion in China. Five star hotels in China are still not pricey when compared to other global peers, the survey said. According to the average prices paid in yuan for hotel rooms across different star ratings in the world, the average daily room rents in Guangzhou's five-star hotels is 1,195 yuan, while in Beijing it was around 1,319 yuan. Shanghai was only slightly higher at 1,367 yuan. Among these cities, the biggest decline in hotel rates was seen in Guangzhou, with prices falling by nearly 26 percent. Most of the domestic travelers preferred to stay in China-based hotels with an average daily rate of 655 yuan, the report said. The number of inbound travelers is expected to see an annual growth of about 10 percent between 2011 and 2015, Wu Wenxue, a senior official with China National Tourism Administration told Xinhua News Agency. He said that by 2015 inbound travelers to China would touch 3.3 billion, with travel spending accounting for 10 percent of the total residential consumption, and creating strong demand for theme, resort and economy hotels. However, the growing number of visitors to domestic destinations does not necessarily mean that there has been a similar increase in the tourist satisfaction levels. Earlier this month, the China Tourism Academy published a report on Chinese tourist satisfaction index for the first quarter of the year, which showed a sharp drop in satisfaction levels among inbound travelers. The report found that most of the complaints are largely due to the deteriorating air quality such as continuous haze and sandstorm and the water quality in many destinations. Among the respondents, foreign travelers have lower satisfaction than Chinese tourists on the air quality. In addition, prices at restaurants, tourism products and public services have also contributed to discontent among travelers, the report said.

Chinese-Americans donate to Sichuan earthquake relief (By Yu Wei in San Francisco Businesspeople attending the Sino-US Investment Expo in Los Angeles made donations on Saturday to help the victims of the Ya'an earthquake in China. People in the United States have extended condolences and assistance to those affected by Saturday's magnitude-7.0 earthquake in southwestern China, which killed at least 186 people and injured more than 11,000. When he heard about the quake, New York businessman Liang Guanjun said, he immediately acted to raise 1 million yuan ($162,000) and delivered the donation to the local government administration in Sichuan province on Sunday. Liang, who is co-chairman of the New York-based East Coast Federation of Chinese Associations and a businessman in Manhattan's Chinatown, had arrived in China on Friday. In May 2008, when an earthquake rocked Sichuan province and killed almost 70,000 people, Liang donated $31,000 to people and areas affected. The Chinese-American businessman said he would give an additional $100,000 in hope of encouraging more people to contribute. He also said he would focus on relief efforts in Sichuan once he returns to the US in a few days. Leaders of the East Coast Federation of Chinese Associations on Sunday set up a Sichuan Ya'an earthquake relief committee. "About 50 members attended today's meeting and we have raised more than $150,000," said Lin Xuewen, the federation's secretary, adding that people who want to donate to the relief effort can do so through the committee. Other Chinese-American groups were pitching in as well. "We have raised more than $20,000 in donations so far from our members," said a staff member of Fukien Benevolent Association of America in New York. Other organizations - United Fujinese of America and the Changle Association in New York, and the Sichuan and Chongqing associations in Washington - offered sympathy and conducted fund-raisers for families of victims of the Sichuan quake. In Los Angeles, a delegation of Chinese entrepreneurs attending the Sino-US Investment Expo arranged a donation. Li Lin, a businessman from Inner Mongolia who donated $160,000, expressed hope that donations would multiply, conveying hope for those in quakehit parts of Sichuan. Chinese students in the US also did their part. The Association of Chinese Students and Scholars at Stanford University will host a charity walk on Tuesday to raise money for quake survivors. Organizers of a seminar on USChina business innovation at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University decided to donate $2 to quake relief from each ticket sold. Wang Muhua, a PhD student at the University of Arizona's Department of Plant Sciences, said that although he couldn't take part in disaster relief on the ground, he hoped his financial donation would help those affected by the quake. Wang chose the One Foundation to process his donation, explaining that several online payment systems set up for quake relief were limited to Chinese bank cards or Alipay, the Chinese equivalent of Pay-Pal, which weren't convenient for him. "The One Foundation offers PayPal, which is easy to access," he said. The reputation among businesses and civic organizations of the One Foundation, founded by martial-arts actor and producer Jet Li, also gave Wang confidence that it would handle donations properly, he said. Condolences also came from official quarters in the US. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Saturday that the US is ready to provide help in rescue efforts. "Together with the American people, we are expressing our sincere condolences for the serious casualties and loss of properties by the earthquake in Sichuan," Kerry said. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said through a spokesman that he was "deeply saddened by the loss of life, injuries and destruction caused by the earthquake and aftershocks that struck yesterday in Sichuan province of China". "The United Nations stands ready to provide assistance and to mobilize any international support that may be needed," Ban said. Wu Hongbo, UN undersecretary general for economic and social affairs and a Chinese national, also conveyed deep condolences to victims of the quake and their families.

Hong Kong*:  April 23 2013

Bella! Bella! Cheers greet Sophia Loren as she visits Hong Kong (By P. Ramakrishnan) Legendary actress opened Damiani flagship store - Giorgio Damiani, Vice President of Damiani Group, with Sophia Loren. She came, she saw, she conquered. A name that needs little introduction, 'the' Sophia Loren attended the reopening of Damiani's flagship store in Hong Kong at ELEMENTS mall in Kowloon. Decked in diamonds and a figure-hugging black gown, the 78-year-old actress, nay icon, wore pieces from the Sophia Loren Collection as she ventured into the flagship store. Cutting the ribbon with Giorgio Damiani, Vice President of Damiani Group and Alessandra Schiavo, Consul General of Italy, she blew kisses to the teeming crowd who gathered en mass to watch the grand dame of world cinema grace the occasion. More pictures of Sophia Loren in Hong Kong - The crowds, well, mostly the snaparazzi, alternated between yelling out "Sophia! Sophia" and "Bella! Bella!" to entice that famed name and decolletage to turn their way. Pansy Ho and third-generation Damiani, Giorgio, were part of the cherry-picked few who entered the shop with the actress, while the others watched from the outside, nose-pressed against the windows as the few and the fabulous made their way around the 1,076 square foot boutique. A notably buff, suit-and-tie sporting bouncer kept the crowds at bay, while he held a sparking, grey, clutch that, presumably, belonged to la bellissima Italiana. At the cocktail, dressed in a magenta Hugo Boss suit, it was hard not to miss Kam Kwok-Leung, who's been a fan of Loren for years. "I first saw her decades ago, at the premiere of the opera Turandot," said the radio personality. "I doubt she remembers me. There are so many classic Italian movies she's done that I love that I can't name one, but the combination of her and Marcello Mastroianni on-screen was wonderful." Pulling out a splendid portrait of Loren decked in diamonds and feathers, he hoped to get an autograph. Among the sea of faces at the cocktail, lord of coif and curls, Kim Robinson was out and about with friends, including our best-dressed of the night nominee, Jessica Hui. TV personality Rebeea Yeung emceed the event. Sally and Robert Lo, Yvette Yuen were seen in the melee as well as Chitra and Manolo Chellaram. A clumsy oaf of a scribe bumped a champagne glass and a splash of Moet hit Manolo, who ever graciously said, "Don't worry, its only champagne - and it's good luck!" The cocktail party followed an exclusive VIP dinner at Tin Lung Heen at The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong. Attending socialites included Ivy Wu, Dennis and Betty Sun, Moses and Angela Tsang, Ming Tang, Louisa Cheng, Sharon Poon, Mira Yeh, Virginia Wu, Helen Ma, Helen Rong and a host of other glittering attendees. They wined and dined with the Diva while their courses were interrupted by a jewellery show, as models sauntered by the restaurant showcasing some of the signature pieces. However, the cynosure of all eyes was undoubtedly Loren, who sported more than a fair share of bling, which she happily posed with for many an i-cam.

Chief Hong Kong prosecutor wants easier way to seize dirty cash (By Patsy Moy Chief prosecutor calls for reform of law so that assets can be confiscated without a criminal conviction - as is the case in other countries - The chief prosecutor says he wants the law changed to make it easier for authorities to confiscate dirty money, as the city wages an uphill battle against money laundering. Director of Public Prosecutions Kevin Zervos said the fact that prosecutors need a criminal conviction before they can apply for a confiscation order is hampering their efforts. "Under the current law, we cannot confiscate unless we secure a conviction, which can be a stumbling block in cases where the criminality has occurred overseas or the evidence is unavailable to establish the predicate offence," Zervos said. In other jurisdictions, including Australia and Britain, this is not the case. There, the government has the flexibility of proving to the court on the balance of probabilities - a lesser standard of proof - that the cash is the proceeds of a serious crime in order to confiscate it. The civil proceedings are separate from criminal charges of money laundering or the underlying crimes involved. In criminal trials, the prosecution must prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt. Zervos wants to have the option of the civil channel to confiscate dirty money so that it can be returned to the public purse. He said this would also help in combating money laundering and would leave prosecutors less open to criticism because "no one's liberty is at stake". Lawmaker Ronny Tong Ka-wah agreed that civil-based confiscation would also be a deterrent, particularly in borderline cases in which it could be difficult to get a criminal conviction. Last year, some HK$772 million of assets were frozen here - compared with a much heftier HK$1.2 billion in 2011, according to official figures. And the amount of dirty money recovered and paid to the government last year was just HK$23 million - a steep drop from HK$1.6 billion in 2011. "No one needs to launder clean money. If it was legitimate money, we would have claimants knocking on our door," Zervos said, ahead of a global conference on money laundering and financial crimes he will attend today and tomorrow in Bangkok. He also hit back at criticism his department only chases the small players. He said their job was made more difficult as criminal networks grew more sophisticated and international, and used new technology to move cash around. "To some extent, you need to rely on the minor players … to assist the authorities to identify the major miscreants," he said. "Criminal syndicates tend to camouflage their criminal activities and dress them up behind a veil of legitimacy and respectability. They do it through corporate structures and sometimes on reliance of professionals as well. "The money invariably comes not just from one jurisdiction but through many other jurisdictions before coming into Hong Kong. "I cannot prosecute people in other countries for crimes they commit there. The big fish that we can catch are the ones swimming in our ocean."

Government confirms talks under way on tycoon Lee Shau-kee's offer of land for homes (By Joyce Ng Lee Shau-kee's pledge to give government farmland on which to build 10,000 homes for first-time buyers described as 'unprecedented'. Lee Shau-kee (above) has held talks with Anthony Cheung. The housing minister has confirmed talks are under way with property tycoon Lee Shau-kee over his offer to donate farmland to build affordable housing. "Mr Lee has expressed his wish to help young people with their housing needs. Indeed, we have been in contact with him and the discussions are ongoing," Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung said on a radio programme yesterday. An announcement would be made when the details were finalised, the secretary for transport and housing said. Cheung said the offer was unprecedented: "No developer has donated land to the government like this. If an individual is really willing to donate, and the land released fits the urban planning requirements for housing use, the government should consider it." The housing secretary's remarks came a day after a Chinese-language newspaper reported details of the offer by Lee, chairman of Henderson Land Development. The report said the government had selected seven sites, most in the northeastern New Territories, from a list Lee had presented. It said Lee aimed to help deliver 10,000 homes for first-time buyers. Cheung would not disclose any details but said parts of the report were "speculation", adding: "The government will deal with the matter in accordance with the established public housing policy under the Housing Authority and the Housing Society." Lee first publicly raised the idea in January, saying he would be willing to build homes of 300 square feet each on his company's plots in the New Territories and price them at HK$1 million each for sale to first-time buyers. In return, the government should exempt him from paying the premium for changing the use of the land. A Henderson spokeswoman said yesterday Lee had agreed with the government's counteroffer that he donate the land for the government to build the flats. Under the public housing policy, families earning no more than HK$40,000 a month are eligible to buy subsidised homes. Prices of the flats are determined by how much the applicants can afford. Henderson's land bank in the New Territories totals about 42.4 million square feet as of June last year - making it the largest holding among all developers in Hong Kong. About 9.1 million square feet of its holdings are in Hung Shiu Kiu in the western New Territories, with some in the northeast - areas identified by the government a decade ago as being appropriate for development. New World Development chairman Henry Cheng Kar-shun, a backer of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, has also indicated he is willing to donate land.

 China*:  April 23 2013

South Korea's Samsung may have already destroyed Sony and now breathing down Apple's throat - In China, Samsung outshines Apple in Sichuan earthquake donations (By Patrick Boehler) A girl recharges four mobile phones at a time in Yaan, Sichuan, on Sunday. As rescuers worked against time to reach those still trapped in rubble left by the devastating Sichuan earthquake, tech companies on Monday were also in a race, vying for generosity points in one of the world's largest markets. Samsung, the world's largest smartphone maker, is donating 60 million yuan (HK$75.4 million) to help relief efforts in Yaan, the company said in a weibo post on Monday morning. The South Korean company led China's smartphone market for the first time last year. It nearly tripled its sales from 10 million to 30 million units last year, according to market researcher Strategy Analytics. Samsung did not specify to whom the funds would go. The post has been shared some 16,000 times in the first three hours. Less than two hours after Samsung's announcement, Sina reported that Apple, Samsung's biggest global competitor, would be donating 50 million yuan to help with relief efforts. Apple also pledged to provide computer equipment and training to some schools in the disaster zone. The California-based company has had its share of problems in China, after national broadcaster CCTV and the flagship national paper, the People's Daily, ran a series of stories critical of Apple's discretionary customer service on the mainland. Apple is now struggling to compete with Samsung in the high-end smartphone market. A study last week showed that more than half of surveyed iPhone owners would like to own a new Samsung phone. Chinese firm Lenovo, which has the second-largest market share in smartphones after Samsung, pledged 4,000 mobile phones and SIM cards to quake relief efforts. HTC, Taiwan's leading smartphone maker, offered 5 million yuan to the rescue efforts. China's up-and-coming smartphone maker Xiaomi and software giant Microsoft both promised 1 million yuan each. Nokia said it would also donate 1 million yuan in funds and phones to help with the rescue efforts. 

China issues rebuttal over critical US human rights survey (By Reuters in Beijing) China's report slammed the US for failing to pass gun control measures even after two high-profile mass shootings. China accused the United States on Sunday of spying on its own citizens, discriminating against women and ethnic minorities and allowing gun crime to run out of control, in Beijing’s annual rebuttal to Washington’s criticism of its rights record. The US government’s yearly survey of human rights around the world issued last week said that repression and coercion in China were routine, especially for rights activists and people living in Tibet and the heavily Muslim region of Xinjiang. In a lengthy report issued by the official Xinhua news agency, China said the United States would do better to deal with its own problems than lambast others as it had no right to be a “world judge”. “As in previous years, the reports are full of carping and irresponsible remarks on the human rights situation in more than 190 countries and regions including China,” Beijing said. “However, the US turned a blind eye to its own woeful human rights situation and never said a word about it.” The report, without a hint of irony in acknowledging China’s sprawling domestic security and intelligence apparatus, took the United States to task for spying on its own citizens, pointing to a last year bill that “authorises warrantless wiretapping”. Federal law enforcement agencies are increasingly monitoring Americans’ communications, the report said, referencing documents collected by the American Civil Liberties Union. The National Security Agency eavesdrops on phone calls and intercepts emails, it added. American police also “often abused their power,” and more US women became victims of domestic violence and sexual assault last year, Xinhua said. “The lives and personal security of the United States citizens, who were haunted by serious violent crimes, were not duly protected,” it added. China’s report said that the United States failed to pass gun control measures even after two high-profile mass shootings, endangering its own citizens. Women and ethnic minorities in the United States were discriminated against too, it said. “Religious discrimination is also rapidly on the rise, with an increase in insults and attacks against Muslims.” Human rights have long been a source of tension between the world’s two largest economies, especially since 1989, when the US imposed sanctions on China after a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

China rescuers struggle to reach Sichuan earthquake zone as toll climbs (By Reuters in Lushan) Rescuers struggled to reach a remote corner of southwestern China on Sunday as the toll of the dead and missing from the country’s worst earthquake in three years climbed to 203 with more than 11,000 injured. The 6.6-magnitude quake struck in Lushan county, near the city of Yaan in the southwestern province of Sichuan, close to where a devastating 7.9 temblor hit in May 2008 killing some 70,000. Most of the deaths were concentrated in Lushan, a short drive up the valley from Yaan, but rescuers’ progress was hampered by the narrowness of the road and landslides, as well as government controls restricting access to avoid traffic jams. “The Lushan county centre is getting back to normal, but the need is still considerable in terms of shelter and materials,” said Kevin Xia of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. “Supplies have had difficulty getting into the region because of the traffic jams. Most of our supplies are still on the way,” Xia said. In Yaan, relief workers from across China expressed frustration with gaining access to Lushan. “We’re in a hurry. There are people that need help and we have supplies in the back [of the car],” said one man from the Shandong Province Earthquake Emergency Response Team, who declined to give his name. The Foreign Ministry thanked foreign governments for offers of help, but said the country was able to cope. “At present, Chinese rescue and medical capabilities are guaranteed and relief resources are sufficient,” it said. In Lushan, doctors and nurses tended to people in the open or under tents in the grounds of the main hospital, surrounded by shattered glass, plaster and concrete that fell during the quake. Water and electricity in the area were cut off by the quake. “I was scared. I’ve never seen an earthquake this big before,” said farmer Chen Tianxiong, 37, lying on a stretcher between tents, his family looking on. Nearby, an elderly woman sat dazed mumbling to her son, while nurses wiped blood from another woman’s foot as her husband cradled her head. In another tent, Zhou Lin sat tending to his wife and three-day-old son who were evacuated from a Lushan hospital soon after the quake struck on Saturday. “I was worried the child or his mother would be hurt. The buildings were all shaking. I was extremely scared. But now I don’t feel afraid any more,” said Zhou, looking at his child as he slept soundly wrapped in a blanket on a makeshift bed. Premier Li Keqiang flew into the disaster zone by helicopter to comfort the injured and displaced, chatting to rescuers and clambering over rubble. “Don’t be sad, we will rebuild after this disaster and your new homes will be even better than before,” state media quoted him as telling residents. The Ministry of Civil Affairs put the number of dead at 179 and missing at 24, with almost 11,500 injured, 960 of them seriously. Chen Yong, the vice director of the Yaan city government earthquake response office, told reporters that the death toll was unlikely to rise dramatically. “We understand the situation in most areas. Most of the casualties have been reported. In some remote mountain areas, it is possible that we don’t fully understand the situation,” he said. But no schools had collapsed, unlike in 2008 when many schools crumpled causing huge public anger, prompting a nationwide campaign of re-building. “Our schools are the safest and sturdiest buildings,” Chen said. “The Chinese government has put a lot of money into building schools and hospitals. I can guarantee that no schools collapsed.” Xinhua said 6,000 troops were in the area to help with rescue efforts. Rescuers in Lushan had pulled 91 survivors out of rubble, Xinhua said. In villages closest to the epicentre, almost all low-rise buildings had collapsed, footage on state television showed. The China Meteorological Association warned of the possibility of landslides in Lushan county, with more than 1,000 aftershocks registered. Yaan is a city of 1.5 million people and is considered one of the birthplaces of Chinese tea culture. It is also the home to one of China’s main centres for protecting the giant panda. Sichuan is one of the four major natural gas-producing provinces in China, and its output accounts for about 14 per cent of the nation’s total. Sinopec, Asia’s largest oil refiner, said its huge Puguang gas field was unaffected. The US Geological Survey initially put the magnitude at 7, but later revised it down. In 2010, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake killed 2,700 people in Yushu, a largely Tibetan region in northwest China.

International Monetary Fund (IMF) governors have their group photo taken during the IMF and World Bank Group Spring Meetings at the IMF headquarters in Washington D.C., April 20, 2013.

Soldiers arrive in severely-hit Taiping Town in Ya'an City - Soldiers run through landslide area between severely-hit Longmen Town and Baosheng Town of Lushan County in Ya'an City. Rescuers struggling to reach every household in quake zone - Military and civilian rescue teams are struggling to reach every household in Lushan and neighboring counties.

Hong Kong*:  April 22 2013

Hong Kong responds generously after latest Sichuan earthquake (By Jennifer Ngo Trucks carrying relief supplies move on a road from Chengdu to the quake-hit Lushan County. Hong Kong is responding quickly with help for the victims of the Sichuan earthquake. Major non-governmental organisations sent staff to the affected area to assess the situation and are mobilising supplies and resources. "There are extensively damaged buildings here, fallen roofs and walls," Eleanor Lam of the Hong Kong Red Cross said by telephone from Longmenxiang, a badly hit area with no electricity or water supplies and where an estimated 99 per cent of buildings were destroyed. "We are liaising with the Red Cross in Lushan and in Chengdu, and emergency supplies will be sent over shortly." Lam said most people had lost their homes and were camping out in the open. Ambulances were transporting the seriously wounded away as Lam approached the town. Those left had suffered only minor injuries "from falling bricks or debris", she said. Betty Lau, head of international and relief services at the Hong Kong Red Cross, said three staff were on their way to Sichuan and that the organisation would decide what to do next once it had assessed the situation but that it had already decided to donate 1 million yuan (HK$1.3 million). Oxfam Hong Kong sent a team of four from the charity's Chengdu office to Lushan county at noon to report on the situation. A spokeswoman said Oxfam was preparing to transport the necessary emergency supplies to the area. Oxfam Hong Kong was ready to send a team from Kunming, Yunnan province, to the area as well if the situation proved serious, she said. The organisation is appealing to the public for donations, and hopes to raise HK$1 million. World Vision HK has donated HK$780,000 for emergency relief. Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying offered his condolences to the quake's victims. Secretary for Food and Health Ko Wing-man - who was a volunteer doctor in the aftermath of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake - said the government would provide the necessary support for emergency relief efforts in Sichuan, and was in close contact with mainland authorities. After the devastating earthquake in Sichuan in 2008, Hongkongers responded generously, raising more than HK$1 billion within a week. Doctors, aid workers and engineers travelled from Hong Kong to the scene to help with rescue work. The Legislative Council allocated HK$9 billion and the Hong Kong Jockey Club gave HK$1 billion. Oxfam Hong Kong sent emergency relief teams, helped with rebuilding and donated HK$166 million.

Hong Kong police chief rejects claims in US report on human rights (Colleen Lee Andy Tsang takes issue with a US report on human rights that highlights local criticism - Commissioner of Police Andy Tsang Wai-hung. An official US report on human rights in Hong Kong has drawn attention to local concerns over freedom of assembly and claims that police are turning to aggressive, abusive tactics. Police Commissioner Andy Tsang Wai-hung yesterday rejected those accusations as unfounded. The report, compiled by the US State Department and sent to Congress, looks at human rights around the world. On Hong Kong, the report stated that while the government "generally respected" the rights of freedom of assembly in practice, "activists and pan-democratic legislators expressed concern that the government took a more restrictive view of protests at the central government liaison office". "Demonstrators continued to claim that their ability to protest had become increasingly difficult due to Hong Kong Police Commissioner Andy Tsang," the report said. "Some activists also alleged that police faced no penalty for making arrests that ultimately were not prosecuted or were dismissed by the courts." Tsang said that of about 7,500 public events held last year, only 40 involved police arrests. "Nearly 70 per cent [of the arrests] were made because other people's rights or property were affected," he said. "The police took action on reports. I totally disagree with any remarks that say the police suppress freedom of expression or assembly." Earlier, police sent a serious crime unit from the Sha Tin district crime squad to investigate a case involving graffiti that said "Xi Jinping Go To Hell", which appeared on a wall at Kam Kwai House, Kam Fung Court, Ma On Shan. A man was charged with criminal damage and will appear in Sha Tin Court on Wednesday. The report said the Basic Law "limits the right of residents to change their government peacefully. The government stated that the current method of selecting [functional constituency] legislators did not conform to principles of universal suffrage, but it took no steps to eliminate the FCs". The report cited complaints over the South China Morning Post's handling of a June 7 report on the death of dissident Li Wangyang as an example of what some media watchers said was a troubling sign for press freedom. Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor director Law Yuk-kai said the 2012 report levelled "straightforward and severe criticism" against the city's human rights condition. A government spokesman said the advice of the Department of Justice would be sought if police intended to press charges against anyone arrested over public order.

Hutchison Whampoa attacks unionist lawmaker in first comments on dockers' strike (By Johnny Tam and Thomas Chan) Li Ka-shing's top lieutenant attacks unionist lawmaker amid ad campaign over dockers' increasingly bitter pay-and-conditions dispute. Tensions over the dockers' strike rose further yesterday as one of Li Ka-shing's top lieutenants publicly slammed unionist lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan. Canning Fok Kin-ning claimed Lee was not genuinely interested in helping the workers and harboured ulterior motives. "Lee Cheuk-yan resorts to every means - he doesn't want an outcome at all, hoping that as the strike drags on, he can negotiate with Mr Li so as to boost his own publicity," Fok, Hutchison Whampoa's group managing director, said to reporters on a trip to Beijing. "This [strike] has been using the style of the Cultural Revolution [where people are vilified on banners and posters]," he added. Fok said he did not believe the dockers' working conditions were that bad and they were "willing to work long hours". His remarks were the first public ones on the strike from Hutchison Whampoa - the parent company of port operator Hongkong International Terminals, whose contractors employ the 450 striking dockers. Lee hit back, deriding Fok as the "King of all workers", a swipe at the executive's high pay package, and said Fok could not understand the plight of grass-roots workers. As for Fok's reference to Cultural Revolution tactics, Lee said: "We just want to express how discontented we feel ... [the head shots] are just comical creativity used all the time in modern society to express the emotions of people," Lee said. As the strike entered its 24th day yesterday, HIT placed full-page ads in most newspapers in the city, other than Apply Daily, attacking the union's demands as "unachievable". The ad alleged Lee's role in the industrial action was purely to advance personal interests. In the Chinese-language version of the statement, HIT wrote: "Is someone unwilling to make a deal? Is there someone who wants to achieve his own purpose and is ignoring the interests of the workers?" But those sentences did not appear in the English-language version of the statement, headed "Breakthrough sought after three weeks of labour dispute". The ads said "the average monthly salary for dockers has already reached HK$20,000" and the 20 per cent pay rise they have been demanding would "create an impact across other industries and cause irreparable damage to Hong Kong". Union of Hong Kong Dockers strike organiser Stanley Ho Wai-hong said: "The figures provided by HIT are misleading, as dockers would have to work many 24-hour shifts to earn HK$20,000 a month. But that is still way less than the amount earned by dockers hired directly." The union, backed by Lee's Confederation of Trade Unions is demanding pay rises of 17 to 24 per cent and better conditions. Based on advertisement rates for the papers listed online, HIT may have spent HK$1 million or more on yesterday's ads. Meanwhile, a docker is seeking damages against the port operator and its subcontractor Global Stevedoring Service in District Court, saying he injured his right arm in an electric shock two years ago while working in the control room of a crane at Container Terminal Four.

Celebrity-studded cocktail party as Chloe's Creative Director opens Hong Kong store (By Jing Zhang) Janice Man at the star-studded cocktail party. Chloe’s Creative Director Clare Waight Keller stopped off in Hong Kong to celebrate the opening of the French label’s Landmark store and new Asian flagship. The English designer at the helm of one of France’s most famous fashion houses hosted a celebrity studded cocktail last night (18th April) with the likes of Cissy Wang, Karena Ng, Ankie Beilke, Janice Man, who braved the rain decked out in Chloe’s spring summer collection. Model couple and local celebrity staples, Anthony Sandstrom and Jocelyn Luko also put in an appearance, with Luko donning a whimsical vintage Violin dress from the brand’s archive. The label, founded by Egyptian émigré Gaby Aghion in 1952, also brought its 60th anniversary collection in store for local fashionistas. Keller capped off the evening with an intimate private dinner at Sevva before heading off back to Paris the next day. See SCMP’s full interview with her in Friday’s Life section.

DAB puts Starry Lee Wai-king in the driver's seat (By Joshua But High rents and a shortage of office space have prompted the city's biggest political party to open a mobile district office - and "super seat" lawmaker Starry Lee Wai-king will be giving it a road test. Tam Yiu-chung, who was last night re-elected as chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, revealed that the party had already bought a van that would be modified for use as a mobile office - at a total cost of about HK$400,000. He said a key direction for the pro-Beijing party was to further develop its district network, and the new mobile office would give it more flexibility. The DAB already has more than 200 district offices in the city. "The rent is too high in some areas, while some areas in the New Territories are too remote to set up an office," Tam said. "The idea is a trial scheme and we'll see how a mobile office can help us in reaching the people in those areas." Lee, who serves the new district council functional constituency - with about 3.2 million voters across the city - will be the main user of the van. But other lawmakers and district councillors would also make use of it, Tam said. The DAB veteran also said it could be his last term at the helm of the party, and he hoped a fresh face could take over when his term ends in two years. The hot favourites to succeed him included Lee, who yesterday joined fellow lawmakers Ann Chiang Lai-wan and Horace Cheung Kwok-kwan in being re-elected as the party's vice-chairpersons. Brave Chan Yung, a Hong Kong deputy to the National People's Congress, and Thomas Pang Cheung-wai, a delegate of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, were elected chairmen of the party for the first time.

Shippers to divert cargo to Guangdong to beat dock strike (By Johnny Tam and Ng Kang-chung) Shippers agree plan to move freight through province as city's dock dispute continues, with customs officials pledging to speed up clearance - Shippers have worked out a back-up plan to move Hong Kong cargo through ports in Guangdong with no end in sight to the Kwai Tsing dock strike. The Hong Kong Shippers' Council also said Guangdong customs had agreed to speed up clearance of diverted shipments. The move follows the visit by a joint delegation from the council and the Federation of Hong Kong Industries to the province earlier this week. Council chairman Willy Lin Sun-mo, whose group represents exporters, importers, traders and manufacturers, said: "Delayed shipments can result in huge business losses. That is why making sure the goods can be delivered in time is always our prime concern." He said the flow of trade in next month's peak season could have been affected if a back-up plan had not been worked out. Commenting on the strike, Lin said: "The workers can demand whatsoever they like. But [shippers] are not living in an ivory tower. We have obligations to our customers." The pay dispute degenerated into a strike on March 28 and the number of strikers has grown from about 100 to more than 400. Last night, hundreds of dockers and their supporters staged a rally outside the Cheung Kong Center in Central. Strikers have been camping there after talks earlier this week failed to break the deadlock. Strike organiser Stanley Ho Wai-hong, of the Union of Hong Kong Dockers, said about 2,000 attended the rally. Police, however, said 600 people attended the rally at the peak of the event. The rally was attended by pan-democrat legislators Emily Lau Wai-hing, "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung and Raymond Chan Chi-chuen. The Cheung Kong Center is owned by tycoon Li Ka-shing. The port operator, Hongkong International Terminals (HIT), is a unit of Li's Hutchison Port Holdings Trust. The strikers want him to force the subcontractors to give them a rise. One contractor, Global Stevedoring Service, announced on Thursday it would close after its contract with HIT ends at the end of June. Some of the Global workers yesterday claimed some other contractors had tried to poach them, but they vowed they would not back down until all their demands were satisfied. A Global workers' representative, Chan Ka-kui, said: "Although our company announced it would close, it still has a responsibility to talk to us about salaries, benefits and occupational health issues. It is not closing today." Chan said his fellow workers would not join other contractors for only a pay rise. They wanted all their demands, including benefits and occupational health conditions, to be met. Dick Wong, of contractor Everbest Port Services, said the company could not afford the increase of at least 20 per cent sought by the strikers. "I doubt many companies in Hong Kong nowadays can afford to give a 20 per cent pay rise to staff," he said. Meanwhile, the HIT Group Employees General Union, which represents about 300 dock workers directly hired by HIT, said last night it would call off its work-to-rule after the company agreed to improve overtime pay and the compensation day off system. The union did not take part in the strike.

Finance ministers and central bank governors from the Group of 20 (G20) major economies in the world on Friday reaffirmed their pledge to avoid the competitive devaluation of respective currencies. "We will refrain from competitive devaluation and will not target our exchange rates for competitive purposes, and we will resist all forms of protectionism and keep our markets open," said a communique issued after the G20 officials wrapped up two days of discussions on the sidelines of the International Monetary Fund ( IMF) and the World Bank Spring Meetings. The pledge is similar to the one they made at a previous gathering in Moscow in February. The G20 policymakers also reiterated that "excess volatility of financial flows and disorderly movements in exchange rates have adverse implications for economic and financial stability," adding that monetary policy should be directed toward domestic objectives. "We will be mindful of unintended negative side effects stemming from extended periods of monetary easing," the communique added. In the communique, the G20 members said that although the global economy had avoided major tail risks and financial market conditions had continued to improve, the growth was too weak and unemployment remained too high in many countries. So further actions are required to make growth "strong, sustainable and balanced." Playing down public concerns over a global "currency war," the G20 officials said that recent monetary easing measures from the Bank of Japan, which have led to a sharp devaluation of the yen, were intended to stop deflation and support domestic demand. Without setting a hard debt-reduction target, policymakers of the world's biggest economies highlighted the importance of maintaining fiscal sustainability, and called for medium-term fiscal strategies from the advanced economies by the time of the St. Petersburg G20 Summit in September. The communique also stressed the urgent need for ratification of the 2010 IMF Quota and Governance Reform, a package which included a shift in quotas to dynamic emerging markets and under- represented countries, and a proposed amendment to reform the executive board. The legislatures of some key IMF members, including the United States, have not yet given the green light to the reform package. Meanwhile, the G20 members agreed to finalize a new quota formula and complete the 15th General Quota Review by January 2014. "We reaffirm our previous commitment that the distribution of quotas based on the formula should better reflect the relative weights of IMF members in the world economy, which have changed substantially in view of strong GDP growth in dynamic emerging market and developing countries," said the document.

 China*:  April 22 2013

Blackstone founder creates scholarship at China's Tsinghua University (By Associated Press in Beijing) Blackstone founder Stephen Schwarzman. The founder of the US private equity firm Blackstone announced on Sunday the establishment of a US$300 million scholarship programme in China for postgraduates from around the world. The money being raised by Stephen Schwarzman will be the largest philanthropic gift with foreign money in China’s history, according to the tycoon and Beijing’s Tsinghua University, which will host the program. Schwarzman will make a personal gift of US$100 million and plans to raise an additional US$200 million to establish a postgraduate programme for foreign students that will aim to rival the Rhodes scholarships, which bring dozens of foreign students to Oxford University with the aim of producing outstanding leaders. Already, US$100 million has been raised in the last six months, Schwarzman said. The fund will allow 200 students to take part in a one-year master’s program in public policy, economics, business and international relations at the university each year starting in 2016. Schwarzman said 45 per cent of the students would come from the United States, 20 per cent from China and the rest from other parts of the world. To underscore the importance of the Schwarzman Scholars’ program and China’s importance in future world leadership, both US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping sent congratulatory letters, which were read out at the announcement ceremony at Tsinghua University.

A train pulls out of Chengdu Railway Station in Chengdu, capital of the quake-hit southwest China's Sichuan Province, April 20, 2013. A 7.0-magnitude earthquake earthquake hit Lushan county of Ya'an City in Sichuan at 8:02 a.m. Saturday Beijing Time. The Chengdu railway bureau stopped all 82 running trains under administration as soon as the quake happened. The railway traffic was restored at 2:46 p.m. Saturday Beijing Time. At least 113 people were confirmed dead in the quake by far. 

UN celebrates Chinese Language Day (Xinhua) Singer Pang Yixuan sings the Dragon Boat Song during an event to celebrate the United Nations Chinese Language Day, at UN Plaza in New York, on April 19, 2013. The United Nations marked the fourth Chinese Language Day here Friday with a series of special activities in an effort to discover the beauty of Chinese language and highlight the historical importance of Chinese culture. The celebration is held around the same time in April each year on Guyu, or literally meaning "grain rain", which is the 6th of the 24 solar terms created by ancient Chinese to carry out agricultural activities, to pay tribute to Cangjie -- an ancient Chinese mythical figure who is credited with having invented Chinese characters about 5,000 years ago. Dozens of UN staff members and diplomats from different countries participated in a host of events organized. Wang Ban, a renowned litterateur and translator, gave a lecture titled on the sources of Chinese literature to introduce to the audience the Book of Songs and the Songs of Chu, two anthologies of classical Chinese poetry dating back to 21st century B.C. and 221 B.C. As part of the celebration, an exhibition of Chinese paintings and calligraphy was also held here. Zhang Wanxin, a renowned calligrapher and seal engraver, made a presentation on how to appreciate and learn Chinese Calligraphy. Other events included performances of traditional Chinese songs and musical instruments playing. Christopher Livaccari, director of education and language initiatives at the New York-based Asia Society, talked about his experience of living in China and learning the Chinese language. Chinese language is one of the United Nations' six official languages. The other five working languages of the UN are French, Spanish, Russian, English and Arabic. The Chinese language is now spoken by more than a billion people, which means one in seven people communicate with Chinese in the world. The UN Department of Public Information (DPI) introduced the language days starting 2010 to celebrate each official language and encourage cultural diversity and mutual understanding.

Huawei, ZTE may benefit from US security report (By Bien Perez Congressional watchdog finds no evidence of cyber incidents affecting country's networks - Fears of spying have hindered Huawei Technologies from cracking the US telecommunications equipment market. A new United States government report on network security could have positive implications for Huawei Technologies and ZTE's business in the country, the world's largest telecommunications market. The US Government Accountability Office released this month a report that found no recent evidence of cyber-security incidents affecting the country's telecommunications networks. Often called the "congressional watchdog", the GAO is the audit, evaluation and investigative arm of the US Congress. Its latest report followed the publication in October last year of a separate congressional study, which claimed that the telecommunications infrastructure equipment from Huawei and ZTE could threaten national security. Based on an 11-month probe conducted by the House Intelligence Committee, the October study urged US companies to stop doing business with both Huawei and ZTE for fear of possible spying and cyberattacks by China. The two companies rejected the findings, which have stymied their efforts to crack the US telecommunications network equipment market. The GAO report, however, found that "no cyber-based incidents involving the core and access communications networks had been reported using [established] mechanisms to the federal government from January 2010 to October 2012". Its report forms the first section of an extensive audit on the risks in the information and communications technology industry's supply chain, which was requested by the House Energy and Commerce Committee in October 2011. Both the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Homeland Security have reporting mechanisms for private telecommunications network operators, such as AT&T and Verizon, and the federal government to share information on network outages and cyber incidents. The GAO report said: "Specifically, of the over 35,000 outages reported to the FCC over this time period, none were related to traditional cyber threats." Such cyber threats included computer viruses, self-propagating worms, spyware and co-ordinated attacks by bot-net operators, which use compromised, remotely controlled networks of computers. "Officials within the FCC and the private sector attributed the lack of incidents to the fact that the communications networks provide the medium for direct attacks on consumer, business and government systems - and thus, these networks are less likely to be targeted by a cyberattack," the report said. That finding directly refutes the stand taken by the US congressmen behind the October study, which singled out Huawei and ZTE as security risks because their products are made in China and that the Chinese government has influence on their operations. A Huawei spokesman said: "Every major telecommunications infrastructure provider has a substantial manufacturing supply chain network in China." Shenzhen-based Huawei is the world's second-largest telecommunications equipment supplier after Sweden's Ericsson, while ZTE is ranked fifth. Improved dialogue between China and the US may also augur well for Huawei and ZTE's business in the US. Secretary of State John Kerry and President Xi Jinping recently reached an agreement to set up a working group to improve cyber-security.

Saving lives must be top priority after quake, says Xi (By Agencies) Premier Li Keqiang visits earthquake zone - China's Premier Keqiang visits Lushan in Sichuan after it was hit by a strong earthquake on Saturday. Li Keqiang (centre) arrives in Longmen township at Ya'an city in southwest Sichuan province. President Xi Jinping on Saturday ordered officials and rescuers in China’s southwestern Sichuan province to make saving people’s lives their most urgent priority, Xinhua reported. Premier Li Keqiang flew to Sichuan after the earthquake struck on Saturday morning killing at least 124 people and leaving more than 3,000 injured. Li arrived in Sichuan on Saturday afternoon and took a helicopter to the quake zone. Li was accompanied by Vice-Premier Wang Yang. Li spoke to provincial and army leaders at a compound in Longmen township, Lushan County, Ya'an. “The current most urgent issue is grasping the first 24 hours since the quake’s occurrence, the golden time for saving lives,” Xinhua news agency quoted Li as saying. Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang earlier ordered “all possible measures” to rescue victims of the temblor which struck at 8.02am in Lushan, a county about 1,650km southwest of Beijing. Civilian and military relief groups along with a national emergency response team of doctors, police and fire fighters headed to the region to deal with the disaster, Xinhua reported. In other developments, volunteers returned to Baosheng township, at the quake's epicentre, on Saturday afternoon to look for more survivors. They said the situation there was very serious. Many people had been killed and thousands still required assistance. They told the South China Morning Post large numbers of PLA soldiers had also been mobilised to help.

Hong Kong*:  April 21 2013

Membership of pro-government Voice of Loving Hong Kong runs into thousands (By Joshua But Patrick Ko says his members are often misunderstood and insists that their actions are not driven by money. A rapidly rising pro-government group has revealed for the first time that it has more than 3,000 members, with native Hongkongers making up most of its 30-strong core membership. The Voice of Loving Hong Kong had not accepted funding from the Hong Kong administration, central government or Beijing-affiliated companies, and its members had not accepted cash for attending any protest, convenor Patrick Ko Tat-pun said. The group is among a number of pro-establishment organisations that have regularly protested at activities held by pro-democracy groups over the past few months. A fortnight ago, the Voice of Loving Hong Kong forced a halt to a universal suffrage public forum held by the Alliance for True Democracy. Yesterday, Ko said their members were often "misunderstood" and insisted their actions were not driven by money. "We always want to be rational and constructive," he told reporters. None of their members belonged to the Communist Party, he said, though some might have connections to Beijing-loyalist groupings such as the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong and the Federation of Trade Unions. Ko presented the accounts of the group, which was registered last year. He said the biggest donation so far was only HK$18,000 and the funding came mostly from individuals. "We have absolutely not been receiving money from the Hong Kong government, the central government, or any mainland-funded organisation," he said. Ko said he was not worried about the group holding a seminar on April 28, titled "The relationship between the chief executive election and the central government", despite its own members abusing participants during the alliance's forum. "Most Hongkongers are rational, while a small fraction may lose control of their emotions [sometimes]. It is normal for them to stand on the table [to express their opinions]," he said. "It is all right as long as they use their mouths and not their fists." He reiterated that "democracy is not a core value for Hong Kong people … Democratic elections and the spirit of democracy are separate ideas." A representative of the alliance is to attend the seminar.

Search continues for missing mainland Chinese barge crew (By Lai Ying-kit Rescue crews and divers search the area around the partially sunken barge involved in a collision in waters near Beaufort Island on Friday. Rescuers continued a search on Friday for six crew members who went missing after two mainland barges collided off Stanley on Thursday evening. A government helicopter and divers were deployed to the rescue, but did not find any sign of the missing people on Friday morning. The search was being hampered by low visibility at sea caused by thick fog, a spokesman for the Government Flying Service said. The two barges collided in the waters south of Bluff Head near Beaufort Island (Lo Chau) about 7.50pm. One barge sank within minutes and 11 crew members were thrown into the sea. Five crew members were plucked from the sea by rescuers and taken to hospital. Two of them remained in hospital on Friday, with one in a serious condition. The rest have been discharged. The other vessel remained afloat after the collision and no one onboard was hurt. The Observatory said weather conditions were not extreme at the time of the collision, but visibility was as low as one kilometre because of the mist and fog. Waves were about one metre high under a moderate southwesterly wind, it said. The Marine Department had put out a reminder on Thursday for vessels to proceed at a safe speed and to exercise extreme caution because of low visibility. It was the second major collision at sea in less than two weeks and follows the October 1 ferry crash off Lamma Island, which claimed 39 lives.

 China*:  April 21 2013

7.0-magnitude quake hits SW China's Sichuan local time April 20 2013 Map locating the place hit by a 7.0-magnitude earthquake. (By Xinhua) A 7.0-magnitude earthquake hit Lushan county of Ya'an city in south China's Sichuan province at 8:02 am Saturday Beijing Time, according to the China Earthquake Networks Center (CENC). The epicenter, with a depth of 13 km, was monitored at 30.3 degrees north latitude and 103.0 degrees east longitude. The quake was strongly felt by residents in Sichuan's capital city of Chengdu, which is about 140 kilometers from Ya'an. A resident in Chengdu, who was on the 13th floor of a building when the quake occurred, said he felt the building shaking for about 20 seconds and he saw tiles fall off nearby buildings. Luo Xian, a resident in Mianyang city in Sichuan, about 260 kilometers from Ya'an city, said she was sleeping when the quake occurred and the bed was swaying. She also felt several aftershocks. People in Leshan city of Sichuan province, and neighboring Chongqing municipality also felt the earthquake. In downtown Chongqing, a resident said "I saw the lamps were swaying and water in my fishbowl stirring." According to users of the twitter-like microblogging service Sina Weibo, people in a number of cities in Sichuan, including Mianyang, Deyang, Meishan, Yibin, Guangyuan, Luzhou. The tremor was also felt in provinces of Guizhou, Gansu, Shaanxi and Yunnan. Multiple aftershocks jolted the area after the 7.0 magnitude quake took place, the largest aftershock in magnitude being the 5.1-magnitude one which shook the bordering area of Lushan and Baoxing counties of Sichuan at 8:07 am. Till the time of release, several aftershocks rated above 4.0-magnitude hit the area, including a M-4.8 quake at 8:06 am, a M-4.6 one at 9:02 am, a M-4.1 one at 8:31 am, and a M-4.1 on at 8:37.

Nobel Literature Prize laureate Mo Yan (L) introduces his new book "Grand Ceremony" at the 23rd National Book Fair in Haikou, capital of south China's Hainan Province, April 19, 2013. The book "Grand Ceremony," the first work of Mo Yan after he won the Nobel Prize, records his experiences during his trip to the Nobel Prize awarding ceremony. Mo Yan won the 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature.

Hong Kong*:  April 20 2013

Search for six missing crew after barges collide in fog (By Danny Mok Force of collision throws 11 people into water near Stanley; rescuers pluck five to safety - A rescue vessel searches for the missing crew members last night. Rescuers searched waters off Bluff Head (Wong Ma Kok) last night for six people missing after two mainland barges collided in thick fog near Stanley. It was the second major collision at sea in less than two weeks and follows the October 1 ferry crash off Lamma Island, which claimed 39 lives. We are still searching for the six. We don't know whether they are dead or alive - The 96- and 97-metre barges were carrying construction waste and sand when they collided south of Bluff Head near Beaufort Island (Lo Chau) at about 7.50pm. The impact threw 11 crew members into the sea from one barge, which sank soon after. The other remained afloat and no one on that vessel was hurt. Five crew members were plucked from the sea by rescuers and taken to a marine police base in Aberdeen. Two were transferred conscious to Ruttonjee Hospital in Wan Chai and Queen Mary Hospital in Pok Fu Lam. It was unclear by press time how serious their injuries were. Divers continued to search the accident scene late last night for the remaining six crew members. A Government Flying Service helicopter sent to the scene had to return shortly after arriving because of thick, low-lying fog around Stanley. A government spokeswoman told Agence France-Presse: "We are still searching for the six. We don't know whether they are dead or alive." The Observatory said weather conditions were not extreme at the time of the collision, but visibility was as low as one kilometre because of the mist and fog. Waves were about one metre high under a moderate southwesterly wind, it said. The Marine Department had put out a reminder yesterday for vessels to proceed at a safe speed and to exercise extreme caution because of low visibility. On April 5, more than 30 people were injured when a passenger ferry collided with a barge as it approached Cheung Chau in foggy conditions. The barge was said to have been travelling slowly and was being towed by a tugboat when it collided with the high-speed First Ferry III north of the island. The captains of the boats involved in the Lamma collision were each charged with 39 counts of manslaughter last week and face life in jail if convicted.

Bird flu warnings ahead of 'golden week' holiday invasion (By Emily Tsang and Stephen Chen) Safety advice handed to hotels and travel agents ahead of holiday invasion - Greg So has a temperature check. The travel industry in Hong Kong has boosted precautions against the deadly H7N9 bird flu in the run-up to the "golden week" national holiday as mainland and local experts warn of possible human-to-human transmission. Five new cases were confirmed on the mainland yesterday - one in the central province of Henan , one in Shanghai, two in the eastern province of Zhejiang and one in its neighbouring province of Jiangsu , taking the total to 87. Three suspected cases also emerged in Hong Kong last night, but tests were negative. There have been no cases in the city. Guidelines have been issued to hotels and travel agencies reminding them to pay attention to the health of guests during the week-long mainland holiday, said Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Greg So Kam-leung. "If there are individual cases of people falling ill, there are measures here … to provide the necessary assistance, including medical assistance, so that these cases will not spread," So said. In the event of a suspected infection in a hotel, staff would remind guests to stay in their room and seek help by notifying the health department. There will be extra staff at border checkpoints and officials, accompanied by health workers, will take the temperatures of travellers, said Ngai Sik-shui, chairman of the Immigration Service Officers Association. So said that last year 340,000 mainland tourists visiting Hong Kong during the holiday. Experts have warned of the possibility of the virus passing among humans after Shanghai reported two family cluster cases. University of Hong Kong microbiologist Ho Pak-leung said last night: "The new virus may have the ability to spread in a similar manner to H5N1, which has limited human-to-human transmission." Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man said there was no hard evidence for this, but added: "We have to gear up for every aspect to prevent [an outbreak] in Hong Kong." The Centre of Health Protection said H5N1 may have limited ability to spread among people, but the major mode of transmission was from birds to humans. Meanwhile, a 66-year-old man was discharged from hospital in Shanghai yesterday, becoming the first adult patient in the city to totally recover from the virus.

Online attempts to steal personal information on the rise in Hong Kong (By Simpson Cheung) Phishing is the preferred option with hackers, Microsoft reveals - Microsoft’s latest Security Intelligence Report says phishing sites target Hong Kong because it is a financial centre. Phishing sites, which masquerade as genuine websites to steal users’ personal information, are on the rise in Hong Kong, Microsoft warned on Thursday. Some 6.23 phishing sites were found per 1,000 hosts in the fourth quarter last year, up from 6.01 in the third quarter, according to Microsoft’s latest Security Intelligence Report. However, the number of malware infections remained low in the same period. Every 1,000 computers had 2.2 malware infections on average, the report found. Tim Rains, director of product management in Microsoft’s Trustworthy Computing group, said the rise could be because Hong Kong is a financial centre and phishing sites masquerade as banking websites to steal information. “The fact that we have a low malware infection rate in Hong Kong, but slightly elevated level of phishing is actually interesting,” he said. He said the reason could be that the attackers were using a smaller number of compromised systems in Hong Kong to do more phishing than other attacks. Roy Ko Wai-tak, manager of Hong Kong Computer Emergency Response Team Coordination Centre, said websites of small and medium enterprises were often hijacked by attackers to build phishing sites – which pose as big corporations – because of poor cyber security. Rains also said the most common malware is called keygen, which comes with key generators that produce serial numbers required to run piracy software. Ko said it showed that Hong Kong people still continue to use piracy software. The report, which also found that 2.5 out of 10 computers on average did not have up-to-date antivirus software in the city, was based on data from over 600 million computers worldwide using Microsoft’s products. The number of Hong Kong computers was unknown at the time of going to press.

APEC warns against currency devaluations, property bubble (By Agence France-Presse in Singapore) Real estate agents surround property-buyers to persuade them to buy into other property projects. APEC has raised a red flag about surging property prices in Asia, urging policy makers to prevent asset bubbles. Asia Pacific economies must refrain from competitive currency devaluations and are vulnerable to speculative buying in the housing market, the APEC grouping’s research arm said. Massive inflows of funds from industrialised economies into the region where they can get higher returns have pushed local currencies to appreciate, eroding competitiveness in the global markets, APEC’s Policy Support Unit said in a research paper. The paper, released on Wednesday ahead of a weekend meeting of Pacific Rim trade ministers in Surabaya, Indonesia, said competitive currency devaluations could lead to bigger trade imbalances. “It is of concern that the attempt to regain competitiveness may result in a simultaneous currency intervention by monetary authorities,” said the unit, the research arm of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. “If that were to occur, it would create larger imbalances in the patterns of global trade and investment,” the paper said, adding it was crucial for APEC “to remain committed to refrain from competitive devaluation of currencies”. The paper said the 21-member APEC should grow 4.2 per cent this year and 4.7 per cent next year, from a 4.1 per cent expansion last year. However it said challenges remain, including lingering risks of a fallout from the euro zone debt crisis and the impact of large capital inflows from developed countries seeking larger returns in emerging markets. “The recent large scale monetary easing programmes pursued by some advanced economies have raised some concerns of possible currency intervention by other monetary authorities,” the paper said. It did not name any country, but analysts fear Japan’s recent efforts toward monetary-easing, which includes allowing a sharply weaker yen to boost Japanese exports, could prompt other countries to take similar devaluations and trigger a currency war. The paper also raised a red flag about speculative buying that has sent property and stock prices skyrocketing, and urged regional policymakers to take steps to prevent asset bubbles. “There are ongoing concerns about the health of public finances and the banking system, especially in Europe, as well as price pressures on property and stock markets,” said Denis Hew, the APEC Policy Support Unit’s director. In Hong Kong, where the property market is driven by demand from overseas buyers, residential property prices last year were higher by 88 per cent compared to 2007 levels, it said. Average house price in Singapore last year was 24 per cent higher than in 2007, it added. The paper cited data by property consultancy Jones Lang LaSalle saying direct investment flow into real estate worldwide should reach $500 billion this year, up 13 per cent from last year, with a substantial portion likely to enter the Asia Pacific. It warned that “since capital flows are volatile, there is a risk that sudden reversal of capital inflows would lead to sharp asset price corrections which could cause detrimental damage to the real economy”. APEC groups 21 economies on the Pacific Rim from China to Chile via the United States.

The volume of total goods exports in the first two months of this year grew 0.3 percent year-on-year in Hong Kong, and the volume of goods imports increased 1.6 percent, the city's statistics department said here on Thursday. As the trade flows in January and February of each year tend to show considerable volatility due to differences in timing of the Lunar New Year holiday, the department said it is useful to analyze the trade figures for these two months taken together. According to the data, the volume of goods re-exports in the first two months grew 0.4 percent, while that of domestic exports decreased by 7.2 percent. In February, the volume of goods re-exports fell 16.7 percent year-on-year, while that of domestic exports fell 27.6 percent. Taken together, the volume of total goods exports dropped 16.8 percent. Concurrently, the volume of goods import decreased 18.1 percent. On the price changes in the first two months over the same period in 2012, the prices of goods re-exports increased 0.3 percent, while those of domestic exports rose 4.3 percent. Taken together, the prices of total goods exports grew 0.4 percent. Concurrently, the prices of goods imports increased 0.9 percent. In February, the prices of goods re-exports grew 0.4 percent, while those of domestic exports rose 4.3 percent. Taken together, the prices of total goods exports increased 0.5 percent. Concurrently, the prices of goods imports rose 1 percent.

 China*:  April 20 2013

Stars shine at China Music Awards ceremony - The 17th China Music Awards (CMA) and Asian Influential Awards ceremony held at Cotai Strip Cotai Arena in Macao, south China, April 18, 2013.

Hebei, Iowa seek to boost partnership (By ZHENG JINRAN and PEI PEI in Shijiazhuang) Hebei province and the US state of Iowa have been friends for 30 years, but 2013 could be a breakthrough year in their business relationship. "We have a number of exchanges, including in education and culture," Iowa Governor Terry Branstad said on Thursday. "In the area of Chinese business, we're really just getting started." About 75 companies from Hebei had a trade fair with 18 counterparts and associations from Iowa on Wednesday, an important part of Branstad's three-day visit to Hebei. Most of the companies are involved in agriculture, including seeds, grain storage, equipment and services. Yang Kai, owner of a corn-processing company in Ningjin county, said she likes the idea of doing business directly with suppliers from Iowa, the US state with the largest corn production. "If their corn is better quality and cheaper, it sounds like a good choice for our company," she said. "There should be more trade fairs, so we (small companies) can benefit more from the friendship with our sister state." The trade fair also attracted large companies. "It's a good platform for us to talk with the state government, better for the future investment," said Xu Tie, spokesman for Yibo Foundation Group, who added that it has plans to expand its soy business from the state of Missouri into neighboring Iowa due to Iowa's high soybean yield. In addition, Hebei advertised 50 projects seeking international cooperation to attract investment from Iowa on the 30th anniversary of their partnership. The state and province have witnessed a tremendous increase in trade, as soybean, corn and pork — Iowa's major exports — are in great demand in China, said Branstad, who first visited China in 1984 and met President Xi Jinping, then a county government leader. Like Yibo, many Hebei companies are pursuing opportunities to invest overseas. "Efforts to encourage companies to invest outside of China have much to do with the growth in business maturity," the 67-year-old governor said. "China has made great economic progress and is now in the position to make investment outside." Branstad said his state will provide sufficient support for companies in Hebei and other Chinese provinces, as well as reduce restrictions on agricultural imports and exports. "We talked about such issues with the Ministry of Agriculture after meeting with President Xi," he said. China signed a contract worth $4.3 billion in 2012, importing 862 metric tons of soybeans from Iowa. However, challenges to trade growth exist, especially in soybeans. About 93 percent of Iowa soybeans are genetically modified, said Kirk Leeds, CEO of the Iowa Soybean Association. Many Chinese companies and residents doubt the safety of GM food. One of three Hebei companies consulted the association during the trade fair said they will not import GM soybeans. "It's safer than ordinary soy," the governor said, adding that it is resistant to weeds, insects and guarantees high yields. But it may take a long time to allay doubts. Some Iowa companies have started to collaborate with Chinese institutes on technology, such as Dupont Pioneer, a corn seeds research company. Its office in China now runs a program aimed to help farmers increase productivity and profitability.

China Vanke follows rich Chinese to grow abroad (By Peggy Sito Yu Liang says Vanke wants to learn by partnering. Analysts are expecting more overseas expansion from China Vanke as the mainland's biggest developer prepares to branch out into Singapore, after tapping into the Hong Kong and San Francisco markets this year. "They will follow the footprint of rich Chinese while mapping out their overseas expansion plan," said Alan Jin, an analyst at Mizuho Securities Asia. "San Francisco, Hong Kong and Singapore are the most desirable overseas destinations for Chinese immigrants." China Vanke, through a wholly owned subsidiary, is acquiring 30 per cent of Keppel Land subsidiary Sherwood Development in Singapore for S$135.5 million (HK$850.2 million), Keppel Land announced on Tuesday. China Vanke president Yu Liang said the company hoped to use that long-term partnership to learn best practices from Keppel and would look for investment opportunities in the city state. The first joint-venture project will be a condominium development in Singapore's Tanah Merah area. Keppel, through Sherwood Development, was awarded the prime residential site for US$434.55 million last October. The project, comprising 726 residential units, may be launched in the second half of this year. China Vanke made its first foray into Hong Kong's property market in January, acquiring a residential site on the Tsuen Wan waterfront in partnership with New World Development for HK$3.43 billion. Vanke Property (Hong Kong), a subsidiary of China Vanke, has a 20 per cent stake in the consortium, and the rest is owned by New World. A month later, China Vanke bought 70 per cent of an upmarket residential project at 201 Folsom Street, in San Francisco, from Tishman Speyer Properties. 'They will go anywhere the mainland Chinese want to go," said Lee Wee Liat, head of property research at BNP Paribas Securities (Asia). "But at the end of the day, China Vanke will settle down in two large markets - the US and Canada," said Lee, adding that markets such as Hong Kong are too small for the property giant. Analysts, however, said overseas expansion would not affect the company's mainland focus. "The overseas businesses interest is still very small compared with … the mainland," said Jin. Founded in 1984, Vanke is China's largest residential developer. Its sales topped 140 billion yuan (HK$174 billion) last year.

Bear bile industry gets bitten by legal action (By China Daily) Chinese wildlife activists have resorted to legal action for the first time to try to end the bear bile industry, which has aroused concern due to the alleged ill treatment of bears. Animal rights activists, led by Beijing Fengtai YTAHZ Environmental Institute, a Beijing-based NGO promoting environmental protection, brought a lawsuit against the wildlife authority of Fujian province on April 11, requesting that it revoke the certificate issued to a medicine manufacturer that legally allows it to extract bile from live bears. The Gulou district court in Fuzhou received the indictment the next day, but has not replied to the lawyer by Wednesday. The manufacturer at the heart of the dispute is Gui Zhen Tang, a pharmaceutical company known for harvesting live bear bile and processing it for use in traditional Chinese medicine. The Asian black bear, the most commonly used species for the extraction of bear bile, is listed as endangered by the World Conservation Union. Based in Fujian province, the company was founded in 2000 and has one of the largest black bear breeding centers in China. It came into public view in February 2012 when it announced its intention to seek a listing on the Growth Enterprise Board of the Shenzhen Stock Exchange. Zang Yun, the lawyer representing the institute, said what backs up the bear bile industry, and the company in particular, are the certificates issued by the authority that gave the industry a legal permit. It is said that the two licenses, for farming and manufacturing, were issued by Fujian's wildlife authority under the Regulations of Protection of Terrestrial Wild Animals. "However, issuing the certificates itself is a violation of the Wildlife Protection Law," Zang said. "The law explicitly prohibits the sale of wild animals and their products except for scientific research or other special purposes." Gui Zhen Tang's extraction of bear bile certainly does not belong to these special purposes, he said. "The licenses are therefore not in accordance with the law and should be revoked," Zang added. Before resorting to legal action, Zang made information disclosure applications concerning the company's operations to the State and provincial forestry authorities, but these were rejected. The reply from State Forestry Administration said it had rejected Zang's applications on the grounds that neither he nor the institute he represented were interested parties in the case. As this is the first case of its kind, the qualification issue has sparked a lot of debate. Wang Canfa, an environmental law professor at China University of Political Science and Law, said: "Everyone has the right to take a legal action against behavior threatening wildlife, according to articles three and five of the Wildlife Conservation Law." However, Yang Zhaoxia, associate professor at Beijing Forestry University, said the attorney and the institute don't have the "standing" to seek legal relief. "Chinese law has not recognized environmental rights and interests," he said. "Only by proving that you are a damaged party - that your interests were impaired by the company, can you be recognized as a qualified subject in the lawsuit." Yang Tongjin from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said: "This is a loophole in the current public interest litigation system and environment law. "The law often lags behind social change and needs to be updated accordingly." Zang, the lawyer, remains optimistic. He said he has already prepared for all sorts of rejections and defeats. He would go to a higher court if the current one, Gulou district court in Fuzhou city, refused a hearing.

Young rangers patrol railway line (By China Daily) Wang Jiancheng, a ranger from East China’s Shandong province, grooms his horse at Zhenglanqi railway station in Xilinhot, North China’s Inner Mongolia autonomous region on April 16. A ranger team of eight policemen was set up at the railway station in May 2012 to better patrol the railway line in its jurisdiction, because harsh weather, complicated topography and heavy snow in winter often makes it impossible for local policemen to patrol the line in mobile vehicles. Seven of the rangers on the team are in their 20s. 

Show of respect (By China Daily) Cui Tiankai, the new Chinese ambassador to the United States, and Bill Burns, US deputy secretary of state, greet one another at a reception to welcome Cui at the Chinese embassy in Washington on Wednesday. US Representative Grace Meng of New York looks on. 

Hong Kong*:  April 19 2013

US banker proud to become Chinese national (George Chen “I am very proud to say I have become Chinese,” says Marshall Nicholson, a veteran American investment banker in Hong Kong. “I am very proud to say I have become Chinese,” says the Hong Kong-based banker at CICC. The rise of China has not only transformed the global landscape of the financial industry, but it has also changed an American banker’s nationality. Some in Hong Kong’s financial community were surprised by an e-mail from one of the most veteran investment bankers in the city on Tuesday night. Marshall Nicholson, a managing director in charge of investment banking in Hong Kong for China International Capital Corporation (CICC) told his colleagues and friends that he had officially renounced his United States citizenship and would soon receive a HKSAR passport. “I am very proud to say I have become Chinese,” said Nicholson in the e-mail, which was seen by the South China Morning Post and spread quickly in the local banking world on Tuesday night. Nicholson, whose wife is a Hongkonger, first came to the city about 11 years ago from the US where he was an investment banker with some legendary Wall Street firms including JP Morgan and Merrill Lynch. Prior to his current job as one of the top investment bankers at the homegrown securities firm CICC, he worked for BOC International (BOCI), Australia’s top investment bank Macquarie and Credit Suisse in Hong Kong. BOCI, led by Li Tong, the daughter of recently retired Chinese propaganda chief Li Changchun, is the investment banking arm of Bank of China, one of China’s Big Four state-owned banks. Li Changchun was fifth-ranked official on the mainland when he was in office. When BOCI hired Nicholson as the vice chairman of its investment banking business about six years ago, he was one of the first most senior foreign hires at a mainland financial institution. Since then, other mainland firms such as China Construction Bank, another Big Four firm, and CITIC Securities, the mainland’s top brokerage, also grabbed more foreign bankers from their Western rivals amid Beijing’s push to make its domestic industry leaders more international. The 2008 financial crisis that originated on Wall Street changed the global landscape of financial industry significantly. Some legendary institutional names including Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers became history, and more Chinese names such as CICC and CITIC rapidly climbed up the league table for deal-making. Beijing-headquartered CICC is the mainland’s first investment banking joint venture, and it is currently led by Levin Zhu, son of former Chinese premier Zhu Rongji. In the e-mail to his friends and colleagues, Nicholson said he went to the US Consulate General in Hong Kong to give up his American passport because he wanted to “make my situation reflect my personal and professional view of my long-term interests”. “At the same time, I have officially received naturalisation as a Chinese national,” he said, adding he would soon get his passport of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR). Hong Kong returned to Beijing rule in 1997. Since then, the city, known as a special administrative region, is run under the well-known “one country, two systems” model. According to current laws, any foreign national with permanent resident status in Hong Kong may apply to the Hong Kong Immigration Department for naturalisation as a Chinese national and may also apply for a HKSAR passport. In Hong Kong, Nicholson is not the first foreigner to renounce his original citizenship, but such things rarely happen to people in the banking world. The most well-known case may be Allan Zeman, a Hong Kong business tycoon, who in 2008 renounced his Canadian citizenship and became a naturalised Chinese citizen after he worked and lived in Hong Kong for nearly four decades. The news about Nicholson’s case has so far received mixed feedback in the local banking community. Many of Nicholson’s Chinese colleagues at CICC sent him congratulations on becoming a Chinese national. Others said Nicholson’s move may be for tax reasons as Hong Kong is well known for its low individual income tax around 15 per cent maximum annually. “I think it’s now much easier for Nicholson to visit Beijing, Shanghai and all these mainland cities where our clients and business are growing fast as he is now really one of us. We’re all Chinese,” said one of Nicholson’s colleagues who declined to be named as he was not authorised by the company to speak to the media.

Tributes for Hong Kong singer Sita Chan after she dies in car crash (By Ernest Kao Sita Chan in a music video. She died in the early hours of Wednesday. Tributes have been made to Sita Chan Hei-yi after the Hong Kong popstar died on Wednesday morning in a car crash in Yau Ma Tei. Chan, 26, was driving on the Hoi Po Road flyover when she lost control of her Lexus and hit a kerb before crashing into a central divider. A statement released by Chan's record company on Wednesday afternoon read: “Sun Entertainment Culture is offering its condolences over the accidental death of our singer [Sita] Chan Hei-yi. “Paco Wong and the entire Sun Entertainment Culture staff are shocked and saddened and over her passing.” “May we all pray for Sita ... and for her family’s well being also,” said Sun stablemate Fiona Sit Hoi-kei on Sina Weibo. Other Hong Kong celebrities also took to social media on Wednesday to express their shock and grief. “This is really hard to believe…we will always remember your smile…RIP Sita,” said model-turned-singer Shiga Lin Si-nga on Sina Weibo. “The first time I heard you singing live I turned to your colleagues and said ‘this little girl is going to have a great future’. The last time I saw you I told you: 'work hard! Don’t give up'. Right now, all I can say is rest in peace,” said radio personality and DJ Bob Lam Shing-bun. This is really hard to believe…we will always remember your smile Chan won best new female artist at the Ultimate Song Chart Awards in 2011. She was signed to Sun Entertainment Culture headed by entertainment mogul Paco Wong where she recorded two albums. Other artists on the Sun roster include Fiona Sit and Singaporean-born musician Hanjin. She had minor roles in films Lan Kwai Fong 2 and Love in Time. An Instagram photo of Chan was posted on her Facebook account at 9pm the previous evening, captioned “microphone test” and showed Chan in a recording studio. Her record company said Chan had completed a video shoot and a training session with her singing instructor just hours before the accident. It was after she left the studio that the crash occured, leaving her with serious injuries. She was rushed to Kwong Wah Hospital, where she was certified dead shortly after 4am, a police report said. “Life is so fragile, 11 hours ago she was still happily taking photos…rest in peace,” one fan wrote on Chan’s Facebook account. Chan's record company promised "full support over her funeral arrangements".Investigations will be conducted by the Special Investigation Team of Traffic, Kowloon West. Police are asking anyone who may have witnessed the accident or has any information to contact investigating officers at 2773 5281 or 2773 5288.

DAB aims to limit pan-democrats' budget filibustering (By Lai Ying-kit Tam Yiu-chung, chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong. Pro-government legislators on Wednesday came up with a strategy to cut short a filibuster launched by radical pan-democrats aiming to obstruct the passage of the Budget bill. Tam Yiu-chung, chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said marathon meetings could be avoided if the debates on some of the 751 amendments to the bill were merged. Tam also suggested that Legislative Council president Tsang Yok-sing call a halt to delaying tactics by citing rules of procedures – as he did last year to filibustering over by-election rules. Tam was speaking after pro-government legislators met on Wednesday afternoon to discuss ways to tackle the filibuster. The filibuster amendments were filed by four radical pan-democrats who want the budget to include a plan to set up a universal pension scheme. Legislators will discuss the budget bill and the amendments next Wednesday. Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah said the government would run out of cash by the end of next month if the debate dragged on past then without the budget bill being passed. Tam said he would speak to Tsang, who is also a DAB member, about adopting the DAB's suggestions. “We hope the president can combine the debates as much as possible so as to avoid wasting our time,” he said.

Dock workers move strike to Li Ka-shing's doorstep (By Joyce Man, Lai Ying-kit, Phila Siu and Tony Cheung) Striking dock workers have moved their protest to Li Ka-shing’s doorstep at the Cheung Kong Center in Central on Wednesday afternoon as they stepped up their strike action as promised. The strikers said it was "time to step up our action" and move their protest from Kwai Tsing Container Terminals to the office of Asia’s richest man, whose Hutchison Whampoa is the parent company of the strike-hit port operator Hongkong International Terminals. The strikers want Li, whose firm employs the contractors that hire the dockers, to help resolve the dispute. Before arriving at the Cheung Kong Center the dock workers and their supporters briefly demonstrated in front the Legislative Council building in Admiralty. Fences were set up outside Cheung Kong Center on Wednesday morning anticipation of the action. The main entrance to the busy Central office tower was blocked off with fences, and people were directed to enter and exit via a door in the parking lot to the rear of the building. The strike relocation came after the workers and contractors failed to reach an agreement at a meeting on Tuesday afternoon. The Confederation of Trade Unions, organiser of the strike that started on March 28, are seeking a 17 to 24 per cent pay rise for workers, among other demands. Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said there had been progress in previous meetings, with differences between workers and employers narrowing. He urged all parties to stay calm and restrained. “Only through dialogue a dispute can be resolved. We urge every party to go back to the negotiation table to resolve the matter,” Cheung said, adding that one contractor, Everbest, was available to talk at any time. Stanley Ho Wai-hang, a strike organiser from the Confederation of Trade Unions, said the striking workers would camp outside Cheung Kong Center for an “indefinitely period” of time. “We demand that Li Ka-shing order Gerry Yim Lui-fai [general manager of port operator Hongkong International Terminals] to address workers’ demands face-to-face,” Ho said. “We need to get hold of the big boss,” he said. “The workers are determined to continue the action until their demands are met.” The 450 dockers on strike are splitting into two groups: a larger one will move from Kwai Tsing to Central and a smaller group will remain outside the Kwai Tsing cargo terminal. Ho said they would set up camps to surround Cheung Kong Center but would leave space for people to enter and exit the office tower. He expected it would take one to two days to complete moving the larger group’s tents and materials from cargo terminal. Five of the six contractors at the centre of the dispute on Wednesday pledged to improve the pay and working conditions for workers and to proactively consider different proposals. But the employers said the current wages for their different workers were at a “reasonable market level”. “It is true that wages for certain type of workers have dropped in the past 10 years or so but since 2006 the wages have gradually risen,” the contractors said in a joint statement published in several Chinese-language newspapers. “The current wages are higher than the levels in 1997. They are in line with reasonable market levels,” the employers said.

Happy Valley track to close for 10 meets next year (By Michael Cox Midweek races to be held on Sha Tin dirt while upgrades are made to city venue next year - a move that may cut betting by HK$500 million. Three sections of the Happy Valley racing surface will be torn up in early April 2014 and the track put out of play until mid-October next year. Up to 10 Happy Valley race meetings will be shifted to Sha Tin's all-weather track next year as a major overhaul of stormwater drains underneath the racecourse takes place, and Jockey Club officials are bracing themselves for what could be a half-a-billion-dollar blow to betting turnover. Three sections of the Happy Valley racing surface will be torn up in early April 2014 and the track put out of play until mid-October next year. The construction period has been timed to include the two-month off-season and therefore minimise its financial impact, but the club is still expecting a significant decrease in betting on the affected dates. The government project will force between eight and 10 race nights to be transferred from a track where turnover now regularly tops HK$1 billion per meeting, to the less-popular dirt track at Sha Tin, where Wednesday night fixtures this season have yielded around HK$50 to $60 million less. We did budget lower for the new year, and I'd expect a drop in the magnitude of three to four per cent for those meetings. "We did budget lower for the new year, and I'd expect a drop in the magnitude of three to four per cent for those meetings," Hong Kong Jockey Club director of racing Bill Nader said yesterday. "I don't think it will be excessive, but I think there will be a slight reduction in turnover. The occasional dirt meeting can hold its own, but a constant diet of dirt races on Wednesday nights, we haven't experienced that in Hong Kong - at least not for some time. On average, I think dirt races perform better from a turnover standpoint than most people think. I think we will be able to absorb it, and under the circumstances, we had no choice." The HK$1billion stormwater storage project is being undertaken by the Drainage Services Department to prevent flooding in low-lying areas of Happy Valley and Causeway Bay during heavy rain. A whole race meeting was abandoned because of flooding in 2005, and another race lost in 2002, and the new drainage system will mean the track would be able to withstand similar deluges in the future, with stormwater from the existing culverts under the grandstand to be diverted into massive holding tanks under the infield. The Jockey Club will attempt to make the most of the lay-off by completing some major infrastructure work of its own. A tunnel will be built between the forecourt of the grandstand and the infield, and a significant upgrade of lighting and work on other facilities is also planned. "It's an inconvenience, but hopefully it helps us long term - and of course we are a massive part of the community and this project will help a lot of people," Nader said. He said the impact could not simply be measured in "dollars and cents", claiming some of the valuable momentum gained through the successful "Happy Wednesday" promotions could be lost. "We have a loyal Happy Valley fan base that won't necessarily come to Sha Tin on those eight to 10 Wednesdays. So it's not just about turnover, it's about customer experience," he said. "That's one of the costs of the project, that the Happy Valley racegoer is out of the picture from June to October. We will have to win that customer segment back." Races can also be run on the Sha Tin turf at night, and Nader raised the possibility of "mixed meetings", with races on both the inner track and course proper. But the grass track's usage would have to be minimal given its already high workload. The finalised racing fixtures should be known late next month, with the club awaiting approval from the Department of Home Affairs.

Ensuring safety of poultry sent to Hong Kong, Macao (By China Daily) Staff members from Guangdong Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau take blood samples from a chicken for inspection in Guangzhou, on April 16, 2013. The bureau is taking measures to ensure the safety of poultry supplied to Hong Kong and Macao, such as examining registered poultry breeding farms, monitoring pathogens of bird flu, and inspection of live poultry before export. As of April 16, no H7N9 cases were found in the 39 registered poultry breeding farms under the bureau’s jurisdiction. 

 China*:  April 19 2013

Boston University grieves for Lu Lingzi, Chinese student killed by bomb (By Agence France-Presse in Boston) Three Chinese friends from Boston University went to sample American life at the city’s ill-fated marathon. Lu Lingzi was killed, Zhou Danling was badly hurt and the third wonders how she survived unscathed. The whole campus has been scarred by the death of Lu, a brilliant rising mathematician, who only arrived at Boston in September, but had immediately launched into life at the prestigious institution. The three women were among hundreds of people caught in the blast of two bombs that erupted at the finish line, killing three and wounding about 180. Maths department administrator Kathleen Heavey said many students had taken the news badly. “Some of them are handling it OK, and others are beyond control.” “Our hearts and thoughts go out to the family and friends of both victims,” said Robert Brown, president of the university with more than 31,000 students from 100 countries. A host of ceremonies and tributes have been organised. A mass memorial will be held on Thursday. Lu and Zhou were among hundreds of Chinese students now in Boston. Before going to the marathon, Lu posted a picture of her breakfast of Chinese-style dough and fruit on the Chinese social media website Sina Weibo. “My wonderful breakfast,” she commented in English. Students organised desperate searches for Lu when it was discovered she was missing on Monday night. Zhou has undergone several operations in hospital and was said to be in stable condition. “She has her friends around her, and she will soon have family around her,” university chapel dean Reverend Robert Hill said in a statement. The third girl has remained anonymous, too distraught to talk, students said. Gao Qin, a 24-year-old law school student from Shanghai, said, “Everybody was worried about, everybody was trying to find this girl” when it was discovered Lu was missing. “Everybody was shocked and sad” when they found out she died, Gao added. “A lot of my friends were her friends, because it’s a very small community. They remember what a fun and lovely girl she was, she was also working very hard.” Lu went to school in Shenyang and then earned a degree in economics and international trade at Beijing Institute of Technology. In 2010, she went to the University of California at Riverside for three months to boost her chances of getting a place on a graduate course. Boston professors considered her a “brilliant” student, her counterparts said. Theology student Meghan Nelson left a pair of running shoes, flowers and a university key chain in front of a memorial to Martin Luther King as a tribute to the killed student. Joy Lin, a 23-year-old from Beijing, left a green hat and a note saying: “From Boston and Beijing with love.” “She was Chinese and I’m Chinese. The hat captures Boston. A lot of Irish immigrants came here. Boston is my home. I love it so much,” she said. Several Boston University students witnessed the bombs, and some were volunteers at the event. Derrick Kwok was meant to help exhausted runners to a medical tent near the finish line. But in a dramatic twist, he had to switch to vacating beds to make room for victims who were covered in blood. Another volunteer, Alex Kwok, said he and some of his colleagues felt both explosions, but they thought a tent had collapsed or that a generator had failed. “I don’t believe that a bomb was the first thing on anyone’s mind,” he said.

Sino-Gulf FTA 'may be signed this year' (By BAO CHANG) A purchasing agent from the United Arab Emirates looks at pens at Yiwu International Trade City in Zhejiang province. China is the UAE's second-largest trading partner, with trade between the two countries valued at $40 billion in 2012, according to UAE embassy data. Deal will further boost trade ties, says UAE envoy. A free trade agreement between China and the Gulf Cooperation Council may be concluded this year, the United Arab Emirate's ambassador to China told China Daily. "We are near to achieving the FTA between the GCC and China, with a few items including tariff issues to be resolved soon thanks to strong bilateral will," Omar Ahmad Adi Al Bitar said. The envoy added that he hopes this year will not pass before the two sides conclude the agreement. Established in Abu Dhabi in 1981, the GCC is a political and economic union of Arab states comprising the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait and Qatar, accounting for more than 60 percent of the trade volume between China and the Arab League. China and the GCC launched free trade agreement negotiations in 2004, with both sides reaching consensus on most areas of goods trade after four rounds of talks. Discussions on service trade are continuing. Trade between China and the GCC mainly centers on the oil, mechanical and textile sectors. Data from the Ministry of Commerce show that Sino-GCC trade totaled $133.8 billion in 2011, accounting for 68.3 percent of trade between China and the Arab League. By the end of 2011 bilateral investment reached $4.1 billion. The UAE and Saudi Arabia are now major export destinations for China, with its exports to the two countries accounting for more than two-thirds of exports to the GCC. China will overtake India to become the UAE's biggest trading partner by 2015, when trade between the two countries will reach $60 billion in value, Al Bitar said. China is the UAE's second-largest trading partner, with trade between the two countries valued at $40 billion in 2012, according to the latest data from the UAE embassy. "To a great extent, trade between China and the UAE will be further boosted by the FTA between China and the GCC," the ambassador said. China mainly exports electronic products, steel and cameras to the UAE. The Gulf nation is planning to explore China's Muslim food market, valued at $2.5 billion in 2011 and increasing by 10 percent annually, according to a report from the UAE Ministry of Foreign Trade. UAE foreign trade is expected to reach $449.6 billion in 2013, an 18 percent growth year-on-year. The country also plans to boost its exports of gold, jewelry and precious-metal products to the Asian, European and American markets. China surpassed the United States to become the world's largest net importer of oil, rising to 6.12 million barrels in December last year, and that of the US dropping to 5.98 million barrels for the same period, according to Chinese customs and the US Energy Information Administration. Jiang Shuzhu, professor at the economics school of Shandong Institute of Business and Technology, said: "Setting up an FTA with the GCC, an important global oil exporter, will ensure crude oil supply for China, so the FTA is regarded as China's oil guarantee." In addition, a Sino-GCC FTA will help Chinese enterprises further explore the Middle East market, which has strong demand for Chinese goods, Jiang said. The FTA with the GCC will stimulate companies in the Gulf to set up petrochemical enterprises in the Chinese market, which can promote industry efficiency and reduce energy prices, Jiang said. China's investment in the Gulf region has seen fast growth in recent years. According to Al Bitar, the number of Chinese companies operating in the UAE market stands at more than 5,000, up from the 3,000 three years ago. Mei Xinyu, a researcher at the International Trade and Economic Cooperation Institute of the Ministry of Commerce, said there is huge potential for Chinese companies to develop in the GCC area. GCC countries also need to dismantle the monopolies of US and European companies in the oil and gas exploration industries, he added.

Friends remember Boston blast victim Dorothy Lu Lingzi (By Teddy Ng Mourning for a mainland graduate student who was killed in the Boston Marathon bombings swept through the nation on Wednesday, with her friends expressing shock and praising her as a girl who was dedicated to her work. The Boston University and the Chinese Consulate in New York confirmed a graduate student at the school had become the third victim of Monday’s blast, but did not disclose personal details at the request of the victim’s family. Mainland online users quickly identified the victim as Dorothy Lu Lingzi, who went to the university last year for a master programme in mathematics and statistics, and left tribute messages to Lu’s microblog. President Xi Jinping offered condolences to the victims, and ordered Chinese diplomatic missions in the US to offer assistance, state-run Xinhua reported. Lu’s last microblog entry was posted on Monday with a picture of a bowl of Chinese fried bread and a tweet that said, “My wonderful breakfast”. More than 200,000 condolence messages were posted for the entry. “I had not thought that this would be your last breakfast,” said one message. Another said, “ May you rest in peace.” Lu went to see the marathon with two friends Qian Tingting and Zhou Danling. Qian was not injured, and Zhou, from Sichuan province, wrote a note that said, “I am fine, don’t worry” after having two operations. Zhang Shuo, a teacher of Lu in an overseas education preparation class, said she could not believe Lu had died because “of the absence of official confirmation”.“It is a big shock,” Zhang said. “She was a smart student who was dedicated to her work.” “She always discussed with friends and senior people about what she wanted for the future.” Liu Kuan, a journalism student at Boston University, said Lu’s death was a “shock”. “I am terrified when ever I hear an alarming sound,” she said. Lu got a degree in international economics and trade at the Beijing Institute of Technology and went to Northeast Yucai School, a renowned school in Shenyang, according to her LinkedIn profile. She was awarded excellent student in mathematics. She also disclosed her 1440 scores on Graduate Record Examinations. She had worked as an intern and assistant in two financial institutions and Deloitte Consulting. Yang Yongkun, a teacher at Yucai School, told Shenyang Evening News that Lu was “exceptionally clever”. In her microblog, Lu said her interests were reading, food and music. In an entry on March 30, Lu said she made her first kimchi pancake “successfully”. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said the Chinese Consulate would provide all necessary assistance.

Third victim killed in Boston Marathon bombings identified as Chinese citizen (By SCMP) The third victim of the Boston bombings was identified as Lu Lingzhi. Classmates of injured Chinese student Zhou Danling arrive at Boston Medical Center. She is reported to be in stable condition. Chinese deputy consul general Zhong Ruiming (right) of the Chinese Consulate General in New York helps local Chinese contact relatives and friends at the Boston Medical Center in Boston. The third victim who died in the Boston Marathon bombings was identified as a Chinese citizen and a student at Boston University, the Chinese Consulate in New York said. Boston University has confirmed that one of its graduate students was killed by the blasts without identifying the victim. The family has asked that the name of the victim not be disclosed, the Chinese consulate said in a statement. Several media outlets have identified the victim as Lu Lingzi, from Shenyang, Liaoning, and a graduate of the Beijing Institute of Technology. An editor at the Shenyang Evening News said Lu’s father confirmed his daughter’s death when reporters visited the family home. Over the last hours, thousands of condolence messages have been posted on the reported victim's Sina Weibo microblog. The Chinese victim is one of three people killed by the twin blasts. The other two are eight-year-old Martin Richards and Krystle Campbell, 29, both from Boston. More than 170 people were injured; some remain in critical condition. The third victim was one of three friends at Boston University who "watched the race near the finish line", the university said. Among the three friends was Zhou Danling, another Chinese graduate student at Boston University, who was injured and is now in stable condition at Boston Medical Center. Zhou was previously reported to be in a coma, according to news reports. The third person was unharmed. A team led by deputy consul general Zhong Ruiming of the Chinese Consulate General in New York was in Boston to investigate the situation and assist relatives of the victims, the consulate said in a statement. 

Energy may transform US-China ties (By Joseph Boris in Washington California Governor Jerry Brown (center), and his wife Anne Brown (right), accompanied by Wang Chuanfu (left), founder and chairman of Chinese automaker BYD Co, in an electric bus at the headquarters of the Chinese company in Shenzhen on Tuesday. China and the US have decided to establish a working group to cope with climate change. The world's top two energy users, China and the United States, face an array of challenges in securing future supplies of what fuels their economies, and while conflicts over resources are possible, so is strategic cooperation. That was the view expressed by experts from both countries at a Washington panel discussion on Tuesday that addressed long-term shared interests, which now include an agreement to tackle climate change. "It was a statement that, two years ago, no one could have imagined," former US presidential adviser Kenneth Lieberthal said of Saturday's announcement in Beijing, following a visit by Secretary of State John Kerry, that the US and China would form a Climate Change Working Group. The communiqu issued after Kerry met with Chinese leaders said "increasing dangers presented by climate change measured against the inadequacy of the global response require a more focused and urgent initiative". The two sides agreed to "begin immediately to determine and finalize ways" to advance cooperation in technology, research, conservation, and alternative and renewable energy. "This was forward-looking, it was detailed, it was scientifically sound. It raises the climate-change issue to ministerial-level consideration and an ongoing process," said Lieberthal, an Asian-affairs expert who served on the National Security Council during Bill Clinton's presidency. He was speaking at the Brookings Institution, where he is now a senior fellow specializing in China studies. Another panelist, Zhang Guobao, a former director of China's National Energy Administration, pointed out that his country and the US are also the world's biggest energy producers and that cross-border deals in the industry are becoming more common - in oil and gas as well as renewable sources such as solar and wind power. "If we cooperate, our two countries will win; if we have conflicts in the energy sector, then we're going to lose," Zhang said at the Brookings forum, which was co-sponsored by Chinese media company Caixin. Their respective quests to find and sustain new supplies mean China and the US will occasionally compete for energy, though in a way that can be managed on the world market, the experts agreed. Any conflict, at least for the foreseeable future, is unlikely due to the countries' divergent energy trends: China, which from 2000 to 2011 accounted for over half of the world's energy-consumption growth, is increasingly reliant on oil imports, forcing it into unfamiliar geopolitical areas. In the US, a boom in production of natural gas is expected to make the country independent of petroleum imports this decade. "The energy revolution in the US is having impacts of a truly strategic nature, especially on US-China relations," Lieberthal said. "Neither side, I think, at this point has fully thought these through, and neither side has effectively engaged on them, although we have begun the conversation on both the Middle East and on shale gas and climate change. "These energy issues are now at the center of the major areas in which the US and China can elevate their cooperation," the scholar said, recalling Chinese leaders' recent emphasis on establishing a new type of major-power relationship. A key to the US natural-gas boom and impending freedom from imports is in shale - underground rock formations that a drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking", can now extract much of the country's vast, once-untouchable reserves. Companies in China have tentatively explored for shale gas in their own country, which is estimated to have the biggest deposits on the planet. But complex geology and a lack of access to proper technology and expertise have held back the industry, which in any case wouldn't be profitable for years due to China's massive use of coal - about 70 percent of all of its electricity. Changes in its energy profile have caused the US, which ended its war in Iraq last year, to begin disengaging from the Middle East at a time when Egypt, Syria and other countries in the region are undergoing historic changes. China's thirst for energy, meanwhile, has drawn it to the Middle East. "China is becoming involved because of its investments in a way that it has not been involved before," Lieberthal said. The US, he said, will remain involved in the region, but not with as strong and direct interests as it has had for decades. Although China is now the world's No 1 emitter of carbon dioxide, one of the greenhouse gases scientists attribute to climate change, Zhang said the portion of coal in the country's energy mix has started to shrink slightly in recent years as use of renewable sources such as hydropower, wind and solar increase. He also said China's dependence on foreign sources of energy is "quite low" compared to that of the US. The energy expert agreed with Lieberthal's view that the continued US military presence in the Middle East will remain in place for at least a decade. "We really don't need to send our naval fleet to protect our sea lanes - I think that's still got a long, long way to go. Why don't the Americans do the job for now?" Zhang said with a laugh, which the audience reciprocated.

Massive SF-China housing deal sinks (By Chen Jia in San Francisco The $1.7 billion deal between one of the biggest homebuilders in the United States, China Development Bank and Chinese Railway Construction Corp to build nearly 12,500 homes in San Francisco has fallen apart. Sources familiar with the deal to build housing on the former Hunters Point Naval Shipyard in San Francisco said the deal collapsed because the Chinese partners were asking for more control over the developments than Lennar Corp expected. "We are continuing to move forward with development of Hunters Point Shipyard and are expecting to start home construction this summer. At the same time, lenders continue to have significant interest in financing the shipyard and Treasure Island, which they believe are extremely attractive projects," a Lennar spokesman said Monday. Both the Chinese bank and the rail company have yet to comment. China Development Bank on Monday named Hu Huaibang, former chairman of the Bank of Communications, as its new chairman. The fallout came after recent announcements of development collaborations between California and China. In February, Tishman Speyer Properties LP, owner of New York's Rockefeller Center, and China Vanke Co Ltd announced a deal to develop luxury condominiums in the South of Market neighborhood of San Francisco. And state Governor Jerry Brown, on a trade mission to Beijing, announced last week a $1.5 billion deal with a different Chinese partner to build a massive residential project near Oakland's Jack London Square. Negotiations over the $1.7 billion deal began and proceeded when Chen Yuan, now vice-chairman of China's top political advisory body, served as chairman of China Development Bank. San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee had kept a positive attitude about the deal before his recent China trip and said the city was trying to wrap up the final details with its Chinese partners up until early last week. "We are trying to get them used to working with American processes and labor. I'm sure it's as challenging for them as it is for us, but I think we had a good talk," he said before his trip. But the deal was dead last Thursday, just after Lee returned from his one-week travels in China. Sources said Lee did mention the importance of the deal when he met with high-level Chinese officials, though Lee was not aware of the finer details in negotiations. This isn't the first time that negotiations to develop the former US naval base have collapsed. Conversations from both sites have been delayed for years by the lack of a private lender, though the San Francisco city government committed hundreds of millions of dollars in bond financing. Another major factor might give other developers and investors cold feet about developing on the shipyard. "Levels of a nuclear byproduct on Treasure Island are up to three times higher than the Navy had previously disclosed," according to a report commissioned by the Berkeley-based Center for Investigative Reporting. "High levels of cesium-137, a byproduct of nuclear fission that has been linked to cancer, were found in soil samples collected by Bay Citizen reporters." Sources said Lennar will still open its doors to other potential partners, including Chinese investors. "Doing a transaction of this size is difficult when all the parties are in one country let alone in two countries who have not had a history of completing real estate transactions as complicated as Hunters Point and Treasure Island," said Skip Whitney, a partner at West Coast commercial real estate firm Kidder Mathews. "I am in hopes that Americans will not be discouraged about doing business with China and more Chinese investors will look to invest in San Francisco and the Bay Area." Chang Jun contributed to this story.

New entry fees for scenic town (By He Dan in Beijing and Wen Xinzheng in Changsha) Fenghuang county, Hunan provincem. Photo takin on April 13, 2013. Authorities in Fenghuang county, Hunan province, reduced student ticket prices for its scenic old town and gave more people free entry amid rising pressure from netizens and small businesses who protested the tourist site's new paid-entry requirement. Tourists have been charged 148 yuan ($23.93) for a ticket to visit the old town since April 10. Entry was previously free. Cai Long, deputy head of the county government, said on Tuesday that the new ticketing policy will not be abandoned. He said it helps to better protect the site and ensures a more pleasant experience for tourists. Starting April 20, Cai said, students with a valid ID or student card only need to pay 20 yuan for a ticket to the old town of Fenghuang, which has stood for at least 300 years. The current student admission charge is 80 yuan. He said the government has also adjusted its free-entry policy, which now applies to two additional counties in Xiangxi in addition to residents of the Tujia-Miao autonomous prefecture, which now applies to all residents in Huaihua, Tongren, two neighboring cities of Fenghuang apart from local residents from Xiangxi Tujia-Miao autonomous prefecture (Fenghuang was a part of the prefecture). Cai said the government received 40 yuan from each ticket, adding that revenue from the tickets will go to the town's maintenance work. He said that the abundance of tourists generated heavy traffic and an excessive amount of trash. Gong Fuyun, who has been running a hostel in the Fenghuang old town for more than eight years, said he hopes the new entry charge will "bring some positive changes". Gong said the government has started repairing the roads and banning non-local vehicles from entering the old town. Cai from the county government added that about 3 billion yuan will be allocated to infrastructure improvement and other management work in the old town by the end of 2015. Fenghuang is not the first such site to begin charging admission fees. The entry price for the ancient town of Pingyao in Shanxi province is 150 yuan on ordinary days and 160 yuan during Spring Festival. However, the new policy in Fenghuang has sparked fierce debate and protests since its implementation. Yuan Yulai, a lawyer who specializes in administrative law, took to his official Sina Weibo account on Saturday to call for a boycott of Fenghuang, which won support of many netizens. Many shop owners and small traders in Fenghuang closed their shops on Thursday in a strike protesting the decision to charge for entry. Du Xiaoli, who works for a travel agency in Fenghuang that helps tourists book hotels, said reservations had decreased by at least 70 percent compared with the same period last year despite April normally being the peak season for travel to the old town. Wang Jianmin, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Tourism Research Center, said the government of Fenghuang is defending its ticket policy with "a lousy excuse". "There are many other available measures to limit tourist numbers, such as asking tourists to make reservation one day before a visit and establishing a maximum daily capacity of tourists," he said. "Tourists need to pay taxes on accommodation and food at tourist sites, so the government of Fenghuang is guaranteed sufficient money for its preservation work."

Hong Kong*:  April 18 2013

AmCham Hong Kong calls for `good mix' at our schools (By Candy Chan) International schools should be allowed to admit local students to create a "good mix" with expatriates, according to a leading business group. Members of the American Chamber of Commerce met Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim yesterday. After the meeting, AmCham representatives said it is wrong for Hong Kong to adopt the Singaporean model, which has separate schools for expats and locals. "It would be a giant step backward," president Richard Vuylsteke said. Such a model will harm competitiveness, said Vuylsteke, adding many expats prefer their children to learn in a bilingual environment. The Legislative Council panel on education meets today to discuss a government study on the demand for places at international schools. It is estimated that there will be a shortfall of 4,200 international primary school places by 2016. The study by the Education Bureau has shown a growing demand by local parents for a non- local curriculum. The proportion of local students in international schools grew from 11.6percent in 2001-02 to 25.6percent in 2011-12 at the primary level and from 10.7percent to 22.8percent at the secondary level during the same period. Vuylsteke said they generally agreed on the need to increase places, and to allocate more vacant school premises and greenfield sites for the construction of international schools. There are currently 49,183 international school places in the territory, provided by 14 schools under the English Schools Foundation, 33 private international schools and seven private independent schools. About 37percent of these schools have plans to expand, which could result in more than 6,000 additional places in the next five years, according to a government paper to be discussed at the meeting. The bureau estimates there are nearly 4,000 primary students and 450 secondary students waiting to be enrolled in international schools. Education sector lawmaker Ip Kin- yuen said the focus should be on the needs of expatriates as well as local and mainland children, holding foreign passports, and whose parents can afford international schools. The decision of the ESF to drop its admissions priority for non-Chinese speakers underlines this trend. "The authorities should secure school places for expatriate children and international schools should serve their needs," Ip said.

Gold slides further, hits weakest level in over two years (By Reuters) Gold has now fallen about 20 per cent so far this year after an unbroken 12 years of gains. Gold tumbled to a more than two-year low about US$1,300 an ounce on Tuesday, extending a brutal sell-off amid fears of central bank sales and global growth, as investors frustrated by the metal’s lacklustre performance dumped their holdings. Bullion posted its biggest ever daily drop in dollar terms in the previous session, catching many gold bulls and veteran investors by surprise. Gold has now fallen about 20 per cent so far this year after an unbroken 12 years of gains. The typically safe haven asset has failed to capitalise on tensions in the Korean Peninsula even as Pyongyang made new threats of military action, and has been hit by uncertainty over the US Federal Reserve’s stimulus program. “This is a kind of panic selling. There must be the end of it some time in the near future, but the market is still very shaky,” said Yuichi Ikemizu, branch manager for Standard Bank in Tokyo. “We just have to wait until this panic selling subdues,” said Ikemizu, who was reluctant to peg a support level for gold. Cash gold fell as low as US$1,321.35 an ounce and stood at US$1,341.94, down US$10.81. The metal is nearly US$600 below a lifetime high about US$1,920 an ounce hit in September 2011. US gold futures for June delivery fell more than 2 per cent to the weakest in more than two years, while the most active bullion contract on the Tokyo Commodity Exchange sank almost 10 per cent. Monday’s drop of around US$125 per ounce in cash gold eclipsed the rout on January 22, 1980, a day after gold hit its then-record US$850 on global panic over oil-led inflation due to Soviet intervention in Afghanistan and the Iranian revolution. Reuters market analyst for commodities and energy technicals, Wang Tao, expects gold to fall further to US$1,245 per ounce, driven by a fierce wave C. Gold hit an 11-month high in October last year after the Fed announced its third round of aggressive economic stimulus, raising fears the central bank’s money-printing to buy assets would stoke inflation. But the gain was erased by a rally in equities, talks the Fed could soon end its bullion-friendly bond buying programme, and concerns other indebted euro zone countries could follow Cyprus’ plan to sell bullion reserves to raise cash. Heavy outflows on global gold exchange-traded funds, which cut holdings to their lowest in more than a year, could also mark the end of a love affair between gold and investors. “The fall in gold prices is reminiscent of some of the market capitulations seen during the global financial crisis when leveraged investors were required to sell assets to maintain balance sheets and preserve liquidity,” said Ric Spooner chief market analyst at CMC Markets in Sydney. “The extent of leverage is now much lower and this may see more orderly conditions return to the gold market sooner rather than later. Markets will also be sensitive to any further information on the situation in Boston and whether or not it has any geopolitical implications.” Physical dealers saw inquiries from jewellers following the latest sell-off, but there were no signs of buying related to tensions between the two Koreas or bombings in Boston, which killed three people. It was the worst bombing on US soil since security was tightened after the attacks of September 11, 2001. President Barack Obama promised to hunt down whoever was responsible. Premiums for gold bars edged up to US$1.70 to the spot London prices in Singapore on Tuesday from US$1.20 on the previous day, but dealers had yet to see a surge in demand from jewellers and speculators. “I think with a further reduction in gold prices, premiums may go up further. The demand is there, but the Thais are still on holiday and physical offtake in Hong Kong is not fantastic,” said a dealer in Singapore. In other markets, the yen firmed against the dollar and the euro while commodities extended their sharp declines after investors dumped risk assets overnight, worried over slowing growth in China and the US took hold.

Security not particularly tight, says Hong Kong runner at Boston Marathon (By Ada Lee and Lai Ying-kit) The first wave of runners start the Boston Marathon. The explosions went off four hours later. Security measures at the Boston Marathon were not particularly tight, a Hong Kong runner said on Tuesday after two bombs exploded at the US event, leaving at least three people dead and more than 100 injured. The runner, who identified herself only as Karen, said in a Commercial Radio interview that the atmosphere in Boston had turned from carnival-like to grave after the incident. Fifty Hong Kong residents participated in the run, according to the official marathon website. The Hong Kong Immigration Department said on Tuesday there had been no report of injuries involving Hong Kong people so far. It said it would continue to monitor latest developments in liaison with the Chinese embassy. Karen said runners could get on the race road as long as they had their number tags. “The police were there, but they would not check what you were taking with you,” she said. She said the measures were similar to other overseas marathons in which she had participated. “There are many staff members, and the event was very well-organised,” she said. The first explosion occurred 40 minutes after she had crossed the finish line, and she had returned to the hotel by then. “I was very scared. It was quite close. Everyone would pass that area.” The two explosions were about 50 to 100 metres apart as runners crossed the finish line with a timer showing 4 hours and 9 minutes. At that time, the heaviest crowds were near the finish line. Karen said many runners’ family members would be close to that area as well. Another female Hong Kong runner, who identified herself by surname Lo, said the explosion occurred moments after she passed the finish line. “I was pretty terrified because I was quite close,” she said during a telephone interview with Hong Kong media. “I had just finished and was on my way to pick up my luggage. I was several hundreds metres away. Then I heard a very loud explosion. About three seconds later a second bang came. And then I saw much smoke came up from there,” she said.

Hong Kong runner tells of dark day in Boston after crossing finishing line (By Simeon Jupp) A street in Boston is almost deserted after a day of chaos and tragedy. I flew to Boston from Hong Kong on Saturday to combine a business trip with competing in the Boston Marathon. It was a great day – perfect weather and unbelievable crowds supporting the runners. Having started in the third wave of runners, I finished at 2.41pm, crossed the finish line then took my time picking up some water and resting. Before I had a chance to move along, there was a large explosion no more than 200 metres from where I was standing. My first thought was that it might be fireworks or a cannon, but it was instantly clear from the amount of debris in the air that it was either a terrible accident or a bomb. Seconds later, another explosion a few hundred metres farther away convinced me that it was a bomb. There was panic in the street as runners who had crossed the finish line ran down the road towards me. Oddly, calm quickly prevailed as the grim scene wasn’t fully understood. The medals continued to be handed out although the runners and crowds were moving along faster to clear the area. Within minutes, however, the enormity of the situation became more evident. Runners came through the ranks crying, and tensions began to rise. Marshals and runners struggled to move the crowd barriers to let police and fire vehicles through. Only one or two streets away, it took a while for news to spread. Mobile phones quickly started to fail – it’s not clear if it was a network overload or if the networks were shut down. Mine failed initially but started working just a few streets away. The elite runners had long passed the finish line; at this stage of the race it was all about charity and family runners. The finish line was packed with families cheering on their loved ones. It’s tragic that one of the three reported fatalities is an eight-year-old child. You’ll have seen the television reports. A tough day for the US, a devastating day for the city of Boston and a dark day for sport. Simeon Jupp is a resident of Hong Lok Yuen, Hong Kong

 China*:  April 18 2013

CHINA BASHING WILL SCORE EXTRA POINT TO WIN AWARDS IN THE WEST: China dismisses NYT's Pulitzer-winning report on Wen Jiabao by David Barboza of The New York Time (By Agence France Presse) China Foreign ministry claims reporter had ulterior motives - China dismissed a New York Times report that exposed the wealth amassed by the family of former Premier Wen Jiabao as having “ulterior motives” on Tuesday, after it won a Pulitzer Prize. The story, which was published in October last year, alleged close relatives of Wen have made billions of dollars in business dealings. It provoked anger from authorities in China, who said it was part of a “smear” by “voices” opposed to the country’s development. The Times’ Chinese and English websites were subsequently blocked in China and remain inaccessible. “Our position towards this issue is very clear. We believe the relevant report by the New York Times reporter is with ulterior motives,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a regular press briefing on Tuesday. The Time’s Shanghai bureau chief David Barboza, who wrote the story, told AFP that he was “honoured” after the report won the award for international reporting. The Pulitzer jury on Monday called it a “striking exposure”. The newspaper won four awards in the 97th annual Pulitzer Prizes, awarded by Columbia University in New York. The most prestigious prizes in US journalism, the awards can bring badly needed attention to newspapers and websites competing for readers in a fragmented media industry, where many are suffering from budget constraints. The Pulitzer board on Monday noted that David Barboza’s reporting was accomplished “in the face of heavy pressure” from Chinese officials. Two reporters for The New York Times, David Barstow and Alejandra Xanic von Bertrab, won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting for their reports on how Wal-Mart used widespread bribery to dominate the market in Mexico. Their reporting resulted in changes in company practices, it said. The staff of The New York Times won the Pulitzer Prize for explanatory journalism for its coverage of business practices by Apple and other technology companies that “illustrates the darker side of a changing global economy for workers and consumers”, it said. John Branch of The New York Times won the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing for his “evocative narrative” about skiers killed in an avalanche, it said.

World experts to help China with bird flu investigation (By Reuters in Geneva) A member of staff wearing a decontamination suit walks through the Centre of Disease Control in Beijing. An international team of flu experts will go to China within a week to help with investigations into the deadly H7N9 virus. An international team of flu experts will go to China within a week to help with investigations into the deadly H7N9 virus, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Tuesday. The new strain of avian flu has killed 14 among 63 people known to have been infected, but no human-to-human spread of the virus has been confirmed. China confirmed on Saturday a seven-year-old child had been infected by the virus in the capital Beijing, the first case outside the Yangtze river delta region in eastern China where the new strain emerged last month. A team of eight experts – four from the WHO – are going in response to a request from Chinese health authorities, a spokesman for the UN agency said. They will look at the situation on the ground and try to get a bit more understanding of the behaviour of the virus and what kind of investigations should be done. “They will look at the situation on the ground and try to get a bit more understanding of the behaviour of the virus and what kind of investigations should be done,” Gregory Hartl said in Geneva on Tuesday. No exact date has been set yet for the arrival of the team which is expected to hold talks in Beijing and visit affected provinces, he said. But the mission – made up of American, European, Australian and Chinese experts – is expected to go within a week and will carry out a week-long study, another WHO spokesman, Glenn Thomas, said later during a news briefing. In a statement issued late on Monday, the WHO said more than 1,000 close contacts of the people confirmed as having H7N9 were being closely monitored for symptoms. “So far, there is no evidence of ongoing human-to-human transmission,” it said. The WHO has praised the response of Chinese authorities in stepping up disease surveillance and conducting retrospective testing of people who had respiratory illnesses of unknown origin. Another UN agency, the Food and Agriculture Organisation, is also working with Beijing to investigate the source of the virus, including poultry markets. “Poultry markets have been the focus of attention. This mission will be looking into this as a key target in its research,” Thomas said.

Underground clubs trigger calls for greater transparency on official spending (By Chris Luo State-run China Central Television (CCTV) has exposed widespread underground wining and dining by government officials, prompting calls for greater transparency on sangong expenditure – spending by government officials on overseas visits, the purchase and maintenance of government vehicles, and receptions and meetings. CCTV found government officials were frequenting private clubs hidden deep under public parks and concealed by old temples to indulge in expensive meals, despite President Xi Jinping’s drive to curb extravagance and crack down on corruption. “We have entertained many officials here,” a staff member of one restaurant boasted to a CCTV reporter. The average expenditure per person at the restaurant was 1,680 yuan (HK$2,109), she said, but that price could rise to 6,000 yuan depending on what dishes were ordered. The CCTV programme showed government-owned vehicles parked outside several high-end restaurants in Beijing. While some had their number plates covered up or removed, their official entry passes revealed the identities of their owners. The impact of Xi’s austerity drive, launched late last year, on the nation’s luxury goods market can already be seen. Prices of traditional Chinese liquor such as Maotai and Wuliangye, once favoured by officials, have plunged about 30 per cent. But in order to curb extravagance and fight corruption in the long term, scholars have urged party leaders to institutionalise the drive. “Without stable, restricted and executable rules, the common officials’ practice of wining and dining on public expenses would revive,” said Wang Yukai, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Governance. He said the anti-corruption measures needed to be more specific. “There ought to be specific procedures that are executable and correction measures to solve problems.” Liu Xiaobing, Deputy Principal of the School of Public Economics & Administration at Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, said there was still a long way to go before spending by officials was made public. According to an earlier study led by Liu, only 17 of the nation’s 31 provinces had published sangong expenditure figures. Sangong expenditure has long come under fire as corrupt officials have often been shown to enjoy lavish lifestyles supported by official expense accounts. Last month, a Ministry of Finance official denied that China’s sangong expenditure had reached 900 billion yuan. But the government’s refusal to make public the exact amount has drawn public condemnation. “It is only a matter of willingness,” Liu said, when asked what obstacles the government faced in terms of increasing transparency.

Pictured: Chinese student left in coma after Boston Marathon bombings (By SCMP) Girl among more than 100 injured in bombings - Zhou Danling, Screenshot from Sina Weibo. One female student from China is in a coma after suffering serious injuries in the Boston Marathon bombings, China's official Xinhua News Agency has reported quoting an unnamed official from the Chinese consulate in New York. The woman, who was named by Xinhua as Zhou Danling, is a graduate student at Boston University, the American Chinese-language newspaper Qiaobao reported. Her mother had asked for the consulate's help in facilitating her journey to the US. Boston University has confirmed on its website that an unidentified student is being treated at its Boston Medical Center. The student is said to be in stable condition. The Chinese consulate in Boston had told Xinhua that the female student was injured and in a coma. Zhou is a graduate of Wuhan University in central China, and currently a student at Boston University in actuarial science, according to a Xinhua report.

Poultry sector hit by 10b yuan loss (By YU RAN in Shanghai) A closed poultry counter at a supermarket in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province. Breeders, sellers and suppliers face tough times. Losses of poultry-related enterprises nationwide have exceeded 10 billion yuan ($1.6 billion) since the first case of H7N9 bird flu was discovered, according to the National Poultry Industry Association. With all live poultry stands shut down in regions with H7N9 cases since early this month, poultry breeders, suppliers and sellers are facing tough times. Liang Zhong, an officer in charge of the pigeon industry at the association, said:"The price of Huangyu chicken, a type of high-quality chicken, has dropped from 16 yuan ($2.55) per kg to four yuan per kg." Liang said supplies of pigeons from Guangdong province have stopped, with very few people daring to buy pigeons, which have been found carrying the H7N9 virus. Poultry sellers forced to close their stands at agriculture product markets are waiting anxiously for an end to cases of the H7N9 virus, but they are spreading slowly. Xia Maochun, a poultry seller at an agricultural market in Gaoling Road, Shanghai, and regular supplier to nearby restaurants and residents, said: "I am making some money from transporting vegetables for other agricultural markets … as we are struggling to make a living at the moment." Xia faces a monthly loss of about 40,000 yuan after closing his stand at the market and is waiting for further instructions from the local government. Poultry breeders are also facing hard times with no buyers for their chickens. "I am losing over 100,000 yuan a month by feeding 6,000 to 7,000 chickens on three farms," said Yang Sizhong, the owner of a chicken farm in Yuyao, Zhejiang province, and known for playing Mozart violin compositions to his chickens in the belief this soothes them and makes for better eggs and meat. Because of this, Yang used to charge 1,088 yuan for each chicken, more than 10 times the usual price. The eggs, with pink, blue or green shells, cost 20 yuan each — 20 times the normal rate. "The only thing I can do is to feed these chickens with safe fodder and ensure their living environment is clean enough until the H7N9 outbreak ends," Yang said. To meet increasing demands for beef and seafood, restaurants have stopped buying poultry-related products and removed some poultry dishes from their menus. Liu Yunfeng, marketing manager of Shanghai Old-Town Temple Restaurant (Group) Co Ltd, said: "We've removed pigeon, quail and finch dishes … from our menu since April 3 and carried out examinations to trace the supply of other poultry products." "We have created 50 more dishes to replace chicken and duck meat with beef and seafood as well as providing more vegetables and other healthy agricultural products to diners," Liu said.

China issues white paper on national defense (By Xinhua) China on Tuesday issued a white paper on national defense elaborating its new security concept and peacetime employment of armed forces. The document, the eighth of its kind the Chinese government has issued since 1998, says China advocates a new security concept featuring mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality and coordination, and pursues comprehensive security, common security and cooperative security. "China will never seek hegemony or behave in a hegemonic manner, nor will it engage in military expansion," the white paper says. The paper elaborates the country's diversified employment of the armed forces in the peaceful times, saying that it responds to China's core security needs and aims to maintain peace, contain crises and win wars. Chinese armed forces are employed to safeguard border, coastal and territorial air security, strengthen combat-readiness and combat-oriented exercises and drills, it says. They would readily respond to and resolutely deter any provocative action which undermines China's sovereignty, security and territorial integrity, it says. Full Text: The Diversified Employment of China's Armed Forces 

Hong Kong*:  April 17 2013

Indoor vertical gardens a growing attraction for Hongkongers (By Christopher DeWolf Bringing plants indoors can introduce benefits including better air quality … and the trend for 'living walls', even in small flats, is taking root. Margaret Chen, founder of SquAir Spaces, poses with the 'living walls' of plants at her office in Wong Chuk Hang. Green walls take many forms, but most residential walls consist of permeable pouches filled with soil. One night in Singapore was all it took to convince Margaret Chen that she needed more greenery in her life. "I stayed with a friend who lives next to an area with big canopy trees that's basically like a jungle, and they keep their windows open all the time," she said. "I have pretty bad allergies, but after one night of sleeping there, my sinuses were all clear." That experience inspired Chen to launch SquAir Spaces, a not-for-profit enterprise that designs, installs and maintains vertical gardens. In a city with bad air pollution and cramped apartments, Chen says bringing greenery indoors is an easy path to better air quality and peace of mind. "It's beneficial for you in terms of the air you breathe and it's also good for your mental well-being because it's so relaxing," she said. Most attention-grabbing vertical gardens are massive commercial installations like French botanist Patrick Blanc's 2,500 sq ft green wall in the lobby of Hotel Icon in Tsim Sha Tsui, but a new crop of local companies offer more modest green walls perfect for Hong Kong's small flats. "Indoor wall gardens are usually all-season with very low maintenance and very low light requirements," said Jay Yang, a product designer for Ecotropolis, which makes and installs green walls. "It is also very appealing visually and you will definitely feel a difference in the air." That's not an overstatement - even the most common houseplants can do a lot to clear the air. In 1989, research by the US space agency Nasa on the International Space Station found that common indoor plants eliminate toxins such as benzene and formaldehyde, which are commonly found in vehicle exhaust. "Even most air purifiers don't take away this kind of chemical pollution," said Chen. The Nasa study concluded that a 900 sq ft apartment needs just eight large houseplants to improve the quality of its atmosphere significantly. Golden pothos, peace lilies and chrysanthemum are some of the most effective air scrubbers. Green walls take many forms - Blanc's multimillion-dollar installations are renowned for being entirely soil-free - but most residential walls consist of permeable pouches filled with soil. "The product design itself needs to be focused on user-friendliness and low cost," said Yang. Both his pouches and those offered by SquAir Spaces are made from recycled plastic bottles, which creates a breathable felt that allows air to circulate through the soil and roots. A waterproof moisture barrier keeps water from dripping on the floor. The pouches can be mounted directly on the wall, on a trellis or suspended by wires - SquAir Spaces uses a wire system normally employed by art galleries, and it also sells a series of elaborately framed pouches that Chen calls "living art", for HK$3,800 each. Individual tabletop pouches cost HK$880 from SquAir Spaces while a large wall installation costs around HK$25,000, including biweekly maintenance visits for three months and a year's warranty. Ecotropolis sells its pouches for HK$265 each, including warranty. Another company, HK Green Walls, offers even more elaborate vertical gardens with automatic irrigation, aeration and lighting systems, which range in price from HK$3,000 to HK$50,000. "Hong Kong people are very busy so this is good for people who can't always be around to water their plants," said director Christy Li. While that cuts down on maintenance, it doesn't eliminate it completely: "You still need to trim the plants and check on them," she added. Chen doesn't offer automatic irrigation as a matter of principle. "We have an educational mission," she said. "People in Hong Kong have very little plant knowledge. All of our walls are human-scaled so people can touch the plants and feel when they need to be watered. "A lot of people say, 'Oh, I have a black thumb, my plants always die,' but it's really about knowledge and confidence." SquAir Spaces, Ecotropolis and HK Green Walls all employ landscape architects and plant specialists to evaluate a space and determine the best placement for a wall and the best plants to populate it. "If someone doesn't have a green thumb, we'll give them plants that need less maintenance," like succulents and cacti, says SquAir Spaces partner Serinna Chau. "We pick the right plants for the right conditions." Maintaining the green wall is fairly straightforward. Chen said it is important to keep your flat well-ventilated to avoid mould. She also said it is essential to test the soil before watering. "Most people water their plants too often," which can waterlog the soil and cause root rot, which could eventually kill the plant. SquAir Spaces officially began business in February and it has so far installed green walls for three residential clients. HK Green Walls has done a half-dozen residential projects since it launched two years ago. "It's most popular with foreigners, because they miss their gardens," said Li. But building a local market is more challenging. "Hong Kong people might love the idea but they think they don't have enough time to take care of it." That's something Chen hopes to change by soon installing green walls in schools in the city.

Hong Kong expert warns new bird flu virus could become a pandemic (By Emily Tsang and Zhuang Pinghui) Hong Kong expert says H7N9 could pose a bigger threat than H5N1 and may adapt to become transmittable between humans - A girl recovering after being infected with H7N9 waves as she is transferred to a public ward at Beijing's Ditan Hospital. The deadly new bird flu may pose a bigger threat to humans than the H5N1 bird virus that has killed hundreds of people worldwide, a University of Hong Kong microbiologist warned yesterday. Ho Pak-leung became the first expert to publicly express fears it could become a pandemic. The H7N9 strain emerged in humans only last month and is so far contained to the mainland. But it has already infected more people than the H5N1 virus has infected in the past 10 years. Ho said the new virus showed a higher ability to be transmitted rapidly from birds to humans and to spread geographically. And because infected birds appeared healthy, it was also harder to detect. Ho said: "The pathology pattern of H7N9 so far is very special and quite different from H5N1. "But the pattern points to one alarming conclusion - it may be a bigger health threat than H5N1." He said news that a four-year-old Beijing boy was found to have the virus despite not showing any flu symptoms was a "warning sign" for a pandemic. "It is possible for the virus to grow more adaptable to the human body … and eventually becoming transmittable among humans," he said. The number of confirmed H7N9 cases has reached 63 - and 14 have died, according to the national health commission. A boy who is now under medical observation in hospital was screened for the virus after coming into close contact with the capital's first H7N9 case, a seven-year-old girl. So far, H7N9 has emerged in Shanghai and the provinces of Zhejiang , Jiangsu , Henan and Anhui , as well as in Beijing. "The previous H5N1 pandemic never affected so many provinces at the same time," Ho said. H5N1 has infected 45 people on the mainland since 2003, killing 30. Hong Kong was hit by an early outbreak in 1997, with six deaths, before the virus re-emerged in 2003 to spread throughout the world, claiming some 332 lives by late 2011. Yuen Kwok-yuen, head of microbiology at HKU, said if infected people do not develop symptoms, the disease will get harder to control. The husband of one of the H7N9 victims was confirmed to be infected with the virus 10 days after her death, sparking fears the virus could be passed between humans. Respiratory diseases expert Dr Zhong Nanshan said it was too early to rule out the possibility of human-to-human transmission. Zhong said: "We can only say that based on the evidence so far, no human-to-human transmission has been detected. But that does not mean it is not possible."

Citigroup names Joseph Chang as Asia Pacific prime finance head (Reuters in Hong Kong) Citigroup has named Joseph Chang as head of prime finance in Asia Pacific, according to an internal memo on Monday. In that role, Chang will lead the bank’s provision of services to hedge funds such as brokerage, financing and introductions of investors. He will report to Nick Roe, global head of prime finance, and Nadir Mahmud, Asia Pacific head of markets, the memo said. Chang was previously regional business manager for Citi’s Asia equities business. A Citi spokesman confirmed the contents of the memo.

The USS Peleliu, the flagship of the U.S. navy Amphibious Squadron Three, moves into Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong, south China, April 15, 2013. Three ships of the U.S. navy Amphibious Squadron Three started to make a port visit in Hong Kong on Monday to get replenishment. USS Peleliu pulled into the Ocean Terminal besides Tsim Sha Tsui, on the northern bank of the landmark Victoria Harbor in the morning. The other two ships anchored in waters outside the Harbor. A U.S. navy helicopter is pictured on the USS Peleliu, the flagship of the Amphibious Squadron Three, in Hong Kong, south China, April 15, 2013. Three ships of the U.S. navy Amphibious Squadron Three started to make a port visit in Hong Kong on Monday to get replenishment. USS Peleliu pulled into the Ocean Terminal besides Tsim Sha Tsui, on the northern bank of the landmark Victoria Harbor in the morning. The other two ships anchored in waters outside the Harbor.

 China*:  April 17 2013

China and Iceland ink free trade pact as Beijing seeks influence in the Arctic (By Associated Press in Beijing and Bloomberg in Reykjavik) Agreement may aid Beijing's bid to boost its influence in the Arctic region, where new shipping routes are opening up - Premier Li Keqiang and Icelandic PM Johanna Sigurdardottir in Beijing yesterday. Iceland became the first European nation to sign a free trade deal with China yesterday, offering hope to the small North Atlantic country for its recession-battered economy and giving Beijing a leg up in its drive for more influence in the Arctic. The China-Iceland free trade pact will lower tariffs on a range of goods and is expected to boost seafood and other exports from the remote Nordic state to the world's second-largest economy. It comes at the start of a five-day visit to China by Icelandic Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir that highlights her country's attempts to diversify an economy that was badly mauled by the bursting of a massive financial bubble in 2008. Premier Li Keqiang told Sigurdardottir the agreement was "a major event in China-Iceland relations". "It also signals the deepening of our relationship, especially our economic relationship which has been lifted to a new height," Li said during talks after a welcoming ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Iceland is working on deepening ties with China that could help speed up efforts to emerge from its 2008 economic collapse, when its three largest banks defaulted on US$85 billion in debt. Iceland is seeking to resuscitate its US$14.4 billion economy by returning to the industries it once relied on for growth such as tourism, fishing and energy. "It's important for Iceland to conclude pacts like this to strengthen trade following the economic collapse," Sigurdardottir said. The free trade agreement will "increase the soundness of business transactions and presumably the interest among Chinese and Icelandic companies that are co-operating" in geothermal power. China sees a range of opportunities in the Arctic and will continue to expand its research in the area and conduct further expeditions, said Leiv Lunde, director of the Oslo-based Fridtjof Nansen Institute. "It's attractive also for all the resources, but China is already a major shipping nation ... and Chinese companies are now very eagerly awaiting policy signals from the Chinese government on what kind of priorities they will give to the Arctic," said Lunde at a conference yesterday on Arctic issues in Shanghai. China is seeking permanent observer status in the Arctic Council, a body that includes Iceland and decides on policy in the region. A decision on China's bid is due next month, and it has received strong support amid the prospects of heavy Chinese investment in the region's mining industries, as advertised by its proposal to sink US$2.3 billion into Greenland to secure 13.6 million tonnes of iron ore per year.

China points finger at US on regional tensions (By Reuters in Beijing) A Japan Coast Guard ship shoots water at a Taiwanese boat exchange in disputed waters in September. China’s defence ministry said on Tuesday that “some countries” are increasing tension in Asia and the Pacific, in thinly veiled criticism of US efforts to ramp up its military presence and alliances in the region. China is uneasy with what the United States has called the “rebalancing” of forces as the United States winds down the war in Afghanistan and pays renewed attention to the Asia-Pacific region. China says the policy has emboldened Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam in longstanding territorial disputes. China faces “multiple and complicated security threats” despite its growing influence, the Ministry of National Defence said in an annual white paper, adding that the US strategy meant “profound changes” for the region. “There are some countries which are strengthening their Asia Pacific military alliances, expanding their military presence in the region and frequently make the situation there tenser,” the ministry said in the paper. “On the issues concerning China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests, some neighbouring countries are taking actions that complicate or exacerbate the situation, and Japan is making trouble over the Diaoyu Islands issue,” it said. The dispute with Japan over the uninhabited islands, which Japan calls Senkaku, has escalated in recent months to the point where China and Japan have scrambled fighter jets while patrol ships shadow each other. On Tuesday, three Chinese government ships entered the territorial waters of the dispute islands, Japan’s coastguard said. The three surveillance ships were navigating in the 12-nautical-mile zone around the islands as of 9.20am, the coastguard said. Chinese government ships have frequently spent time around the disputed island chain since Tokyo nationalised three of the isles last September. The waters around the islands in the East China Sea are rich fishing grounds and have potentially huge oil and gas reserves. Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines also have conflicting claims with Beijing in parts of the South China Sea, including the Spratly Islands. China lays claim to almost the whole of the sea, which is criss-crossed by crucial shipping lanes. The US shift comes as China boosts military spending and builds submarines, surface ships and anti-ship ballistic missiles as part of its naval modernisation, and has tested emerging technology aimed at destroying missiles in mid-air. China has repeatedly said the world has nothing to fear from its military spending which is needed for legitimate defensive purposes, and that the sums spent pale in comparison with US defence expenditure. “Major powers are vigorously developing new and more sophisticated military technologies so as to ensure that they can maintain strategic superiority in international competition in such areas as outer space and cyber space,” the ministry said.

'Better, deeper' China-Russia trade ties (By ZHAO SHENGNAN and BAO CHANG) Premier Li Keqiang said on Monday that conditions have ripened for carrying out "better, faster and deeper" economic cooperation between China and Russia. The two countries should seize the opportunity to provide a more open, convenient and regulated environment for investment in order to double or even quadruple bilateral trade, he said. Li made the remarks during a meeting with visiting Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, which came less than a month after President Xi Jinping visited Russia on his first official trip abroad. Officials and experts said China and Russia are paying more attention to each other because their heavily export-reliant economies are experiencing bottlenecks and their traditional target for economic cooperation in Europe, which is still trapped in crisis. Li called for the two countries to raise the quality of cooperation by conducting joint research and manufacturing projects, as well as promoting large-scale cooperative projects of strategic importance. Shuavalov said Russia, especially the country's Far East and Baikal areas, welcomes investment from Chinese companies. Moscow had approved a development plan for the regions — vast areas with development potential — through 2020, Shuavalov told reporters ahead of the visit. "China is a strategic partner and neighbor to this area. We will make joint projects with China a priority," he said. Russia is also ready to expand its cooperation with China in the areas of energy, finance, industrial modernization and infrastructure, and is working on creating a quality environment for foreign investors, he said. Li Xin, director of the Center for Russia and Central Asia Studies with the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, said energy exports used to play an important role in Russia's economy but they are no longer able to reverse the country's sluggish economic growth. "Under the pressure of the scarcity of finance for Russia's modernization and expanding domestic demand, Moscow is willing to see more direct investment from China," he said. "China has to expand domestic demand ... So, it is time for Chinese enterprises to further explore the Russian market,"Li Xin said. Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng said on Monday the ministry will support Chinese enterprises capable of investing in the Russian market to promote the level of Sino-Russia cooperation. China has accumulatively invested almost $30 billion in Russia, on top of non-financial investments that have grown more than 40 percent annually over the past decade, according to Gao. Bilateral trade between China and Russia stood at a record $88.16 billion in 2012, up 11.2 percent year-on-year. Trade is widely believed to have a good chance of reaching the $100 billion and $200 billion goals set for 2015 and 2020 respectively. China-Russia Investment Fund President Hu Bing said companies have increasingly decided to enter the Russian market by investing and establishing factories there. "Besides those from Heilongjiang province, Jilin province and Inner Mongolia autonomous region, enterprises in Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Anhui provinces have also showed great interest in the investment to Russia," he said. Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli also had talks with Shuvalov on Monday before meeting with a group of Chinese and Russian entrepreneurs. Li from the SIIS said cooperation with Russia's Far East can also help China rejuvenate the rustbelt industrial bases in its northeast. In September 2009, China and Russia approved a planning program for cooperation between the two regions. "But because the plan's implementation has not been satisfactory, both sides are working to specify and improve it," Li said.

The 113th Canton Fair opened here on Monday with the aim of boosting Chinese exports and promoting the integration of the country's economy with the world. The opening comes amid China's economic slowdown but a 13.4 percent growth in foreign trade in the first quarter of the year. Nearly 25,000 companies, including 562 from 38 countries or regions such as the Republic of Korea and India, are attending the fair, China's largest. The fair, or China Import and Export Fair, will further promote the integration of the country's economy with the world, the stabilization of exports and expansion of imports, said China's Vice Minister of Commerce Li Jinzao. The fair will focus on exports so as to realize the stable growth of China's foreign trade, said Li. The country will try to enhance the competitiveness of domestic firms by technological innovations, cultivating home brands, improving quality of products and services, he added. "China's foreign trade has weathered through the most difficult period of 2012. The general trend will be to stop the slowdown and stabilize," said Liu Jianjun, spokesman for the fair. About 200,000 overseas buyers are expected to attend the three-phase fair, which will last until early May. The fair has an exhibition area of 1.16 million square meters and nearly 60,000 booths. The 112th session of the fair saw a turnover of 32.68 billion U.S. dollars, a 9.3-percent decrease compared to the spring session. The fair opened as the country's gross domestic product growth slowed to 7.7 percent in the first quarter of 2013, down from 7.9 percent during the final quarter of 2012, the National Bureau of Statistics said Monday. Customs data showed China's foreign trade grew 13.4 percent in the first three months, much higher than the growth rate of 6.2 percent in 2012.

Xi meets 2nd China-US governors' forum attendees (By Xinhua) Chinese President Xi Jinping (front, C) poses for a group photo with Chinese and U.S. governors at the the second China-U.S. governors' forum in Beijing, capital of China, April 15, 2013. Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday met with Chinese and U.S. governors, calling for deeper regional cooperation between the two countries. Relations between China and the United States are currently at "an important phase that connects the past and the future," Xi told the governors attending the second China-U.S. governors' forum. Xi recalled his latest telephone discussion with U.S. President Barack Obama, saying they agreed on the direction for building a bilateral cooperative partnership and developing a new type of relations between big powers. Xi said China-U.S. cooperation will benefit the two nations and contribute to world peace, stability and common development. Xi hailed the China-U.S. governors' forum as an important mechanism for regional cooperation. China and the U.S. are economically complementary and see robust people-to-people exchanges, Xi said, adding that these areas "inject a vitality into regional cooperation." Xi wished the forum, which took place from Monday to Tuesday in Beijing and Tianjin, great success and called on governors of both countries to make the most of the forum and promote bilateral relations. Xi encouraged Chinese provinces and U.S. states to work more closely in traditional sectors like agriculture and advance cooperation in new areas such as energy conservation, environmental protection, new energy, urban planning and infrastructure. U.S. governors present at the meeting were Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell. They said they were glad to attend the forum and discuss deepening cooperation with Chinese provincial leaders. They called for stronger cooperation in agriculture, trade and economy,culture and education. On the Chinese side, leaders from Tianjin Municipality, Hebei Province, Heilongjiang Province, Fujian Province and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region attended the forum. The China-U.S. governors' forum was launched in 2011. The first one was held last year in the U.S. 

Hong Kong*:  April 16 2013

Grabbing a cab can put you on a road to ruin (By Pavan Shamdasani) Hong Kong is crawling with taxis, and although they're convenient, there are other ways to get around that won't burn a hole in your pocket - 'Discount taxis' may operate on the wrong side of the law, but they offer their customers a significant saving over cabbies that charge on the meter. Hong Kong may have one of the cheapest transport systems of any major, developed-world metropolis, but the temptation of another quick cab ride always beckons - and, added up, it can eat away at your bank account. You'd take a bus if only you could work out the convoluted routes. Well, now a number of free smartphone applications are here to help. Simply let your phone track your location, type in your destination, and an app will recommend a number of cheap public transit options. The Transport Department app is decent and works on iPhones, but it's somewhat unwieldy and offers only simplified bus and tram information. Android users get a couple of better options: StudioKuma Bus Info includes all major regular bus and tram services, as well as giving you detailed pricing and route-change information. But I much prefer HK Explorer. It uses Google Maps to pinpoint locations, offers detailed pricing and journey times, and is the only app to include the faster green minibus routes. Your Octopus card offers numerous savings, but there are always more advantages. You might have seen those stand-alone Octopus card machines around town - they're part of the MTR's fare saver programme. The one on the Mid-Levels escalator gives you a HK$2 saving every time you swipe your card on the machine. A number of major banks have partnered with the MTR to offer credit and ATM cards with Octopus capabilities, and signing up saves you money. Citibank's Octopus-linked credit card gives you HK$200 in Octopus cash as a welcome offer, and Dah Sing's cash card gives you a 2.5 per cent rebate on every top-up. But while using your Octopus is a good idea in most situations, it isn't when you travel to the airport. For the Airport Express, make sure you and your friends buy physical tickets together - a four-person one-way ticket from Hong Kong Station to the airport, for example, costs HK$250, saving you HK$150. For even bigger savings, try taking the bus - the journey from Tsim Sha Tsui costs as little as HK$23. And when you return to Hong Kong, if you're planning on buzzing around the city, there's no reason not to buy the tourist-friendly Travel Pass. For HK$220 you get a single Airport Express journey and three days of unlimited travel on all trains in the city. There are also means of transport that aren't strictly legal, but which I must mention in the interests of full disclosure. People travelling in groups often opt to call a "man with a van" instead of taking multiple taxis - each van can fit up to 10 people and costs as little as HK$50 for a cross-harbour journey. And finally, if you must take a cab, consider one of the popular "discount taxis" - drivers who charge fares reduced by up to 40 per cent if you hire them regularly for fixed journeys. Again, it's not legal, but the government is considering options to make it legitimate, so consider getting in your cabbie's good books before all the best spots are taken.

Hong Kong must stick with the Basic Law (By Regina Ip) Regina Ip says the Occupy Central movement is falsely promising a vision for Hong Kong that in fact contravenes both the letter and spirit of the constitution that has served us so well. Rev Chu Yiu-ming, one of the organisers of Occupy Central. Almost 30 years after the signing of the Sino-British Joint Declaration on the future of Hong Kong, and more than 15 years after the implementation of the Basic Law, Hong Kong's development appears to have reached a crossroads. As 2017, the promised date for electing Hong Kong's chief executive by universal suffrage, draws near, calls to "occupy Central" as a means of putting pressure on Beijing to embrace a democratic selection method threaten to derail the implementation of the Basic Law. On the face of it, who can decry the siren calls of seemingly righteous intellectuals dedicated to fighting for Hong Kong people's right to choose their chief? On deeper analysis, however, the Occupy Central movement is fraught with danger. First and foremost, the movement amounts to a rejection of the Basic Law and the political reality underlying Hong Kong's status as a special administrative region of China. For more than 100 years under British rule, Hong Kong was governed using the classic colonial model, with executive and legislative powers concentrated in the hands of the governor and appointed officials. Hong Kong people never had any say in the choice of their leader. The advent of 1997 forced the British to introduce democratic reform, albeit belatedly in the 1980s, as a check on Beijing's power. In the course of the Sino-British negotiations on the future of Hong Kong, Beijing agreed that the chief executive shall be "selected by election or through consultations held locally and be appointed by the Central People's Government". Later on, after listening to the representations of Hong Kong people, Beijing further agreed to cast in stone, in the fine print of article 45 of the Basic Law, its commitment that the "ultimate aim is the selection of the chief executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures". Granted, in the eyes of the British negotiators, the provisions for selecting the chief executive fell short of the British wish to turn Hong Kong's political structure into a parliamentary government, as in other former colonies. Yet, given Hong Kong's constitutional and historical status as an inalienable part of China, the arrangements in the Basic Law, if successfully implemented in an orderly manner, would give Hong Kong people the greatest say in choosing their chief and the most democratic system they have ever enjoyed. Turning now to the Occupy Central movement, under the mantra of "Let Love and Peace Occupy Central", the organisers plan to formulate proposals for electing the chief executive in accordance with international standards and on the basis of popular deliberations, without regard to the letter and spirit of the Basic Law. In so doing, they are effectively jettisoning the political arrangements that have been enshrined in the de facto constitution. The Basic Law has in the past 15 years ensured the continuation of the Hong Kong way of life under "one country": Hong Kong people have become more critical of their government and more ready to exercise their rights and freedoms than ever; Hong Kong's media, including many independent online forums, more irreverent and influential; and Hong Kong's political system, despite the government's best efforts to remain "executive-led" as in the colonial era, more decentralised than ever. The introduction of universal suffrage is no doubt the last missing piece of the jigsaw fulfilling the democratic method. In essence, thanks to the implementation of the Basic Law, Hong Kong has in the past 15 years evolved into a highly democratic society with strong rule of law, a feisty civil society and a highly competitive political culture, all being hallmark ingredients of democratic rule. Throw away the Basic Law and Hong Kong could end up losing the constitutional basis for its continuous, robust development under "one country". The reference to international standards is gratuitous in that the international covenant guaranteeing Hong Kong people's civil and political rights is already anchored in article 39 of the Basic Law. The call for a "deliberation day" to discuss and formulate electoral proposals, purportedly originating from the "deliberative polling" model pioneered by Stanford University professor James Fishkin, is misleading in that there will be no random selection of participants in the Hong Kong exercise, nor will "balanced reference materials" - prominently the Basic Law and related documents - be made available. The selection bias of the organisers would skew the discussions. As always, "Power to the People" has a seductive appeal to those who allow their emotions to take control, and such numbers could be legion. Yet reality and history tell us that anarchy could be let loose if the centre cannot hold. It is for good reason that, as early as in the 17th century, Thomas Hobbes saw the Leviathan state as the solution to anarchy, allowing people to secure private property and build a community. States and societies are built on constitutions, and our constitution provides the basis for a bright future for Hong Kong to materialise. Let us treasure that and not throw it away. Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee is a legislator and chair of the New People's Party

Canada's effort to lessen its trade reliance on the United States - Canada looks east with professional services expo in Hong Kong (By Charlotte So Ottawa seeks to grow trade ties with China in market for professional services such as IT. Canada's effort to lessen its trade reliance on the United States by expanding into China has found an effective launching pad in Hong Kong, says Canadian International Trade Minister Ed Fast. Fast, who was speaking yesterday on the sidelines of the International Information and Communications Technology Expo in Wan Chai, said Hong Kong was now Canada's seventh largest export market for professional services, worth US$1.2 billion last year. "Regardless [of] the global economic crisis, the trade relationship between Canada and China has grown quite tremendously," said Fast, who leads Ottawa's Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor Initiative. "Hong Kong and Canada can grow the relationship in the area of services because much of the value in trade now is in services." Fast said that services - including architectural, cultural and engineering services - now represented 15 per cent of Canada's external trade. Trade involving information technology was also on the rise. Some 22 Canadian IT firms participated in the four-day expo, which began yesterday at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. Participants said they were eager to build partnerships in Hong Kong as part of their efforts to tap the fast-growing markets in Asia. Behzad Behroozan, co-founder of Muprime Technology, a Vancouver-based mobile marketing firm which focuses on QR code (a type of matrix barcode) design, said remote data storage and access - or "cloud" - technology was a promising area of business opportunity in the region. Another IT firm, I Think Security, which provides data protection and cloud security technology, was seeking partners in the banking and telecommunications sectors. "A security-enabled cloud service could be seen as a value-added service for the banks or telecom operators," said Cedric Jeannot, the firm's CEO.

Adelson's comment on triads hits nerve in Macau (By Reuters in Macau) Las Vegas Sands chief executive Sheldon Adelson testifies in Las Vegas on April 4. Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson’s reference to triad organised crime gangs in testimony in a lawsuit has hit a raw nerve in Macau, the Chinese boomtown that his Las Vegas Sands helped transform from a gangland haven into a US$38 billion gambling capital. The lawsuit against Sands was brought by Hong Kong businessman Richard Suen, who is seeking US$328 million he says he is owed for helping the US firm obtain one of three coveted casino licenses in Macau, now the world’s biggest gambling market with annual revenues more than six times of Las Vegas. Adelson’s comments about triads reverberated across Macau this week and prompted a former Sands partner, casino operator Galaxy Entertainment, to post a regulatory filing with the Hong Kong stock exchange objecting to “certain inaccurate statements”. Adelson’s comments have so many underlying meanings that are embarrassing. Talking about triads... implies the government didn’t do a good job at cleaning up Macau casino executive. Sands and Galaxy jointly won a Macau casino license in 2002, but they failed to reach an operational agreement and split up. Adelson, 79, when asked in a Las Vegas court why the two firms could not work together, responded that Galaxy “had expressed their judgment they were going to do business with either reputed or triad people and we couldn’t do that”. That comment, which drew little attention in Las Vegas, was front-page news in Macau because it suggested China had failed to clean up the violent gangs that dominated the gambling scene a decade ago. Triads involved in Macau’s VIP gaming rooms were notorious for their heavy-handed methods of collecting on gambling debt. Macau’s VIP segment, where wealthy Chinese wager millions, accounts for about 70 per cent of total revenues. A Galaxy spokesman said the company was seeking legal advice and could not comment further. Interviews with seven Macau gaming executives, including four former Sands employees, revealed a sense of dismay that the trial, watched locally online and tracked closely in the daily papers, was drawing attention to a seedier side of Macau that China has sought to scrub. The city wants to position itself as a transparent and reputable tourist destination. China cracked down on triads after it took formal control of the former Portuguese colony in 1999. Back then, mobsters like the infamous Wan “Broken Tooth” Kuok-koi gave Macau a name for violence as much as gambling. Macau’s casino revenue hit US$38 billion last year, dwarfing Las Vegas’ US$6 billion. Unlike Vegas, where fun-seekers can dine, see showbiz legends and go nightclubbing without laying a dollar on the tables, Macau’s visitors tend to focus intently on betting in its massive, packed gambling halls.

 China*:  April 16 2013

More concrete results will emerge from upcoming Sino-US dialogue, analysts say (By Cary Huang in Beijing Closer co-operation on Korean nuclear threats and growing mutual economic reliance will produce results, analysts say - US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with State Councillor Yang Jiechi during their meeting in Beijing on Saturday. The next high-level meeting will be in July. The closer co-operation between China and the United States over North Korea's continuing nuclear threats will provide new momentum in the upcoming China-US strategic and economic dialogue, analysts say. That is also in view of the increasingly mutual reliance between the world's two largest economies and the need to revive their economic dynamism amid the global uncertainty, according to analysts. The US Treasury Department said on Saturday that the fifth meeting of the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) would be held in Washington from July 8 to 12. Vice-Premier Wang Yang and State Councillor Yang Jiechi will head the Chinese delegation meeting their US counterparts led by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Secretary of State John Kerry. This will be the first high-level and comprehensive dialogue between Beijing and Washington after both sides underwent major reshuffles of cabinets this year. "From the closer co-operation on the Korean issue as a result of frequent consultations, including telephone conversation between President Obama and Xi Jinping and the visits by US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Secretary of State John Kerry, one can expect the new momentum in the upcoming dialogue," said Shi Yinhong , director of the Centre for American Studies at Renmin University. Hao Hong, managing director and head of research at Bank of Communications (International), said Beijing's co-operation with Washington on Pyongyang's nuclear belligerence would help boost co-operation in the upcoming dialogue. "I can speculate that the upcoming economic and strategic dialogue will produce more concrete results than any previous dialogues for two reasons," said Hong. "First, the closer co-operation between the two powers over the Korean nuclear threats will provide new momentum for closer co-operation in other areas. "Second, both economies need each other more than ever in recent memory given the current global uncertainty." Hong said while Obama saw boosting US exports as a way of reviving America's economy, China was also under unprecedented pressure to explore new export markets in the US and elsewhere for investment opportunities amid Europe's protracted downturn. Tao Wenzhao , a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of American Studies, said that while long-existing strategic and economic issues - such as regional and global security, trade deficits and intellectual copyrights - will continue to be on the agenda, he expected two major issues - cyberspace security and access to Chinese markets - to top the US agenda in the upcoming dialogue. Tao said there were also two major issues that top China's concerns. "Beijing will press Washington to ease its restriction on high-tech exports to China, as well as Chinese investment in the US," Tao said. Chinese leaders, Tao said, were particularly upset by Washington's rejection of China National Offshore Oil Corporation's 2005 bid for Unocal Corp, and Huawei Technologies' failed attempt in 2011 to acquire 3Leaf Systems. According to Chinese data, the US has overtaken Europe to become China's No1 export market last year, with bilateral trade hitting a record US$484.68 billion. Hong said the once-hotly debated issue about the yuan's relative undervaluation appeared to be waning recently following the currency's recent fast pace of appreciation.

France plans yuan swap line, report says (By Reuters in Beijing) France intends to set up a currency-swap line to make Paris a major offshore yuan-trading hub in Europe, competing against London, China Daily yesterday cited Bank of France governor Christian Noyer as saying. Yuan deposits in Paris amount to 10 billion yuan (HK$12.4 billion), making it the second-largest pool for the currency in Europe after London. Almost 10 per cent of Sino-French trade is settled in renminbi, according to French data cited by the newspaper. "The Bank of France has been working on ways to develop an RMB liquidity safety net in the euro area with due consideration of a supporting currency-swap agreement with the People's Bank of China," Noyer said. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius announced that President Francois Hollande would visit Beijing by the end of this month. Fabius wrapped up his own two-day visit to Beijing yesterday. The yuan's internationalisation and bilateral financial cooperation could be among the main topics during Hollande's visit, the paper said. The planned swap line would be the latest in a string of bilateral currency agreements that China has signed in the past three years to promote use of the yuan in trade and investment. It follows a similar step by the Bank of England to set up a reciprocal three-year yuan-sterling swap line.

Iceland PM Johanna Sigurdardottir arrives in Beijing (By SCMP) Iceland's Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir arrived in Beijing yesterday at the start of a five-day official visit to China. Sigurdardottir is expected to meet with Premier Li Keqiang and sign a historic free trade agreement between the two countries. "I am very optimistic and expect that the free trade agreement can be signed during my visit," Sigurdardottir said in a written interview with Xinhua on Friday. She added that most of the major sticking points had been resolved by the sixth round of bilateral talks in Beijing in January. The Chinese economy could provide multiple opportunities for Iceland's exporters and service providers, whereas prices of Chinese products to Icelandic consumers could also be lowered, she added. "Meanwhile, China would benefit from such 'added value' from Iceland including the geothermal utilisation and research know-how, and energy efficiency in transport." In addition to finalising the FTA, a business conference would be held by the two delegations, Xinhua said. In 2012, bilateral trade value reached US$180 million, up 21.1 per cent year on year. Overall, China's exports to Iceland amounted to US$953 million US dollars, up 24.6 per cent, while its imports from Iceland stood at US$889 million US dollars, up 17.7 per cent. Iceland is the first European state to recognise China's full market economy status.

How mainland Chinese immigrants are transforming Vancouver (By Ian Young in Vancouver A wave of wealthy immigrants from mainland China is transforming Vancouver in Canada, but the influx has seen property prices soar and most are reluctant to give up Chinese citizenship. Life is good for Wei Fuqiang and Chen Qianhong. Sitting on their 10-metre cruiser in Vancouver's exclusive Coal Harbour marina, the married mechanical engineers recount an unlikely trajectory from wartime China, to Tsinghua University at the height of the Cultural Revolution, to elite careers building particle accelerators in Europe at a time when few of their countrymen were even allowed to leave China. Little about this remarkable couple is typical - yet as mainlanders they now typify a vast wave of immigration that is rapidly transforming Vancouver. Wei, 70, and Chen, 68, retired to the west Canadian city from their most recent home, Switzerland, in 2010. Chen said: "They are very different, Europe and Canada. Canada has opened its arms to all people. It's very multicultural. But in Europe, they are always pushing you, they try to integrate you into their culture. "In Canada, they respect your background, you feel you are the padrone," she said, lapsing into Italian for "master of the house". "You are not anymore a guest. This is really your home." The scale and impact of the mainland Chinese influx to Vancouver was laid bare this month in a report for Canada's immigration department, titled "A New Residential Order?" Author Daniel Hiebert, a social geographer with the University of British Columbia (UBC), projected how mainland migration would fuel the creation of "a social geography entirely new to Canada". Ethnic Chinese numbers in the city of 2.2 million were set to double to 800,000 by 2031, about a quarter of the projected total population, with the city increasingly divided into racial enclaves, and white residents becoming a minority group. In Richmond, a city of 200,000 in greater Vancouver, mainland Chinese migration has already helped create what is probably the first majority-Chinese city outside Asia. The mainland Chinese wave has fuelled a property boom that makes Vancouver the second least affordable city in the world - behind only Hong Kong. There have also been major social shifts, with families divided between a wife and children in Vancouver and a husband working in China. The phenomenon of returnees and part-time residents means thousands of houses and flats are vacant. Hiebert said there had been relatively little focus on the issue, given the scale of the city's unfolding Chinese transformation. "Are we fully reflective on these changes? No, I don't think we are," he said "But I think Canadians, more maybe than anyone else, have decided to trust the government and immigration policy to decide immigration issues. In Vancouver, we have come to a consensus that a global cosmopolitan society is what we are going to be." There are both similarities and contrasts to the pre-handover wave of Hong Kong migration to Vancouver in the 1980s and 1990s, Hiebert said. According to immigration data, mainland Chinese arrivals in Vancouver outstripped those from Hong Kong by 7,872 to 286 in 2012. But even this 27-to-one disparity does not adequately portray the scale of the demographic shift that is taking place, because while the mainlander population is soaring in Vancouver, the number of Hong Kong immigrants actually present in the city has been falling sharply. Mainlander numbers in Vancouver increased 88 per cent to 137,245 between 1996 and 2006, according to the most recent full census data. But Hong Kong immigrants present in the city fell 12 per cent, to 75,780, with nearly all of those losses occurring in the latter five years. Although 18,890 new Hong Kong immigrants arrived in Vancouver in the decade to 2006, the fall in the number of such immigrants present in the city suggests that 29,325 left Vancouver in the same period. Overall, Hongkongers seem to be leaving Vancouver by the thousands, just as mainlanders are arriving by the tens of thousands. Real estate agent Julia Lau was part of the Hong Kong wave who stayed, and she now estimates that 80 per cent of her buyers are mainlanders. "I've been a real estate agent for eight years. In the beginning we had a lot of buyers from Hong Kong and Taiwan, but I think maybe they all went home. Now, they are all from [mainland] China," said Lau, at an open house for a home in the Oakridge neighbourhood, where potential buyers whispered in Putonghua as they inspected the luxury fittings. Canada does not keep records on foreign ownership, but a Landcor Data analysis of all 164 homes sold for more than C$3 million (HK$23 million) in Vancouver's core Westside neighbourhood in 2010 showed that 74 per cent were sold to buyers whose names were mainland Chinese spelling variants and who did not have any Western legal name. At C$3.58 million, Lau considered the new 4,458 sq ft home she was showing on a nondescript suburban street to be "quite affordable". "Right now, a lot of mainland buyers just want brand new homes or they want land so they can build … Usually, in Shaughnessy, or South Granville, or Point Grey, a house like this will be four or five million," said Lau, reeling off suburbs favoured by Chinese buyers. Lau sold a string of homes worth eight figures to mainland buyers last year. With the benchmark price for a detached home on the Westside now more than C$2 million, why would a mainlander choose Vancouver? "They like the fresh air, it's a very beautiful environment, and the education system for their children," said Lau, of Homeland Realty. "Lots of buyers, the wife and children will stay in Vancouver, but the husband will still live and work in China." That common scenario reflects the difference between Hong Kong and mainland government attitudes towards Canadian citizenship. David Ley, author of the book Millionaire Migrants about modern East Asian migration patterns, said China's prohibition on dual citizenship made it less attractive for a mainland Chinese migrant than for a Hongkonger to go "all the way" and seek Canadian citizenship, a process he termed "passport insurance". "For a mainland Chinese, if they want to go back to China with a Canadian passport, they are at a disadvantage, unlike people from Hong Kong who are able to hold both [Canadian citizenship and Hong Kong permanent residency]," Ley said. "The stakes are much higher. If they ... get a Canadian passport then they are taking a much bigger risk." Anecdotal evidence suggests mainland Chinese wives commonly stay in Vancouver to provide a citizenship toehold for their absentee husbands. Ley, also of UBC, added: "Around 2000 there was an almost complete transition in migration, switching to the PRC instead of Hong Kong and Taiwan. In other words, everyone [from Hong Kong or Taiwan] who wanted a passport got one." Another key difference between the Hong Kong and mainland Chinese waves is their potential scale and duration. "We know for sure there is very deep wealth in the mainland, whose holders want to diversify. [A recent study suggests] that 20 per cent of those very rich wanted to come to Canada," Ley said. "We are talking about a substantial body of wealth that won't run out in the way that Hong Kong [migration] did. Over the years we are looking at an ongoing presence, depending on a variety of factors." Mainlanders outnumbered Hongkongers in Vancouver some time between the 1996 and 2001 censuses. In that period there were 85,756 mainland arrivals to the city. But that only reflected the speed with which Canada's immigration authorities could process their applications. There is a vast backlog. When asked whether she saw any downside to the mainland Chinese influx, real estate agent Lau agreed that local first-home buyers were struggling. But she added: "I see a lot of people here who bought in West Vancouver a long time ago. They can sell for a lot of money and move somewhere else. It's very good for them." Hiebert said that when the Globe and Mail newspaper used the alarmist term "white flight" to describe what was happening in Vancouver's suburbs "they got hammered for it". "I'd use a different term to white flight," Hiebert said with a laugh. "I'd call it 'cashing in'." There have been some tensions, in addition to grumbling about property prices. In Richmond, where the proliferation of Chinese-only business signage has upset some long-time residents, the city council was presented with a 1,000-name petition demanding an English component to all signage. "It [Chinese-only signage] has got progressively more noticeable," said Richmond resident Kerry Starchuk, who helped organise the petition. Richmond's council rejected the petition's demands. Back in Coal Harbour, Wei said he saw no problem with the influx of his countrymen. "I'm happy if they come. These are not low-level people, they are very high-level in China, they are very educated." After almost 30 years in Europe, Wei, one of nine children, said he once hoped to retire in China. "I wanted to come back. In China we have many friends, many relatives, and the food is good too. With our money, China would be very comfortable." Chen shook her head: "He is crazy! Not many would agree with him." Chen wants to apply for Canadian citizenship - "Chinese should involve themselves more in the community," she said - although her husband, reluctant to give up Chinese citizenship, does not. They agree, however, that their new city was the right choice. With their son, daughter-in-law and three-year-old granddaughter living nearby, Vancouver is their home. "Now, this is perfect," said Wei, waving an arm over the marina. "I never want to have regrets."

Hong Kong*:  April 15 2013

New Hong Kong flat supply set for 8-year high (By Sandy Li and Paggie Leung) New flat supply in the city is projected to climb to an eight-year high next year, easing the upward pressure on home prices. Preliminary figures from the Rating and Valuation Department's "Hong Kong Property Review 2013" report shows that 15,820 new flats will go on the market next year, 16.8 per cent more than this year's expected total of 13,550 units. "The projection for completion of new flats next year will be the highest since 2006," said Patrick Chow Moon-kit, head of research at Ricacorp Properties. In 2006, 16,579 new flats went on the market. The projection for completion of new flats next year will be the highest since 2006 Patrick Chow Moon-Kit, Head of Research at Ricacorp Properties. With the government moving to increase the land supply, Chow expects developers to be under pressure to speed up marketing of their new projects. Midland Realty chief analyst Buggle Lau Ka-fai said up to 16,000 new flats could go on the market this year, up 42.85 per cent from last year's 11,200. According to the government's report, nearly 83 per cent of completed flats will be in the New Territories this year, with Tseung Kwan O and Yuen Long each providing a quarter of the fresh supply. With competition from the primary market, Chow said the rise in prices in the secondary residential market would also ease. The Centa-City Leading Index, which tracks sales at 100 major housing estates in the city, fell for two consecutive weeks to March 31 to 123.01, down 0.52 per cent, after reaching a record 123.66 for the week to March 17. Overall home sales also fell 30 per cent last month, reflecting a drop in buying interest following the new stamp duty. On February 22, the government doubled the stamp duty on properties worth more than HK$2 million, and last month some of the city's biggest banks raised their mortgage rates. The government announced yesterday that two residential sites would be put out for tender next month. Surveyors expect them to fetch between HK$3.7 billion and HK$3.97 billion in total. One of them is a 283,112 square feet site situated in Tseung Kwan O, which can yield a maximum gross floor area of 821,028 sq ft. The government has stipulated the winning bidder has to build at least 840 flats on the site. Midland Surveyors director Alvin Lam Tsz-pun said he expected this site to attract keen interest from developers and fetch HK$3.8 billion, or HK$4,600 per buildable square foot. The estimate is higher than HK$4,301 per square foot Wheelock Properties paid for a neighbouring site on Wednesday. Centaline Surveyors estimated the Tseung Kwan O site would sell for HK$4,300 per square foot, or HK$3.53 billion. Another smaller site, in Tuen Mun's So Kwun Wat, is 37,211 sq ft and can yield up to 48,374 sq ft of gross floor area. It is expected to sell for HK$170 million to HK$193.5 million, or HK$3,500 to HK$4,000 per square foot. The tender for the two sites will open on May 10 and close on June 21.

High profile Hong Kong corruption case takes new twist (By Austin Chiu) Hong Kong’s biggest ever corruption case involving a former chief secretary and the billionaire Kwok brothers – who head Sun Hung Kai Properties – took an interesting new twist on Saturday. A man, insisting on anonymity, filed a legal bid seeking to stop the prosecutors from disclosing materials seized from him to the defendants. In a writ filed in the High Court, the man - identified only as “Mr A” - is seeking a judicial review of a decision by Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung to disclose the materials, which “Mr A” says imply he informed on the defendants. The man, who is not a defendant or a witness in the criminal case, says disclosure of the materials will exacerbate “already difficult family relations”, the writ says. The application stems from the prosecution of former chief secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan, 64, SHKP co-charimen Thomas Kwok Ping-kwong, 61, and Raymond Kwok Ping-luen, 59, and two others. The charges allege that between 2000 and 2009 Hui received about HK$28.8 million in cash, HK$5.4 million in loans and the rent-free use of two luxury flats at Leighton Hill, Happy Valley. In return, Hui allegedly favoured the Kwoks. The three were arrested in March last year. According to Mr A’s application for permission to lodge a judicial review, the materials in question included items seized by the graft busters from his home on May 2 last year. The seized materials include a service agreement relating to Hui and records of emails dated March 19 and 20, 2008 relating to the Leighton Hill property, according to the filings. They also include two letters dated October 10 and 14 last year from law firm Philip W.I. Li & Co. Solicitors and an ICAC’s acknowledgement of receipt of one of the letters. The man claims in the writ the letters should not be handed over to the accused because “taken together they wrongly carrying with them the implication that [Mr A] was the informer or an informer in these proceedings because the source of the materials…came from [his] office”. “Mr A” took the legal action after he was told by the prosecutors earlier this month that materials in questioned would be disclosed to the defendants as “unused materials”. Records show that in a court hearing in March, lawyers for Thomas and Raymond Kwok urged the prosecution to hand over some “unused materials” expeditiously. The man claims that disclosing the materials will violate the protection of informers under section 30A of the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance. The man also wants to stop the prosecutors from handing over seven records of interview of him conducted by the Independent Commission Against Corruption, in which he referred to materials sized from him. He says only a redacted version of the records which have no reference to the materials seized from his home can be disclosed. The man had written to the secretary for justice, requesting that the materials not be disclosed because they did not meet the criteria for disclosure as unused material, filings showed. He claims the materials are private property and it is not in public interest to disclose them. Whether the materials should be disclosed should not be a decision “exclusively” made by the secretary for justice and should be determined by the court, he says in the writ The man is asking the High Court to impose an order restraining the secretary for justice from disclosing the materials. He also asks for an order that his identity remained as anonymous and the application to be heard behind closed-door. The application will be heard on Thursday, which is expected to last three hours. No date has been fixed for criminal case after the Magistrates’ Court in March forwarded the case to High Court.

 China*:  April 15 2013

$17b trade target 'to be met soon' (By Li Jiabao) China, New Zealand to strengthen industry ties, with dairy as key sector - Baby formula produced in New Zealand on display at a trade fair in Beijing in October. New Zealand has become a major source of China's imports of dairy products. The 2015 annual trade target between China and New Zealand, at NZ$20 billion ($17.24 billion), will be realized at least one year earlier, with officials from both countries emphasizing mutual investment in various industries, but most notably dairy. Speaking at the inaugural New Zealand-China Partnership Forum on Friday, Vice-Premier Wang Yang said the southern hemisphere nation had become China's "stable supplier of agricultural and animal husbandry products". He added the two countries had great potential for cooperating in mechanical and electrical products, animal husbandry, environmental protection technology and bio-medicine. "Enterprises from both countries can seek new cooperation models and jointly explore third markets," he said. Bilateral trade has increased from $4.4 billion in 2008 to $9.7 billion in 2012, representing annual growth of 22 percent over the five years. China has become New Zealand's second-largest trading partner, its second-largest export destination and its biggest import source, according to the Ministry of Commerce. This year marks the fifth anniversary of the China-New Zealand free-trade agreement, China's first FTA. The pact has played an important role in strengthening two-way economic ties and in resisting the impact of the global financial crisis, while actively boosting free-trade development in the Asia-Pacific region, Wang said. New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key told the forum his country is "open for business, and we want to do business with China". He added: "My government launched its New Zealand-China strategy last year with a strong trade and economic focus. "In the years ahead, New Zealand's relationship with China will grow stronger as we build mutual prosperity and well-being." Wei Jianguo, vice-chairman and secretary-general of the China Center for International Economic Exchanges, said that "the trade goal (of NZ$20 billion) will probably be achieved this year, or by the end of next year at the latest", in view of the growth in trade in recent years. He added: "Our mutual investments are not enough, and we may set investment goals for the next few years, alongside bilateral trade growth."
New Zealand made investments worth $119 million in China in 2012, a rise of 60.2 percent year-on-year, bringing its total investment in the country to $1.24 billion. There was $78.84 million worth of Chinese investment made in New Zealand in 2012, bringing the cumulative value to $343 million, according to the National Development and Reform Commission, China's top economic planning agency. "Mutual investment is picking up momentum," said Zhang Xiaoqiang, deputy head of the commission. "China's industrialization and urbanization drives, its progress at information and agricultural modernization will unleash huge demand for investment and consumption, providing strong support for China-New Zealand investment cooperation." He said he expected demand for high-quality dairy products from New Zealand to continue, along with other lifestyle products the country is famous for. Zhang Jianqiu, executive president of the dairy giant, Inner Mongolia Yili Industrial Group Co Ltd, said: "New Zealand has become the top destination for Chinese dairy enterprises, and we will have a win-win result by combining China's advantages of capital and market with New Zealand's technology." In late 2012, the group announced it was investing 1.1 billion yuan ($177.65 million) in a New Zealand-based infant formula manufacturing plant with annual output of 47,000 metric tons, which is expected to be fully operational by June 2014.

China's deep-sea center 'open to the whole world' (By WANG QIAN and XIE CHUANJIAO in Qingdao) Shandong province marine facility expected to start operating next year The China National Deep Sea Center, expected to start operating next year, will be open to China and the world to explore the ocean depths, according to a senior official. Liu Feng, director of the center, said that by drawing on ideas from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in the United States, a well-known ocean research, engineering and educational organization, the center will act as a bridge connecting scientists' demands with technical research and development. With building expected to start in May, the center will cover about 26 hectares of land and 62.7 hectares of sea in Jimo county, off the east coast of Shandong province, serving as a support station for deep-sea facilities, including Jiaolong, China's manned submersible. The center's design plan includes a construction and maintenance workshop, a scientific research building, a large pool for experimental dives, and training facilities. It will feature five berths to accommodate two vessels weighing 6,000 metric tons and three of 3,000 tons. Xinhua News Agency reported that the center will cost an estimated 495 million yuan ($78.6 million) for initial construction, but Liu said the cost can only be disclosed after the feasibility report is approved by the National Development and Reform Commission. Scientists can apply to use the deep-sea equipment managed by the center, Liu said. Liu also said an expert assessment committee should be set up to assess applications, and arrange them according to urgency and feasibility, as the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution does. But regulations and detailed operating rules, such as how to levy charges, are still being considered. The deep-sea base program is the fifth of its kind in the world, following those in the US, Russia, France and Japan. Center: Many countries have set goals to explore ocean "Besides Jiaolong, other ocean research facilities will be managed by the center, including a 4,000 ton mother ship for submersible and ocean scientific research vessels and automatic underwater vehicles," Liu said. Ren Zhengang, director of the construction office at the Qingdao Blue Economic Zone, said the center's land construction project will start later this year. The deep-sea base program is also on the schedule of the China Ocean Mineral Resource Research and Development Association this year, said Jin Jiancai, secretary-general of the association. He said the center will provide maintenance and technical support for deep-sea equipment, such as Jiaolong. With attention focusing on construction of the deep-sea center, China is accelerating its oceanic exploration efforts. At the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in November, Hu Jintao, former general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, said building China into a maritime power has strategic importance. Oceans cover about 70 percent of the Earth's surface, influencing the climate, producing half the planet's oxygen and providing huge economic value. "It is not enough to just explore our three million-square-kilometer seawater area for China. The deep sea, as an important part of the ocean, should be covered in our scientific research and exploration, which is also a part of building China into a maritime power," Liu said, adding it is also the reason for establishing the center. Scientists believe the sea at depths of 4,000 to 6,000 meters holds abundant deposits of rare metals and methane hydrate, a form of natural gas bound in ice that could serve as a new energy source. Besides China, many countries are accelerating efforts to explore the ocean for undersea resources and energy. China sent Jiaolong below 7,000 meters in June 2012. It will be sent to the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean from June to September for scientific research. Liu said a plan for the center's deep-sea equipment development for the next five to 10 years will be drawn up this year. 

Chinese president meets US secretary of state (Xinhua) Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday met with visiting US Secretary of State John Kerry on bilateral ties and issues of common concern. Earlier, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi held talks with Kerry, who is on his first visit to China since taking office in February. China is the second leg of Kerry's four-day East Asia tour, which has taken him to the Republic of Korea. He will fly to Japan on Sunday. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry expressed interest in creating a roadmap to facilitate the development of bilateral ties while meeting with Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Saturday. Wang said bilateral ties have had a good start, adding that he hopes both sides can create a roadmap that can promote dialogue and cooperation. "We hope both sides can continue to address differences based on the spirit of mutual respect," Wang said. Currently, the most important task in terms of boosting ties is converting the consensuses reached between both sides into specific policies and action, Wang said. President Xi Jinping had a telephone conversation with his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama on March 14. Both leaders agreed to continue to boost their partnership's development and find a path for a new type of relations between two major powers. Kerry said he hopes his visit will help provide a direction for the development of bilateral dialogue.

Hong Kong*:  April 14 2013

Tax haven to set up Asia headquarters in Hong Kong (By Toh Han Shih) British Virgin Islands eager to forge closer ties with Hong Kong and China - The British Virgin Islands, a haven of secrecy for those who don't want to disclose who owns businesses, is coming to Hong Kong. The British Virgin Islands (BVI) will set up its Asian headquarters in Hong Kong next month despite a worldwide outcry against tax havens after many of its rich clients’ information has been leaked by an investigative journalist group. In an exclusive interview with the South China Morning Post, Elise Donovan, the executive director of BVI International Finance Centre, which is a government body that promotes financial services, said the island’s Premier and Finance Minister Orlando Smith would personally come to Hong Kong to officiate at the opening. She said BVI was eager to forge closer ties with Hong Kong and China. The announcement comes a week after the US-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists claimed to have obtained a trove of data detailing how rich people around the world were hiding their wealth through BVI accounts. It named many prominent figures in Europe, the US and Asia, triggering a worldwide furore. French president Francois Hollande – whose personal friend and campaign treasurer Jean-Jacques Augier was named by ICIJ as one of those holding secret accounts in BVI – had himself recently urged the adoption of tougher measures to combat tax evasion. The issue of tax evasion and havens will also be discussed at the two-day European Union finance ministers meeting starting in Dublin on Friday.

HK government allocates 3 new sites to boost international school places (By Dennis Chong and Ada Lee) Three new sites allocated, but legislators accuse the government of catering only to the wealthy. Three vacant school premises will be turned into international classrooms to create 1,700 places, the government said yesterday. This follows criticism from business chambers and other observers that a lack of school places for expatriate children is harming the city's reputation as an international commerce hub. However, some lawmakers have accused the government of catering only to the wealthy in its latest decision. One site in Stanley was granted to the International Montessori Education Foundation, which will be able to expand from its current site in Tin Hau. Carmel School, a Jewish school, will occupy a site in Shau Kei Wan, while Nord Anglia Education, a British company, will establish its first school in Hong Kong at a campus in Lam Tin. Education sector legislator Ip Kin-yuen said the government was transforming the sector for the "blue blood" without looking at problems in the local system. The Civic Party's Dr Kenneth Chan Ka-lok said schools must not cater for only 1 per cent of the population. Amanda Chapman, chairwoman of the NET teachers association in Hong Kong, said: "It is extremely disappointing that the government is only doing things for the very rich and is not helping the middle-class expatriate families." Under a government allocation scheme, land is offered to operators at a nominal premium along with interest-free loans for construction and development. The three sites were offered amid reports that the city is short of 4,200 international school places, based on preliminary findings of a survey commissioned by the government. The Education Bureau said it received 34 applications in the allocation exercise, which had also put a fourth site, at the Ping Shek Estate in Ngau Tau Kok, up for grabs. Officials were still identifying an eligible operator to run this site, the bureau said. Nord Anglia Education, a company controlled by investment firm Baring, said it was delighted to get the site. CEO Andrew Fitzmaurice said: "We are thrilled to receive such an endorsement from the Education Bureau. We recognise how important Hong Kong is as an education hub and our organisation's central office relocated here 18 months ago." The government has had several schemes to allocate government land for international school operators in recent years, to raise the provision of international school places to 38,000. But many places are taken by local and mainland children who hold foreign passports, making it increasingly hard for parents to find a place for their children. International Montessori co-founder Anne Sawyer said the Stanley site would provide 700 places, but added that the school had 800 pupils on its waiting list. The school earlier faced a threat of eviction from its Tin Hau campus when the government said it wanted to turn the site into flats for young people. Chan said he welcomed the decision to grant the Stanley site to Montessori because it was a well-established "home-grown school". But he urged officials to release full findings of the survey on place availability, adding that studies were needed on affordability of international schools. Ip criticised the government for building more schools for the private sector without looking at core problems in the local system. Such schools would be in more demand and increasingly cater for the wealthy, he said. A bureau spokeswoman said it considered all the applications on the advice of the School Allocation Committee.

H7N9 infected birds will migrate to Pearl River Delta, says microbiologist (By Lai Ying-kit University of Hong Kong microbiologist Professor Yuen Kwok-yung. Hong Kong has to be vigilant against the new H7N9 strain of avian flu later this year when migratory birds head south from northern parts of China for the winter, says a Hong Kong microbiologist. University of Hong Kong microbiologist Professor Yuen Kwok-yung said on Friday he believed a large number of wild birds had already contracted the virus in eastern China, where all the cases of human H7N9 had occurred. Some of them were migratory birds, which were now heading to northern parts of the mainland for summer but would return south to the Pearl River Delta for winter, he said. “This is when Hong Kong’s wild birds and poultry may get infected,” he said at a press conference on Friday afternoon. The H7N9 avian flu has killed 10 people in Shanghai and several provinces in eastern China since authorities announced the first infection about two weeks ago. So far, 38 human cases have been confirmed. Yuen, who earlier visited Shanghai and met health officials to learn more about the flu outbreak, said analysis of the virus’ genes suggested the chance of human-to-human transmission was low. He also said southern China and Hong Kong were now largely safe with no traces of the new bird flu virus reported so far. But he urged authorities and the public to remain vigilant. Dr Owen Tsang Tak-yin, a Hospital Authority official, said Hong Kong had 18 million doses of Tamiflu, a drug that has proven effective in the treatment of bird flu.

 China*:  April 14 2013

Paris vies to be yuan hub (By LI XIANG in Paris) The French capital eyes currency swap agreement with China - Christian Noyer, governor of the Bank of France - Paris is vying to become a major offshore yuan trading hub in the eurozone with a view to setting up a currency swap agreement with China, according to the Governor of the Bank of France, Christian Noyer. "The Bank of France has been working on ways to develop a RMB liquidity safety net in the euro area with due consideration of a supporting currency swap agreement with the People's Bank of China," Noyer told China Daily in a written interview. Noyer said the launch of such a facility will encourage use of the yuan in the eurozone as a trade settlement currency as well as an investment currency. It will also boost market confidence in the Chinese currency by reassuring market participants that yuan liquidity will remain available, even in extreme situations, he said. Paris has been accelerating the race with London to become a leading yuan trading center for Europe after the Bank of England said in March it had signed a three-year currency swap agreement with China that will allow the British central bank to supply 400 billion yuan ($64.5 billion) to British banks. Yuan deposits in Paris amount to 10 billion yuan, making the French capital the second largest pool for the Chinese currency in Europe after London. Nearly 10 percent of Sino-French trade is settled in yuan, according to the French central bank. "The current level of offshore deposits and liquidity in Paris provides a good basis to foster growth in RMB products and services in the eurozone. The availability of a liquidity safety net in RMB in the euro area will further foster such growth," Noyer said. His comments come ahead of an expected visit by French President Francois Hollande to China in late April. Meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius paid a two-day visit to Beijing on Friday. He called on President Xi Jinping and held talks with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi to discuss preparations for Hollande's visit. Some analysts said the yuan's internationalization, and financial cooperation between China and France, could be among the main topics to be addressed during Hollande's visit. Noyer considers the yuan's internationalization initiated by China's top authorities to be the first step toward its full convertibility. "Such an evolution will make the RMB one of the three major international currencies, together with the dollar and euro," he said. Noyer said Paris has been committed to strengthening its position in corporate bonds and short-term negotiable debt securities markets as well as the associated trading infrastructure, to promote wider use of the yuan. French companies are among the most active European issuers of yuan-denominated bonds, which offers Paris an advantage to promote the yuan trading business, said Arnaud de Bresson, chief executive of Paris Europlace, a professional association that supports the French financial industry and promotes Paris as an international financial center. In 2011 and 2012, the total value of offshore yuan-denominated bonds issued by French corporates was nearly 7 billion yuan, twice the value of bonds issued by their British counterparts, according to a report by Paris Europlace. Paris: Growing interest in renminbi business - A survey by the association also showed that 50 percent of French companies have used yuan-denominated products and services. "France's historic relationship with Africa, and its favorable geographical location, also makes Paris a natural hub for RMB trading in the Sino-African business flows that are traded through Paris," De Bresson said. Chinese financial institutions in France have also been benefiting from the growing interest in yuan business in the French capital. The Paris branch of Bank of China has seen its cross-border yuan settlement reach 170 billion yuan, the largest amount of all BOC branches outside the Chinese mainland except Hong Kong. Yuan business now contributes almost half of the branch's total income, according to Phan Nhay, general manager of BOC's Paris branch. De Bresson added: "The internationalization of the yuan is a key opportunity for market players and international corporates in France. It is an irreversible trend that the demand for RMB-denominated products will increase at a faster pace in coming years." De Bresson said the main challenge for Paris to develop its yuan trading market is to widen the understanding and opportunities offered by internationalization of the currency, and full convertibility will help contribute to the process. 

The U.S. Treasury Department on Friday refused to name China as a currency manipulator, saying it would closely monitor the pace of appreciation of Renminbi (RMB) , the Chinese currency. In the latest Semi-Annual Report to Congress on International Economic and Exchange Rate Policies, U.S. Treasury highlighted the need for greater exchange rate flexibility and transparency, most notably by China, but also by other major economies. "China's current account surplus has declined from a peak of 10. 1 percent of GDP in 2007 to 1.9 percent of GDP in 2011 and 2.3 percent in 2012. China has taken a series of steps to liberalize controls on capital movements, as part of a broader plan to move to a more flexible exchange rate regime," the Treasury said, adding that in light of these developments, it concluded that China did not meet the standards of a currency manipulator. The Treasury Department, however, insisted: "the process of exchange rate adjustment in China remains incomplete and more progress is needed." According to the report, the RMB appreciated by 16.2 percent from June 2010 through February 2013 in real terms. In addition to paying special attention to the pace of RMB appreciation, the Treasury Department said it would also press for further policy changes and would monitor closely exchange rate developments in all the economies covered in the report and push for concrete adherence to recent commitments made by the Group of seven industrially advanced nations, or G7, and by the Group of Twenty major economies, or commonly known as G20. The U.S. Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act of 1988 requires the Treasury to provide reports on whether its major trading partners manipulate the rate of exchange between their currencies and the United States dollar for purposes of preventing effective balance of payments adjustments or gaining unfair competitive advantage in international trade. The U.S. Treasury also said it will closely monitor Japan's policies and the extent to which they support the growth of domestic demand. "We will continue to press Japan to adhere to the commitments agreed to in the G-7 and G-20, to remain oriented towards meeting respective domestic objectives using domestic instruments and to refrain from competitive devaluation and targeting its exchange rate for competitive purposes," according to the report.

Direct yuan-A$ trade gets off to A$250m start (By Bloomberg in Canberra) Australian prime minister says transactions point to great promise in two countries' future - Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said direct trading between the yuan and the Australian dollar totalled A$250 million (HK$2.04 billion) on the first day. That is equivalent to about 70 per cent of daily commerce between China and Australia. "It just goes to show what a great boon this is going to be for the future," Gillard said yesterday after returning from a visit to Australia's biggest export destination. "I'm very pleased that we were able to secure a number of new agreements with China, which really do take our relationship to the next level." The Australian dollar became the third major currency to have direct trading links with the yuan on Wednesday after the US dollar and the Japanese yen. China took about a third of Australia's exports in February and is its major customer for iron ore and coal exports. Trade in goods and services between the two countries was valued at A$127.8 billion in the year to June 30, 2012, Australian government figures show. The People's Bank of China (PBOC) announces a daily reference rate for the yuan against the Australian dollar at about 9.15am in Shanghai on each trading day, based on market-maker prices. Direct trading means the fixing is computed without involving a cross rate with the dollar. The yuan weakened 0.2 per cent to 6.5466 per Australian dollar as of 5.57pm in Shanghai, according to Bloomberg data. The PBOC approved Australia and New Zealand Banking and Westpac Banking as market makers for the direct trading of the currencies, Gillard said in Shanghai on Monday. "That's a very successful start to trading, and the area where I see the most potential is the small to medium enterprise area," said Robert Rennie, chief currency strategist at Westpac. "Currently there's about A$120 billion in two-way trade between Australia and China, so obviously the potential is high, but it's not yet clear how much of that will be transacted in yuan." China surpassed the United States to become the world's biggest trading country last year, ending the US dominance in global commerce dating from the end of the second world war, according to the US Department of Commerce. Reserve Bank of Australia governor Glenn Stevens said the renminbi (RMB) - the official name for the yuan - is likely to become Asia's dominant medium of exchange. "There could be a profound adjustment for many countries in the region from membership of what is, at present, a de facto US dollar zone, to membership of an RMB zone," Stevens told a symposium on Asia-Pacific financial market development in Sydney, according to the RBA's website yesterday. "To some extent this has begun with the use of RMB for trade settlement, which is growing quickly."

Boost to China's money supply brightens outlook (By Jane Cai in Beijing New loans extended by mainland banks grew more than anticipated last month, suggesting there is ample liquidity available to support a recovery - Non-bank lenders are issuing loans hand over fist in China. New loans extended by mainland banks and non-bank entities grew more than anticipated last month, suggesting there is ample liquidity available to support a recovery in the world's second-largest economy. Banks doled out 1.06 trillion yuan (HK$1.31 trillion) of new local-currency loans in March, 51.5 billion yuan more than a year ago, the People's Bank of China said yesterday. M2, a broad measure of money supply, rose 15.7 per cent year on year last month, exceeding the official full-year target of 13 per cent. "Credit and monetary data were above market expectations, mainly reflecting the desire of the central bank to keep liquidity ample," said Song Yu, a China economist at Goldman Sachs. Mainland policymakers are walking a tightrope this year as they try to engineer a recovery from the slowest economic growth in 13 years and at the same time contain inflation and financial risk arising from rapidly developing non-bank lending. Aggregate financing, including bank and non-bank credit as well as bond and equity issuances - so-called total social financing - amounted to 2.54 trillion yuan in March, 673.9 billion yuan more than a year ago, the central bank said. In the first quarter, bank loans accounted for 44.7 per cent of aggregate financing, 18.6 percentage points lower than a year ago. The proportion of aggregate financing made up of trust loans increased by 8.8 percentage points to 13.4 per cent during the quarter, with the amount of new trust credit surging 360 per cent year on year. Lu Ting, an economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch said: "The strong credit figures could once again trigger fears about inflation, property bubbles, government debt and shadow banking. Some moderate monetary tightening is expected in the second half." China's foreign exchange reserves rose to a record US$3.44 trillion from US$3.31 trillion over the first quarter, higher than market expectations. Zhu Haibin, an economist at JP Morgan Chase Bank, said that the capital outflow seen during most of last year, which had been associated with concerns over the country's economic slowdown and an end to expectations of one-sided yuan appreciation, "likely reversed course" early this year. Capital inflows are expected to add to pressure for the yuan to strengthen. The yuan has been trading at historic highs against the US dollar in the past few days, as investors flush with funds stemming from quantitative easing in developed countries bet on faster economic growth in emerging economies. However, Zhang Zhiwei, chief China economist at Nomura Securities said: "Despite the loose monetary stance, the economic recovery has been shallow and there are incipient signs that the growth momentum may have slowed last month, suggested by weak electricity consumption and freight traffic growth." China is due to release key figures on economic activity next week, including data showing industrial output, fixed-asset investment and retail sales.

Bird flu concerns threaten Yum's sales (By By Li Woke) A KFC restaurant in Shanghai. According to the US-based fast food giant, its same-store sales in March declined an estimated 13 percent in China. Yum Brands Inc, the owner of KFC and Pizza Hut restaurants, said sales in its largest overseas market will see a steep dive as a result of bird flu scares. According to the Louisville, Kentucky-based fast food giant, its same-store sales in March declined an estimated 13 percent in China. This included an estimated decline of 16 percent at KFC and 4 percent growth at Pizza Hut in the country. "Within the past week, publicity associated with avian flu in China has had a significant, negative impact on KFC sales," the world's largest restaurant company by number of outlets said in a filing to US Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday. "Yum is having a difficult time, which will undermine its decade-long robust sales and profit growth in China," said Feng Enyuan, secretary-general of China Cuisine Association. But Feng said the negative impact on Yum and its KFC stores will not last long as prevention and treatment measures improved. "Based on past experience, as bird flu has already hit twice in the country, the negative impact on the catering industry would last around six months," said Bian Jiang, assistant director of China Cuisine Association. But this was not the beginning of Yum's business decline in China. In February, Yum said its fourth-quarter profits dipped 5 percent to $337 million in the three months to Dec 29. Its same-store sales in China declined 6 percent in the quarter, following media reports that excessive amounts of antibiotics had been used by some of KFC's former chicken suppliers in China. China is Yum's most lucrative market. According to its third quarter report, China accounted for more than half of its overall revenue of $3.57 billion, and the country also generated around 40 percent of Yum's profit. Since opening its first KFC branch on the Chinese mainland in 1987, Yum has nearly 5,000 restaurants in more than 800 Chinese cities. "Historically in these situations, we have educated consumers that properly cooked chicken is perfectly safe to eat, and we will continue to do so," the fast-food giant said in the filing. Bian suggested that Yum "promote some localized food options in order to get through this difficult period, such as fried shrimps or mushroom dishes". Industry experts said some local restaurants are taking poultry dishes off the menu in response to the health scare, such as the famous baizhanji, sliced cold chicken, and kaoruge, roasted pigeon. "Canceling chicken-related dishes is not a one-size-fits-all solution for the bird flu outbreak," said Feng. "I suggest restaurants try to introduce more dishes with seafood or vegetables."

Main players adapt to slowing sales (By Wang Wen) A Louis Vuitton store in Wuxi, Jiangsu province. The French luxury brand opened its first flagship "Maison" outlet in China on July 21. After years of growth, public sector curbs bring halt to lavish spending The period of breakneck growth in demand for luxury brands in China appears to be over, with many of the world's top brands now working hard to consolidate their positions by improving their service to customers. Bernard Arnault, the CEO of LVMH, the world's largest luxury group by turnover, said it plans to adjust its expansion in China, and that might mean pulling back from some smaller cities. The head of the company, which owns a portfolio of more than 60 prestigious brands such as Louis Vuitton, said it had found that many people from smaller cities tend to go to bigger cities to shop for luxury items. Louis Vuitton has expanded rapidly in China, and has more than 40 stores throughout the Chinese mainland, including cities in central and western regions. Arnault said the brand's development in China will focus on quality, instead of store openings. And the company is not alone. In a statement sent to China Daily, Gucci also said it planned to slow its expansion in China this year. The Italian fashion and leather goods brand - which has developed its store network in China from five in 2004 to 72 by the end of 2012, spread across 34 cities - said it will develop "at a different pace than in past years", although it still plans to continue opening new stores in China this year. Zhou Ting, director of the Fortune Character Research Center, said that Gucci - one of the highest-profile international luxury brands in China- may even stop opening new stores in the nation. She added that the Chinese retail sector's slowdown and what has become the saturation of luxury brand names in some places, means a slowdown in openings is almost inevitable.

Hong Kong*:  April 13 2013

Gigi wants parents to accept partner (By Jolie Ho Cecil Chao's daughter tells youth forum she hopes family will recognise her 'other half' and calls on minorities to 'make people like them' - Gigi Chao, the lesbian daughter of property tycoon Cecil Chao Sze-tsung, said she would never stop trying to get her parents to accept her partner. "I think it will be a great pity if I cannot make them accept my other half before I die," Chao told a Chinese University forum organised by the university's chapter of global youth network AIESEC last night. She said that the generation gap had always existed and she would just keep on communicating with her parents, although they had shown no sign of accepting her partner, Sean Eav, so far. Chao, a 33-year-old executive director of her father's Cheuk Nang property development company, came out of the closet last September in the middle of a global media frenzy, after her father promised HK$500 million to the man who would marry his daughter. She encouraged the city's sexual minorities to make themselves more attractive to improve society's view of difference. "We should think of ways to improve our mental wellbeing," Chao said. "It's difficult to be minorities in Hong Kong, as Hong Kong is very materialistic and superficial. We cannot change this, but we can make ourselves more attractive to make more people like us." She also acknowledged that discrimination existed even within LGBT groups, where, for example, transsexuals were the minority within the minorities. Lawmaker Cyd Ho Sau-lan and Equal Opportunities Commission chairperson Dr York Chow Yat-ngok, were also among the speakers at the forum. Ho told participants that gay couples who could not get married suffered financial losses as well as discrimination. "Gay couples cannot apply for public housing or get a married person's allowance, and this could add up to HK$3 million after 30 years. That would mean a lot when they retire," Ho said. She added that a gay person could not apply for their non-local partner to live in Hong Kong. Meanwhile, Chow encouraged more people to reveal their sexual orientation to encourage more public discussion. "Discussion about sexual minorities should not be only discussed with sexual minorities," he said. "Polarised discussion will not solve [social] problems." Speaking after the forum, 19-year-old accounting student Marco Cheung Po-lung said that eliminating discrimination against sexual minorities was all about social fairness. "Why can we enjoy certain rights, such as the right to get married, while gay couples do not have the same rights?" he said. 

Martin Lee pulls plan for chief executive poll reform (By Joshua But Democrat apologises to his supporters as he withdraws controversial proposal to allow five candidates to run for chief executive in 2017 - Martin Lee explains his decision to withdraw his controversial proposal for the chief executive election in 2017. Martin Lee Chu-ming yesterday retracted a proposal for electoral change he put forward a day earlier and apologised to his critics in the pan-democratic camp, saying he had "let them down". The dramatic U-turn by the founding chairman of the Democratic Party underlined the gap between Beijing and the pan-democrats on political reform. It was also an indication of the dilemma facing pan-democrats - whether to open talks on practical issues, such as the rules for nominating chief executive candidates within the parameters set by Beijing; or stick to its call for "genuine universal suffrage". Lee had proposed that candidates for the 2017 chief executive election could be nominated via a screening process. But he conceded it was "a rash decision" to put forward the controversial plan for universal suffrage before seeking advice from fellow pan-democrats. "I believe this is the wrong time to post my opinion, particularly for what I said would be acceptable to me as the bottom line," Lee said. "After reflection, I have no hesitation that I should retract that proposal." I believe this is the wrong time to post my opinion, particularly for what I said would be acceptable to me as the bottom line. After reflection, I have no hesitation that I should retract that proposal - Lee said he was "under no pressure" to make the U-turn and added: "I apologise to all people concerned … particularly my long-time supporters. But my fight for democracy certainly will not end and I will continue to fight for a fair and open election." Lee had suggested at least five candidates be admitted into the 2017 race, allowing at least one pan-democrat to compete. But this would mean accepting the 1,200-strong nominating committee, with its formation based on the existing election committee, and that the candidates be nominated by the committee "as a whole", as suggested by Qiao Xiaoyang , chairman of the National People's Congress Law Committee. The idea got a warm welcome from government loyalists. Tai Kung Pao, a pro-Beijing newspaper, said Lee's proposal was "way better" than the action proposed by the Occupy Central movement. But the Alliance for True Democracy - a coalition of all 27 pan-democratic lawmakers - said it was unacceptable. Joseph Cheng Yu-shek, convenor of the alliance, said Lee had made a wise decision to withdraw the proposal. "Our bottom line - for the past 30 years - is genuine universal suffrage," he said. Democratic Party chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing said the lesson to be learned was that any idea should be discussed widely before being made public. Tam Yiu-chung, chairman of the Beijing-friendly Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, was disappointed Lee retracted the idea so soon. He said: "It will add difficulties in reaching a consensus to achieve universal suffrage." Ma Ngok, of Chinese University, said Lee's proposal had accepted "too low" a standard for universal suffrage. "Lee should realise he is not helping the cause of the pursuit of democracy."

 China*:  April 13 2013

Developing Hainan as int'l resort island: Xi (Xinua) Tourists walk along the road within the Boao Green Inn in Hainan province, March 26, 2013. Chinese President Xi Jinping has called for faster development of Hainan province as an international resort island. Xi, also general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and chairman of the Central Military Commission, made the remarks during an inspection tour from Monday through Wednesday of the island province in South China, where he chatted with fishermen returning from work in the South China Sea, visited a rose farm and a major cruise terminal, among other events. "Accelerating the development of Hainan as an international tourism island is a key decision made by central authorities and also offers the biggest opportunity and the biggest comparative advantage for Hainan," Xi stressed. He called on local authorities to make greater efforts in freeing up minds, and carrying out reform and opening-up to fully stimulate people's initiative to create a better future through hard work. As China's biggest special economic zone that was approved by China's top legislature in 1988, the island province enjoys late-comer advantage and has great development potential, according to Xi. He urged the island to make a leap in development by focusing on building Hainan into an international resort site, thus contributing to the development of a beautiful China.

China Premier aims to build new partnership with United States (By DING QINGFEN) Premier Li Keqiang meets visiting California Governor Jerry Brown in Beijing on Thursday. Li stresses trade in meeting with California group. Premier Li Keqiang called on Thursday for China's local governments and states in the US to join hands in enhancing cooperation to help promote bilateral economic and trade relations and build a new type of partnership. "China-US relations have entered into a new period, and the two nations should unremittingly strive for building up a new type of partnership by sticking to the principle of mutual trust and mutual benefit," said Li. "Cooperation between China's provinces and municipalities and the American states acts as a significant drive and social foundation of China-US relations," he added. He was speaking during a meeting with Jerry Brown, governor of California, who recently led a high-level delegation, including 75 American companies, to China to promote bilateral economic and trade ties. Li's remarks also came a day after California and six Chinese provinces and municipalities, including Shanghai, Chongqing, Jiangsu and Shandong, signed an understanding to establish the China Provinces and US California Joint Working Group on Trade and Investment Cooperation. The understanding is aimed at enhancing economic cooperation between the two sides. California, which has the largest economy among US states, should "strengthen cooperation with China in sectors of high-tech, new energy and humanity", setting a good example for cooperation between China's provinces and US states and paving the way for bilateral relations to develop in a "smooth and right" way, Li said. China and the US, the world's top two economies, are each other's second-largest trade partner. In 2012, China-US trade reached $484.7 billion, close to 200 times the amount when the two nations first established diplomatic relations. Cumulative US direct investment in China stood at $70 billion by the end of 2012, and China's cumulative outbound direct investment in the non-financial sector in the US reached $10 billion. "During the past 40 years, China-US relations have witnessed remarkable achievements," said Li. But the two economies are encountering an economic slowdown due to the European debt crisis, and are committed to transforming their economic growth model. Bilateral economic ties have also been challenged by friction over investment and trade in a wide range of issues ranging from solar panels to telecoms. Li said the enhanced cooperation between local governments in China and states in the US will help stimulate economies of the two sides and promote two-way relations. During a visit to the US early last year as vice-president, Xi Jinping, now China's president, called for new ways to be explored to strengthen Sino-US relations. Vice-Minister of Commerce Wang Chao said on Wednesday during the signing of the trade and investment understanding that the Ministry of Commerce will help promote Chinese investment in the US — in infrastructure and new energy in particular — and business exchanges between China's local governments and states in the US. Li also said California has a solid foundation to enhance cooperation with China's provinces and municipalities. California enjoys strong advantages in innovation and education, he said. It is a big agricultural state, while its iconic Silicon Valley is considered the largest concentration of top technology companies in not only the country, but globally. Brown said during the signing ceremony for the understanding that China's local governments and California can enhance cooperation in sectors including infrastructure, energy, agriculture, manufacturing, biological medicine and tourism. Despite various restrictions put in place by the United States federal government, China's investment into the country is expected to pick up in years to come, especially in the new energy and infrastructure sectors, after six Chinese local governments and California signed an agreement on Wednesday to increase trade and investment links. The Ministry of Commerce will help promote Chinese investment in the US, and business exchanges between China's local governments and the US states, said Vice-Minister of Commerce Wang Chao during a meeting in Beijing. The two countries have signed an understanding to establish the China Provinces and US California Joint Working Group on Trade and Investment Cooperation. The six Chinese provinces and municipalities involved in the working group include Shanghai, Jiangsu, Shandong, Guangdong and Chongqing. According to the Asia Society of the US, Chinese cumulative investment in California is worth $1.4 billion, the highest of any state in the US. "California could get new investment worth hundreds of billions of US dollars from China by the end of 2020," said Wang. The two-way understanding is a direct result of an official visit last year to California — the biggest state economy in the US — by then Vice-President Xi Jinping, during which the two sides pledged to strengthen bilateral trade and investment and explore new ways to strengthen China-US relations. "It (the working group) is an important part of implementing the consensus that the two countries reached during that visit," Wang said. More than 70 US companies from California and around 100 Chinese entrepreneurs attended Wednesday's business exchange conference. But the new understanding also comes at a time when Chinese companies have been continuously challenged by investment barriers put up by the US federal government, for what it claims are political and national security reasons.

Hong Kong*:  April 12 2013

US art gallery offers internship (By Richard James Havis A top US gallery is offering a local student the chance to intern at its New York headquarters - New York gallery Lehmann Maupin is offering a month-long internship to a Hong Kong student. The experience will be a good foundation for a career in the arts, the gallery says. It's a simple idea, but a good one. New York's Lehmann Maupin Gallery, which opened in Hong Kong on Pedder Street on March 14, is offering a locally based student the chance to intern at its US location for the month of July. The internship is paid, and Lehmann Maupin will also offer a travel stipend. "It's a way for us to integrate in to the community that is not commercial," says partner and gallery director Courtney Plummer, who is now based in Hong Kong. "One thing we noticed when we moved here and hired the staff was that there were a lot of young people working in the arts, and there really needed to be some kind of professional training programme for them. We wondered what we could do to help with this. "Everyone at the gallery, all of my colleagues, have built a whole career on internships. So we thought this would be something that we could do that would be simple and encouraging, and would bridge the gap a little bit." Plummer says that the successful applicant will learn how a New York office and gallery runs: "It could be anything from doing basic things to helping some of the sales people. They will be in a gallery which is producing shows every six to eight weeks, so there is always lots of work to be done. The internship is really about getting involved at all the different levels of the work," she says. Lehmann Maupin is known as a progressive gallery, exhibiting works by British "bad girl" artist Tracey Emin, among others. "It will give the successful applicant the opportunity to get creative. Our New York gallery and our Hong Kong galleries are working together, and this will be a great opportunity for them to get to know the New York gallery and the New York art world," says Plummer. Hong Kong lacks art museums, so being in the proximity of great institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art will augment the successful candidate's knowledge of art history, Plummer says. "It will be interesting work experience, but also an interesting cultural experience, whereby they can take back some ideas to Hong Kong," she says. "It will be a good foundation for a career in the arts." Lehmann Maupin is an artist-focused gallery, so candidates should be prepared to work hard "and have a creative mind", says Plummer. The intern "should be someone who is really dedicated to working with artists during their career". Would Lehmann Maupin ever think about doing it the other way around, and bringing a US intern to Hong Kong? The Asian art market is developing at speed, and hands-on knowledge of its specific culture and practices could come in useful back in the United States. "This is just the first idea that we have had, and there is no reason that we couldn't develop it," says Plummer. "It's an exciting opportunity, not just for the applicant, but for us as well. It's such simple idea, I don't know why no one has done it before." Lehmann Maupin, founded by Rachel Lehmann and David Maupin, opened in New York in 1996. Applications can be made online at The deadline is April 26.

How calorie-counting and supermarkets are hitting Hong Kong's rice shops where it hurts (By Xenia Chan and Hedy Bok) Wong Tak-kam says in the 1970s there were more rice shops in Hong Kong than banks. In this latest episode of our Uniquely Hong Kong series, a traditional rice shop owner laments how his business is declining in changing times, but argues it still has a vital role to play. Traditional rice shops are dying out in Hong Kong due to changing consumption habits among younger Chinese and competition from supermarkets, says Wong Tak-kam - owner of one of city's oldest rice shops. The 68-year-old, who runs Shing Hing Tai Rice Shop, has been in business since 1970 - five years after his father first opened the shop in Shek Kip Mei. Despite rice traditionally being the staple diet of southern China, rice shops in Hong Kong are struggling. Wong says the shops still perform an important role offering quality rice to customers. He explains that a bag of rice is as unique as a cup of tea - each bag has its own flavour and character. Wong also says his prices match those of supermarkets - although his shop has a wider selection. "They [supermarkets] sell pre-packaged bags of rice which taste bland, because manufacturers follow a one-recipe-fits-all formula. There are also artificial colourings." Consequently, Wong rarely visits supermarkets except to learn what his "competitors" are selling. He admits, however, that supermarkets are more convenient. He says another reason for the decline in rice consumption - perhaps more than the advent of supermarkets - is today's obsession with slimming. "Women are afraid of eating carbohydrates, getting fat, and contracting diabetes." Wong shakes his head. "Rice can't be substituted. Rice is what makes us Chinese; the rice "qi" (or spirit) can't be replaced by noodles or bread," he stresses. Preparing containers of rice for sale is something of an art. The rice "master" must understand how much old and new rice is to be mixed to maximise taste and quality. "Old" rice is more fragrant, and a year older than freshly harvested rice. "Old rice used to be the norm when people were poorer in the 1970s," explains Wong. "It expanded more, so it could fill people's stomachs better. But it was also very hard. So, now, we add in newer rice. New rice is smaller and has smoother texture, so together, it's filling, fragrant, and settles better in the stomach." There is also red, brown, and organic rice. Wong says these have become more popular in recent years, owing to today's increasingly health-conscious culture. The most popular brand comes from Thailand, but he also stocks rice from the United States, China and Vietnam. Other types include pearl and glutinous rice. Wong is meticulous about quality. "If it's yellow, and smells bad... it's no good. Too old, and it'll be a mess when cooking. You want white and fragrant rice." However, Wong says it has not been hard keeping up with trends. "I know people's tastes, so it's quite easy for me to know the proportions they want." He said this was true of all rice masters. They sit down with their customers and work out their preferences. Once the rice master establishes the proportions of each type for an individual bag, he puts it into a rice-sifting machine. Wong's machine is as old as the shop itself, but still does a remarkably good job - dirt, sand, silt and even bugs are separated into a bucket. After the rice is clean, it is bagged and stored until Wong makes home deliveries. He typically does this every 2-3 weeks, a far cry from the 1970s, when he made deliveries every other day. However, sometimes he gets more business. Recalling one incident 10 years ago, he says: "It was around the time of Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing's {death] and Sars. Everyone was scared there would be no more rice. So they stocked up." He adds: "You can't keep rice for so long - it will go bad. Weevils will get in, and the rice will be inedible. And besides, if there's no rice, you can always eat something else." Then he quickly adds that rice, when available, should always be the first priority in Chinese food. "Rice isn't very nutritious, but it gives me a lot of power. That's why we rice masters can do such heavy labour," says Wong. To demonstrate, he lifts three bags, in total 75kgs, onto his shoulders and jumps on his bike, to deliver his bags for the week. But Wong is pessimistic about the future. "Everyone is so old now," he says, referring to his contemporaries. "And no one wants to be in this business. It's physically taxing," he points to his hunched back, "And it doesn't pay well. When I retire, I'm just going to close my shop. No one is going to follow in my footsteps." His wife jokes. "And our rice-sifting machine will go to a museum." Then, gesturing towards her husband, she adds: "even he's old enough to be a relic."

 China*:  April 12 2013

President pays visit to Hainan fishermen - China President Xi Jinping calls for faster development of island as an international resort (By An Baijie) President Xi Jinping puts on a bamboo hat, traditionally donned by ethnic Li people in Sanya on Tuesday, during his visit to the southernmost island province of Hainan. President Xi Jinping visited fishing villages and talked with the seamen and maritime militia in Tanmen township of Qionghai city in Hainan on Monday afternoon after the end of the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference 2013, China Central Television reported. The local people had been fishing in the South China Sea since ancient times, referring to it as the "ancestors' sea". Xi told the militia they needed to learn how to use modern equipment and improve their working capabilities. The maritime militia members should not only lead fishing activities, but also collect oceanic information and support the construction of islands and reefs, he said. Boarding a fishing boat that had just returned from a fishing expedition, Xi asked about the fishermen's income level and their work, including how long they spend at sea for each fishing trip, how many people are on a boat and which kinds of fish they catch most. Xi extended wishes of a happy family and good life to the fishermen. "Congratulations for coming back safe and sound," he said. "May you get a catch every time you set sail." Lu Chuanan, 43, whose fishing boat was boarded by Xi, said the president was deeply concerned about the fishermen's livelihoods during the visit. "He asked us whether it was safe or not to go to the South China Sea," he told the Changjiang Daily. "He shook hands with everyone on the boat." Xi said he loved sailing in the past, but he was too busy to set sail now, Lu said. Ding Zhile, head of the Tanmen Fishermen's Association, said that Xi asked how many permits the seamen must get before they are allowed to fish, according to a Hainan Daily report. "I told him that we fishermen feel safe as the country's safeguarding vessels are protecting us," Ding said. "Hearing this, the general secretary was happy and shook hands twice with me." During the trip, Xi also visited an agricultural industry park and encouraged the development of modern ecological agriculture. The Hainan provincial government should speed up efforts to build it into an international tourism destination by 2020, in keeping with a State Council guideline, he said. As China's biggest special economic zone that was approved by the top legislature in 1988, the island province enjoys late-comer advantages and has great potential for development, Xi said, according to a Xinhua report.

Car sales back on fast track (By LI FANGFANG) March purchases accelerate driven by demand for entry-level models - China's passenger vehicle sales returned to high-speed growth in March due to surging demand for entry-level cars, as well as the flurry of new models launched in the spring, the China Passenger Car Association said on Tuesday. The total sales of passenger cars, sport-utility vehicles, multi-purpose vehicles and minivans jumped 15 percent year-on-year to 1,459,095 units in March, the third-highest monthly growth in a year, the association said. The strong performance in March boosted first-quarter domestic passenger vehicle sales to 4.21 million units, up 19.2 percent year-on-year. "Usually, automakers prefer to debut new or updated models in March and April. That way, they can use the Spring Festival holidays to prepare for the new product launches," said Rao Da, secretary-general of the association. "Also, the demand for passenger cars for family use on free-toll expressway trips during the three-day Tomb Sweeping Festival holidays also spurred sales. We saw higher growth in the entry-level segment," he added. Rao also predicted robust growth in April as the Shanghai International Auto Show, which will start on April 21, will further boost consumption enthusiasm with new models expected to be launched by nearly all the brands. "If the government doesn't implement measures to curb growth in the automotive industry, which has brought high pressure to traffic and the environment, passenger vehicle sales, excluding minivans, will surpass 1.2 million units in April," Rao said. In 2010, China had 90 million vehicles on its roads, and the figure surged to more than 120 million by the end of last year, according to the association. Rao said that the number of cars is expected to be between 260 and 330 million in 2020, with 70 percent of the vehicles in cities. "Take Beijing as an example. In four to seven years, the capital will face serious traffic jams, which will have a heavy impact on employees' efficiency and economic development," he said.

Guangzhou set to allow 72-hr visa-free visits (By Qiu Quanlin in Guangzhou) Guangzhou is expected to become the third Chinese city to allow foreign visitors to transit for 72 hours without a visa, according to Tan Wangen, general manager of China Southern Airlines. Tan said the policy will help boost tourism in Guangdong province and boost the local economy. "We are actively talking with the local airport and customs authorities to push the implementation of the visa-free transit policy as soon as possible," Tan said. Since Jan 1, travelers from 45 countries have been benefiting from 72-hour visa-free stays in Beijing and Shanghai, a move that is expected to boost consumption. Tourists holding third country visas and plane tickets are allowed to apply for a transit without visa at the Beijing Capital International Airport and Shanghai’s Hongqiao and Pudong airports. Foreign visitors are not permitted to leave the cities to travel to other Chinese cities during the 72 hours, and have to depart from the two cities. "If the negotiations go smoothly, the policy will be implemented in Guangzhou within this year," Tan was quoted as saying by Xinhua News Agency. "Optimizing the transit service is a priority for us this year to attract more foreign passengers", said Tan, adding that tourists would be able to travel to sites around the Pearl River Delta region within those 72 hours. Since the policy was introduced in January, Shanghai has registered more than 1,000 foreign passengers transiting from its Hongqiao and Pudong airports without visas, sources with the local immigration control authorities said. The number of inbound tourists to Beijing is expected to increase to 10 million passengers within the next three years, as a result of the policy, said Beijing Municipal Commission of Tourism Development. Tan was speaking after an agreement was signed on Monday between the airline and a delegation led by New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, who came to promote economic and trade ties between the two countries. The Guangzhou-based airline is the only domestic carrier that flies to New Zealand, following the opening of a Guangzhou-Auckland route in April 2011. Two more routes are due to be launched soon, connecting the southern city with Christchurch and Wellington.
Under the agreement, China Southern passengers can get visas without showing proof of property or employment. "The Guangzhou-Auckland daily flight has become a major route for the company and is in high demand by both Chinese and foreign travelers," said Tan, adding the service has boosted the number of Chinese tourists to New Zealand by almost 40 percent since it was launched. Sources with Guangdong tourism authorities said the number of inbound tourists decreased by 2.6 percent year-on-year to reach 107 million in 2012. But agencies in Guangzhou said they are already planning new services for foreign visitors staying for 72 hours. Lu Yujing, a sales manager with GZL International Travel Service, said: "A growing number of foreign business travelers have canceled their trips due to the global economic downturn. "The authorities should introduce some incentive measures, such as the visa-free transit policy, to attract more foreign visitors."

Internet spat with US gets high-level hearing in Beijing (By Cao Yin in Beijing and Zhang Yuwei in New York and US Undersecretary of State for Economic Growth, Robert Hormats, shakes hands with Shang Bing, vice-minister of China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, during the 6th US-China Internet Industry forum in Beijing on Tuesday. The United States and China should cooperate in addressing Internet issues, especially in the area of online security, and deal jointly with the rapid development of cyberspace, officials and experts from both countries said at a forum in Beijing. Online security has become a source of friction between China and the US, though the nations have common interests and responsibilities, Qian Xiaoqian, vice-minister of the State Council Information Office, said at Tuesday's US-China Internet Industry Forum. It was the sixth such event since the forums began in Seattle in 2007. To maintain network security, the two countries should further establish trust and try to solve problems, because this will improve development of the Internet and have positive effects worldwide, Qian said. "The two countries should cooperate and reduce blame or accusations without evidence," he said. As the leader in global information technology, the United States has many advantages in cyberspace, while China, the biggest Internet market, has more than 564 million users. Robert Hormats, US undersecretary of state for economic growth, energy and the environment, said the countries need to cooperate. The US, he said, will increase the number of official discussions and the frequency of communication over thorny Internet issues with China in the future. "The long-term interest of the Chinese government is to investigate and halt these cyber intrusions wherever in this country they come from," Hormats said. In February, Virginia-based cybersecurity firm Mandiant Corp issued a detailed report accusing a secret Chinese military unit in Shanghai of being behind years of hacking attacks against more than 140 Western - mostly US - companies. Chinese officials have strongly denied the accusation. In late March, US President Barack Obama signed into law a ban on federal government purchases of information-technology systems made in China. Beijing immediately urged Washington to revoke that decision, saying the ban would impair trust between China and the US and harm trade relations. The ban, part of a spending package that will expire at the end of the US government's fiscal year in September, is seen by some analysts as a way for the US to express concerns over cybersecurity and protect its domestic information-technology industry. The US-China Business Council, which represents more than 200 US companies that do business in China, wrote a letter urging leaders in Washington from both parties to reject "country-specific restrictions" when the government attempts to make cyberspace more secure. That approach "creates a false sense of security if the goal is to improve our nation's cybersecurity," it added. "Cybersecurity is of increasing concern to US companies, regardless of the source, and it should be a priority for the US government to address," the council's president, John Frisbie, wrote in the letter, which was dated April 8 and addressed to Democratic and Republican leaders in the Senate and the House of Representatives. He said the US and Chinese governments should "cooperate to address cybersecurity issues as they impact the commercial relationship, starting with one fundamental premise: commercial espionage should not be tolerated and if it is not addressed, it could undermine a constructive commercial relationship". "The national security of the United States is critical, but it must not be used as a means of protectionism," Frisbie wrote. China's Premier Li Keqiang said on March 17 that all countries should do more to keep the Internet safe instead of making "groundless accusations". Li didn't deny there are differences in how online security is dealt with in China and the US, but if the two respect each other, he said, their common interests will outweigh disagreements. He also said cooperation should extend to the mobile Internet, considering advances in digital technology. The number of mobile users in China has reached 420 million, an increase of 18 percent from 2011, according to organizers of Tuesday's forum. "Mobile devices have become the biggest platform to surf the Internet, for white-collar workers and migrant workers alike," Vice-Minister Qian said. "It's also fashionable to post microblogs, and use the smartphone app WeChat on cellphones." WeChat is a digital application that lets users send free text messages domestically and internationally. The two countries need to cooperate on mobile Internet research, Qian said, adding that China will modify laws involving the Internet and welcome US companies to invest in its industry. "In addition, China and the US can create more channels for dialogue, such as governments, institutions and companies, and enhance investigation systems to crack down on online crimes," he said. Hu Qiheng, chairwoman of the Internet Society of China, said dialogue can improve communication, which in turn can help the two countries understand each other better. "Good understanding will be helpful to close the distance between China and the US on dealing with online issues," she said.

Hong Kong*:  April 11 2013

Thatcher the 'supreme realist' did her best for city, ex-governor Wilson says (Gary Cheung Former governor recalls Thatcher's strong belief in the city's free market and her determination to preserve its way of life - Margaret Thatcher and Hong Kong's former governor David Wilson (far right) at a lunch to mark the 10th anniversary of Hong Kong's return to China. Margaret Thatcher would have preferred not to have been British prime minister when the future of Hong Kong had to be decided, former governor David Wilson says. But as a "supreme realist", she did her utmost to ensure that Hongkongers' way of life would continue after 1997, he says. In her 1993 memoirs, The Downing Street Years, Thatcher wrote that she "felt depressed" in 1983 when she told Beijing the British envisaged no link of authority or accountability between Britain and Hong Kong after 1997. It meant abandoning her original plan of exchanging Hong Kong's sovereignty for continued British administration after 1997. Wilson, governor from 1987 to 1992, said Thatcher had a great affection for Hong Kong. "She believed strongly in its free-market economy and she admired the energy and entrepreneurial spirit of the Hong Kong people," he wrote in an e-mail exchange with the South China Morning Post. She believed strongly in its free-market economy and she admired the energy and entrepreneurial spirit of the Hong Kong people - Former Hong Kong Governor David Wilson. "It is probably true to say that she would much have preferred not to have been the prime minister in whose time the issue of 1997 and the future of Hong Kong had to be decided," Wilson wrote. "But she was a supreme realist. Having accepted in the end that major changes had to come, she was determined to do her best to ensure that the way of life of the people of Hong Kong, and with it their economic prosperity, would continue. "Happily she lived long enough to see the Joint Declaration on the future of Hong Kong, which she had signed in 1984, put into effect and prove to be a success." In March 1979, Wilson, as a political adviser to then governor Murray MacLehose, joined the latter for a historic meeting in Beijing with then paramount leader Deng Xiaoping . Deng told MacLehose that China "might" take over Hong Kong by 1997, but it would respect the city's "special status", according to British government files declassified from the National Archives in London. Four years later, when Deng met Thatcher in September 1982, he told her that sovereignty was not a matter which could be discussed and Beijing would certainly regain sovereignty over the city in 1997. After the meeting, the "Iron Lady" stumbled on the stairs outside the Great Hall of the People where the historic talks were held. The slip-up was caught on camera and played many times in Hong Kong. Harvard scholar Ezra Vogel wrote in Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China that "the pictures conveyed the impression that Thatcher, shaken by Deng's tough stance, was kowtowing". Thatcher also met then premier Zhao Ziyang during her visit. According to her observations, Zhao's "moderation and reasonableness" proved to be a great handicap to him in his subsequent career. Zhao was ousted in 1989 because of his sympathy with the pro-democracy movement. In a meeting with ministers and Edward Youde, Hong Kong's then governor, in January 1983, Thatcher proposed that in the absence of progress in the talks with Beijing, London should develop the democratic structure in Hong Kong as though it was its aim to achieve independence or self-government within a short period, as it had done with Singapore. "This would involve building up a more Chinese government and administration in Hong Kong, with the Chinese members increasingly taking their own decisions. We might also consider using referenda as an accepted institution there," she wrote in her memoirs. "At that time, however, nobody else seemed much attracted by my ideas." Thatcher made another visit to Beijing in December 1984, during which she signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration to resolve Hong Kong's future. In her second meeting with Deng during that visit, Thatcher asked him about the rationale for setting the lifespan of "one country, two systems" at 50 years after 1997. "Mr Deng said China hoped to approach the level of advanced countries by the end of that time," she wrote, adding that "the Chinese belief that the benefits of a liberal economic system can be had without a liberal political system seems to me false in the long term". 

Chongqing showing Hong Kong it's back in business after Bo scandal (By George Chen Western mega city sending biggest trade delegation yet to HK in wake of scandal - Chongqing mayor Huang Qifan will lead a large business delegation to Hong Kong early next week to attract new investment as the mainland city seeks to rebound from the scandal-tainted era of its former party boss Bo Xilai . People familiar with the matter said Huang would promote several sectors, including financial services, public housing, infrastructure and transport. The delegation, including top bosses from the city's finance office and the department overseeing state-owned assets, will meet several Hong Kong tycoons and major institutional investors. "It will be the largest-ever delegation from Chongqing to promote investment opportunities in Hong Kong," said one of the sources. "It's time for Chongqing to go out and restore its image as a hub city in western China to attract overseas investment." In recent years, Chongqing has been widely touted as an up-and-coming manufacturing centre - cheaper than the pricey coastal provinces but equally well known to the world. Investment in the municipality's factories and infrastructure surged and exports doubled. But the murky downfall last year of Bo, in one of the biggest scandals ever for the Communist Party, quickly soured business sentiment. Investors chose to steer clear of the city amid the ensuing political uncertainty. Some in Chongqing are grateful for Bo's efforts to polish its image and boost the economy, but during his tenure the local government's spending far outstripped its revenue. There has also been talk that massive lending by state banks to local-government-linked investment firms was collateralised with overvalued land. These debts are estimated at 40 to 100 per cent of Chongqing's gross domestic product. Huang managed to remain as the city's No2 leader following Bo's downfall, partly because he openly supported Beijing's decision to turn the heat on Bo. In Hong Kong, Huang is set to meet Charles Li Xiaojia, CEO of Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing. A pact would be signed to jointly promote potential listings of Chongqing firms in Hong Kong, the sources said. One of the major upcoming listings is the Bank of Chongqing, which has hired Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley to help it prepare for its initial public offering to raise about US$600 million.

Close your eyes to the Adam Cheng effect at your peril (By Stephen Vines) Superstition plays a special role in Hong Kong investing. All it takes to anticipate stock market swings is to know what others believe is true - Adam Cheng Siu-chow stars as Ting Hai in TVB's The Greed of Man. Should investors be quaking in their boots in anticipation of the release of a new movie starring Adam Cheng Siu-chow? According to an article in this newspaper on March 30, the answer is yes. The Post reported that the actor is unwittingly responsible for what has become known as the "Ting Hai effect" that followed the 1992 release of TVB drama series The Greed of Man, in which Cheng played the role of Ting Hai, a derivatives trader who makes a killing shorting a bull market. And sure enough, while the series was screening, the Hang Seng Index dropped by as much as 13 per cent. Five years later, Cheng was back in another television series whose run coincided with another plunge in the market. In 1998 he was at it again, with a series that coincided with the Asian financial crisis, and then again in 2000, when the hi-tech stock bubble burst. So stock market wags are wondering whether the new series will have the same effect or whether it might just be an excuse for a market plunge. Superstition is no stranger to people's thinking in Hong Kong, and so an explanation for stock market movements based on seemingly illogical beliefs, folklore or whatever is not quite as absurd as it may sound. Indeed there is no need to confine this theory to the Hong Kong market, as superstitions and folklore looms large in markets across the world. My two favourite American examples are the so-called Super Bowl and hemline effects on stock market performance. The former holds that if the National Football Conference wins, the stock market will rise, and that if the American Football Conference prevails, it will fall. The hemline theory holds that as hemlines rise, so do stock prices, and that the reverse happens when they fall. How does this stack up against the historical evidence? Well, stocks boomed in the 1920s, when the short flapper funk was in vogue, and they famously crashed when hemlines fell. Prices remained in the doldrums until the 1950s, when high poodle skirts made an appearance, and so on. More compelling evidence appears to exist for a near-universal belief that October is a dangerous month for stock markets. Both the 1929 and 1987 crashes occurred in October. Yet the Stock Trader's Almanac tells us that, overall, September has been the worst month for stocks. Some so-called superstitions have a perfectly logical explanation. This includes the Presidential Election Cycle Theory developed by Yale Hirsch, which holds that US stocks are weakest in the year following an election of a new president, but that there should be an upturn the following year. This makes sense because markets dislike uncertainty and a change at the White House creates precisely that. When I first started covering markets in Britain, there was an old adage much beloved of stockbrokers: "Sell in May and go away". Those were the days when people took long summer holidays and trading was thin and volatile. It therefore made sense to clear the decks and come back later. There is even an algorithmic trading programme for stocks based on superstitions: "Sid the Superstitious Robot". Markets are moved by sentiment, even though most players pride themselves on sticking to the fundamentals. Therefore it makes sense to be aware of factors affecting sentiment. Superstition and folklore clearly play a part, so be careful before sniffing too loudly over Adam Cheng's impact on the local bourse.

Imperial bowl goes for record HK$74m (US$1m) at Sotheby's auction (Jolie Ho A ruby-ground falangcai bowl sold for HK$74 million at a Sotheby's auction yesterday, setting a world record for porcelain made in the reign of Emperor Kangxi during the Qing dynasty (1644-1911). Ceramics dealer William Chak Kin-man was very happy to win the bowl in a strongly contested auction which attracted more than 10 bids. "Falangcai has the finest porcelain during the reign of Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong. There are many falangcai … wares from the Kangxi period, but this one is more brightly coloured and the contrast and graduation [of the colours] is also very clear," he said. It was flawless, he added. Nicolas Chow, Sotheby's Asia deputy chairman and international head of Chinese ceramics, said: "This bowl is part of the exquisite group of wares that was enamelled within the imperial workshops in Beijing for the personal use of the emperor. This bowl is part of the exquisite group of wares that was enamelled within the imperial workshops in Beijing for the personal use of the emperor - "There were very few that came out on the market in recent years, and this is the only one that is in absolutely perfect condition," he said. Chak said that despite strong bids, the price was reasonable and he would consider selling it. He expects the value to double in five years. "If you buy a real piece, its price will never be a bubble … I've been in the market for 40 years," he said. The falangcai bowl, which was once owned by celebrated antique dealer and collector Robert Chang, was sold for HK$528,000 when it first appeared at auction at Sotheby's Hong Kong in 1983. Chak wanted to buy it in 1999 when it came on the market again, but the price of HK$12 million was more than he could afford then.

Occupy Central plan 'won't frighten Beijing' (Colleen Lee A prominent academic, Horace Chin Wan-kan, has cautioned next year's Occupy Central plan lacks the "power to frighten" Beijing in talks over universal suffrage. Dr Chin, an assistant professor of Chinese language at Lingnan University and a backer of the Hong Kong City-State Autonomy Movement, said the "non-violent" road blockade was the wrong approach to take. "It lacks the power to frighten … Nor will it increase bargaining power in talks with Beijing," Chin said. [Occupy Central] lacks the power to frighten … Nor will it increase bargaining power in talks with Beijing. Dr Benny Tai Yiu-ting, an associate law professor, is the force behind the protest plan, in which he hopes to rally tens of thousands of people to block the roads in Central. Chin pointed to previous road blockades in Central by demonstrators in recent years, saying: "It is ridiculous to attempt to use the same method to threaten the Communist Party or press for negotiation." Chin said the plan could be dangerous as it was calling for an ineffective tactic to be retried only on a bigger scale. "Its failure will deal a blow to morale in the fight for democracy. Seeing such a mass movement, with so many participating, fail" might make people feel powerless against the Communist Party. The government could become even tougher with pro-democracy activists, he said, citing Beijing's heightened suppression of dissidents after the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. He proposed pan-democrats, instead, make "more reasonable suggestions" for political reform for the 2017 chief executive race. He suggested all lawmakers should be made ex-officio members of the future nominating committee and that an aspirant who gained a certain number nominations, say 20, should be allowed to run. Tai has met more than a dozen pro-democracy groups and businessmen to lobby support for his plan. Tai says the blockade, planned for July next year, is merely the final step in a campaign to "cultivate a democratic process" for the city.

 China*:  April 11 2013

Guangzhou set to allow 72-hr visa-free visits (By By Qiu Quanlin in Guangzhou) Guangzhou is expected to become the third Chinese city to allow foreign visitors to transit for 72 hours without a visa, according to Tan Wangen, general manager of China Southern Airlines. Tan said the policy will help boost tourism in Guangdong province and boost the local economy. "We are actively talking with the local airport and customs authorities to push the implementation of the visa-free transit policy as soon as possible," Tan said.  Since Jan 1, travelers from 45 countries have been benefiting from 72-hour visa-free stays in Beijing and Shanghai, a move that is expected to boost consumption. Tourists holding third country visas and plane tickets are allowed to apply for a transit without visa at the Beijing Capital International Airport and Shanghai’s Hongqiao and Pudong airports. Foreign visitors are not permitted to leave the cities to travel to other Chinese cities during the 72 hours, and have to depart from the two cities. "If the negotiations go smoothly, the policy will be implemented in Guangzhou within this year," Tan was quoted as saying by Xinhua News Agency. "Optimizing the transit service is a priority for us this year to attract more foreign passengers", said Tan, adding that tourists would be able to travel to sites around the Pearl River Delta region within those 72 hours. Since the policy was introduced in January, Shanghai has registered more than 1,000 foreign passengers transiting from its Hongqiao and Pudong airports without visas, sources with the local immigration control authorities said. The number of inbound tourists to Beijing is expected to increase to 10 million passengers within the next three years, as a result of the policy, said Beijing Municipal Commission of Tourism Development. Tan was speaking after an agreement was signed on Monday between the airline and a delegation led by New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, who came to promote economic and trade ties between the two countries. The Guangzhou-based airline is the only domestic carrier that flies to New Zealand, following the opening of a Guangzhou-Auckland route in April 2011. Two more routes are due to be launched soon, connecting the southern city with Christchurch and Wellington. Under the agreement, China Southern passengers can get visas without showing proof of property or employment. "The Guangzhou-Auckland daily flight has become a major route for the company and is in high demand by both Chinese and foreign travelers," said Tan, adding the service has boosted the number of Chinese tourists to New Zealand by almost 40 percent since it was launched. Sources with Guangdong tourism authorities said the number of inbound tourists decreased by 2.6 percent year-on-year to reach 107 million in 2012. But agencies in Guangzhou said they are already planning new services for foreign visitors staying for 72 hours. Lu Yujing, a sales manager with GZL International Travel Service, said: "A growing number of foreign business travelers have canceled their trips due to the global economic downturn. "The authorities should introduce some incentive measures, such as the visa-free transit policy, to attract more foreign visitors."

Xi's fishermen visit seen as warning to sea neighbours (By Minnie Chan President's surprise visit to fishing village and pledge of support for boat crews seen by analysts as strong warning to South China Sea neighbours - Xi Jinping shakes hands with fishermen in Tanmen. President Xi Jinping made an unprecedented visit to fishermen who spend most of their working lives in disputed waters in the South China Sea in what analysts said was a move aimed at sending a strong message to China's neighbours. Xi's visit to Tanmen, a fishing village in the city of Qionghai in Hainan, on Monday came a few days after the People's Liberation Army Navy's South Sea Fleet finished a 16-day drill and patrol mission in the South China Sea. The PLA Daily published an interview yesterday with fleet commander Rear Admiral Jiang Weilie who said naval training on the high seas would become routine for the navy. The visit was given wide coverage by state media outlets, including Xinhua, with Xi quoted as asking fishermen whether they felt safe going out into the South China Sea. Our government will make more efforts to take care of you guys … and I wish you all the best when you go fishing - have good harvests and catch more big fish - "I am very impressed [after hearing your stories]. You guys have done a good job!" Xinhua quoted Xi as saying when he boarded the Qiong-Qionghai 09045. The 30-metre deep-sea fishing boat was stopped by Palau police a year ago in an illegal fishing confrontation and one fisherman was shot dead. "The [Communist] party and our government will make more efforts to take care of you guys … and I wish you all the best when you go fishing - have good harvests and catch more big fish," said Xi. Wang Hanling , a maritime expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Xi's visit and his remarks were meant for the eyes and ears of China's neighbours that dispute its territorial claims in the South China Sea, including Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines. "China's maritime interests definitely include our fishermen's fishing rights and the safety of their lives in the South China Sea," Wang said. "Xi's visit and the PLA Navy's regular drill and patrol missions on the high seas are also an encouragement to Chinese fishermen to go to our sea territory in the South China Sea to declare our country's sovereignty by running their fishing business." A year ago today, a dozen Tanmen fishing boats were harassed by the Philippine navy near Huangyan Island, while in April 2007, 18 Tanmen fishermen were robbed by pirates near Malaysian waters. Xi visited the fishing village after leaving the Boao Forum for Asia, which was held just a few kilometres from Tanmen. Naval expert Li Jie said Beijing should make the South China Sea the primary strategic focus of the country's drive to become a real maritime power. "If the Chinese navy wants to be a true blue-water fleet, it could only make the breakthrough in the South China Sea because of its special geographic location," he said. During the 16-day mission, crews of four South Sea Fleet warships performed a high-profile oath-taking ceremony near James Shoal, or Zengmu Reef, near the outer limits of China's controversial "nine-dash line" - which encompasses territory also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.

China, Australia establish strategic talks (By Li Xiaokun and Li Jiabao) China and Australia had the first of their planned annual meetings between premiers on Tuesday and agreed to set up a Strategic Economic Dialogue as well as another dialogue focusing on diplomacy and strategy. Premier Li Keqiang met with his Australian counterpart Julia Gillard in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Beijing and Canberra also announced that the Australian dollar will become the third major currency to have direct convertibility with the yuan, after the US dollar and the Japanese yen. Gillard's five-day visit to China, shortly after the new Chinese leadership took office, shows that Australia, which defines itself as an Asian country, has fully realized the importance of China, experts said. The two leaders talked casually in English while they waited for the welcoming ceremony and during the signing ceremony. "He is an outgoing person to talk to and has a sense of humor, I think. In Australian style, we enjoy that. We had warm conversations rather than old formalities. I did get a sense of warmth and engagement with him," Gillard said of Li when talking to reporters after the meeting. At the meeting, the two nations agreed to accelerate negotiations on the China-Australia free trade agreement, according to a statement from the Foreign Ministry. The leaders agreed to strengthen defense exchanges and have better cooperation in multilateral affairs. They also planned to push for cooperation in areas from mining and agriculture to infrastructure construction and tourism, and vowed to support young people to learn in each other's country. There are around 150,000 Chinese students studying in Australia. Mandarin is the second most common spoken language in Australia, after English. The Chinese community in Australia numbers more than 900,000. China is Australia's largest trade partner while Australia is China's seventh-largest trade partner. Bilateral trade hit $122.3 billion in 2012, up 4.9 percent year-on-year after a surge of 32.1 percent in 2011, according to the General Administration of Customs. "There are conditions, and (more important) there are demands, to deepen China-Australia cooperation," Li said. He called for the two sides to "direct the efforts toward the same goal". Gillard said her country wants to deepen mutual trust with China. Gillard arrived in Hainan province on April 5 to attend the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference. She told President Xi Jinping when they met on Sunday in Hainan that Australia wants to be a reliable and stable resource provider for China. Su Hao, a professor at China Foreign Affairs University, said the importance Gillard attaches to Beijing shows that "Australia is actively clearing up the obstacles in its relations with China". Su said that although Canberra has cooperated with Washington's pivot shift to the Asia-Pacific region, it has defined itself as an Asian country while realizing that China is an important nation in Asia. Gao Cheng, a researcher from the National Institute of International Strategy at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said China-Australia trade will expand due to their complementary economies. "It's sure bilateral trade will keep expanding as China will demand more natural resources from Australia in the future. Meanwhile, Australia is eager to tap the huge Chinese market and benefit from China's fast economic growth," she said. "Gillard's high-profile visit and the direct trading of the two currencies are positive signs of improving political bilateral ties," Gao said.

Xi Jinping pledges level playing field for global investors (By Victoria Ruan in Boao, Hainan After hearing foreign business leaders' gripes, president says companies' rights to be protected - President Xi Jinping used an annual Asian economic forum to reassure global investors that China's economy - the world's second-biggest - would continue to expand and that it would ensure their lawful rights and business interests. At an hour-long meeting with 32 foreign and domestic business leaders on the sidelines of the Boao Forum for Asia in Hainan province yesterday, Xi pledged to provide a level playing field for all market players and make the domestic market more open and attractive. An ultra-high speed of growth won't be able to be sustained. We don't want it and we cannot do it either. But a fairly high speed of growth can be maintained - An ultra-high speed of growth won't be able to be sustained," Xi said. "We don't want it and we cannot do it either. But a fairly high speed of growth can be maintained. Xi also said China would "continue to open up wider to the outside world". Business leaders, including five from Japan, complained to Xi about red tape and restrictions on investment that favour Chinese state firms, and outright discrimination because of political problems. Xi told them: "China will endeavour to build a more favourable environment for investors … and will protect the lawful rights and interests of foreign-invested companies." Beijing faces rising regional tension on many fronts, including a territorial dispute with Japan over uninhabited islets in the East China Sea. Some foreign players have complained about a souring business environment and more investment barriers. Technology giant Apple was forced to apologise to mainland consumers for alleged problems in its service warranties. "The very important message he meant to send was that he wants to meet, hear views and learn first-hand the frustrations and needs" of multinationals, said Laurence Brahm, author of Zhu Rongji and the Transformation of Modern China. Leaders of state-owned enterprises, including Li Xiaolin , daughter of ex-premier Li Peng and head of China Power International Development, and the chiefs of shipping giant Cosco and distiller Kweichow Moutai, as well as foreign leaders attended the meeting. Pepsico president Zein Abdalla complained about limits on foreign investment in agriculture. He urged Beijing to promote transparency and fairness, encourage foreign investment in more sectors, reform administrative approval systems and grant more national treatment to multinational companies. "The better we understand the policy directions and the politics of decision-making in China, the better we can plan to commit resources and continue to build successful businesses and contribute to China's ongoing success," he said. Koji Miyahara, of Japanese shipping line Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha, mentioned "unpleasant episodes" last year, in an apparent reference to the East China Sea row, and said: "We need to forge closer relations." Japanese businesses stood ready to help achieve that, he said. Liu Ligang, an economist at Australia and New Zealand Banking Group, said: "Xi has differed from his predecessor Hu Jintao , who seldom met multinational industry leaders, in showing that he's more open to overseas investment."

Confucius schools prep for new sites (By Joseph Boris in Washington and Liu Yuhan in Boston and The opening of Confucius Institutes this week in New York and Washington brings a key part of China's "soft power" initiative to the United States. On Tuesday, administrators at Columbia University will cut the ribbon to inaugurate the Confucius Institute at the Ivy League school in Manhattan. A day later, it will be George Washington University that does the honors, on a campus within walking distance of the US State Department and blocks away from the White House and Capitol Hill. "We're very excited about this role for GW and our outreach around China," said Peg Barratt, dean of George Washington University's Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. "We have many faculties engaged in Chinese language and culture activities, and this will foster research ties with China." A priority for the Confucius Institute on her campus, Barratt said, will be to provide instruction in Chinese language and culture to Washington professionals working in diplomacy and international business. The capital is home to global institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, which are also near the campus. Xu Lin, director-general of Hanban, talked about the Confucius Institutes' changing priorities in a speech on Monday to the National Chinese Language Conference in Boston. "In past years, we and our partners focused more on opening up classes to teach Chinese language, but in the future, we hope we'll put more effort into introducing culture to each other for more cultural exchanges," she said. Xu said she hopes the cultural exchanges will enhance understanding between Chinese and people in the institutes' host countries. Although George Washington fits the standard university-based model for the Confucius Institute project financed by the Chinese government, it will depart from the usual mission of teaching beginner-level Mandarin. In the Washington area, that service is already being provided by the University of Maryland - where the first Confucius Institute in the US opened in 2005 - and George Mason University in Virginia. "This is really more about professionals - people who might need to refresh or update their Chinese-language skills," Barratt said. "We would certainly be open to offering, say, lunchtime classes for busy professionals, reaching out to people so they can be successful perhaps in terms of doing business in China or being engaged with Chinese culture." The dean also envisions the university's Chinese and Asian studies programs, which she oversees, as occasional presenters for events at the institute. She and other administrators, however, pointed out that classes won't provide academic credit and are meant to complement, not replace, university courses. At Columbia in New York, the focus of the new Confucius Institute will be research into the teaching of Chinese as a second language, said Liu Lening, a professor of East Asian languages and cultures who will be the institute's director. The city already has one Confucius Institute, at Pace University in downtown Manhattan, which caters to the broader community. Following the model endorsed by Hanban, Columbia and George Washington will run their programs through partnerships with Chinese universities that provide instructors, materials and support. Columbia's partner is Renmin University of China in Beijing, with which it already conducts cultural and research exchanges, organizes international conferences, and translates and publishes academic works. Liu said the two universities have co-hosted a conference at Columbia on country-specific Chinese language teaching materials; trained teaching assistants for Chinese-language classes through the university's graduate teaching school; and helped organize, with the Chinese consulate in New York, events around the Lincoln Center's Chinese Film Festival. Setting up a Confucius Institute takes time. Columbia's affiliation with Renmin dates back to 2008, when the university's school of public health began a program. For George Washington, a chief concern was the physical space needed to house the new institute. "The process is not easy - there are lots of things to accomplish," said Taoran Sun, a finance administrator at GW, who also serves on its organizing committee for the Confucius Institute. The university, with its partner Nanjing University, decided to apply to Hanban for accreditation in spring 2011 but the application wasn't submitted until that August, with approval granted some 18 months later. Sun said the insitute will receive direct support from the nearby Chinese embassy. She said the interest of top Chinese diplomats working in the US will provide the institute "synergy" in hosting conferences and assisting with exchange programs for high-level government officials. Eight years after the first one opened, there are now 92 university-level Confucius institutes in the US, along with 318 Confucius classrooms, mainly affiliated with public schools. Another speaker at the annual conference, Henrietta Fore, a business executive and co-chairwoman of Women Corporate Directors, said interest in Chinese-language education in the US is sure to increase. "As China has taken its place on the world stage, more and more Americans have been developing an interest in learning Chinese and connecting with China," she said. "By most estimates, the number of students in Chinese-language programs in the United States has increased by more than 200 percent over the past decade, and this growth is showing no signs of slowing.

Hong Kong*:  April 10 2013

Asking Beijing for legal interpretation will affect rule of law: chief justice (By Stuart Lau Geoffrey Ma said seeking an interpretation every time a case is lost might cause some to say “that’s just not on”. Hong Kong's top judge says the rule of law will be affected if the government seeks a Basic Law interpretation from Beijing after the Court of Final Appeal turned down a request to seek one itself. Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li made the remarks in a talk at the University of Hong Kong yesterday. It came a fortnight after the Court of Final Appeal rejected the government's application for an interpretation of the powers of the National People's Congress under Article 158 of the Basic Law to interpret the Law. The request was meant to clarify the binding effect of its 1999 interpretation on right of abode. The ruling thwarted the administration's attempt to resolve right-of-abode issues involving foreign domestic helpers and children born locally to mainlanders in a single case. The government has not ruled out seeking an interpretation from Beijing. Ma was asked yesterday if he agreed with the remarks of his colleague, Mr Justice Kemal Bokhary, that Hong Kong's rule of law was facing "a storm of unprecedented ferocity". He said: "I accept this point: if every time, let's say somebody - or the government - loses in the Court of Final Appeal, but then again goes off for an interpretation under [Article] 158, there comes a point when some people may say 'that's just not on'. Let's say somebody - or the government - loses in the Court of Final Appeal, but then again goes off for an interpretation under [Article] 158, there comes a point when some people may say 'that's just not on' "I don't disagree with him [if that was what he meant]." Ma said there was far less flexibility on the issue of children born to mainland parents in the city than on foreign domestic helpers seeking right of abode. The court, in its ruling last month, found helpers ineligible to apply for right of abode. Asked whether the top court could overturn its precedents - suggested as a possible way of tackling the issue of right of abode for mainlanders' children - Ma said: "The Court of Final Appeal … will not disturb the effect of a previous decision unless, quite simply, it's wrong." Ma said Article 158 must be invoked when necessary - requiring his court to refer certain matters to Beijing for interpretation - even if, as a student in the audience suggested, the latter's ruling could remove constitutional rights and freedoms. "Whether the court thinks that the interpretation made by the Standing Committee is so absurd or so unfair, would the court then follow it - well, that's a purely hypothetical question," Ma replied. "But I answer the question in the way that you asked it, which is that Article 158 states quite clearly what the role of the court is." Barrister Jat Sew-tong asked Ma if he thought any aspect of the Basic Law needed amendment, to which Ma swiftly replied: "From a personal point of view … all those provisions have caused me difficulties."

Jackie Chan gives last of his historic sandalwood houses to Singapore (By Ng Kang-chung Jackie Chan will give the last six of his collection of 10 historic Chinese sandalwood houses to a Singaporean university, after a decade of failed preservation talks with Hong Kong bureaucrats. The film star bought the houses - said to be between 200 and 400 years old - for an unknown sum in Anhui province in the 1990s. They include a stage and a pavilion in traditional Hui-style architecture. Chan reportedly had them renovated in Suzhou, Jiangsu province, and stored them in warehouses. He donated four to the Singaporean government in 2009, which gave them to the Singapore University of Technology and Design. Chan decided to give the university the remaining six after being impressed by its preservation plan during a recent visit. In an article posted on his official website on Thursday, Chan, a Hong Kong delegate to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, said: "These historical buildings are the essence of traditional Chinese architecture and I think it's such a waste if they're not displayed for people to appreciate. "Ten years ago, I wanted to donate these buildings to the Hong Kong government so they could be displayed to the public … But after several years of discussions, and for whatever the reasons may be, we still haven't come up with any results." But he said the Singaporean government quickly made arrangements to accommodate the houses and eventually a deal was struck to put them on the new campus of the university, to be opened in 2015. Stephen Chan Chit-kwai, a member of Hong Kong's Antiquities Advisory Board, expressed regret that the city had missed an opportunity. But he added: "From the perspective of conservation, the buildings should stay in their original locations. An old building will lose its cultural and historical significance if it is moved away from its original location."

Smugglers cash in big on 'British' tobacco trafficked through Hong Kong (By Clifford Lo With Hong Kong logistics firms as the unwitting conduit, gangs move tonnes from the mainland to Britain, where it's passed off as a top brand - Criminal syndicates are reaping huge profits by smuggling mainland tobacco through Hong Kong into Britain, where it is sold at a 5,000 per cent mark-up, a government source says. With the lure of such profit margins, the racket is thriving despite stringent enforcement action over the past two years, prompting Hong Kong customs to join forces with British and mainland agencies in an effort to stop it. "The low delivery cost in Hong Kong is one of the main reasons the illicit tobacco is smuggled from the mainland to Britain through Hong Kong," the source said. Intelligence shows the tobacco, made on the mainland, costs as little as HK$50 per kg on the wholesale market but commands HK$2,600 a kg in Britain. It is packaged as the British brand Golden Virginia, a rolling tobacco, and sells for about 30 to 40 per cent less than the genuine product. In an attempt to evade Hong Kong surveillance, counterfeiters have now turned to logistics companies to smuggle the parcels. They are stamped on the mainland with an address in Britain, smuggled into Hong Kong, where they are sent straight to the offices of the logistics companies. "The logistics companies are then ordered to mail the parcels out of Hong Kong within three hours to avoid being detected by local law enforcement," said Wan Hing-chuen, who heads customs' investigation division combating illicit tobacco. Previously, counterfeiters had to find places in the city where they could store the tobacco and package it in bags bearing the Golden Virginia name before mailing it to Britain through the postal service. Last month, customs officers confiscated scores of Britain-bound parcels containing 1.3 tonnes of the tobacco. The haul had an estimated street value of HK$5 million. In the first two months of the year, about 200kg of the rolling tobacco was seized. Customs officers confiscated nearly 1.3 tonnes in the first three months of last year. The parcels were declared as containing litter bins, clothes or household products. Wan said that most of the cases recorded last month were detected after receiving information from logistics companies. Customs officers at the airport's airmail centre seized more than 10 tonnes between December 2011 and January last year and smashed a major syndicate. Wan said counterfeiters usually laid low after a seizure then came back with new tactics to evade detection. "It's just a game of cat and mouse," he said.

British former PM Thatcher dies after stroke (By Xinhua) British former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has died at the age of 87 after suffering a stroke, her spokesman announced Monday. The spokesman Lord Bell said: "It is with great sadness that Mark and Carol Thatcher announced that their mother Baroness Thatcher died peacefully following a stroke this morning." Baroness Thatcher was Conservative prime minister from 1979 to 1990. She was the first woman to hold the post, renowned for the nickname of "Iron Lady" worldwide. Learning her death, British Prime Minister David Cameron expressed "great sadness," adding that "we have lost a great leader, a great prime minister and a great Briton." A further statement will be made later, according to the spokesman.

 China*:  April 10 2013

China vows further cooperation with IMF (By Xinhua) China's President Xi Jinping speaks during a meeting with International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde during the annual Boao Forum for Asia conference in Boao town, Hainan province, April 8, 2013. Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday said countries need to enhance coordination on macroeconomic policies while focusing on development issues amid lingering economic uncertainty. Xi made the remarks while meeting with Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, during the ongoing Boao Forum for Asia annual meeting. Xi called all countries to strengthen coordination on macroeconomic policies in order to sustain growth, maintain stability and promote employment. "All countries should work together in times of difficulty and seek win-win results through cooperation at a time when the world economy is experiencing turbulence and volatility," Xi said. The president stressed the importance of developing issues in order to help developing countries to eliminate poverty and realize sustainable development. Xi also urged focusing on pressing issues facing the world economy, advising relevant countries to strike the proper balance between current and long-term interests as well as national policies and international responsibilities. To boost emerging and developing countries' contributions to global economic recovery and growth, Xi expressed his hope that the IMF will improve its governance structure to increase the votes of these countries. Xi said China will continue to work with the IMF to support and promote reform within the organization. China plays a crucial role in the world economy, as it has maintained rapid growth momentum, Lagarde said. She also said the IMF attaches great importance to China and expects further cooperation. She said that against a backdrop of volatile economic recovery, all countries and regions should promote economic growth. She added that international coordination and cooperation are also needed. The Boao Forum for Asia annual meeting is being held from April 6-8 in Boao, a coastal town in China's southern island province of Hainan.

Thatcher 'helped push ties with China' (By Qin Zhongwei and Pu Zhendong in Beijing, Zhang Chunyan in London and Andrea Deng in Hong Kong) Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping met with then-British prime minister Margaret Thatcher in Beijing on Sept 24, 1982. Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady of British politics who died on Monday at 87, played a key role in China's relationship with the United Kingdom, especially in the peaceful handover of Hong Kong, experts said. Britain's first and only female prime minister, Thatcher died peacefully at the age of 87 after suffering a stroke, her family announced. She governed Britain from 1979 to 1990. "Margaret Thatcher played an important role in the development of UK-China relations. During the discussions over the handover of Hong Kong in the early 1980s, she came to recognize that it was important that the transition from British to Chinese rule should be smooth, and the diplomatic process was positive and productive as a result," said Rana Mitter, professor of Modern China at Oxford University. "Although she was always determined to stand up for what she regarded as British national interests, she also understood the importance of pragmatism, and of good relations with China," Mitter said. Tian Dewen, an expert on European studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Thatcher realized the importance of a rising China. "Her visit to China and her decision to promote bilateral ties on economy and trade demonstrated to the Western world the necessity to communicate with China during the Cold War period, and Sino-UK relations have been on good terms since then," Tian said. "She called for dialogue instead of confrontation with China in resolving the Hong Kong question, showing her vision as an outstanding politician," he said. She was active in engaging with China and including it in the world system, which helped create a favorable international environment at a key period of China's reforms, he said. Feng Zhongping, an expert on European issues at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said Thatcher was a realist in terms of Sino-British ties. "Thatcher was very willing to develop relations with China," Feng said. "She had some concerns on settling the Hong Kong question at first, but after she visited China and talked to Deng Xiaoping, she changed her mind to facilitate a historic joint declaration between the two governments," Feng said. Thatcher visited China four times, the first in 1977 as leader of the opposition. During her subsequent visit in 1982, the first to China by a serving British prime minister, she met Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping and discussed the future of Hong Kong. Cheung Chi-kong, executive director of the One Country Two Systems Research Institute in Hong Kong, said Margaret Thatcher might have made a wrong judgment from day one — when she decided to negotiate with Beijing. She had underestimated China's persistence in sovereignty and national dignity, Cheung said. Beijing was determined to resume sovereignty over Hong Kong, Cheung said. After two years of negotiations, China and Britain released the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984, paving the way for Hong Kong's handover in 1997. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping (4th R) meets with a delegation headed by Vincent C. Siew (rear L), honorary chairman of the Taiwan-based Cross-Straits Common Market Foundation, in Boao, south China's Hainan Province, April 8, 2013. 

Xi meets with world political leaders on sidelines of Boao Forum - Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with political leaders from foreign countries on the sidelines of Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference 2013 in Boao, April 7, 2013.

Hong Kong*:  April 9 2013

Myanmar's poor infrastructure holds it back but Hong Kong firms see opportunities (By Charlotte So Deficiencies in infrastructure are holding back progress in realising the country's huge potential, but they're also golden opportunities - Myanmar's backward infrastructure threatens to create a bottleneck, holding back the country's rapid development. But for Hong Kong companies fresh from helping transform mainland China over the past 30 years, it adds up to opportunity. The 320-kilometre bus ride from the commercial centre of Yangon to Naypyidaw, the new capital carved out of the jungle by the junta in the past decade, takes 6-1/2 hours. But traffic jams are not to blame for the slow pace. On the contrary, traffic is only seen occasionally on the main route between the old and new capitals. Rather, substandard construction techniques are to blame for the slow, sometimes bumpy ride. "The road surface is the result of the uneven settlement of the building material and substandard construction skills," says Kuok Hoi-sang, vice-chairman and managing director of Chevalier Group, a Hong Kong-based international company with interests in Myanmar, including in construction. Naypyidaw is an oversized city with a handful of hotel resorts sitting alongside an eight-lane main road. The absence of traffic makes the road look even wider, and provides a stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of pedestrians and vehicles in Yangon. The sizeable hotels of Naypyidaw look beautiful from the outside - but take a closer look and you will discover a very primitive interior design, echoing the lack of building technique in the country, Kuok says. The military government relocated the administration from Yangon to Naypyidaw overnight in 2005, reportedly in an attempt to strengthen its control over the country, taking advantage of the new capital's central yet isolated location. It's not just the construction that is shoddy in Myanmar. A delegation from the Hong Kong Trade Development Council discovered first-hand the unreliability of the power supply when the lights went out on their first night in a five-star hotel in Yangon last month. Telecom services are also a headache for foreign visitors. Wi-fi internet service is limited to the five-star hotels in Yangon, leaving business travellers cut off from the world and their e-mail accounts for much of their trip. For some Hong Kong businesspeople, the state of Yangon and Naypyidaw is a reminder of their visits to Shenzhen in the early 1980s and Ho Chi Minh City in the 1990s "Having said that, Myanmar is in a better shape than Vietnam in terms of legal system, as Myanmar is practising the British legal system," Kuok says. People in Myanmar also seem more peaceful and compliant than the Vietnamese, he says. Dr Joseph Chow Ming-kuen, independent non-executive director of Hong Kong-based Road King Infrastructure, says the railway network in Myanmar is underdeveloped, given the population of 60 million and the large size of the country. "People in Myanmar prefer taking aeroplanes, even for journeys of less than several hundred kilometres, reflecting the backward development of toll roads or railways," Chow says. There would be great potential for Hong Kong's MTR Corporation to explore the railway market in Myanmar, he says. As for the power problem, Chow says Hongkong Electric is poised to invest in Myanmar. "Myanmar is rich in natural gas resources, which could be used for recouping the initial losses in power plants and grid construction," he says. Power Assets, the parent company of Hongkong Electric, said it was looking at many investment opportunities aboard. For Hong Kong companies of small to medium size, which lack government backing to help them compete with their Japanese and Korean rivals, Chow suggests that they bolster their chances by forming a consortium comprised of all the related professionals, from lawyers, accountants, bankers and architect to contractors and construction companies. "We could form a company, dubbed Hong Kong Inc, to leverage the expertise from every level, ranging from funding, legal advice to construction of the project," Chow says. And the Hong Kong government and the Trade Development Council should negotiate with the Myanmese government on its behalf, he says. However, architect Cheung Kwong-wing, director of Dennis Lau & Ng Chun Man Architects & Engineers (HK), is doubtful about the returns on infrastructure projects in Myanmar. He points to the charge levied for driving the 320-kilometre toll road between Yangon and Naypyidaw, which at US$10 per coach, or less than three US cents per kilometre, is far below the level charged in mainland China. Cheung says residential or hotel property and trade-related facilities such as logistics service centres and convention centres would have a better chance of paying their way. Kuok agrees that property development has great potential in Yangon. He is looking for a local partner to develop some upmarket residential projects with fewer than 100 flats in the city. The prices of flats at a newly built low-rise apartment building on the main road in Yangon are between US$120,000 and US$150,000. The area of the flats is 1,000 square feet, giving a price per square foot of between HK$936 and HK$1,170. "It is very promising," says Kuok, who estimates it costs about HK$700 per square foot to build such flats. Architecture, construction and building service companies in Hong Kong are in the process of diversifying their portfolios away from mainland China, since the cooling measures by Beijing have put some property projects there on hold. "We have to prepare for worse when things still look pleasant," Cheung says. Myanmar is a market with great opportunities compared with other countries in Southeast Asia, which are more mature and sophisticated and have less room for Hong Kong professionals, he says. A lack of urban planning, poor road-junction management and a shortage of roads, flyovers and tunnels in Yangon have fuelled traffic jams in the city, which is creating a drag on the economic growth of the country. "Myanmar is developing rapidly but the infrastructure facilities there fall short of demand and will curb its growth to a certain degree," says Otto Poon, chairman of Analogue Holdings, a Hong Kong building services company.

Elsie Leung warns against 'stupid' votes in 2017 chief executive race (By Joshua But and Stuart Lau) Ex-justice secretary thinks universal suffrage can be perfected after 2017. If Hongkongers are "stupid enough" to vote for a chief executive candidate who does not meet Beijing's criteria of "loving the country and loving Hong Kong", they should not blame Beijing for the consequences, former justice secretary Elsie Leung Oi-sie says. However, the veteran Beijing loyalist thinks such a vote unlikely. "Why would Hongkongers vote for someone [who does not fulfil the criteria]? If we are stupid enough to do so … something against common sense, we shall not blame the central government for the consequences," she said yesterday. "I believe doing so will just do harm to ourselves." She also said that achieving a perfect form of universal suffrage for the 2017 chief executive election would not be possible, nor would the vote mark the end of the city's political reforms. Leung, vice-chairwoman of the Basic Law Committee of the National People's Congress, urged those involved in the electoral reform debate to be peaceful and rational. "Democracy cannot be done overnight," she said on a Commercial Radio programme. "It is impossible for universal suffrage in 2017 to be perfect, but it does not mean it cannot be accepted. A vote for each Hongkonger in the chief executive poll is a step forward we should take." Leung also shed light on the possibility of further electoral reforms after 2017. "Like many other countries, the political system will not remain in the same stage forever. We can have universal suffrage in 2017, but it is not the final destination [for political reform]," she said. Leung said the criteria for the city's chief executive - which include not confronting the central government - set out by Qiao Xiaoyang , chairman of the NPC Law Committee last month were not new. She added that it was too early to judge whether whatever electoral reforms were proposed would violate the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. "There are age restrictions, for example, for chief executive candidates. The point is that these restrictions cannot be unreasonable," she said. Joseph Cheng Yu-shek, convenor of the Alliance for True Democracy, said Leung's remarks showed a lack of trust in Hongkongers. "[Her message] is clear, that you are stupid and I will fix everything for you. Isn't this a humiliation to the seven million Hongkongers?" Cheng said. Hongkongers were rational and trustworthy, he said, and would elect a chief executive who works for their interests. Cheng insisted that no primary election or vetting would be acceptable in the 2017 race. Civic Party leader Alan Leong Kah-kit also questioned Leung's view that 2017 need not be the end point in the development of universal suffrage. "It can be a starting point only in the sense that it already complies with the internationally recognised 'universal and equal suffrage' principles," Leong said.

Hong Kong workers rate job security higher than pay when joining a firm (By Lana Lam 65pc of 4,000 people polled say this is top reason for choosing to join a company - Most Hong Kong employees care more about long-term job security than pay or promotions when choosing to work for a new company, according to a new survey. Hong Kong was the only Asian city to rank job security higher than pay, with 65 per cent of about 4,000 employees making it the top factor when assessing a possible new role, recruitment and human resources firm Randstad found in its global survey. "Interestingly, Hong Kong was the only place in Asia where employees most frequently put long-term job security ahead of salary as the prime reason for joining a particular company," said Brien Keegan, director of Randstad Hong Kong. "Employers need to take heed of this when looking to recruit, as the commonly held belief that employees, in Hong Kong at least, are just interested in money has proven untrue." The survey sought to find out how attractive the city's 75 largest companies, based on staff size, were as potential employers. Salary was the second most important factor (63 per cent), followed by a pleasant working environment (53 per cent). Having a good work-life balance (45 per cent) and opportunities for promotion (44 per cent) rounded out the top five factors. More than two-fifths of Hong Kong employees, or 42 per cent, said location was important. Other factors included a firm's good financial health, interesting work and training. Men said they preferred firms with career opportunities, quality products and services, good training and strong management, while women wanted more job security, accessibility and a pleasant atmosphere. "This shows firms must consider broad factors when making decisions on how to stand out as a sought-out employer," Keegan said.

Feathers fly as annual pillow fight goes off in Central (By Lana Lam Hundreds of pyjama-clad fighters gathered at Chater Garden in Central yesterday for a massive pillow fight. An afternoon of sun welcomed the 400 or so participants at the annual event, which takes place around the world on the first Saturday of April. "It was perfect pillow-carnage weather," said Tom Grundy, 30, who has organised the event for the past three years. "It's quite refreshing seeing people get together for a reason that's not a protest. It's just so easy to grab a pillow and join in." The police were notified of the event the day before. No official approval was given. "It's spontaneous," Grundy said. No one was injured during the hour-long fight and everyone helped clean up. Many people came dressed in costumes. "So there was a Winnie-the-Pooh fighting Spiderman, which was pretty funny to see," Grundy said. 

 China*:  April 9 2013

China looking at direct yuan trade with aussie dollar (By Sophie Yu Yuan move would lower transaction costs, deepen ties with vital commodities supplier - Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard (second left) speaks during a meeting with China's President Xi Jinping (second right) on the sidelines of the Boao Forum. China may soon allow its currency to trade directly with the Australian dollar, according to officials from the central bank and a top government think tank. The official at the People's Bank of China, who did not want to be identified, said moves were afoot to allow direct trade settlement between Australia and China, rather than through the US dollar, lowering transaction costs. He said the possibility was under discussion at the Boao Forum, on Hainan, but refused to provide a time frame. There has been speculation that direct offshore trade settlement is high on Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard's agenda on her current trip to China. Zhang Ming, a deputy director of the Department of International Finance at the Institute of World Economics and Politics of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the two governments might move in that direction "quite soon". Zhang said direct trading would promote internationalisation of the yuan and boost its circulation. "It will make yuan more attractive overseas," he said. Xiang Songzuo, deputy chief of the Institute of International Currency at the People's University, also said Beijing has been weighing the idea for some time and although he would not guess when the policy will be formally announced, said: "It could be quite soon." Direct settlement will allow the two currencies to sidestep the US dollar as a means of exchange, lowering exchange-rate risks for traders in addition to reducing transaction costs. It will also help the two countries cement financial ties. China is Australia's No 1 trading partner. In January, Australia imported goods worth A$3.8 billion (HK$30.6 billion) from China, and its exports to China amounted to A$6.2 billion - nearly a third of its total exports. Beijing says it wants about a third of its foreign trade settled in yuan by 2015. China already allows direct trading between its currency and that of Japan, one of its biggest trading partners. Another person with knowledge of the matter, who also declined to be named, said Beijing will appoint around 10 banks as market makers for yuan-aussie trades, including several major Chinese banks and counterparts from Australia and elsewhere. Zhang said the move would not affect the value of the Australian dollar and should have no impact on Hong Kong investors in the currency.

Most charming parts of celebrities - Take a look at the photo collection of the most beautiful celebrities. Which parts of them is your favorite?

Traffic policewomen in China's Sichuan - Traffic policewomen are seen on duty in Neijiang City, southwest China's Sichuan Province, April 2, 2013.

California Governor Jerry Brown looks to sell China on his state (By Reuters in Los Angeles) California Governor Jerry Brown said on Saturday he was aiming for a big win as he sets off for China to pitch the Golden State’s wine, produce and technology and open a trade office in Shanghai. Chinese consumers have “hundreds of billions in savings”, Brown said in an interview, saying he was determined to persuade at least some of them to spend it by purchasing goods from California and investing in the state’s businesses. The foreign trade and investment office would be California’s first such effort in China since 2004, when the state abruptly shut down such operations in a dozen countries. At the time, California was deep in a budget crisis brought on by the dot-com bust of the early 2000s. Then-governor Gray Davis closed the offices to save the state US$6 million a year. The new trade office, Brown said, would not be publicly funded. “This one is going to be paid for privately and operated privately,” he said. “It’s going to be shaped by business.” Brown is bringing about 75 business leaders with him on the trip, along with numerous members of his staff and his wife, businesswoman and attorney Anne Gust Brown. He plans to make stops in a number of cities during the six-day tour, including Beijing, Nanjing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. The tour is the second stage in the governor’s efforts to develop commercial ties with China. Last year, Chinese leader Xi Jimping, then China’s vice-president and now its president, visited California. The two leaders discussed setting up a joint task force on commercial development. Brown said he looked forward to seeing the tremendous changes that have taken place in China since the last time he visited, during his first stint as California’s governor, in 1977. “I can see Chinese manufacturing here,” Brown said. “How we pull that off with all our regulations and tax issues I don’t know. But I take a very individual view.” He’s less interested, Brown said, of looking into concerns about conditions or other issues with factories that are actually in China. He’s looking to convince the Chinese to send their money here. “I’m not looking to find cheap factories to make goods to sell back to California – I’m looking to sell them,” Brown said. “I want their surplus to go into building California goods, and I want their surplus to go into building factories and other investments in California.”

Xi calls for zero tolerance of any troublemakers in Asia (By Agence France-Presse in Boao) Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Sunday that Asia faced “new challenges” to its stability and warned no one could be allowed to throw the region into chaos as tensions mounted over North Korea. Xi, delivering a speech at an annual international forum on the southern Chinese island of Hainan, did not mention the crisis on the Korean Peninsula or China’s territorial disputes with Japan and Southeast Asian nations. But he said there should be no tolerance for those who foster “chaos for selfish gains”. Tensions have soared in recent weeks with North Korea threatening nuclear war after the United Nations imposed fresh sanctions over its latest atomic test and the US and South Korea launched war games. “We need to make concerted efforts to resolve major difficulties to ensure stability in Asia,” Xi said. “Stability in Asia now faces new challenges as hot spot issues keep emerging and both traditional and non-traditional security threats exist,” he added. China has traditionally been North Korea’s closest political ally since they fought together in the 1950-1953 Korean War and is Pyongyang’s biggest trading partner. Speaking more broadly, Xi called on the international community to push for a “vision of comprehensive security, common security and cooperative security”. Xi said that was necessary so the world could become a stage for the pursuit of “common development”, as opposed to one “where gladiators fight each other”. “And no one should be allowed to throw a region, even the whole world, into chaos for selfish gains,” he added. It was Xi’s first attendance at the Boao Forum for Asia since becoming China’s president last month. He took over as head of the ruling Communist Party in November and now holds the country’s two most powerful positions. The three-day gathering has brought together leaders in government, business and academia in Asia and other continents every year since 2001 to discuss pressing issues in the region and the rest of the world. Among political and financial leaders at this year’s event are Myanmar President Thein Sein, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde and Yasuo Fukuda, a former Japanese prime minister. Fukuda is chairman of the forum, touted as an Asian version of the World Economic Forum (WEF), which draws global leaders to its annual meeting in the Swiss ski resort of Davos. The WEF also holds a separate annual forum in China.

Hong Kong*:  April 8 2013

Hong Kong on standby as new bird flu cases revealed in Shanghai (By Daniel Ren in Shanghai, He Huifeng in Nanjing and Johnny Tam) Government says it cannot rule out possibility of outbreak in city; Shanghai confirms two new H7N9 cases and Nanjing bans live poultry sales - Shanghai confirmed two more cases of H7N9 bird flu yesterday, while Nanjing become the second mainland city to ban live poultry sales. The latest cases in Shanghai brought the total number of confirmed H7N9 cases across the nation to 18 - eight in Shanghai, six in Jiangsu, three in Zhejiang and one in Anhui. Four patients in Shanghai and two in Zhejiang have died. The government provided few details about the two new patients in Shanghai, aged 74 and 66, and did not say whether they had been in contact with poultry. Hong Kong's government said it could not rule out the possibility of an outbreak in the city. Local governments in the Yangtze river delta stepped up efforts to contain the virus as it was found in more live poultry. Authorities in Nanjing, the Jiangsu capital, closed all wholesale markets at dawn yesterday. All remaining live poultry was culled in Shanghai after 20,000 birds were killed on Friday. In Hangzhou, authorities closed a farmers' market after the virus was detected in live quails. One of the current patients had eaten quail sold there. The National Health and Family Planning Commission said the cases so far were isolated and there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission. The China Food and Drug Administration fast-tracked approval for the intravenous anti-influenza drug Peramivir. Mao Qunan, director of the China Health Education Centre, said on the sidelines of the Boao Forum for Asia in Hainan that although there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission, the possibility should not be ruled out. Leaders including President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang promised transparency in reporting of the virus. The Hong Kong government said precautions were in place to cope with an outbreak. Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man said yesterday: "We have to be prepared that H7N9, no matter if it's in poultry or humans, may appear in Hong Kong. The possibility can't be excluded." Ko said the Hospital Authority could handle a reasonably large- scale outbreak and had 1,400 isolation beds available - in line with the government's strategy to identify and isolate suspected sufferers early. Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said the city had sufficient "disease prevention supplies" and there was "no need for panic buying". About 30 pupils from Sheung Shui Wai Chow Public School left for Shanghai yesterday for a scheduled four-day study tour. School principal Chan Siu-hung said the tour was planned three months ago and could not be cancelled. But in light of the bird flu outbreak, they would cancel visits to crowded places. In Nanjing, residents posted pictures of dozens of dead sparrows found on Friday, which circulated widely online.

High-spending charities in the firing line (Hong Kong Standard) Some charitable organizations use almost as much money on paying their staff as on charitable work. But the chairman of the charities sub-committee in the Law Reform Commission said it will be difficult to set a percentage limit on how much of a charity's revenue should be spent on administrative costs. Questions arose when it was found that the Save the Children Fund, which set up a branch in Hong Kong in 2009, spent HK$18.5 million of the HK$39 million it raised in 2011 on administrative costs. The Law Reform Commission earlier recommended establishing a charities commission to take charge of the registration and regulation of charitable organizations in Hong Kong. Bernard Charnwut Chan, chairman of the charities sub- committee of the Law Reform Commission, said while he understands public concern over high administrative fees, it is hard to set a limit as there is no objective standard. "While the services of some organizations are mainly people- oriented in that they have high labor costs, some do not need to hire many people as their costs are low," Chan said. He added that some organizations are international and part of the administrative fees are shared by their headquarters abroad. The Law Reform Commission received more than 200 submissions during consultation and most said there is a need to raise transparency. But the welfare sector feared that setting up a charity commission would only complicate matters. Watoto, an international charity organization that helps African children, had to borrow offices from which to work when it moved into Hong Kong in 2008. Later it received sponsorship and moved into an industrial unit in Kwun Tong at low rent. Its revenue last year was more than HK$13 million and administrative costs were about HK$1.4 million. Sunny Cheng, country director of Watoto Asia, said it cut its administrative costs by reducing advertisements and increasing the use of street booths and its website for promotion.

Hong Kong Want better kids? Teach them to do the housework (By Winnie Chong) Some children as old as 12 are unable to bathe and dress themselves, according to a recent survey of 500 parents. It found that 76percent of kids between four and 12, cannot change themselves, and 61 percent are unable to bathe alone. Furthermore, 57percent cannot tidy up their rooms, 42percent are unable to eat without supervision, and 35percent fail to do their homework independently. But while 13percent said their children are relatively lazy when it comes to housework, 10percent said it is because doing housework is relatively dangerous, and 9 percent said children should focus on studying. However, 35percent of parents agree that doing housework may cultivate a sense of responsibility in children, with 17percent saying it will enhance concentration as well as help the youngsters learn to take care of themselves. To encourage children to do housework, 37percent of parents said they often use money as an incentive. Thirty-five percent buy gifts, and only 15percent issue instructions. Nine percent share the housework with their children, but only 6percent express their gratitude for help received. Gemini Cheung Ming-lai, a child and educational psychologist, said children will become dependent on others and lack responsibility if they do not do any housework. "It will also adversely affect their social lives in the future, as other people may not take care of them," Cheung said. She advises parents to change their perceptions and to see doing the housework as important as studying for children. She also warns parents against using monetary or materialistic rewards to encourage youngsters to do housework. "It will not cultivate their sense of responsibility," Cheung said. Parents should set housework timetables for their children, and praise them in order to build a sense of satisfaction. Separately, in Taiwan, an eight-year-old girl complained to police that she was "abused" by her father when he bought her a cup noodle that she did not like from a local shop. On April 1, the girl asked her father to purchase a seafood cup noodle for dinner, but her father purchased a mutton-flavored product instead. When her father scolded her, she called the police, reporting that she was "abused" by her father.

Bankcomm, HSBC partner on cross-border RMB business (By China Daily) Bank of Communications Co, Ltd (Bankcomm) announced on Wednesday it has signed a memorandum with its strategic partner, the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited (HSBC), to consolidate mutual cooperation on cross-border renminbi business. According to the memorandum, the banks will cooperate on cross-border RMB business, including trade finance, remittance, lending, offshore investment and finance, asset custody and fund management, retail banking, cash management and capital markets business. More efforts will be made to facilitate information exchanges between Bankcomm and HSBC to improve competence for both parties. The strengthened cross-boarder RMB-related cooperation between Chinese and foreign banks comes in line with the accelerating internationalization of the yuan in recent years. Bankcomm, China's fifth largest lender by market value, has also appointed Ng Siu On, a seasoned banker with international banking expertise at HSBC, as a HSBC-Bankcomm strategic cooperation consultant. He joins Bankcomm's senior management team. The two banks also vowed to continue to collaborate closely in supporting Chinese enterprises to go global, credit cards, international trade financing, custody and fund distribution.0 HSBC owns a 19.9 percent stake in Bankcomm.

 China*:  April 8 2013

Xisha Islands to open to tourism before May (By Xinhua) China is scheduled to let tourists visit the Xisha Islands in the South China Sea ahead of the forthcoming May Day holiday, said Tan Li, executive vice governor of the southern-most province of Hainan, on Saturday. People will be allowed to visit the islands on cruise tours, said Tan at the 2013 Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference, which will open on Sunday. Details on the tour routes, capacity of tourist reception and cruise ships will be released on a later date, he said. The Xisha Islands are a cluster of close to 40 islets, sandbanks and reefs. Tourists will eat and sleep on the cruise ships and can land on the islands for sightseeing, the official said. Cruise tours are the choice as hotels and other facilities to accommodate tourists are inadequate, he said. There is only one hotel with 56 rooms in the 2.13-square-kilometer Yongxing Island, the largest island among the Xisha Islands group and home to the government offices of Sansha city. In addition, there is no fresh water and all supplies have to be transported from outside. The city was established last summer to administer more than 200 islets, sandbanks and reefs in the Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha islands and 2 million square kilometers of surrounding waters. A cruise ship with a gross registered tonnage of 47,000 tons that can accommodate 1,965 passengers is ready for sailing, according to the ship owner Haihang Group Corp Ltd. Hainan Harbor and Shipping Holdings Co is building another one. "The tour prices will be relatively high due to the high costs of tourism infrastructure construction," said Huang Huaru, general manager of a tourism agency in Hainan. However, experts said Sansha could only receive a small number of visitors provided the fragile environment there. The founding of Sansha City will improve China's management of the region and help coordinate efforts to develop the islands and protect the marine environment, said Zhao Zhongshe, director of the Hainan Provincial Department of Ocean and Fisheries. Tan said local authorities will build more supply ships, ports as well as water supply and sewage treatment facilities to improve infrastructure in Sansha. Meanwhile, authorities will also beef up ecological protection to protect island and marine resources and preserve the local biodiversity, he said.

Japan stimulus will start currency war, say Chinese economists (By Ray Chan Plan to buy bonds will open liquidity floodgates and spells doom for other nations, observers say - The Bank of Japan will double its monetary base to 270 trillion yen (HK$22.1 trillion) by March 2015. Many of China's top economists are livid at what they view as an effective currency devaluation by Japan and are calling on the People's Bank of China to retaliate by weakening the yuan to defend itself in what they see as a new currency war. These economists, including Tsinghua University professor Li Daokui and ANZ Bank's Liu Ligang, see Japan's plan to double its monetary base within two years as "blackmail" and have criticised the Japanese central bank's decision to open the liquidity floodgates to bump up the economy. Liu said Japan's unprecedented easing programme, aimed at ending more than two decades of deflation, was "a monetary blackmail" targeted at other export-driven Asian countries such as China and that the central bank should sell more yuan and buy the US dollar to push down the yuan. He also called on authorities to guard against a fresh wave of hot money into China's fragile financial markets, warning that Japan's move would reignite the so-called carry trade, under which investors borrow in low-interest yen and invest in high- interest markets. "The massive monetary stimulus by the Japanese central bank could spell doom for other nations in the region," said Tsinghua's Li, a former adviser to the People's Bank of China. "China could accelerate the freeing up of its capital account by boosting outbound investment in overseas equities markets, which could be an effective way of coping with the latest round of the global currency war." Under a plan announced on Thursday, the Bank of Japan (BoJ) will double its monetary base to 270 trillion yen (HK$22.1 trillion) by March 2015 by purchasing 7.5 trillion yen of government bonds every month. Haruhiko Kuroda, the newly appointed BoJ governor, has vowed to do whatever it needs to break Japan's deflationary slump, but the extent of the latest monetary boost came as a surprise, beating all estimates. "What Japan is doing is actually quite dangerous because they are doing it after 25 years of just simply accumulating deficits and not getting the economy going," billionaire investor George Soros said on CNBC. Soros, who has made almost US$1 billion since November from bets that the yen would tumble, added: "If the yen starts to fall, which it has done, and people in Japan realise that it is liable to continue, and want to put their money abroad, then the fall may become like an avalanche." The dollar has gone up more than 12 per cent against the Japanese yen this year. The yen sank to a three-and-a-half year low against the dollar yesterday following the new measure. Chang Jian, a China economist at Barclays, forecast the aggressive easing policy might not do much to boost Japan's economy and inflation, adding that the measure would hurt Korea's exports more than China's.

Chinese President meets with his Mexican counterpart in Sanya (by Xinhua) Chinese President Xi Jinping (2nd R) and his wife Peng Liyuan (1st R), together with visiting Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto (2nd L) and his wife Angelica Rivera, pose for a photo in Sanya, south China's Hainan Province, April 6, 2013. Xi on Saturday held talks with his Mexican counterpart Pena Nieto in Sanya. Pena Nieto is paying a state visit to China. He will also attend this year's Boao Forum for Asia, which will open on Sunday in Hainan. 

China 'more transparent' in handling epidemics (by Xinhua) Experts have praised China for its increased transparency in handling public health incidents, after the emergence of the lesser-known H7N9 bird flu, which has killed six people since the deadly strain was exposed a week ago. The Chinese government has been credited with timely releases of information about the H7N9 bird flu, whereas in 2003, authorities were criticized for initially trying to cover up an epidemic of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) which claimed the lives of several hundred people on the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan. "China has learned a lesson from the past in dealing with public health emergencies," said Prof Wang Yukai of the Chinese Academy of Governance. "The government's response to the disease is completely different from 10 years ago, when information disclosure systems were not established." The reported 16 human infections, all in East China's Yangtze River Delta, have touched a raw nerve in society, but there has not been excessive panic. Information about H7N9 was made public by the National Health and Family Planning Commission the day after the first infection was confirmed on March 30, though the determination process took days. Since then, the commission has kept updating information on new infections on its official website, detailing the patients' ages, location and medical measures adopted. It has also given the public tips on prevention. "Over the past decade, the Chinese government has formulated a series of plans for handling infectious diseases and food safety incidents," according to Wang. A regulation for dealing with public health emergencies came out in May 2003, when the country was at a critical stage in combating SARS. It led to the promulgation of China's Emergency Handling Law in August 2007. Moreover, a regulation concerning government information disclosure took effect in 2008, requiring the government to be more transparent in releasing information, Wang noted. "The government drew lessons from the handling of SARS," said Ma Huaide, vice-president of the China University of Political Science and Law. If the government covers up epidemic information, rumors will spread quickly, which is not conducive to social stability and epidemic control, Ma said. The government's increased urgency in making timely releases of information following public health incidents has also been attributed by experts to the increasing awareness of the public and their demand for the rights of knowledge, expression and supervision. The Internet has also sped up the spread of information.

Chinese president meets with Myanmar counterpart (By Xinhua) Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) shakes hands with Myanmar's President U Thein Sein during a welcoming ceremony held by President Xi Jinping for President U Thein Sein in Sanya, South China's Hainan province, April 5, 2013. 

BOAO sub-forum debates China's innovation (By Xinhua) Hainan - Economists and entrepreneurs attending a sub-forum of the 2013 Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference have discussed how Chinese firms, faced with rising costs and shrinking returns, must innovate to survive the global economic slowdown. But the country's longstanding weakness in innovation remains the most pressing issue facing Chinese society, they acknowledged, at a sub-forum ahead of the opening of the annual conference in South China's Hainan province. The question is, why? At this sub-forum, senior economists more accustomed to the role of instructors turned their ears to what enterprises have to say. Edmund Phelps and Ronald Coase, both Nobel Prize winners for economics, and Chinese economist Zhang Weiying were among those taking part in the event on Friday. Coase, who was not present at the scene, sent a question to the event, asking about Chinese entrepreneurs' views of the evaluation that China lagged behind its Western counterparts in technological innovation in both the 18th and 19th century's industrial revolution and what are the reasons behind the restricted innovation? Chen Feng, chairman of Hainan Airlines, said the current situation in China is different from during the Industrial Revolution, when European countries and the United States rose to dominate the world by dint of technical and institutional innovation. Yet three decades since the reform and opening-up policy rejuvenated China's innovation process, it is still impeded by the country's historical burdens, huge population and economic backwardness, Chen said. "Over the past three decades we have made a remarkable progress in innovation, but don't forget the fact that we are still in the primary stage of socialism," Chen said. Chen believes it will take time for innovation-friendly mechanism and culture and a group of talents capable of innovating to be nurtured in China, which will aid its rise to a heavyweight in innovation. Although efforts by entrepreneurs like Chen have taken China far from its sweatshop image in recent decades, industrial giants are conscious of the uneven road ahead, with many such operations lacking pedigree in innovation as well as capital support. The main results of China's industrialization were not breakthroughs in technology but environmental constraints and overcapacity brought by unlimited exploration, Xu Lejiang, CEO of Shanghai-based Baosteel Group, said at the forum. Innovations have not been effectively encouraged in this environment, he added. However, Hu Zuliu, CEO of investment firm Primavera Capital Group, said there is "no need to reinvent the wheel." Considering China's current situation, according to Hu, it will be enough for its businesses to merely put twists on existing technology, rather than come up with independent innovations. "Chinese enterprises can draw lessons from Western counterparts' experiences and technological advancement," he said. Edmund Phelps seemed to disagree, saying innovation means to stand up to be different, to leave one's own mark, not to simply imitate to secure recognition. The three-day Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference started on Saturday in Boao, a scenic town in southernmost China's island province of Hainan. It adopted the theme of "Asia Seeking Development for All: Restructuring, Responsibility and Cooperation."

Hong Kong*:  April 7 2013

Hong Kong tightens surveillance on bird flu risk areas (By Amy Nip and Stuart Lau) Authorities keep closer eye on people and poultry coming into city, while speeding up testing processes as cases mount across the border - Food and Environmental Hygiene Department workers clean a chicken stall at Bowrington Road Market, Wan Chai. The government will step up surveillance of travellers and poultry in the face of a worsening outbreak of the fatal H7N9 bird flu virus on the mainland. Authorities will intensify the monitoring of poultry supply, including inspecting local chicken farms, wholesale and retail markets. There will be more patrols, testing of samples and cleaning at the sites, Secretary for Food and Health Ko Wing-man said yesterday after a cross-department meeting. During the next few days, preparations will be made to reduce the testing time needed to identify the H7N9 virus from a few days to 24 hours. From next week, officers will also be able to carry out the speedier tests on live chickens at the Man Kam To control point. Should any poultry be found to be infected, importing of mainland poultry would stop and local birds would be culled. During the past three years, no poultry or wild birds have been detected with the virus. "Eastern China [where the virus broke out] does not export poultry products to Hong Kong," Ko said, adding that the city's imports come from Guangdong and Hainan provinces. To assist identification of human cases, an additional 40 people will be sent to border points today to carry out temperature checks using hand-held devices. Despite the flu's high mortality rate - six people out of 16 infected have died - the government gave an assurance that Tamiflu was an effective treatment. Centre for Health Protection controller Dr Leung Ting-hung said there were 17 million doses of the flu drug in the city. People going to areas affected by the flu outbreak have been advised not to touch or eat wild animals and not to visit zoos or wet markets. Liu Shao-haei, the Hospital Authority's chief manager of infection, emergency and contingency who led a team of six experts to Shanghai, returned to Hong Kong yesterday. "There is no indication of human-to-human transmission, but we need to collect more information for further research," he said. Those who contracted the H7N9 virus suffered from serious pneumonia, Liu said. "Because it is influenza type A, the initial symptoms are usually related to the respiratory tract," he said. Yesterday, a seven-year-old Hong Kong girl who travelled to Shanghai at the end of March was isolated in Queen Elizabeth Hospital's department of paediatrics with flu-like symptoms and fever. She was given the all-clear, however, after tests. Mainland authorities meanwhile found the H7N9 virus in a sample taken from a pigeon in a Shanghai wholesale market. The strain was very similar to the strain that infected humans. Imports of pigeons to Hong Kong fluctuate and in the past three days varied from 600 to 2,511. A stall selling cooked poultry near the Bowrington Road Market in Wan Chai found sales of baby pigeons slow yesterday.

Hong Kong girl tests negative for H7N9 bird flu virus (By Zhuang Pinghui, Daniel Ren and Amy Nip) Shanghai health authorities cull 20,000 birds amid H7N9 scare - Tests in Hong Kong on the first suspected case of the H7N9 bird flu virus proved negative on Friday night. The Hospital Authority said that a seven-year-old girl who travelled to Shanghai at the end of last month had developed a fever and flu symptoms. She was in quarantine in Queen Elizabeth Hospital’s paediatric department. But officials revealed the tests for the H7N9 strain were negative shortly 8before midnight. The news emerged as it was announced the virus had claimed its sixth victim, a 64-year-old farmer from Huzhou, Zhejiang province. He was confirmed to have the virus on Thursday and died that night. Health officials in Jiangsu said on Friday that two new cases had been confirmed in the provincial capital Nanjing. One was a 61-year-old woman, said to be in a critical condition, and the other a 79-year-old man in a serious condition. The cases take the total number of people confirmed to have been infected in the Yangtze River Delta region to 16. In Shanghai, markets trading in live poultry will be closed 8temporarily and sales of live birds suspended elsewhere, said 8municipal government spokesman Xu Wei . More than 20,000 birds were culled on Friday at the Huhuai Farm Products Market in the city where the H7N9 virus was detected in a pigeon sample on Thursday. Shao Linchu, deputy director of Shanghai’s Agricultural Commission, said: “The government will pay compensation to the vendors of at least 50 per cent of the market price of the poultry slaughtered.” Li Wenqi, a poultry farmer in the city’s Xuhui district, said his business had dropped from 100 chickens a day to zero since the H7N9 outbreak, but he was very willing to comply with the government. “Our business is suffering but people are dying,” he said. “We can only be co-operative. This is not the time to bargain with the government.” In Hong Kong, additional staff will carry out temperature checks at border crossing points, starting today. I think we ought to be prepared, mainly because of the fact that H7N9 up to this moment has created a relatively high mortality rate in infected patients. The outbreak has been ... worsening in the last two to three days in eastern China. Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man said: “I think we ought to be prepared, mainly because of the fact that H7N9 up to this moment has created a relatively high mortality rate in infected patients. Secondly, the outbreak has been extending or worsening in the last two to three days in eastern China.” Dr Cai Haodong, an infectious disease expert at Beijing’s Ditan Hospital, said the high mortality rate of six out of 16 cases could not be compared with the 10 per cent mortality rate of the severe acute respiratory syndrome epidemic 10 years ago because the diseases were caused by different viruses. But he said it was “scary” in its own way. “Sars was contagious, so people were worried about the transmission, whereas the H7N9 flu has not been transmitted from human to human so far – but once you contract it, it is dangerous,” Cai said. The WHO said yesterday there was no sign of a sustained spread of the H7N9 virus. The Hang Seng Index ended down 2.7 per cent at 21,726.9 as outbreak fears sparked a sell-off.

Kai Tak Sports Hub (By Jeanette Wang Sport will play a major role at the redeveloped Kai Tak site. Jeanette Wang asks what wecan look forward to, and what we should avoid - An artist's impression of the planned HK$19 (US$2.4 billion) billion Kai Tak sports hub - When the Beijing Municipal Government invited bids to build the best Olympic swimming venue ever for the 2008 Games, the brief to architects was simple: give us a centre that meets the Olympic criteria for swimming, diving, water polo and synchronised swimming; that would be a popular and well-used leisure and training facility after the Games; and that costs no more than US$100 million. The result, the now-iconic bubble-wrapped facility known officially as the National Aquatics Centre and nicknamed the Water Cube, was much more than the government asked for. The winning consortium's design included an indoor water park with an artificial beach and water rides - features that added about 40 per cent to the size of the building, driving its cost up to US$150 million. "We took a huge risk," says architect John Pauline, one of the project's design leaders, "but if you build just an individual swimming building, it will not have any strong use after the Games, and it certainly won't make any money. So we added Beijing's largest indoor aquatic park to the building, which we knew was going to be the heart and soul once the Olympics had gone." John Pauline of Hassell Architects. Following major renovations, the Water Cube reopened in August 2010 with a new lease on life: it's now used year-round and generates revenue, not only through sports but also cultural and entertainment events. It's doing much better than its neighbour - the National Stadium, or the Bird's Nest - which struggles to fill its 80,000 seats regularly - and is one of many examples of white elephant sporting venues round the world. Pauline, the Hong Kong-based design principal for Hassell Architects, has a similar vision for the planned Kai Tak Multi-purpose Sports Complex. It can't just be a sports complex; it's got to have multi-functionality, mixing sport with retail and even residential aspects, he says. "Getting a real hum of activity merging with sport activity [in the complex] is fundamental," Pauline says. He and his colleagues are helping to design all the sports venues for a city bidding to host the 2020 Olympics. The Kai Tak sports complex, which will take up about 24 hectares of the 320-hectare former airport site in Kowloon East, has been labelled a priority by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. It will provide facilities for the community as well as world-class venues to raise Hong Kong's profile as a centre for international sporting events. Major facilities proposed for the HK$19 billion budget include a 50,000-seat stadium, a 5,000-seat public sports ground, a 4,000-seat indoor centre, office space of at least 10,000 square metres, commercial space of at least 31,500 square metres, and public recreational facilities in a park setting. The Home Affairs Bureau recently invited the private sector to submit non-binding Expressions of Interest (EOI) to obtain feedback on issues including financing, design, construction and operation. The bureau says the response was "encouraging", with 40 submissions from different sectors, including architects, construction companies, sports and entertainment companies, project management companies, banks and consulting firms. Hassell did not submit an EOI, says Pauline, but are in talks with various organisations that could lead the complex's development. Based on the government's proposed plan, Pauline thinks it may be too strongly weighted towards sport and may need more significant commercial space. "I'm not talking about shopping malls, but lots of indoor and outdoor retail as well as restaurants and bars that give people different reasons to go to the site," he says. "One of the difficult things about major sports buildings and big sports hubs like this is that, historically, they're difficult to make financially viable if they're purely sporting buildings. "The success of these types of things is really about mixing different types of functions within the precinct in order to give it some day-to-day life." There are many examples of what Pauline calls "lonely sports buildings" that Hong Kong can learn to avoid. A prime example would be those in his native Sydney that were built to host the 2000 Olympics. Developing the Sydney Olympic Park for residential and commercial use was an afterthought that began in only 2005; only now is the area beginning to "get a hum to it", says Pauline. Athens' Olympic Park, once billed as one of the most complete European athletics complexes, is in a desolate and derelict state, with many purpose-built venues now eerily empty. Many contend the 2004 Olympics played a major role in producing the debt that spurred Greece's economic downfall. The Danish Institute for Sports Studies published a report, World Stadium Index, last year that investigated the use of 75 venues that were built or underwent major renovations to host a major international sporting event. The most successful stadium cited in the report is Atlanta's 50,000-seat Turner Field. Originally built for the 1996 Olympics, it is the home of the major league baseball team and attracted enough spectators to fill the stadium 50 times in 2010. At the other extreme, the 30,000-seat stadium built for the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, attracted only 18,000 spectators in 2010. "In my opinion, I think the London Games have probably done the best case job of stitching major infrastructure into the city," says Pauline. "They've really had a legacy-driven outcome and have delivered." At the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London, major sporting buildings sit next to Westfield Shopping Centre, one of London's biggest new malls; in fact, all spectators at the Games left the venue through the mall. "By putting them together, they begin to feed off each other," Pauline says. "You had this amazing synergy of retail, profit, finance and capitalism alongside the Olympics." One of Pauline's London Olympics projects - the Copper Box, which hosted handball and the fencing event of the modern pentathlon - is now being transformed into a venue with flexible seating capacity and facilities for various community and high-performance indoor sports training and competitions, as well as cultural and business events. That's why design is just one part of the puzzle. Pauline says the key to successful sports venues is its operators, who are responsible for bringing the best sporting, entertainment and cultural events from round the world to the venue. "As long as Hong Kong continues to be a vital and well-used hub in Asia, there's no reason at all why the [complex] can't be utilised from an international operations perspective." Singapore's Sports Hub, slated to be ready by this year, could provide Hong Kong with some inspiration. The 35-hectare waterfront site next to the bustling Marina Bay district will comprise a 55,000-seat national stadium, 3,000-seat Olympic-standard aquatic centre, 3,000-seat multi-purpose indoor arena, a water sports centre, a sports library and museum, sports promenade and community facilities, as well as 41,000 square metres of commercial space for retail, restaurant and entertainment. There are already many things the Kai Tak sports complex has going for it for the future, according to Pauline. First, the area is supported by a good transport network, which does away with the "tyranny of cars" faced by many sports buildings located in the perimeters of cities. Second, there's a "wonderful urban density" around the area that immediately provides an "incredible feed of people". Finally, it's a valuable piece of land in a valuable location that is surrounded by a beautiful skyline. "Very few cities have this opportunity, so they need to do it right," he says. The only possible negative Pauline sees is a segment of the public who may oppose allocating prime land for something they may not consider important. "There's always a percentage of the community that don't see the value of major sports buildings," he says. "But for me, when I look at the city on a macro scale as a master planner, it is fundamentally important to get variety into the landscape. Sporting buildings and sports recreation in the community are just as important as houses." The Home Affairs Bureau says it will analyse the EOI submissions and publish a report later this month before considering the next step in the planning and procurement of the project. The Kai Tak Multi-purpose Sports Complex is expected to be fully operational in 2019-20.

Labour commissioner trying to bring sides together in dock strike (By Lai Ying-kit The head of the Labour Department said on Friday he hoped a meeting could be arranged between striking dock workers and the contractors that employ them as early as Saturday. Commissioner for Labour Cheuk Wing-hing’s remarks came after a scheduled meeting was aborted on Thursday. Hundreds of dock workers remained outside the Kwai Chung Container Terminal as their strike for a pay rise entered its ninth day. The workers have vowed to continue their action until the contractors agree to a 17-per-cent pay rise. Cheuk said both sides had shown a willingness to settle the dispute despite Thursday’s aborted meeting. “The most important thing is that they went to the venue, though at different times. I believe this is a step forward and shows that both sides intended to talk,” he said. Cheuk also said his department was trying to bring the port operator, Hongkong International Terminals (HIT), to the next meeting along with the contractors. The dockers have demanded a meeting with HIT management to help settle the dispute, but HIT has refused to get directly involved in the labour dispute. HIT managing director Gerry Yim Liu-fai said earlier in the week that the workers should settle the dispute with the contractors, who hired them, not with the port operator. Also on Friday, the High Court was hearing arguments on whether it should extend an injunction already granted to the port operator that barred striking workers from entering or blocking the port operator’s terminals. A judge is expected to rule on the matter late on Friday.

First suspected case of bird flu infection in Hong Kong (By Lai Ying-kit Hong Kong on Friday will step up its control measures against a new bird flu strain that has killed six people in eastern China after a Hong Kong girl showed flu symptoms following a visit to Shanghai. The seven-year-old has become the first suspected case of the H7N9 bird flu virus in Hong Kong. The girl has now been put in an isolation ward in Queen Elizabeth Hospital for further observation to confirm whether she has contracted the virus. She showed avian flu-like symptoms, including fever, after visiting Shanghai in late March. During the trip, the girl had contact with birds, health officials said. “Respiratory specimens are being taken from the girl and a rapid test is being conducted,” said Dr Dominic Tsang Ngai-chong, the Hospital Authority’s chief infection control officer. He added that the results were expected later on Friday. The suspected case came as Hong Kong officials were trying to ward off any chance of the deadly H7N9 bird flu outbreak spreading to the city. The mainland cases have alerted a Hong Kong that is revisiting lessons from the Sars (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) pandemic 10 years ago. Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man said the city would step up control measures now. These included enhancing surveillance on poultry imports from the mainland and of travellers at the border. If any poultry or wild birds were to be found infected with avian flu, including the H5 and H7 strains, Ko said the government might order the culling of live poultry stocks in the city. He said Hong Kong’s live and frozen chickens mainly came from registered farms in the southern provinces of Guangdong and Hainan, and no stocks were imported from eastern China. More health inspectors will also be deployed to border checkpoints to check the body temperatures of travellers and more frequent inspection and cleaning will be conducted in markets. Hong Kong health experts would meet their mainland counterparts on Saturday and Sunday to discuss other control measures, Ko said. The development comes as a sixth person in China died of the virus. The latest fatality was a 64-year-old farmer who died in Huzhou, in the eastern province of Zhejiang, local officials said according to the state Xinhua news agency. He was one of the 16 confirmed human cases of H7N9, and is the second person from Zhejiang to die from the strain, with the other four fatalities in Shanghai, China’s commercial hub. In Shanghai, a poultry cull was carried out at the Huhuai market in a western suburb of Shanghai following the discovery of the virus in pigeon samples, Xinhua reported. Images posted on the Sina Weibo microblog by a local television reporter showed men in protective clothing and facemasks entering the market during the night, and dozens of empty birdcages stacked in the middle of the market. On Friday morning, the entrance to the poultry section was concealed with wooden boards and sealed off with plastic tape, with a police car parked nearby and white disinfectant powder sprinkled in the street. Two staff members at the market said the slaughter was completed overnight, but one of them added: “Of course, I’m worried.”

 China*:  April 7 2013

Shanghai tests show H7N9 bird flu in chickens (By Zhuang Pinghui, Daniel Ren, and Amy Nip) H7N9 discovered in Shanghai samples as live poultry markets are closed; sixth death confirmed, but tests on first suspected HK case are negative - Health staff in protective suits collect bags of dead chickens at the Huhuai Farm Products Market in Shanghai where the H7N9 virus was found in a pigeon sample. More than 20,000 birds were culled. Chicken samples in Shanghai were revealed last night to be infected with the H7N9 virus. It prompted the agriculture ministry to increase checks for the deadly strain of bird flu as the city temporarily closed live poultry markets and suspended live bird sales elsewhere. View H7N9 map in a larger map. Click on each balloon for more information on individual patients infected with the avian flu virus: blue, patients infected with the H7N9 virus under treatment; red, those infected with H7N9 who have died; and pink, those infect with the H1N1 avian flu virus. The news came after the disease claimed its sixth mainland victim, while tests on the first suspected case in Hong Kong proved negative. The ministry said last night that 10 chicken samples from two markets in the Minhang district of Shanghai and at the Huhuai Farm Products Market in the adjacent Songjiang district had tested positive for H7N9. The virus was also found in two pigeon samples and seven environmental samples collected from these markets, out of a total 738 samples tested. More than 20,000 birds were culled yesterday at the Huhuai market, where the H7N9 virus was first detected in pigeon samples on Thursday. The ministry also ordered the culling of birds in the two Minhang markets after the latest test results. Shao Linchu, deputy director of Shanghai's Agricultural Commission, said: "The government will pay compensation to the vendors of at least 50 per cent of the market price of the poultry slaughtered." Li Wenqi, a poultry farmer in the city's Xuhui district, said his business had fallen from 100 chickens a day to zero since the H7N9 outbreak, but he was still very willing to comply with the government. "Our business is suffering but people are dying," he said. "We can only be co-operative. This is not the time to bargain with the government." Our business is suffering but people are dying. We can only be co-operative. This is not the time to bargain with the government - It emerged yesterday that a 64-year-old farmer from Huzhou, Zhejiang province, was confirmed to have the virus on Thursday and died that night. Health officials in Jiangsu said that two new cases had been confirmed in the provincial capital Nanjing. One was a 61-year-old woman, said to be in a critical condition, and the other a 79-year-old man in a serious condition. The cases take the total number of people confirmed to have been infected in the Yangtze River Delta region to 16. In the first suspected case in Hong Kong, the Hospital Authority said a seven-year-old girl who travelled to Shanghai at the end of last month had developed a fever and flu symptoms. She was kept in quarantine in Queen Elizabeth Hospital's paediatric department. But officials revealed that the tests for the H7N9 strain had proved negative shortly before midnight. Meanwhile in the city, additional staff will carry out manual temperature checks at border crossing points, starting today. Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man said: "I think we ought to be prepared, mainly because of the fact that H7N9 up to this moment has created a relatively high mortality rate in infected patients. "Secondly, the outbreak has been extending or worsening in the last two to three days in eastern China." The Hang Seng Index ended down 2.7 per cent at 21,726.9 as H7N9 concern sparked a sell-off.

China seeks to regain role in changed Myanmar (By Agence France-Presse in Yangon) Wang Jiarui (right), head of the International Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, meets with Thura U Aye Myint, vice chairman of the Union Solidarity and Development Party of Myanmar, in Beijing, on Wednesday. China is intensifying efforts to regain influence in Myanmar as its long-held dominance founders in the face of a transformation in its former army-ruled neighbour, experts say. Dramatic reforms heralding Myanmar’s emergence from the shadow of dictatorship have astounded the West and seen the former pariah state courted by a host of international suitors. Observers say longtime ally Beijing had assumed the end of junta rule was merely cosmetic and has been left stumbling to define its role amid nervousness over the growing influence of foreign rivals. China was caught off guard and still has not been able to fully comprehend the magnitude of the change in this country - “China was caught off guard and still has not been able to fully comprehend the magnitude of the change in this country,” said a Myanmar analyst in Yangon, who asked not to be named. The relationship between the Asian giant and its neighbour is under the spotlight this week with a visit to China by president Thein Sein, who shed his military uniform to become the country’s first civilian leader in decades. The trip includes talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping to set out future ties and comes at an “important” time, according to an interview with China’s ambassador to Myanmar Yang Houlan, published on the embassy website Wednesday. Yang said the two nations were faced with a “new factor” including the removal of US sanctions and activity by “outside forces”, “some of which do not want to see the healthy, smooth and rapid development of Sino-Myanmar relations”. The visit underscores that Myanmar “recognises the importance of the relationship with China”, said Derek Tonkin, former British ambassador to several Southeast Asian countries. That would have been taken for granted just two years ago when Myanmar was still comfortably within Beijing’s sphere of influence. During the junta era the ruling generals, tarnished by mounting human rights abuses, were shielded from international opprobrium by China’s economic might and its UN Security Council veto. In return, Beijing was assured of a relatively stable neighbour and access to Myanmar’s abundant natural resources such as metals, timber and gemstones, as well as involvement in numerous hydropower projects. It has also benefitted from a gateway to the Indian Ocean, and is close to completing the construction of oil and natural gas pipelines linking the western Myanmar port of Kyaukpyu with China’s Yunnan province. Observers say fears over the sheer scale of Beijing’s power helped spur the junta into relinquishing their grip, ceding to a quasi-civilian regime in 2011. Thein Sein quickly asserted his independence, ordering the suspension of work on a hugely unpopular Chinese-backed mega-dam in 2011. A “series of public relations disasters” has since dogged Beijing’s efforts to reclaim its influence, said the Myanmar analyst, citing the televised “humiliation” of Myanmar drug gang leader Naw Kham before his execution in China last month. But Beijing is now focusing attention on its network of interests in the resource-rich country. One key area of concern has been northern Myanmar, where clashes between the army and Kachin rebels intensified earlier this year, a development analysts says has handed China an opportunity to reassert itself. China has hosted negotiations between the two sides – fighting since a 17-year ceasefire broke down in 2011 – amid concerns the unrest could affect its oil and gas pipeline from the Indian Ocean to Yunnan province. In the long term, Myanmar is unlikely to turn away from its neighbour, which accounts for the lion’s share of foreign direct investment – about 34 per cent. Even opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has suggested the relationship with Beijing is crucial. The Nobel laureate drew flak from villagers in central Myanmar recently when she urged them to drop calls for the closure of a controversial Chinese-backed copper mine, saying it would harm the local and national economy. “We have to get along with the neighbouring country whether we like it or not,” she said.

Chinese travellers world’s biggest spenders (By Chris Luo Chinese shoppers stand with shopping bags on a sidewalk along 5th Avenue in New York. Chinese travellers overtook those from the United States to become the world’s biggest spenders in 2012, the United Nations said on Thursday. Chinese citizens’ overall expenditure on overseas travel reached a record high of US$102 billion last year, said a study by the World Tourism Organisation. The 40 per cent jump from a year earlier pushed China ahead of Germany and the US, traditionally the top two spenders, which both reported spending on travel of close to US$84 billion in 2012. A total of 83 million Chinese travellers contributed to the expenditure, more than eight times the number of travellers in 2000. “Over the past decade China has been, and still is, by far the fastest-growing tourism source market in the world,” the report noted, attributing this fact to the nation’s rapid urbanisation, rising disposable incomes and relaxation of restrictions on foreign travel. Russia and Brazil, among other emerging markets, “continue to lead growth in tourism demand”, the report added. Russia ranked in fifth place with total spending on travel of US$43 billion, a 32 per cent increase from last year, while Brazil jumped to 12th place from 29th place in eight years. Traditional tourism source markets experienced slower growth however. The report said the US and Germany grew by 6 per cent each, Britain by 4 per cent and Canada at 7 per cent. France and Italy were the only markets in the top 10 to record a decline in international tourism spending.

Shanghai begins culling poultry (By Xinhua) Authorities in Shanghai on Thursday closed a live poultry trading zone in an agricultural products market and began slaughtering all birds there after detecting H7N9 bird flu virus from samples of pigeon from the market. Meanwhile, a person who had close contact with a dead H7N9 bird flu patient in Shanghai has been under treatment in quarantine after developing symptoms of fever, running nose and throat itching, the Shanghai Municipal Health and Family Planning Commission said late Thursday. China's Ministry of Agriculture said Thursday it found the H7N9 virus from pigeon samples collected at the Huhuai wholesale agricultural products market in Songjiang district of Shanghai. After gene sequence analysis, the national avian flu reference laboratory concluded that the strain of the H7N9 virus found on pigeons was highly congenetic with those found on persons infected with H7N9 virus, the ministry said. The Shanghai municipal agricultural commission said it has ordered proper disposal of the culled birds, their excrements and contaminated food as well as disinfection of the market and vehicles that carried them and other things that have contacts with them. The commission will also investigate and track where the pigeons came from, it said. Meanwhile, the agency ordered the closure of the live poultry trading areas of two markets in Minhang district after samples there were found with H7 bird flu virus.Shanghai reported two more deaths from the H7N9 bird flu Thursday,bringing the death toll from the new deadly strain to five around the country. The city has reported six infections to date, and four have died, according to the Shanghai Municipal Health and Family Planning Commission. Of the rest two, a 67-year-old woman was in critical condition and a four-year-old baby was recovering from mild illness, it added. Of the latest two deaths, a 52-year-old woman surnamed Yu died at Huashan Hospital on Wednesday and was confirmed infected with the H7N9 strain on Thursday. Yu developed a low fever on March 27 and sent to an intensive care unit of Huashan Hospital on April 2. She died on the following day. The other case involved a 48-year-old man surnamed Chu, a poultry transporter from Rugao in neighboring Jiangsu province. He developed symptoms of cough on March 28. After having a fever on Monday, he went to a private clinic for treatment. The man then sought help in the Tongji Hospital in Shanghai in the early hours of Wednesday after his condition worsened. Chu died three hours after being admitted to the hospital. He was confirmed infected with the H7N9 virus on Thursday. Eight people who had close contact with him have shown no abnormal symptoms. So far, China has confirmed 14 H7N9 cases - six in Shanghai, four in Jiangsu, three in Zhejiang and one in Anhui, in the first known human infections of the lesser-known strain. Of all, four died in Shanghai and one died in Zhejiang. China's health authorities have promised transparency and cooperation to the World Health Organization in regards to human infections of the new strain of bird flu. The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday that no human-to-human transmission of H7N9 has been discovered and no epidemiological connection between these cases has been found. Health authorities and hospitals in many Chinese provinces have been on high alert for the virus. The health authorities in the southern Guangdong province have set up an expert team headed by Zhong Nanshan, a renowned medical expert, to offer advices on epidemic control and prevention. Zhong, director of the Guangzhou Institute of Respiratory Diseases, is credited with helping to identify and then stem the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). In Nanchang, capital of Jiangxi province, which neighbors Zhejiang, five hospitals have been selected and ordered to be ready to treat H7N9 patients, though no cases have been reported there. South China's Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region has ordered an inventory on medical supplies and respirator deployment for potential H7N9 cases.

China, Brunei confer on ties, stepping up cooperation (By Xinhua) Chinese President Xi Jinping, 2nd left, speaks with Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah (not seen) of Brunei during their meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing April 5, 2013. Chinese President Xi Jinping met Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah here on Friday to confer on bilateral ties and cooperation in many fields. Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah, 2nd right, of Brunei speaks with Chinese President Xi Jinping (not seen) during their meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing April 5, 2013. Xi said Hassanal was the first foreign leader he received after he was elected the Chinese president which highlighted the great importance China has attached to its relations with Brunei as well as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Xi also expressed his appreciation to the contribution from Hassanal to fostering China-Brunei ties, voicing his hope to step up the bilateral relations to a higher level via Hassanal's China visit. For his part, Hassanal said he was pleased to see the two-way trade reached one billion US dollars in 2011, which indicated the robust growth of the bilateral cooperation in such fields as energy and infrastructure. He also voiced his invitations for the Chinese companies to boost their business and further involve into Brunei's economic development. Hassanal will also attend the opening ceremony of the annual Boao Forum for Asia on Saturday in southern Hainan province.

Hong Kong*:  April 6 2013

ElBulli's closing auction raises HK$14m for chef's foundation (By John Carney Obviously a fan of ours, says elBulli chef of bidder who pays HK$220,000 for dinner - Michelin-starred chef Ferran Adria toasts the result of yesterday's auction at the exhibition centre in Wan Chai. There may be no such thing as a free lunch, but the price paid yesterday for four people to enjoy a meal with star Spanish chef Ferran Adria was steep: HK$220,000. The offer was part of the Sotheby's Hong Kong auction at the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai for the cellar contents from Adria's now-closed restaurant, elBulli, famed for its "molecular gastronomy". An unnamed online bidder paid the amount for the dinner, which will take place at Tickets, an acclaimed restaurant in Barcelona run by Adria's brother Albert. Adria was not worried that he had no idea who this person would be. "It could be anyone. Either a client who has already been to elBulli [in the past] or someone willing to help the elBulli Foundation, it doesn't matter. They are obviously a fan," he said. In total HK$14.1 million was raised at the auction, with the proceeds going to the foundation - a non-profit organisation that Adria started after the restaurant closed in July 2011 - which is scheduled to launch next year. A second auction will be held in New York on April 26. One Hong Kong businessman, who also did not want to be identified, paid more than HK$2 million mostly for a variety of wines for his private collection, his representative said. This buyer forked out HK$563,500 alone for three bottles of Romanee Conti 1990 - the most paid for any of the lots - HK$539,000 for four bottles of Romanee Conti 2003, and HK$465,500 for three bottles of Romanee Conti 2000. Novelty items like two chef's jackets signed by Adria went for HK$11,025 and HK$9,800. "What we have raised here in Hong Kong is much more that I ever expected. I'm very, very pleased," Adria said. He said he wasn't worried whether the auction in New York would prove more successful than Hong Kong's, as it was all about generating money for the foundation and giving elBulli's fans a chance to show their appreciation. "It's a great way to start the foundation and it's a great amount of money," he said. "I'm very happy because I think that the New York auction will go as well as this one." Founded in 1961, elBulli was led by Adria for its last 27 years. A Michelin three-star establishment, it was based near the town of Roses in Catalonia, Spain. It was fêted with countless awards, topping the Restaurant magazine list of the world's 50 best restaurants five times, with Adria frequently named the world's greatest chef. Despite closing on July 30, 2011, it inspired the elBulli Foundation. As part of the foundation's work, established chefs from around the world will come together to create, exchange and develop new ideas.

HKU checking that masks 70pc effective (By Joanna Chiu The University of Hong Kong is retesting one of its earlier studies on the effectiveness of surgical masks that found they can reduce the spread of viruses by more than 70 per cent. The original study involved HKU, the University of Maryland and Harvard School of Public Health, and was conducted in 2009 in the United States. HKU's School of Public Health is now working to reproduce and extend the study's findings in Hong Kong. "We expect similar findings, but we're interested to see if factors in Hong Kong, such as high humidity and temperature, might play a special role," said Dr Ben Cowling, the principal investigator of the study. We expect similar findings, but we're interested to see if factors in Hong Kong, such as high humidity and temperature, might play a special role - Dr Ben Cowling, University of Hong Kong. The earlier study found that normal surgical masks, available in pharmacies, were effective in "source control" when people who have the flu wear them, despite earlier debate among health professionals about how useful they were. It used seasonal flu viruses for the testing, but Cowling says the study's findings apply to other flu viruses as well. Local researchers will use a special machine to measure and analyse the amount of exhaled virus in subjects with influenza virus infections, both with and without surgical masks. Cowling does not think the bird flu virus discovered in Shanghai has a high chance of spreading to Hong Kong, but he advises anyone with flu symptoms to wear surgical masks to protect those around them. "I think people in Hong Kong are already very concerned about the idea of spreading infections to others," he said. "What can be improved is that employers should encourage employees to take sick leave when they have the flu. There's still an attitude that adults who are sick should go to work anyway," he said. The preliminary findings from HKU's School of Public Health will be available this summer. The school will continue to research patterns of how much virus people exhale in the early and later stages of illness.

 China*:  April 6 2013

Nokia closes its flagship store in Shanghai - The retail store, which is Nokia's only stand-alone flagship store and the largest around the world, was found closed in recent days.

Gold leaf tea (China Daily) An employee at a tea production base in Chongqing's Yongchuan district harvests spring tea. Mingqian tea is more affordable this season, allowing the ordinary drinkers to enjoy this great cuppa - The tea leaves that are handpicked before the Qingming Festival are highly rated for their rich fragrance and tenderness. Additionally, because of the low temperatures in early spring, less mingqian tea is produced than in the later, warmer months, making it highly sought after, especially in the high-end market. Famous mingqian tea production bases include the West Lake area in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, the southwestern mountainous region of Xinyang, Henan province, and the Dongting Lake area in Hunan province. Cultivating and processing tea are an important source of income for villages in these areas. For instance, the Yiling district of Yichang, Hubei province, is recognized as the birthplace for excellent tea. More than 145 villages and towns have formed a vast tea-planting area of 14,000 hectares. The tea trade brings local farmers a 30 percent boost to their annual income. The price of mingqian tea has dropped due to an increased yield this spring and cutbacks on business gifts. This is, however, good news for ordinary tea consumers for whom it was often unaffordable.

Nestle to build coffee center in SW China (By Xinhua) Global food giant Nestle plans to build a coffee center in southwest China's Yunnan province, according to an agreement signed on Tuesday. According to a memorandum of understanding inked by the municipal government of Pu'er and Nestle, the Switzerland-based company will spend 100 million yuan ($15.97 million) to build a coffee farming institute, warehouses and a laboratory. The farming institute, which will be the largest of its kind in China, will provide training to 5,000 coffee farmers, agronomists and business professionals each year, according to an online statement from Nestle. Peng Yuanguo, vice-mayor of Pu'er, said Nestle's investment will help turn Pu'er into China's "coffee capital," buoy the confidence of local coffee producers and offset the negative effects of the sluggish global market. "Nestle has confidence in the long-term development of Yunnan," said Heiko Schipper, managing director of Nestle's greater China food and beverage division. Schipper said the company has been increasing its annual purchases of coffee beans in Yunnan. The province has sold 22,000 tonnes of coffee to Nestle over the past two years, Schipper said. Pu'er is the largest coffee plantation center in Yunnan, where coffee bean output accounts for over 98 percent of the national total output. The city produced 36,500 tonnes of coffee in 2012. Nestle began establishing coffee-related projects in Pu'er and Jinghong, another city in Yunnan, in 1988 and has established technical assistance centers in the region. In January, the company announced that it will launch a new coffee product named after Pu'er using locally produced beans.

Photo taken on March 31, 2013 shows the spring scenery of the Slender West Lake in Yangzhou, East China's Jiangsu province. 

Hong Kong*:  April 5 2013

Dim Sum: A tradition that's anything but dim (By Xenia Chan and Hedy Bok) In this latest episode of our Uniquely Hong Kong series, a leading dim sum chef explains how tough it is to learn to prepare and cook the dishes, and why it remains as popular as ever - Chef and founder of Tim Ho Wan, one of Hong Kong’s most popular dim sum restaurants, Mak Gui-pui. “Making dim sum isn’t easy," says chef Mak Gui-pui. “There are many factors that can influence the taste. Take barbecued pork buns - even the weather can affect the outcome,” he adds. He is talking about how higher external temperatures can hasten the process of fermentation, making it easier for baked goods to turn sour in hot weather. As the founder of Tim Ho Wan, one of Hong Kong’s most popular dim sum restaurants, Mak, 50, knows what he's talking about. “Yum cha”, or “dim sum” brunch is the most popular and well-known form of Cantonese cuisine. Eating dim sum is usually a happy and boisterous occasion, when family and friends gather to sip tea and eat a great variety of dishes. These are usually exotic snacks served in bamboo containers or on small plates. The great popularity of the southern Chinese cuisine is a source of pride for many Hong Kongers, but also an expression of their unique cultural identity. Mak says going to “dim sum” remains an important ritual for people. Raised in a family in which everyone worked in restaurants, Mak believes the cuisine is a vital part of Chinese culture. He says it brings people together. “A dim sum meal is friendly and casual. For generations, it’s been a tradition for families to go to yum cha on holidays. There’s a sense of sharing and camaraderie that comes with the food,” adds Mak. In Chinese, “dim sum” literally means “a light touch on the heart”, which is an ideal way to describe the small, delicious sweet or savoury dishes. “Yum cha” means “drink tea” and the two expressions are used interchangeably. The most well-known dim sum is Guangdong’s, although dim sum is common across China, often using different ingredients from each region. Common dishes include cha siu bao (or pork-filled buns), haa gaau (shrimp dumplings), siu mai (pork dumplings), fung jaau (chicken feet), haam sui gok (Deep-fried rice dumpling with pork) and many more. These “little eats” are not unique to Cantonese cuisine. Shanghai has xiao long bao (steamed pork dumplings), and there is chao shou (Sichuan wontons) in Sichuan. What sets Cantonese dim sums apart though, is its extraordinary variety of dishes and the list keeps growing. The finer points of making dim sum take years to learn, which is why it is important to have a demanding “sifu” [“master”), explains Mak. “A good sifu is one who teaches you to be exact, and he has to reprimand you a lot,’’ he explains. “The more he yells, the better you become. And, of course, you have to be very dedicated, and have a heart for this craft.” Mak, like many of his peers, is skilled in the different areas of dim sum - frying, steaming, creating the fillings, making dough wrappings for dumplings, and making rice noodle rolls. “I would master one thing,” he recalls fondly, “And then I’d have start back at the bottom to learn the next thing.” Tourists came to my restaurant asking specifically for chicken feet. They probably find it exotic. And once they tried it, ha! You should see the look on their faces! The experience has taught Mak to treat his students the same demanding way. “I’m just as hard and exacting as my sifus. If I don’t demand a lot, they will never learn.” He says that he has learned different styles as well. “Some sifus, like smooth and soft textures. Others want firm and chewy. But they are all demanding,” he laughs. “My own standards are: you can’t be slack, it has to be neat and tidy, have the correct shape, and you can’t leave sloppy dough that stick on bamboo containers.” “Bamboo containers are absolutely necessary; you have to allow the food room to breathe. Each piece is about handiwork - thick is easy, but thin is exact. You really have to have an eye for this sort of thing.” The ritual of dim sum has seen some changes over the years. Originally a snack to go with morning tea gatherings, it has become popular meal for lunch and dinner as well. “Traditional tea houses have given way to bigger, brighter and cleaner restaurants. You can even have business luncheons in dim sum restaurants now. It’s gotten fancier and more presentable.” Concerns about high levels of cholesterol in dishes like pig-liver dumplings have made them less popular. Vegetarian dim sum is more common. “But generally things remain the same,” Mak says, “Except for those people who keep changing things. I’m not against innovation, it’s just that Cantonese dim sum has to be either cold or hot, according to the nature of the ingredient. You can’t fry a watermelon!” Mak says one thing has not changed: the preferences of foreign customers. “Tourists came to my restaurant asking specifically for chicken feet. They probably find it exotic. And once they tried it, ha! You should see the look on their faces! Although we Cantonese might love eating livers, intestines and so on, you know that stuff isn’t for everyone,” the dim sum chef adds.

HIT boss denies links to contractors involved in dock strike (By Lai Ying-kit Hongkong International Terminals on Wednesday denied anyone at the company had links with a contractor that employed striking dock workers. Hong Kong International Terminals’ managing director Gerry Yim Lui-fai on Wednesday denied he had link to a company that hired striking dockers. Hong Kong International Terminals’ (HIT) managing director Gerry Yim denied on Wednesday that he was a board member of one of the contract firms that employed striking dock workers. He made the comments at a press conference on Wednesday afternoon a short time after HIT released a statement denying that Yim or anyone at Hutchison Whampao, HIT’s parent company, or any senior executive at Hutchison Port Holdings Trust was a board member of any contractor. HIT, which operates five of the nine terminals in Kwai Chung, is at the centre of a week-long labour dispute between dock workers who are demanding a pay raise and the labour contractors who hire the dockers on behalf of the port operator. Yim’s comment and HIT’s statement came after Next Magazine on Wednesday published a report that it said linked Yim to a company called Sakoma, which was alleged to be an employer of the workers. As well, Cable TV cited documents from the Companies Registry in a report on Wednesday saying that Yim served as a board member for up to 40 companies including one called Sakoma. The report said that according to details on the staff cards of some dock workers participating in the strike, Sakoma was one of their employers. The allegations carried in the Next Magazine report were untrue and misleading, HIT said in the statement. The port operator said Sakoma and another company, Floata, were subsidiaries to Hutchison Port Holdings Trust. “They hire contractors from the outside … to provide services to this group [Hutchison Port Holdings Trust] and other companies. But they themselves are not contractors,” it said. HIT also denied the suggestion made in the Next report that Sakoma and a contractor called Everbest Port Services Limited were the same company. “The magazine merely relied on one-sided information to draw its conclusion without verification. Its report is misleading and undermines the company’s reputation. This is very unfair to this company.” Up to 100 dock workers have been on strike since last Thursday demanding a pay rise from their employers, which are contractors under HIT, a subsidiary of billionaire Li Ka-shing’s Hutchison Whampao. The dock workers have demanded a meeting with HIT management to help settle the dispute. However, HIT and Yim have refused to get directly involved in the labour dispute. Yim said on Tuesday that the workers should settle the dispute with the contractors, who hired them, not with the port operator. “We have no role in pay matters concerning the workers because they are not directly employed under us,” he said on Tuesday. “We’re an unrelated party.” Yim’s comments angered the dock workers and unionists supporting them. On Wednesday, Yim said at his press conference that a few years ago Sakoma was a member company under Hutchison Port Holdings, responsible for signing service contracts for HIT with external contractors, but it was not a contractor or employer of dock workers. He said the reason that Sakoma’s name was printed on some workers’ staff cards was an “administrative error” that had not been corrected for years. “This card is identification for the person to enter the port. Sakoma some years back was a Hutchison Port unit that signed service contracts with external contractors,” he said. “Because of an administrative error … the name of Sakoma remains on this card.” Yim said Sakoma no longer worked with HIT, which now used Hutchison Logistics to sign external contractors. The company and HIT are both members of Hutchison Port Holdings Trust. “We are very upset by the Next Magazine report. We will follow up the matter with Next Media and related people using legal means and seek compensation for damage made to the company,” he said. 

 China*:  April 5 2013

China’s top liquor makers brace for slowdown as anti-luxury drive bites (By Reuters in Shanghai) China has witnessed a surge in sales of the potent white liquor, Baijiu, of which the best known brand is probably Kweichow Moutai. China’s largest makers of popular, fiery “baijiu” liquor are bracing for a slowdown this year after nearly a decade of heady growth as a crackdown on lavish official spending starts to hit home. Analysts say the clampdown will force baijiu producers to offer cheaper brands and buy up less-glitzy local players to get around the government ban. Despite healthy financial results for last year, this year will be tougher, especially for industry leader Kweichow Moutai, whose prestige brand and high prices put it directly in the line of fire for official anti-luxury campaigns. “Moutai is going to get hit harder because it’s become the ‘Ferrari’ of alcohol. It’s the brand that everyone is sort of scared to buy,” said Shaun Rein, the Shanghai-based managing director of China Market Research Group. Baijiu, a potent white liquor that outsells vodka worldwide, is prized in China at official banquets and as a gift to sweeten business ties. Sales and bottom lines have surged with China’s luxury boom of recent years. But since the middle of last year, the government has announced a number of policies to rein in official spending on luxury goods, including baijiu, which typically costs around US$250 (HKL$1,940) per bottle for premium brands, but can fetch into the thousands of dollars. “The baijiu sector faces pressure unlike any it has seen before,” the board of Kweichow Moutai said in its last year financial report released last week. As a price comparison, luxury whisky The Dalmore, a bottle of which once auctioned for US$190,400 (HK$1.48 millino), ranges in price from around US$58 to US$230 (HK$450 to HK$1,785) on the Scottish distiller’s website. Shares in top baijiu makers have tumbled since the crackdown began. Moutai is down 38 per cent and rival Wuliangye Yibin Co Ltd has lost 44 per cent since July last year. Sales prices have also come under scrutiny. In February, Kweichow Moutai was fined 449 million yuan (HK$556.3 million) for violating pricing rules, opening the door for distributors to set lower retail prices. High price tags are important in the luxury baijiu industry because they are a mark of prestige and the bottles are traditionally given to authority figures as a sign of respect. Since then prices have fallen. The official Xinhua news agency reported that the price of a popular Moutai brand had dropped for three straight months, falling from 1,300 yuan (HK$1,610) per bottle in January to 800 yuan (HK$991) at the end of March. This could further dampen growth as rising prices had been a main driver of rapid growth last year, said Huatai Securities analyst Hong Ting in a research note following the results. Anti-luxury measures have also hit volume sales, and there are signs this is starting to put pressure on producers as well as distributors. Kweichow Moutai’s last year results showed accounts receivable at end-December, while still a tiny US$3 million (HK$23.3 million), had surged to eight times their level at the start of the year, suggesting some distributors are struggling with unsold booze. Industry analysts and consultants say that while the pain will be felt industry-wide, less high-end players will be better able to dodge the effects of official scrutiny in the year ahead. Moutai’s revenue growth is forecast at 25 per cent this year, down nearly 19 percentage points from its last year growth, according to Thomson Reuters StarMine smart estimates, which give more weight to top-rated analysts. Wuliangye’s revenue growth is also expected at 25 per cent, although that would be a more modest drop of 9 percentage points. “Firms who have more of a local or regional footprint and guys who focus more on the mid-price range, maybe they can escape it,” says Torsten Stocker, head of Greater China consumer practice at Monitor Deloitte. Analysts and consultants said the bigger baijiu makers may move to buy up local players, package their product in smaller bottles and roll out cheaper brands to get around the crackdown. But they are unlikely to sustain the resilience of last year, when Kweichow Moutai’s net profit jumped 52 per cent to 13.3 billion yuan (HK$16.5 billion). Wuliangye posted a profit of 9.9 billion yuan (HK$12.3 billion), up 61 per cent against the year before, improving on its growth rate for 2011. As often occurs with China’s official campaigns against corruption and excess, however, market commentators say companies and consumers will find ways to skirt around the ban, cushioning the impact on those caught in the crosshairs. “Actually this year the real estate companies have told us they’re spending more on the hard alcohol sales, and we’ve found when we’ve interviewed distributors, that a lot of the officials are going underground with their purchases,” said Rein. “They’re finding ways around the crackdown at the local level and it’s very difficult to turn off the switch overnight.”

Test reagents for H7N9 virus arrive in Beijing - Technicians deal with test reagents for H7N9 bird flu virus at the Beijing Center for Diseases Control and Prevention in Beijing, China, April 3, 2013. Hangzhou man dies of H7N9 avian flu virus - A man in the Chinese province of Zhejiang has died of the H7N9 strain of bird flu, state media said on Wednesday, bringing the total deaths attributed to the virus to three since the first human cases. He was one of two H7N9 avian influenza infections reported in Zhejiang in eastern China, the official Xinhua news agency said, citing local authorities, bringing the country’s total number of cases to nine. Chinese authorities are trying to determine how exactly the new variety of bird flu infected people, but say there is no evidence yet of human-to-human transmission. The latest fatality was a 38-year-old man who worked as a chef, media website Zhejiang Online said. The province’s other case was a 67-year-old retiree who was being treated in hospital. Two other deaths have been reported, both in China’s commercial hub of Shanghai. Other cases have occurred in the eastern provinces of Jiangsu and Anhui, the government has said. The World Health Organisation on Tuesday played down fears over the new outbreak of bird flu, but said it was crucial to find out how the virus was spreading. One expert warned of the risk of a pandemic if the source of infection is not identified, saying H7N9 had likely crossed over from poultry. “If one can identify that, then you have possible interventions to reduce human exposure and ideally to stamp out the virus,” said Malik Peiris, Chair Professor of the Virology School of Public Health at the University of Hong Kong. “If we don’t do that and do it quickly, we probably will lose the opportunity to eradicate this virus,” he said in an interview. If we don’t eradicate it pretty quickly, this virus will become endemic and spread across China and beyond China - “If we don’t eradicate it pretty quickly, this virus will become endemic and spread across China and beyond China,” he added. China’s neighbour Vietnam has announced an immediate ban on all Chinese poultry imports and stepped up border controls in response to the outbreak. Hanoi has imposed the ban to “actively and efficiently prevent the intrusion of the H7N9 virus into Vietnam”, according to an urgent message signed by the Minister of Agriculture Cao Duc Phat. Taiwan, which is separated from mainland China by a narrow strait, said on Wednesday it had raised its level of alert and set up a group tasked with preparing to prevent a possible epidemic. In Shanghai, where two people have died from the virus, some residents expressed worries over eating poultry. “I’ll stop buying chickens for the moment and wait until the situation eases,” said a middle-aged woman at a traditional food market. Shanghai officials have assured people that the city’s chicken and pork are safe to eat, after the H7N9 cases and the recovery of more than 16,000 dead pigs from the city’s main river last month, but many are unconvinced. China is considered one of the countries at greater risk from bird flu because it is one of the world’s biggest poultry producers and many chickens in rural areas are kept close to humans. The more common strain of avian flu, H5N1, has killed more than 360 people globally from 2003 until March 12 this year, according to the World Health Organisation.

Ai Fruit makes Qingming Festival delicious (Xinhua) A street vendor on Yincheng street, Dexing city, Jiangxi province removes boiled Ai Fruit from a pot of boiling water on March 27.2013. As Qingming Festival (Tomb Sweeping Day) approaches, the residents in Dexing city, Jiangxi province prepare Ai Fruit, which will be eaten during Qingming Festival. Ai Fruit has a sweet and salty taste also referred to as Sweet Green Rice Ball, Qingming Fruit. The delicacy is made from glutinous rice stuffed with Ai grass or gnaphalium affine. Many people feel that not only is Ai Fruit sacred food for the Qingming Festival, but also a specialty of traditional Chinese food found in rural areas in China 

BETTER OPPORTUNITIES IN PLACES LIKE HONG KONG, SINGAPORE AND CHINA - Number of Chinese becoming US citizens declines (By Caroline Berg in New York The number of Chinese who became US citizens has declined annually over the last five years to 31,868 in 2012 from 40,017 in 2008, according to the US Department of Homeland Security. In a report on naturalization issued this month, the agency says caution should be used in drawing conclusions from the data about trends in the demand to naturalize, but Tao Lin, a New York-based immigration law expert, said naturalization for Chinese appears to be changing. "It's not like the old-fashioned way when Chinese immigrants would come to the US, gain their citizenship, stay and assimilate to US culture," said Lin, managing attorney of T. Lin & Associates. "You're seeing more Chinese people returning to China." China ranked fifth after Mexico, the Philippines, India and the Dominican Republic in the number of new US citizens each country produced in 2012, according to the March 2013 Annual Flow Report by the Office of Immigration Statistics of Homeland Security. China was second after Mexico in the number of immigrants receiving US green cards in 2012. Out of 1,031,631 people who became legal permanent residents, 7.9 percent or 81,784 were from China. "Those Chinese who would like to return to China at some point will not apply for naturalization because in China you cannot have dual citizenship," Lin said. "For practical reasons, Chinese people prefer to get a green card." Immigration has become a game of strategy, particularly for families in which it's common to find one parent who is a US citizen while the other chooses to keep a green card, or permanent residency, according to Lin. Xiaoyu Duan, an IT programmer at a bank in San Francisco who has lived in the US for nearly five years, is content with his green card, which he said took him six years to obtain due to the volume of applications coming out of China. "I don't really have the urge to apply for full US citizenship," Duan said. "I like the freedom I have to travel back and forth between China." The IT programmer said he also has been deterred from getting citizenship by frustrated friends whose US citizenship makes buying real estate in China more difficult and also requires them to pay taxes on their overseas businesses. According to Lin, the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, which seeks to curtail offshore tax evasion, is also a factor in the decline of Chinese seeking naturalization. "It's a law that's very well known in the Chinese community," Lin said. "People are really concerned about the implications." Under the new law, US taxpayers holding financial assets abroad must report those assets to the Internal Revenue Service if assets exceed $50,000. Failure to report those assets may result in a $10,000 to $50,000 penalty.. The law also requires foreign banks and financial entities to find any American account holders and disclose their balances, receipts and withdrawals to the IRS or be subject to a 30 percent withholding tax on income from US financial assets held by the banks or financial entities.

Hong Kong*:  April 4 2013

Sotheby's to hold Spring Sale in HK.

People's Daily offers rare balanced view on pan-democrats' position (By Joshua But State media article on city's politics eschews one-sided reporting to publish names of the pan-democrats and describe their positions - An official mouthpiece of the Communist Party broke with its usual practice by publishing a relatively balanced report on the row between pan-democrats and Beijing loyalists over the city's upcoming political reform. The article appeared in yesterday's overseas edition of the People's Daily, and cited the views of Emily Lau Wai-hing, chairwoman of the Democratic Party, and Dr Benny Tai Yiu-ting, an associate professor of law at the University of Hong Kong, who is organising next summer's Occupy Central movement. Mainland newspapers usually refer to pan-democrats as "the opposition camp" and rarely mention them by name. Printed in the Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau section on page three, the article summarised the recent debate surrounding the speech that Qiao Xiaoyang , chairman of the Law Committee under the National People's Congress, delivered to pro-establishment lawmakers at a closed-door seminar in Shenzhen on March 24. Qiao said any members of the opposition camp who insisted on confronting the central government could not become chief executive, and the NPC's Standing Committee reserved the right to veto the election of any chief executive of who it did not approve. The report mentioned the views of pro-Beijing lawmaker Wong Kwok-hing, of the Federation of Trade Unions, Hong Kong Basic Law Committee vice-chairwoman Elsie Leung Oi-sie and others who supported Qiao's view. But it devoted three paragraphs to opposing views by Lau, Tai and "the person in charge of the Civic Party", a reference to its chairwoman, Audrey Eu Yuet-mee. "However, not everyone in Hong Kong understood Qiao's speech from the same angle [as pro-Beijing figures]," the article read. "Democratic Party chairwoman Emily Lau said the 'screening mechanism' was to 'screen out unpopular figures' whom the central government thinks do not fulfil the criteria of 'love country, love Hong Kong'. "That does not fulfil the international standard of universal suffrage and the [Democratic] party will not accept that," the article said. It gave a brief account of Tai's plan to mobilise 10,000 people to block traffic in the heart of the city in July of next year, unless the government delivers an acceptable proposal for universal suffrage. While the overseas edition is not aimed at mainland readers, the article was available on the main paper's website. It was also picked up by other news portals, including Xinhuanet, Sina News, China News Service and the website of state broadcaster China Central Television. Over 50,000 comments had been made on the Sina News portal by last night. Lau said it was "a step forward" for mainland media to cite the views of pan-democrats. But she would not say whether the gesture meant the central government would talk with them about electoral reform. The overseas edition of the People's Daily is available on the mainland, in Hong Kong and overseas, including in the United States, Japan, Australia and South Africa.

Wharf's China spree set to pay off (By Sandy Li The developer boasts one of the biggest land banks among its Hong Kong counterparts on the mainland and is ready to reap gains - Wharf (Holdings) is looking forward to reaping the benefits of an aggressive acquisition binge on the mainland that has expanded its land bank to 18 million square metres since 2007. Last year, the conglomerate accelerated its investment in the mainland by acting as a white knight to rescue financially troubled Greentown China. Through a deal involving 5.1 billion yuan (HK$6.3 billion) of shares and convertible notes, Wharf will hold a 24.6 per cent stake in the mainland developer that could be increased to 35.1 per cent if it converts the notes. The equity investment represents a big boost for the Hong Kong conglomerate's presence on the mainland. Previously, Wharf expanded its land bank mostly through mainland government land auctions or tenders. But it added 5.7 million square metres to its land bank after it became the second-biggest shareholder in the debt-laden mainland developer. Wharf, which also owns Times Square in Hong Kong, now has one of the largest land banks of any Hong Kong developer on the mainland. "We are not chasing to be the largest in terms of size but strictly looking for return," said Wharf deputy chairman and managing director Stephen Ng Tin-hoi. "We will not go for a site if it fails to meet our internal rate of return [IRR]." We are not chasing to be the largest in terms of size but strictly looking for return. We will not go for a site if it fails to meet our internal rate of return . He did not disclose Wharf's IRR but said 20 per cent was a basic requirement. Wharf's mainland development started to bear fruit last year with turnover reaching a record HK$9.5 billion, up 51 per cent from a year earlier. Strong mainland property sales helped the conglomerate post a record HK$11.04 billion of core earnings last year. Ng said the firm has no plans to divest its equity investment in Greentown. Shares in Greentown have shot up 180 per cent to reach HK$14.60 last Thursday from HK$5.20 a share last year. "We became a shareholder in Greentown mainly to explore future co-operation to expand into the mainland. It would kill the goose that is laying golden egg if we sold our shares in Greentown," he said. With Wharf's financial aid, Greentown's profit increased 88.4 per cent year on year to 4.85 billion yuan last year and its gearing ratio dropped to 49 per cent from 148 per cent in 2011. "We are positive on the mainland property market outlook as the rapid urbanisation policy will encourage several million farmers to relocate to the cities," Ng said. From next year until 2016, Wharf plans to open a shopping centre each year. Also in the pipeline are five retail-office-hotel projects - Chengdu International Finance Square (IFS), Chongqing IFS, Suzhou IFS, Wuxi IFS and Changsha IFS - all of which are due to open between 2014 and 2016.

Hong Kong vows to step up avian flu checks (By Lai Ying-kit The Hospital Authority's Dr Dominic Tsang Ngai-chong (left) and CHP contoller Leung Ting-hung brief the media on H7N9 avian flu measures on Tuesday. Hong Kong health authorities on Tuesday stepped up checks on travellers and hospital patients after it was reported that the new H7N9 bird flu virus had infected four people in eastern China. The control measures include intensifying checks of body temperatures of mainland travellers, particularly those from Shanghai and Anhui province where three of the infections were reported. Two patients in Shanghai have died and a third in Anhui has fallen seriously ill since their infection last month. And a fourth case involving a poultry butcher was reported on Tuesday afternoon in Nanjing – the capital city of Jiangsu province, which neighbours Anhui. Inflight broadcasts and leaflets will ask passengers from these regions to report any health conditions when they reach Hong Kong. The emergency departments and clinics of the city’s public hospitals are also keeping an keen eye on patients with fever, a typical symptom of avian flu. If they have visited the infected regions or have had contact with wild birds or poultry in the previous week, they will be put in isolated wards for further observation and tests on the H7N9 virus. Dr Leung Ting-hung, controller of Hong Kong’s Centre for Health Protection, said on Tuesday afternoon there was no evidence so far the new strain could pass from human to human easily, but the city should stay vigilant. “Because any virus is capable of mutating, we have to closely monitor any latest developments,” he said. Leung added that the new strain yielded a high death rate, although it did not appear highly contagious between humans. Dr Dominic Tsang Ngai-chong, from the Hospital Authority’s infectious disease control branch, said it would take about one day for rapid tests to determine a human bird flu infection. Hong Kong suffered the first major outbreak of bird flu among humans in 1997. Six people died after becoming infected with the H5N1 strain. The health authorities ordered the slaughtering of more than one million poultry birds.

 China*:  April 4 2013

Mo Yan says award led to mood swings (By Mei Jia J.M. Coetzee (left), Nobel laureate in literature in 2003, Chinese writer Mo Yan (center) and Chinese translator Li Yao talk on Tuesday at the Second China-Australia Literary Forum held in Beijing. Sharing a stage with J.M. Coetzee, the 2003 Nobel laureate in literature, Mo Yan revealed publicly on Tuesday his mood change after winning his own such prize. The two laureates were brought together by the Second China-Australia Literary Forum in Beijing, which kicked off on Tuesday and will conclude Wednesday. Mo, the first Nobel winner in literature born and living in China, said he had trouble with the sudden publicity, which put a lot of pressure on him. "I only hope to return to my writing desk as soon as possible," Mo said, "and I would also like to do good in society anonymously." Mo said he was even bothered by numerous requests asking him to offer help that took advantage of his fame. "I was upset the first several days after the prize announcement, but then I realized the prize is just like a mirror that reflects various attitudes about my winning, and more, reflects the real me," Mo said. "I still consider myself an ordinary citizen who writes. And presenting quality works is my duty and best way of giving back to society." "I'm no superstar," he emphasized several times. Mo believes Chinese literature has achieved much in the past three decades, and the driving force behind that is not the prize. "Writers' creations should not be driven by awards, or criticism, or readers' expectations," Mo said. "Good literary pieces are always centered on people and human emotions," he said. Coetzee discussed his own views on the Nobel Prize. Coetzee spoke of the literary tastes of Alfred Nobel, founder of the prize, and pointed out Nobel's personal preference that literary works show "progress and power of the human spirit", which could be an influence on the Swedish Academy's choices. Mo said he misunderstood the standards of the academy's selection before he visited Stockholm to receive the prize in December. "I thought they were judging the authors' personality or political features, then I learned the sole standard of their selection is literature itself, which is also deeply based in the Swedish people's long-established practice of reading a large number of books," Mo said. During the forum, established Chinese and Australian writers discussed subjects as diverse as tradition and modernity, the local and the universe and cultural inclusiveness. And they will also read works to each other and the readers. "Both China and Australia are countries with a great literary tradition in the Asia-Pacific region," said Tie Ning, chairwoman of the Chinese Writers Association, the forum's organizer, "I hope the mutual exchange will help people see the changing country and its various literary expression." Tie also said the writers communication will further promote Chinese writers to a global audience. Australian Ambassador to China Frances Adamson agreed. "It's a milestone of literary exchanges between the two countries, who are longtime friends," Adamson said. This is the first time the South Africa-born Coetzee, who now lives and teaches in Australia, has visited China in an official capacity. His works, including Life & Times of Michael K and Disgrace, are popular among Chinese readers. Chinese writer Li Er said he has been influenced by Coetzee's rational writing.

Wal-Mart to open 30 new stores in China (By Wang Zhuoqiong The world's largest retailer by sales will open 30 new stores in China and invest nearly 500 million yuan ($80.1 million) to remodel existing ones in the country. Wal-Mart Stores Inc told China Daily on Monday it will remodel 50 stores this year, following completion of remodeling at 31 stores last year. The new openings in China this year are part of a plan announced in October for the company to have more than 100 new stores in the next three years. This year, the US retailer has opened two new stores in Sanhe, Hebei province, and in Bazhong city, Sichuan province. Two hypermarkets will be opened in Shenzhen and Dongguang in Guangdong province and two new Sam's Club stores in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province and Suzhou, Jiangsu province. More distribution center networks are also on the investment agenda for Wal-Mart, including a new distribution center in Wuhan, Hubei province and chilled warehouses in Shenzhen and Guangzhou to enhance food safety and quality, and help reduce costs, the company said. The company will continue to upgrade its operations and invest in its stores, Sam's Clubs and distribution centers, said Wal-Mart China's President and CEO Greg Foran. He added: "Our aim is to strengthen our business foundation to enable our long-term development in China." After 17 years in the country, the company feels the time is right to optimize its nearly 400 stores. Wal-Mart is acting after closing stores in Shenzhen, Shanghai and Zhengzhou since the end of last year, which it referred to as an "adjustment in business strategy". Recognizing the development potential in the retail industry created by rapid urbanization and emergence of the middle class, Li Ling, senior director of corporate affairs at Wal-Mart China Investment Co Ltd, said the company's business has entered a new phase, focusing on the quality of individual stores. Meanwhile, France-based Carrefour SA closed six stores in China from 2010 to 2012 and British chain store Tesco PLC shut four last year. Surging rents are to blame for a contraction among foreign chain stores in the country, according to an industry insider. Zeng Lingtong, an expert with The Beijing Enterprise Management Consulting Firm, said retailers have reached a "peak season" to renew rental contracts with landlords for stores that opened before the year 2000. Foreign retailers, encouraged by soaring market expectations, expanded rapidly in China in past years, overlooking challenges in some locations to gain profit growth. To reduce the high costs of maintaining such stores, they have to put an end to these operations, Zeng added.

2 cities join hands through links with China President Xi Jinping (By ZHANG YUWEI in New York and ZHENG JINRAN in Zhengding, Hebei and The small Iowa city of Muscatine welcomed special guests from Zhengding county, Hebei province, on Monday. The Chinese delegation of eight led by Mayor Yang Lizhong had a mission: sign a sister-city agreement with Muscatine. "It is exciting, and in a lot of ways it is our contribution to world peace," said Muscatine Mayor DeWayne Hopkins. "A relationship has to start with one person and that's what we are doing," he told China Daily before the signing ceremony at the Muscatine Art Center. "We are looking at this from a ground-floor level, and I want to have a relationship with Zhengding and Mayor Yang, and hope he feels the same." Yang was on a reciprocal visit after Hopkins traveled to Zhengding in November. "These people-to-people relationships, formed on the local level, will help build a stronger foundation for more prosperous relations between China and the US," Yang said. With a population of just over 20,000, Muscatine has made headlines since Xi Jinping, who became China's president last month, visited the city in February 2012 as vice-president. Twenty-eight years ago as a Party official in Hebei province, Xi visited Iowa with a delegation studying agricultural techniques. Xi also served as deputy secretary of the Party committee in Zhengding in the early 1980s. According to Zhengding official Wang Chunhua, the sister cities will focus on education exchanges and agricultural cooperation. Jenny Juehring, a 17-year-old from Muscatine, has just returned from a two-week exchange program in Zhengding. It was her first time in China. "I had never met Chinese students before," she said. "In America we usually just think they are very dedicated to their studies, but when I went there I saw they are friendly people — a lot like me." She plans to begin studying Chinese and hopes to go back to China one day. Zhengding No 1 Senior High School has been partnered with Muscatine High School since November, and many teachers and students from the US visited last year. "From talking with them, we found new direction in our teaching and learning," said Song Jie, the school's vice-president, adding that students had benefited from shared activities and communication. "We need to shift the stress on students and their studies to explore their abilities in other areas." The school hopes to send Chinese students to the US in the future, Song said. Comprehensive ties - Wang said officials on the trip were joined by heads of three of the county's largest private companies from the pharmaceutical, tool manufacturing and food processing industries. "The bond between our two cities offers us a direct channel to exchange information on business, thus motivating the economy," Wang said. In addition to the economic cooperation presented by this new bond, the sister cities will witness more exchanges in the future. Zhengding, a county in Shijiazhuang, has a population of 482,000. Xi's visit to Muscatine last year was part of a weeklong official trip. In Iowa, he met old friends including Sarah Lande, now 74, who had hosted Xi in 1985. Hopkins said Muscatine's efforts to enhance US-China exchanges were largely influenced by Xi's friendship with Muscatine residents. "I feel extremely honored just being a part of that process," said Hopkins, who last year presented Xi a second gold key to express friendship from the city and its people. The Muscatine Art Center has a painting by Chinese painter Chun Arthur Wang that depicts Xi holding the gold keys to the city from his 1985 and 2012 visits. Mayor Yang said Zhengding and Muscatine are a perfect match, and his county can benefit from Muscatine's know-how in farming and other industries. The Iowa city is home to some big names in US manufacturing, including food producer Heinz and furniture maker HNI Corp. "It is our responsibility to do more to promote exchanges between the two countries," Yang said.

Chinese military to issue new number plates in bid to curb abuse (By Patrick Boehler) On May 1, the People’s Liberation Army will introduce new car number plates in an effort to quell rampant abuse of military vehicles. The roll-out of new plates was announced during a video conference by the PLA’s General Staff Headquarters and other high-level military departments with state media on March 31, the PLA Daily said on Sunday confirming earlier rumours. General Zhao Keshi, head of the armed forces’ logistics department, said that he was “fully aware of the great importance of replacing military number plates,” to prevent "forgery, over-issuing, theft, arbitrary use, and loss.” The new number plates, which replace those last issued in 2004, will employ six different technologies to prevent counterfeiting, including 3D-laser marks, the Beijing Times reported on Tuesday. Luxury cars - cars with a price tag above 450,000 yuan (HK$563,000) - will no be issued the new military plates, the daily wrote quoting the head of the Transport Bureau of the PLA Air Force Logistics Department, Xiang Yang. The move comes after Yu Jianrong, a scholar at the Academy of Social Sciences, launched a viral online campaign exposing luxury cars with military number plates. Some of these plates were later exposed as fake, while others were used privately by military staff. Military vehicles are exempt from road tolls in many places and are rarely inspected by police. In February, photos of Hong Kong action star Jackie Chan using a luxury car with a PLA number plate in Beijing spread on Weibo. Chan, who is also a delegate to the country’s top advisory body, earlier claimed that the United States were ”the most corrupt country” in the world. “Has our military hired Jackie Chan to teach soldiers martial arts?” Yu Jianrong wondered. 

Diplomats call for better relations (By ZHANG YUNBI Tokyo's ex-ambassador to Beijing says Sino-Japanese ties 'bleeding' Public diplomacy is "badly needed" to open more communication channels between China and Japan, veteran Japanese diplomats told China Daily on Monday. The current relationship between the two countries is like a human body that is "bleeding", said Yuji Miyamoto, Japanese ambassador to China from 2006 to 2010. Tang Jiaxuan (right), head of the China-Japan Friendship Association and former State councilor, hold talks with Yoichi Masuzoe, visiting president of Japan’s New Renaissance Party on Monday at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing. "To stem the blood flow and recover" is a top priority, he said. Sino-Japanese ties have been strained since the Japanese government illegally "nationalized" China's Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea last September. The former ambassador noted that people-to-people exchanges have experienced a major slump, and direct communications in the civilian sphere are "extremely inadequate". Miyamoto made the remarks on the same day that Tang Jiaxuan, head of the China-Japan Friendship Association and former State councilor, held talks with Yoichi Masuzoe, visiting president of Japan's New Renaissance Party. Masuzoe, who was Japanese minister of health, labor and welfare from 2007 to 2009, shared views with Tang regarding the current situation. Yasushi Akashi, former under secretary-general of the United Nations, said such delegations are "definitely helpful". These non-governmental exchanges and dialogues will "eventually lead to improvement on the official, governmental" dimension, said the veteran UN diplomat on peacekeeping and disarmament affairs. January witnessed visits to China by a series of prominent Japanese figures, including former Japanese prime minister Yukio Hatoyama. Natsuo Yamaguchi, head of Japan's New Komeito Party, a junior ruling coalition partner, also visited Beijing in a bid to open a channel of communication. Numerous visits - Former Japanese prime minister Tomiichi Murayama arrived in Beijing later in the same month. Hiromasa Yonekura, chairman of the Japan Business Federation and Fujio Cho, chairman of the Japan-China Economic Association, visited China on March 21. "As they say, 'One sparrow will not make the spring', so many sparrows have to come. And I hope many Chinese sparrows will also visit Japan," Akashi said. Compared with last September when there was a "serious crisis", Akashi said now "things are beginning to improve, but I think there is much potential for great improvement by the efforts of both Japan and China". A major conflict is "never an option" for both nations to resolve the islands dispute, the veteran diplomats suggested. This year marks the 35th anniversary of the China-Japan Peace and Friendship Treaty, which clearly stated both sides' determination to seek a peaceful resolution to sensitive issues. "Both bilateral documents and the UN Charter have made clear the need to resolve disputes through peaceful dialogue, and there is no space for resorting to armed forces," said Miyamoto, the former ambassador. As for the most important way to resolve the current standoff between the two largest Asian economies, Akashi, the former UN diplomat, said the islands issue should be discussed by both sides with "cool minds". "We have to develop this state of mind, which is rational, which is cool-headed, and we have to avoid armed conflicts by all the necessary means," Akashi said. Beijing dismissed Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera's claim in early February that a Chinese navy vessel had "locked its fire-control radar" on a Japanese destroyer in the East China Sea in late January. Yasushi Kudo, representative of Japan's Genron NPO think tank, suggested that communication be boosted between Beijing and Tokyo to enhance the bilateral capacity to manage crises. Unexpected conflicts may result from misjudgment and misunderstandings, and it is urgent to improve communications between Beijing and Tokyo to avoid misunderstandings of each other's intentions, Akashi said.

VP calls for 'Chinese Dream' encouragement (By Xinhua) Chinese Vice-President Li Yuanchao called for efforts from the public towards achieving the "Chinese Dream" during an inspection tour. Li, also a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, went to the cities of Zhuhai and Jiangmen in Guangdong Province from March 29 to 31, visiting communities, new development zones and foreign companies, talking to officials and members of the public. When speaking with residents in a community in Zhuhai, Li said the "Chinese Dream" is not only the vision of the country and the whole nation, but also the dream of every individual and family that is pursuing a better life. Li also called for a better protected eco-system and construction plan at a new development zone in Zhuhai, where he also visited a BP chemical plant, urging the company not to endanger the environment. When visiting Jiangmen, Li urged overseas Chinese people to make contributions to the "Chinese Dream," which is the rejuvenation of the whole nation.

Budget hotels fail hygiene inspections (By WANG HONGYI and SHI YINGYING in Shanghai and With a daily budget of just several hundred yuan, tourists in Shanghai have about a 10 percent chance of staying in a hotel room with subpar hygiene. Fifty-four budget hotels in Shanghai out of 500 inspected have been penalized for poor hygiene, the city's Health Supervision Department said. The department recently released the results of inspections of more than 500 economy hotels in the first quarter. among them were branches of many well-known chains, such as Hanting Inns and Hotels, 7 Days Inn, Home Inn and GreenTree Inns. The inspections checked health permits, hygiene management, facilities, work records, sterilization certificates and staff management. Most of the 54 hotels failed to provide heath certificates for their staff. Many of them failed to clean and sterilize the daily necessaries, such as sheets, towels and cups according to hotel rules. Four were penalized for operating businesses without a health permit. They are branches of the country's well-known hotels GreenTree Inns and 7 Days Inn. "So far, these 54 hotels have been asked to rectify the concerns within a certain timeframe. And details of the penalties will be released to the public later," said Hu Xuewei, a spokeswoman for the health supervision department. Regarding the accusation that one employee did not have a health and training certificate to directly serve a guest, a staff member at 7 Days Inn's Siping Road branch in Hongkou district told China Daily that those caught in the spot check are not their "regular employees". "They're only interns," said the employee who did not want to give his name. "Our regular workers and those in the probation period are qualified, but those caught in the random inspection are interns who are still getting familiar with their working environment and duties." He said the interns were working under the supervision of regular employees to cover jobs that didn't involve directly serving hotel guests. "Something like assisting the front desk," he said. A spokeswoman for Hanting Inns & Hotels said the budget chain is investigating the charge of "lacking public health permit" at their Pujiang town branch. "We haven't confirmed it yet," she said. The hygiene issue in hotels has drawn wide concern since last year when media reported that staff members at the country's leading budget hotel chains use face towels to clean cups and toilets. In March, a couple of reporters worked undercover at a Home Inn hotel in Ningbo, Zhejiang province, and found that the hotel maids cleaned toilets with face towels, according to a local newspaper. "I was shocked to see the news last year. I often choose budget hotels when I have business trip because they look clean and economic. It's really disgusting to learn this," said Wang Lubing, a local resident who works for an IT company. The Shanghai Health Supervision Department said it will beef up the supervision and inspections of local economy hotels. It will also work with local tourism department, informing the public the most recent hygiene information on hotels.

Young students in E China encouraged to read (China Daily) Students read books at a primary school in Liaocheng, East China's Shandong province, on April 1, 2013. To mark International Children Reading Day, students from the Media Technology Department of Shandong Liaocheng University met with 40 primary school students, during which volunteers helped and encouraged the children to develop good reading habits. 

Apple CEO apologizes in letter (By Yu Wei and Liu Baijiain New York and Apple Inc has issued a letter signed by CEO Tim Cook apologizing to Chinese consumers and announcing changes to several product-warranty terms in the wake of criticism from Chinese authorities, media and the public in recent weeks. In the letter, posted to Apple's Chinese-language website on Monday, Cook said he wanted to express "sincere apologies" for any misunderstandings caused by poor communication from the Cupertino, California, electronics company to customers in its second-biggest market. "We are aware that because of a lack of communication, some parties have seen Apple as arrogant or inattentive, or that it doesn't care or attach enough importance to consumer feedback," he wrote in the letter. "We express our sincere apologies for any concerns or misunderstandings this gave consumers." The company's public-relations problem hit its peak on March 15, which is World Right Day, when China Central Television reported that some of Apple's consumer policies discriminated against customers in China. CCTV interviewed several people who complained that while Apple would replace a damaged iPhone for a qualified consumer in the United States or another country, Chinese customers had to use the back cover from their old iPhone or buy a new cover. Other people said Apple offered only one-year warranties on the mainboard of its MacBook Air notebooks, even though Chinese consumer laws require computer makers to provide two-year protection for such components. A day after the program aired, Apple issued a statement saying it was committed to providing world-class products and services without directly addressing the Chinese accusations. The following week, on March 23, the company put out a second statement. It said there was no major difference between Apple's policies in China and other parts of the world and that Chinese consumers enjoy the highest standard of service, like Apple customers everywhere. Critics, however, found the second statement self-serving. The People's Daily, the largest daily newspaper in China, published editorials and reports for several days afterward that, among other things, accused Apple of being "arrogant" in failing to respond to Chinese consumers. Xinhua News Agency carried similarly critical stories and commentary. Last week, two Chinese government agencies tasked with protecting consumers' rights and industrial standards urged the US tech giant to revise its warranty policies to conform to Chinese law. The agencies also told local subordinate bodies nationwide to increase scrutiny of Apple products and consumer practices. According to the company's latest statement, Apple then reviewed feedback regarding its service and warranty policies, consulted relevant government agencies about laws and rules, reviewed its communication procedures and worked to "streamline" customer-feedback processes with its authorized service providers in China. Cook also said the company would further train its authorized resellers on Apple's warranty policies and clearly post these online. Anna Han, a professor at Santa Clara University School of Law in California, said many multinationals that enter China don't succeed because they try to copy practices from their home market, which can leave them in breach of domestic laws. "However, in the case of Apple, there seems to have been more of a public-relations issue, where the warranties were slightly different in China from its US warranties," she said. Although Apple has the vast majority of its products made in China, it's likely that growth in that market has outpaced the company's ability "to put in place the necessary customer-service infrastructure", said Jason Dedrick, who teaches in Syracuse University's School of Information Studies. In the US, Apple operates a nationwide network of retail stores to provide service to customer concerns. But China has only a few Apple stores, and third-party vendors render most customer service. Multinational companies, Dedrick said, often face difficulties in adjusting to, and complying with, local regulations and customs. In a market as huge as Apple's is in China, the risk from compliance lapses can be significant. "One lesson is that it often is better to go slower and build the necessary relationships, infrastructure and understanding of a new market before going all-out to build market share," he said. China is Apple's second-biggest market, after the US. The company's Chinese sales last year totaled $23.8 billion, which was 15 percent of total worldwide revenue. Citigroup Inc analyst Glen Yeung said that if the negative publicity led to a reduction of half of Apple's market share in China, as happened to US-based Hewlett-Packard Co after a recall of notebook computers in 2010, the cost to Apple could be as high as $13.1 billion. Apple's stocks closed on Monday at $428.91, down 3 percent. Most analysts expect any damage Apple suffers in China will be minor. Van Baker, research vice-president of mobility with US technology consulting firm Gartner Inc, said that if Apple "adequately" addresses consumer complaints in China, the impact should be minimal, given CEO Cook's letter of apology and promises of revised practices.

New frontier of resource wealth beckons Chinese (By Eddy Lok) The Canadian booth at a mining conference in Tianjin in 2011. Canada contains abundant deposits of copper, chromium, zinc, nickel, platinum, vanadium and gold. Canada's northern territories offer rich opportunities for mining companies. Escalating costs and volatile exchange rates have meant tough times for the global mining sector, but Canada in coming years could see steady interest from Chinese companies drawn to its reserves of minerals and other resources. Trade lawyers familiar with them said Chinese companies in the sector are well suited to invest in the vast mineral wealth of Canada's far north - an area almost half the size of China - thanks to favorable mining laws and policies. "It is a great buying opportunity for Chinese companies and a perfect time for us to marry investors looking for expansion globally," said Ian McBride, a partner in Toronto-based law firm Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg LLP, which has been active in China since the 1970s. Chinese clients have hired the firm to work on takeover bids for foreign public companies, minority-stake purchases, joint ventures and other legal matters. McBride and fellow Davies Ward partner Peter Mendell, speaking at the site of a March 4 symposium in Toronto on mining and China, said Canada is increasingly open for Chinese investment in its natural resources, especially compared to traditional mining destinations such as Australia. Canada could become a magnet for Chinese mining companies looking to expand abroad, including by purchasing stakes in publicly traded Canadian companies with domestic and foreign assets, the two lawyers told China Daily at the symposium, which was organized by the Canada China Chamber of Commerce and the China Mining Association. "We don't expect a tidal wave of, or reckless, Chinese investments, but such will be carefully thought out, taking into consideration the risks and factors like financial and infrastructure," McBride said. He said it's clear that Chinese companies are interested in assets in the three territories that make up Canada's far north - Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut - buoyed by the Canadian government's welcoming policies in anticipation of a boom in mineral exploration and development. In addition to untapped minerals in the region, several mining companies listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange have acquired leases to explore reserves in other countries. That provides further enticement for Chinese investors, said McBride, who expects that foreign investment in Canadian assets will take the form of joint ventures and minority stakes in domestic companies. 

Hong Kong*:  April 3 2013

Fans tie Leslie Cheung's death anniversary with Hong Kong history (By Jolie Ho Miss you much: Fans lay flowers and photos of late Canto-pop star Leslie Cheung outside the Mandarin Oriental in Central. Miss you much: Fans lay flowers and photos of late Canto-pop star Leslie Cheung outside the Mandarin Oriental in Central. Thousands of fans were moved to mark the 10th anniversary of actor-singer Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing's death at exhibitions, concerts and a candlelight vigil in the city yesterday. Hundreds choose to retrace the footsteps of "Gor Gor", an affectionate nickname meaning "older brother" in Cantonese, by visiting the places where he shot music videos and movie scenes, such as the pop song Stand Up and the film Days of Being Wild. The sites included the old legislative council building, a herbal tea shop in Hollywood Street, and Pound Lane, where the government wants to build an escalator. Photos, videos and songs of the late gay icon were played and displayed at each site, and a brief talk was given about the historical locations. The tour started at 2pm at the Mandarin Oriental in Central, where Cheung jumped to his death at the age of 46. Dozens of wreaths and bouquets from around the world were laid outside the hotel yesterday. "We don't want Gor Gor [or historical buildings] to become a collective memory, we want him to still be alive today," said Leslie Chan Ka-long, chairman of Our Bus Terminal, which organised the tour with fellow conservation body Western Concern Group. Rick Chau Chi-pong, 35, a financial consultant, said: "It is very meaningful and special to remember Gor Gor at these places, and to learn more about the history of the old streets at the same time." Yesterday at midday, a 20th anniversary charity screening of Farewell My Concubine - which brought Cheung international acclaim for his portrayal of a gay opera singer - was shown at the Sunbeam Theatre in North Point. Hsu Feng, producer of the film, said she would never remake the movie because she believed Cheung's performance was unparalleled. "What I remember about him the most is when we went to the film festival in Cannes and the Oscars. He told me, 'I now know that making a good film and receiving international recognition outside Hong Kong [makes me] so happy. As an actor, I am already satisfied.'" Cynthia Wong Xinxin, 25, came from Beijing to Hong Kong for seven days to attend the exhibitions and concerts celebrating Gor Gor's life. "I like the fact that he was handsome, persistent in the pursuit of art and a very kind person," she said.

Keep the faith, hotelier Hari Harilela tells Hongkongers in wake of tensions (By Dennis Chong Hotelier believes that tolerance is the only way to ease tensions between the city and mainland - Hari Harilela, with his son Aron, believes that only tolerance can bring people together and that understanding is a prerequisite for solutions to disputes. Prominent hotelier Hari Harilela, who built his fortune by making critical investments during the 1960s riots, has urged Hongkongers to keep faith with their home as the city experiences tension and uncertainty about its future. Harilela, often dubbed the richest Indian in the city, has risen from being a child born to an impoverished family to one of the best-known investors in the region's hotel industry. Commenting on the recent political conflict and tension between Hong Kong and the mainland, the 91-year-old entrepreneur and philanthropist said that only tolerance could bring people together and that understanding was a prerequisite for good solutions to disputes. Admitting, in an exclusive interview with the South China Morning Post, that he spoke from a business point of view, Harilela also said Hongkongers should consider the reasons for the city's thriving economy and be grateful for its success and its proximity to the mainland. His son, Aron, said the prevalence of protests in the city was however rooted in the fact that people were not well represented in the political system. He called for universal suffrage, but also expressed reservations about a one-man, one-vote system that could not narrow the scope of candidates. "Where is our home? Our home is in Hong Kong," the elder Harilela said in a wide-ranging interview in his Tsim Sha Tsui office, recounting personal stories, life challenges and his views on how to keep families together in a fast-changing world. Founded with his two brothers Peter and George, the Harilela Group first focused on textiles but expanded into capital-intensive real estate when political unrest gripped the city. "In the 1967 riots, everybody was turning away. They sold their properties," he said. He did not agree. "I said 'no'. We had made our home here. We must have faith." It was this gamble, based on a gut feeling, that helped to pave the way for the group's growth. Harilela said that the city's businessmen had always been good at building bridges and mutual trust, adding that this culture should continue to develop in order for the city to prevail amid keen competition and globalisation. "The culture of Hong Kong is business. Vienna has a music culture. Hong Kong means business," he said. Asked about mistrust towards Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, Harilela said wounds took time to heal. "Everyone who takes the high job wants to do something good for Hong Kong; he's not going to sit back and do nothing. We have to take time." Saying that he now refrains from speaking about politics, the former adviser to Beijing on Hong Kong affairs said, however, that Hong Kong could have freedom, but with an understanding that it was "freedom under China". "We are part of China. No matter how we want freedom, it's freedom under China. When the British were here, we lived under the British. Their rule was a bit stricter," Harilela said. Aron Harilela attributed an increasing number of protests to disenfranchisement arising from lack of political representation and difficulty in securing jobs and homes. "People don't feel represented, whether in Legco and the District Council - that's why there are protests in Hong Kong, from small to big issues," said the chief executive of Harilela Hotels and member of general committee of the General Chamber of Commerce. "There is no doubt we need political reform." But he said that he supported the idea of narrowing the scope of candidates through such means as a primary election and increasing the link of the chief executive to political parties.

More Hollywood film made in Hong Kong - Exotic Hong Kong stars in Hollywood - again (By Joanna Chiu Mexican director Del Toro recreates urban streets then flattens them, just like in the movies - A Chinese robot defends its land from a monsters' attack in Pacific Rim. It's the stuff of movies: a 25-storey-tall robot drags an oil tanker through the streets of Hong Kong, creating a trail of destruction, to face off with a sea monster. Hong Kong's not new to Hollywood, but more and more foreign filmmakers are finding the city's appeal to moviegoers around the world is worth putting their money on. And the latest to look to Hong Kong is Hollywood director Guillermo del Toro, with his US$150 million Pacific Rim, about robots defending the world against monsters from the ocean. "We built several blocks of Hong Kong to destroy, and then we destroyed them," del Toro said on Saturday at WonderCon, an annual comic book, science fiction and motion picture convention in California. To film the scene, entire blocks of Hong Kong were recreated inside the largest film studios of North America and Britain. We built several blocks of Hong Kong to destroy, and then we destroyed them - Del Toro's use of Hong Kong reflects Hollywood's increasing interest in the city, although his is the first production to build a large-scale imitation instead of shooting on location, so the destruction could be real. "Every time the monster would hit, the whole set would rock from one side to the other, front and back," he said of the hydraulic-powered set. Hollywood movies filmed in Hong Kong in recent years included Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011), Contagion (2011) and The Dark Knight (2008). Juno Mak, producer of upcoming vampire film Rigor Mortis, said he did not like the way the city was stereotyped, but felt the international presence could create opportunities. "It can help us tell our local stories to an international audience."

Hong Kong on alert for deadly bird flu strain, says health minister (By Lo Wei Hong Kong’s health minister said on Monday that the city was on high alert for anyone infected with H7N9 avian flu virus after the mainland announced on Sunday three people had contracted the virus. The three people infected – two of whom died in Shanghai last month and one who is currently in critical condition in Anhui – are the first known cases of humans contracting the virus, previously found only in birds. Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man said in a radio interview on Monday that control measures and tests currently available would be effective in screening for the virus, especially the city’s border body temperature checks as all three mainland victims had fevers. “When medical staff come across suspected cases they will isolate them as soon as possible, and we have rapid tests that can diagnose H7 viral infections,” said Ko. Speaking of the mainland cases, Ko said that as tests showed the three had not infected each other, there was the possibility of more than one infection source and it iwas now important to look out for any epidemics among animals. Another important task, he said, would be to find out if there had been any human-to-human transmission. One of those who died in Shanghai was an 87-year-old man, whose two sons both contracted pneumonia, with one eventually dying of it. H7N9 had not been found in the either of them, but even if they were infected with the virus, it might not necessary mean human-to-human transmission, said Ko. When questioned about the Chinese government’s delay in reporting the cases, Ko said diagnosis involving the first cases of human infection usually took a long time.

Terminal operator in court seeking to expel strikers (By Phila Siu and Patsy Moy) Stanley Ho (third, left) of the Union of Hong Kong Dockers, Labour Party legislator Lee Cheuk-yan (fourth, left) and supporters demonstrate outside the High Court on Monday. About 1,000 dockers and their supporters were gathered at the Kwai Tsing Container Terminals on Monday afternoon as they awaited the result of the port operators’ attempt to get a court order barring them from the terminal. The dispute, now in its fifth day, began on 28 March when the dockers went on strike demanding a 17 per cent pay rise. The dock workers said they have had more pay cuts in the last decade than pay rises, and that they are making less than they did a decade ago. The port operators, Hongkong International Terminals and COSCO-HIT Terminals, put up notices at the terminal on Monday morning, telling the dockers and their supporters to leave by noon. But the operator took no action once the deadline passed. In the High Court on Monday afternoon, the port operators sought an injunction against 14 unionists, workers and any unauthorised people, including lawmaker "Long Hair" Lee Cheuk-yan, from entering, remaining inside, and preventing or obstructing access to the port’s four terminals. Some of the unionists and their supporters, including Leung Kwok-hung, were present in court. Court of First Instance Judge Patrick Li Hon-leung hearing the case on Monday asked the unionists and their supporters to restrain themselves. "Please respect the court. Even if you want to chant a slogan, your targeted audience won’t hear it," Li said. The judge will decide on whether or not to grant the injunction at 9pm.

 China*:  April 3 2013

Hong Kong, mainland Chinese firms eye Malaysia bullet train plan (Toh Han Shih Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (left) and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. Hong Kong and mainland Chinese companies are interested in a recently announced high-speed railway planned to link Singapore with Kuala Lumpur, according to Mohamad Nur Ismal Kamal, chief executive of Malaysia's Land Public Transport Commission. The budget for the project, due to be completed in 2020, will be "tens of billions of Singapore dollars," Mohamad Nur Ismal said at the recent Asia-Pacific Rail conference in Hong Kong. "We have been in talks with Hong Kong companies, some from [the] rail and property [sectors]. We had some informal enquiries from Chinese companies," he said, adding that Japanese, French, Spanish and German companies have also made informal enquiries. Tendering for the project may begin in a year. Investment will be sought from the private sector, including from foreign investors, and the Malaysian and Singaporean governments will plug funding gaps, Mohamad Nur Ismal said. A high-speed railway will cut the journey time for the 400 kilometres between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to 90 minutes. It currently takes about four hours by road, or an overnight trip using existing train services. Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced the plan to build the high-speed railway at a press conference in Singapore on February 19. At a meeting before the press conference, both prime ministers changed the original wording of their joint statement, drafted by government officials, said Mohamad Nur Ismal. "We expected a more cautious statement," he said. "[The two prime ministers] wanted something stronger, so they rolled up their sleeves and wrote something stronger: 'We have agreed to do it'. "The details are sketchy but the intentions are clear. Transportation is not the sole push factor driving this railway … the potential for economic development is an equally tantalising prospect," he said. "We are hoping the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur high-speed railway will spur development. Cities along the corridor stand to benefit immensely. Our intention is to create high-value-added jobs." The railway is expected to boost industries in the Malaysian cities it passes through, including Kuala Lumpur, Seremban, Malacca and Johor Bahru. The Malaysian government plans to expand financial services in Kuala Lumpur, build up small and medium-sized enterprises in Seremban, promote tourism in Malacca and focus on education in Johor Bahru, Mohamad Nur Ismal said. "A high-speed railway will help tourism, health care, manufacturing and education." But he said the railway will affect the cross-border aviation market. In Europe, air travel between Paris and Brussels virtually disappeared after high-speed rail was introduced.

Taiwan permits 20pc mainland Chinese stake in banks (By Bloomberg in Taipei) Raised limit on financial institution ownership comes amid deeper cross-strait integration - Taiwan will let mainland lenders own up to 20 per cent of some financial institutions, raising the limit on ownership as cross-strait economic integration deepens. A single mainland lender will be allowed to own as much as 20 per cent of a banking unit of a financial holding company, Taiwan's Financial Supervisory Commission (FSC) said in a statement. The new cap will take effect as soon as possible, Kuei Hsien-Nung, director general of the FSC's banking bureau, said after China Banking Regulatory Commission chairman Shang Fulin met Chen Yuh-chang, Taiwan's top market regulator, in Taipei yesterday. The increased scope for investment from the mainland coincides with President Xi Jinping's pledge to promote cross-strait exchange and better ties, and as the island's lenders seek greater profits outside of a saturated home market. A March report by Standard & Poor's said Taiwan's banking sector profitability is "mediocre" compared with its peers in Asia. "Taiwan lenders anticipate attracting Chinese investment and are eying future expansion opportunities in China," Chuang Piyen, a Taipei-based banking analyst at Mega Securities, said before the announcement. Mainland lenders will be allowed to take a 15 per cent stake in an unlisted bank or holding company and 10 per cent of a listed bank or holding company, from 5 per cent of Taiwan financial institutions, the FSC said. The mainland will let its commercial banks invest in Taiwan stocks under the qualified domestic institutional investor, or QDII, programme. An agreement between the regulators signed yesterday will take effect within 60 days, the FSC said. Mainland Chinese banks are currently allowed to invest in securities markets in Hong Kong, Singapore, Britain, the US and Japan. Taiwan lenders began taking yuan deposits on the island in February, as well as underwriting debt in yuan, after an agreement was signed last year allowing for yuan clearing in Taiwan. Xi said in February that Communist Party leaders have a duty to seek peaceful reunification with Taiwan and pledged to uphold the one-China principle, the official Xinhua News Agency reported after a meeting between Xi and Kuomintang honorary chairman Lien Chan. On March 17, at the closing of this year's National People's Congress, Xi pledged to improve relations across the Taiwan Strait. Taiwan's financial regulator in 2011 urged lenders to expand faster on the mainland as competition erodes returns at home. The lenders have the second-narrowest net margin in the Asia-Pacific region after Japan. Taiwan Business Bank has received approval from the CBRC to set up an initial branch in Shanghai, bringing the number of Taiwan bank branches on the mainland to 11.

Signs of a thaw appear in Sino-Japan relations (By Keith Zhai Envoys' visits are indications that neither Tokyo nor Beijing want all-out conflict, analyst says - China and Japan are showing signs of thawing relations, as the two Asian powers have resumed cultural exchanges after their long and heated row over disputed islands in the East China Sea. The former president of Japan's House of Councillors, Satsuki Eda, is to visit Beijing this month and meet with Chinese Education Minister Yuan Guiren and Culture Minister Cai Wu , the Kyodo News Agency reported yesterday. Eda, who now heads the Japan-China Friendship Centre in Tokyo, was also planning to meet with newly appointed foreign minister, Wang Yi , a fluent-Japanese speaker, the report said. The report came during a visit to Japan by Li Xiaolin, the president of the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries and the youngest daughter of former president Li Xiannian. Li reportedly went to Japan on Sunday and planned to stay until Friday to "participate in cultural events". She was expected to give Japanese political figures a message from President Xi Jinping about bilateral ties. A person familiar with her itinerary said Li would attend the opening of a Chinese book fair in Tokyo today. Yang Bojiang, director of Japanese studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, called the recent visits warm-ups for future meetings between the countries' leaders. Neither side wants the overall trend of improving relations to be disrupted by the territorial dispute - "Neither side wants the overall trend of improving relations to be disrupted by the territorial dispute," Yang said, adding that cultural and non-governmental exchanges were of mutual interest to both countries. Exchanges between the two countries have been significantly reduced since Japan's purchase last year of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea that are known to Beijing as the Diaoyus and to Japan as the Senkakus. The tensions have fuelled fears of a military confrontation between the countries. Most recently, Japan's coastguard reported that three Chinese surveillance vessels were patrolling near the contested islands in a show of force. It was the 35th such incident since Japan moved to assert its control in the area. Li Xiaolin, however, said in an interview with state broadcaster China Central Television before her departure that her duty as the president of the association was to assure other countries that China is not a threat. Liang Yunxiang , an international relations specialist at Peking University, said the resumption of cultural exchanges were a sign that all-out war is not a possibility between China and Japan, and even that a small-scale conflict is unlikely. "The two sides have had periodic deteriorations in bilateral ties in the past, but they usually find a way to work things out," Liang said.

Two men die in Shanghai in first human cases of bird flu strain (By Lo Wei and He Huifeng) Two men succumb in Shanghai within two weeks of contracting lesser-known H7N9 virus, with a woman in Anhui still in critical condition - A vendor waits for customers near chicken cages at a market in Fuyang city, Anhui province, on March 31, 2013. Two mainlanders have died and a third is critically ill after they became the first reported human cases of infection by a lesser-known strain of bird flu. The National Health and Family Planning Commission said yesterday it wasn't clear how the three became infected, but there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission. The commission said the two men - aged 87 and 27 - died in Shanghai after becoming infected with the H7N9 strain of the avian influenza virus. The 87-year-old died on March 4 and the 27-year-old on March 10, both within two weeks of falling ill, the commission said. The woman, 35, of Chuzhou, Anhui province, was said to be in a critical condition. She fell ill on March 9 after coming into contact with poultry. The victims showed symptoms of fever and coughing and later developed severe pneumonia and breathing difficulties. Experts say the virus does not seem to be highly contagious but appears more deadly than other strains of the H7 virus that have previously infected humans. There was no indication the three contracted the disease from each other and no signs of H7N9 infection among the 88 people who had closest contact with them, the medical agency said. However, two relatives of the 87-year-old victim developed pneumonia around the same time he did. Their diagnoses have yet to be confirmed. One of them - his 55-year-old son - has died. University of Hong Kong's Centre of Infection president Dr Ho Pak-leung said H7N9 infections seen in poultry were usually mild. "This time it has caused deaths and critical conditions, even in young patients. This shows that there is a chance of virus mutation," he said. But Guangdong Health Department spokesman Feng Shaomin said the department saw no need to launch emergency measures among tourists ahead of the Ching Ming Festival. Influenza diagnosis tests in Hong Kong target the more common swine influenza and the H5N1 avian influenza. Ho said H7 viruses were less common in Asia and adjustments to the tests may now be needed. H7N9 is a statutorily notifiable infectious disease in Hong Kong. There is no vaccine. Some Shanghai residents and internet users were angered at the delay in disclosing the three cases. But Ho said the delay was understandable as time was needed to identify the virus. Hong Kong's Centre for Health Protection said it was maintaining close contact with mainland health authorities and reminded the public to observe personal hygiene. The World Health Organisation said it was "closely monitoring the situation". More than 360 confirmed human deaths from H5N1 had been reported globally since 2003, it said. 

Chinese Shoppers' top destinations is Europe (By Gao Yuan Chinese people visiting Europe may spend less because of the thriving e-commerce business in China, which may offset Chinese people's purchasing power overseas, according to Global Blue, a tourism shopping service provider. But e-commerce remains both good and bad in battle among high street stores - European nations were the most favorite shopping destinations for Chinese buyers in 2012 and they are set to spend even more shopping overseas, according to a report by Global Blue, a tourism shopping service provider. Chinese shoppers spent a record 3 billion euros ($3.9 billion) on duty-free shopping in 2012, an increase of nearly 60 percent year-on-year, according to Nyon, a Switzerland-based company. The figure could see a 20 to 25 percent growth in 2013, it added. The amount only included transactions handled by Global Blue. "China represented a quarter of total transactions for us. The nation is the source of the world's largest number of travelers," said Arjen Kruger, executive vice-president and chief marketing officer of Global Blue. The company report showed more than 80 percent of Chinese tourists see shopping as a vital part of their overseas trips. Watches and jewelry were among the most favorite items for Chinese shoppers, followed by fashion and lifestyle items. Along with the Chinese government's intensified battle against bribery and its advocacy of a frugal lifestyle, analysts said the government's move will, to some extent, deter newly rich Chinese from spending excessively on luxury goods such as watches and jewelry. However, Kruger believes it is still too early to assess the effect on the shopping industry. "The actual impact may not show itself in the upcoming quarters," he said. First choice - European countries were the top options for Chinese shoppers, said the report. Most Chinese tourists chose to visit France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom in 2012. The number of Chinese tourists going to the United States accounted for about a quarter of those who visited European countries. Although the United States government started to lure international travelers by pushing its tourism industry, Europe will remain the top destinations for Chinese travelers. France was the top choice for global travelers but Chinese people are especially fond of going to Germany than shoppers from other regions, according to Kruger. In addition to the fact that Chinese buyers are "very much appreciated", the quality of German goods and strong economic ties between the two nations also helped to boost Chinese people's spending in the European country. Furthermore, the minimum amount that shoppers have to spend in order to enjoy tax benefits in Germany is significantly lower than in other countries, a hidden factor that may boost spending. Any purchase above 25 euros qualifies for a tax refund in Germany. Overseas travelers have to spend about 250 euros on each purchase in order to enjoy a refund in Switzerland, Kruger said. "It does not necessarily have to be goods with expensive price tags for Chinese shoppers. Less-expensive items could also have an accumulated impact on total spending," he said. Germany's role as an important entry and exit port in Europe also attracted a large number of Chinese tourists. The country has two major international airports in Munich and Frankfurt. Berlin will become a third major hub for Chinese tourists to enter Europe. The average transaction size for Chinese shoppers was 875 euros last year, the highest among all nationalities, according to Global Blue. The second highest spenders were Thais, who on average spent 765 euros. "Most of the top spenders in the past were visitors from Asian countries including Malaysia, Japan and Singapore. It reflected the overall economic development in that region," said Kruger. Because expenses such as traveling and hotels do not include tax refunds, it is difficult to estimate the total spending of Chinese tourists, he added. Traveling behavior - It is easy to tell Chinese travelers from other Asian nationalities because Chinese people tend to travel in groups. Although the number of independent Chinese travelers surged over the past decade, roughly 60 to 70 percent of Chinese shoppers travel in groups, said Kruger, adding the situation is very likely to continue over the next decade or so. "If the visa process in some European nations can be simplified, it will certainly attract more Chinese travelers in the future," he added. Worries remain that Chinese people visiting Europe may spend less because of the thriving e-commerce business in China, which may offset Chinese people's purchasing power overseas. "There is a big difference between e-commerce and physical-world purchasing. The price point is much lower online than in brick-and-mortar stores but the buyers will not able to feel and touch the item that they intend to buy," said Kruger. The experiential factor also plays an important role when people are buying luxury goods, he added. "To be able to purchase something original, where it has been manufactured, offers high-end buyers the oppoertunity to experience the craftsmanship and eliminate any possibilities of buying a counterfeit product." In the long run, e-commerce will have a positive effect on brick-and-mortar shopping because the Internet allows people to see more items and services and destination information. Such information will increase people's appetite to visit and look at the products where they originated, he said. "The growing size of the middle class in China will benefit outbound traveling," Kruger added. Asian destinations will become more popular in the next five to 10 years for first-time and second-time travelers because such trips are usually less expensive, he said.

Food for thought in the retail business (By LI WOKE An employee of Wal-Mart Stores Inc asking a man not to take a photo at a Wal-Mart outlet in Nanjing, capital city of East China's Jiangsu province. Wal-Mart said in March that it will close two stores in April after a business appraisal. One is in Wuxi city and the other is in the city where it has its China headquarters - Shenzhen. A 7-Eleven convenience store under construction in Shanghai. As early as last year the world's largest convenience store retailer confirmed store closures in Guangzhou, saying it was part of a business adjustment. The concept of a "convenience" store jars with 55-year-old retired doctor Xu Zeng ever since her nearest one, just downstairs from her apartment in Liwan district of Guangzhou, closed. Xu now has to walk for at least 20 minutes every morning to get a bottle of hot milk or steamed stuffed buns for breakfast. "Store closures are common here. There is always a shop closing while another opens," said Xu with a shrug. When she worries about her long daily walk, many foreign retailers are worrying about their business performance in the country. Last year, the world's largest convenience store retailer, 7-Eleven, confirmed store closures in Guangzhou, capital city of South China's Guangdong province, saying it was part of a business adjustment. Even the world's largest retail giant by sales, Wal-Mart Stores Inc, said in March that it will close two stores in April after a business appraisal. One is in Wuxi city and the other is in the city where it has its China headquarters — Shenzhen. In September last year, Home Depot Inc closed all seven of its remaining stores in China after years of financial losses, while Best Buy Co closed its nine outlets in the country in early 2011, after having discovered that their Western business models don't work well in an oriental culture. In addition to store closures, foreign retailers have slowed down their expansion in the country. Wal-Mart said it plans to open around 33 stores a year. In past years the figure was around 50. According to Kantar Worldpanel, a London-based consumer research company, two leading retail groups, the Sun Art Retail Group and Wal-Mart, both experienced declining market share in the last quarter of 2012, with Wal-Mart seeing the most significant drop. Wal-Mart's weaker performance was driven by fewer shoppers visiting the store rather than shoppers spending less with the retailer. "Store closures were part of the company's business adjustment, which was caused by the poor efficiency of the outlets," said a spokeswoman at 7-Eleven Shanghai. "Store location, company strategy, business performance and other considerations combine to create a decisive factor regarding the adjustment of stores," Li Ling, senior director of public relations at Wal-Mart China, was quoted by China Business News as saying. Industry experts said because of severe competition, store closures are common for retailers. Some may need to upgrade or die according to the company's expansion strategies and the country's gloomy economy. Last year, China's economic expansion slowed to 7.8 percent year-on-year amid external jitters and domestic woes. Last year's figure was the slowest year of growth for China since 1999 and was down from 9.3 percent in 2011 and 10.4 percent in 2010, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. Following the application of the economic brake, the Chinese retail industry stumbled through the year. Data from the China Chain Store & Franchise Association reveals that total sales of the top 100 large retail chains in China increased more than 20 percent year-on-year to 1.65 trillion yuan ($265 billion) in 2011, and last year's sales growth continued to decline although the figures are not available so far. The total sales in 2010 were 1.66 trillion yuan, a year-on-year increase of 21.2 percent. Department store sales also reflected the decline in the Chinese retail industry. Shin Kong Place, which topped sales among department stores in 2011, achieved total sales revenue of 7.3 billion yuan in 2012 with a year-on-year growth rate of 12.3 percent. In comparison, it experienced rapid sales growth from 2009 to 2011 at a rate of 30 percent. Online rivals - Another retail giant, Guangzhou Grandbuy, saw negative net profit growth for the first time since it was publicly listed in 2007 and its annual operating revenue only slightly increased by 2.3 percent year-on-year to 7.35 billion yuan in 2012, while in 2010, the growth rate of its operating revenue was still higher than 20 percent, according to the annual financial report of the Shenzhen-listed company. "In addition to standard economic reasons, traditional retailers have been affected greatly by online sales over recent years, especially regarding highly standardized and hard-to-carry products, such as rice, personal care items, cooking oil and beer," said Doreen Wang, head of client solutions at Millward Brown, part of WPP Plc, a British marketing communication giant. On last year's Singles' Day, which was Nov 11, more than 100 million visitors pushed up's sales to 13.2 billion yuan. Sales revenue figures on this day alone were equivalent to the monthly or yearly revenue figures of other similar platforms in China. According to a report released by China E-Commerce Research Center, an independent e-commerce research institution, the online retail market in China grew at a very rapid pace in recent years. In 2012, the transaction volume of the online retail market in China surged by 64.7 percent year-on-year to 1.32 trillion yuan. The figure will hit $27.1 billion in 2014. Although some traditional retailers' businesses slowed down, others have maintained or increased their growth. French Carrefour SA, the world's second largest retailer by revenue, said it will retain an expansion speed of around 20 to 25 new outlets in China every year. Carrefour announced on March 18 it had opened its first hypermarket in Inner Mongolia autonomous region to further its penetration into lower tier cities. Currently, Carrefour has 220 stores in more than 60 cities in China. The UK's Tesco Plc is reported to be adding 16 new stores a year, almost the same as previous years. In 2012, German Metro Group opened a record high of 12 stores, three to four times its original annual rate. The 12 new stores are mostly located in tier two and tier three cities, including Zhongshan and Shunde in Guangdong province. "China is one of the most important focus countries for Metro Group. We were the growth leader in the industry last year thanks to our correct strategies in areas such as delivery and e-commerce," said the company. As a modern business-to-business wholesaler, Metro China operates 64 wholesale centers in 45 cities across China, serving professional customers including hotels, restaurants, canteens, small and medium-sized retailers, companies, offices and institutions. Chinese players - Some Chinese players also did very well last season. Yonghui Superstores Co has been emerging as the fastest-growing retailer in the industry. The Fujian-based supermarket chain said it plans to have 350 stores and 50 billion yuan in sales revenue by 2014. According to Kantar Worldpanel, Yonghui continues to grow on an annual basis through its expansion into new provinces, allowing the retailer to reach more Chinese households. Yonghui's growth has been most impressive in Beijing where 28 percent of households have now visited the store over the last 52 weeks. "The success of Yonghui is mainly down to our business model, focusing on the fresh products section, which occupies around 40 to 50 percent of store floorspace," said Ye Changqing, a representative of Yonghui's chairman office. "The fresh goods we are selling are directly delivered from the production bases in order to save costs." "Compared with local retailers, foreign retailers have better logistics and management skills but they have fewer resources in regional areas," said Chu Dong, vice-secretary-general of China Chain Store and Franchise Association. "Local retailers have great strengths by knowing what the neighborhood really needs, especially in the fresh goods sector, which can eventually win over local customers' hearts," said Millward Brown's Wang. Chu added that this year most of the retailers, both domestic and foreign, will focus on same-store sales rather than expansion speed after considering rising labor and property costs. "Our annual new store target — 20 to 25 stores per year — is a good balance between expansion speed and quality. If the speed is too slow, we will lose the market. If it's too fast, we may sacrifice quality," said Thierry Garnier, president and chief executive officer of Carrefour China. "Currently, China has entered into a stable development period in the retail sector. In the future all retailers will have to look at untouched areas, such as those to the west or in the countryside," said Wang Tian, chairman of the Hunan-based Better-Life Commercial Chain Share Co. He added the company will accelerate expansion in Jiangxi, Yunnan and Hunan provinces. Metro said when it plans to enter a new market, it looks for cities with a good existing base and further potential to support its business model. This means it will look at the local economic development level and infrastructure, disposable income level, as well as local professional customer base including the number and scale of hotels, restaurants, canteens, offices and their market outlook. "Retailers cannot merely rely on offering low-price goods in order to survive in the market," said Wang. "They should differentiate their markets and provide face-to-face services and lifestyle experiences for customers." "The next three to five years will be a crucial period for China's economic transition and also a transition period from buying necessities to purchasing a comfortable or luxury lifestyle," said Jason Yu, general manager at Kantar Worldpanel China. Garnier said: "The rapid development of China's economy and purchasing power of the citizens bring a great opportunity to retailing. Whether it's international or local retailers, their business, product quality, services and supply chain integration will expand."

2 cities in bid to cool real estate market (By China Daily) Authorities in Guangzhou and Shenzhen, two large cities in Guangdong province, announced detailed regulations on Sunday to further cool the real estate market amid expectations of rising property prices this year. According to the regulations, Guangzhou, the provincial capital, will provide land for residential use of up to 5.95 square kilometers this year, up 1.47 sq km compared with the average during the past five years. Those without hukou in the city are permitted to buy houses after they have continually paid tax or social security fees there for one year or longer two years before they buy a house. Houses for sale are advertised at a real estate agency in Beijing. The municipal government announced detailed rules on Saturday aimed at cooling the property market. "The measures are aimed at better cooling down the property market by providing more land for residential use," said Huang Wenbo, spokesman for the Guangzhou Land Resources and Housing Administrative Bureau. Land for construction of small- and medium-sized dwellings will account for at least 70 percent of the total for residential use, according to the regulations. The regulations in Guangzhou did not mention detailed measures to limit property prices. But Huang said the city's rules are strictly in line with the central government's policies. "We will strictly implement the 20-percent tax on capital gains from property sales," he said. In contrast, authorities in Shenzhen have planned to limit the price increase of new properties below the city's per capita disposable income target, which was set at 9 percent by the local people's congress earlier this year. However, authorities in Shenzhen did not explain how they will implement the 20-percent tax on capital gains from property sales. The southern special economic zone also planned to build some 40,000 units of affordable government-subsidized properties this year. Before Guangzhou and Shenzhen's detailed rules, Beijing, Shanghai and Chongqing, along with Hefei in Anhui province and Xiamen in Fujian province, also announced on Saturday how they will implement the central government's regulatory plan set earlier in March. In Beijing, single adults with the capital's hukou — household registration — are allowed to buy only one apartment, as opposed to two previously. Meanwhile, banks in Shanghai will be banned from giving loans to residents who own two apartments and are attempting to buy more. The city will strictly follow the 20 percent tax policy and increase the down payment and mortgage rates for second-home purchases, depending on market conditions. Zhou Feng, a senior manager with the real estate agent MyTopHome in Guangzhou, said transactions of secondhand properties in the city will decline after the rules are announced. "A large number of residents sold their properties before the regulation finally took force. So transactions in the following months will decrease," he said. Transactions of pre-owned homes in the city's Huangpu district have increased dramatically since the central government announced further policies to cool the real estate market, with deals for 2,680 homes signed, sources with the Guangzhou Municipal Land Resources and Housing Administrative Bureau said. Due to relatively lower property prices in Guangzhou compared with Beijing and Shanghai, the regulations in the southern Chinese city were slightly loose, he said. "Most buyers in Guangzhou have not owned property before. So there is high demand for houses, rather than investment property," Zhou told China Daily. Internet users said the latest rules announced by major cities were just more of the same. "For example, the Guangdong regulations are exactly the same as the central government's. They just repeated the policy. And I am worried that property prices will be even higher this year," said a micro blogger under the screen name "Woaiqiuying". Microblogger "Laoaiguancha," a financial columnist for, regarded the measures as too mild — sufficient to fulfill the central government's requirements but not to reduce home prices. The micro blog of People's Daily expressed fears over the "fake divorce" trend in recent weeks in which couples who are "divorced" will try to remarry as soon as possible to take advantage of loopholes. However, real estate agents such as Zhongyuan said the phenomenon was rare and people investing in real estate are unlikely to choose such a complicated and risky way to do business.

Hong Kong*:  April 2 2013

Deciding the future of Cantonese opera (By Winnie Chau Can Hong Kong's traditional art form entice younger audiences and nurture fresh talent as it welcomes a major new venue, asks Winnie Chau - Cantonese opera faces great challenges despite its 1,000 years of history. The Yue sisters are emerging opera stars. At an arts festival discussion last year about audience building, Ursula Gessat, head of the Bavarian State Opera's education department, was asked about her achievements over the past 10 years. "Achievements?" she muses. "Let's talk about them 50 years later." That response made a deep impression on her fellow speaker, Cantonese opera master Franco Yuen Siu-fai. Yuen is not only a leading performer but also an active advocate for his art, especially in his capacity as a vice-chairman of the Chinese Artists Association (CAA) of Hong Kong - the city's oldest and largest union of Cantonese opera performers. As he sees it, Gessat's approach is a more measured alternative compared to the Hong Kong government's requirement for arts groups to report annual figures on programmes that it supports. This hurry to see immediate results stands at odds with an art form as sophisticated as Cantonese opera, he argues. The flurry of opera-related projects that officials have crammed into art development programmes since Unesco added Cantonese opera ( Yueju in Putonghua) to its intangible cultural heritage list in 2009 perhaps reinforces this perception. In the absence of a long-term training system, the CAA has sought to nurture young talent for decades. A recent example is the Young Talent Showcase, which is designed to give emerging artists the chance to perform in full-length productions at Yau Ma Tei Theatre. Launched last year under a venue partnership scheme partly funded by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, the year-long showcase placed 46 young performers under the tutelage of five CAA artistic directors, and covered everything from script selection to rehearsals. Mostly in their 20s, the group put on 129 major performances which drew an average attendance of over 70 per cent of the 300-seat auditorium, which is a creditable run. Yet Yuen says: "The most successful thing about this is not the box office or the compliments, but the atmosphere it has created." The atmosphere he is talking about is one of collaboration behind the scenes, something from which the master draws gratification. Cantonese opera faces great challenges despite its 1,000 years of history and elevated status, not least because of its elderly audience base and a shrinking pool of future performers. Surprisingly, Yuen doesn't worry about shrinking audiences, noting that Westernised Hongkongers often discover an interest in Cantonese opera when they reach middle age. He has faith his art will live on. His concerns are mostly centred on difficulties in recruiting students, and whether they will stay the course before they gain recognition. "I realise nowadays many fledgling opera artists cannot wait [for success], and that they are really young," the 68-year-old Yuen says, noting that trainees complain about not having spare time, or "private space". While recognising that traditional master-disciple relationships have become obsolete, Yuen says that Cantonese opera requires a lot of hard work and dedication. Aspiring performers must master fundamental techniques in areas from singing to acrobatics and stage kung fu, which are important components of the art form, before they start honing their skills. "If you enter this field, you have to follow [its rules]. Or you shouldn't choose to enter in the first place," he says. Whatever the roles they eventually gravitate towards, the best performers start their training before puberty, as flexibility is required to build a foundation in martial arts and acrobatic techniques. However, in Hong Kong full-time training in traditional opera skills can only be found at one academy, and only at the tertiary level. Mainland opera academies offer vocational training for students younger than 12. The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts (APA) started its Chinese traditional theatre programme in 1999, offering diploma and certificate courses that cover both the practical and theoretical aspects of Cantonese opera. Students typically enrol at the age of 17, with Form Six or equivalent academic qualifications. But most local candidates lack any previous training. This has plagued opera teacher Hung Hai for the nine years that he has taught on the APA's traditional theatre programme. In movement classes, Hung constantly finds himself having to adjust his expectations for under-trained students, while helping them discover their strengths in order to conceal their weaknesses. The APA programme, which takes in 21 students at diploma level and the same number at advanced diploma level, might be expected to be more selective in its choice of candidates. But Hung says that the number of applicants from Hong Kong has remained low for years. So even though "they have no fundamental skills", local applicants are likely to be accepted as long as they display a talent for performing and their academic qualifications meet the prerequisites, he says. Most local candidates are amateurs who enrol out of personal interest, says Hung, who trained at the Guangdong Cantonese Opera School and the APA. Stella Lo Wing-yee, an advance diploma student in the traditional theatre programme, exemplifies this trend. She was in already in her 20s and studying for an associate degree in surveying at City University when she first became attracted to Kunqu - the traditional opera of Suzhou. She was keen to learn Kunqu but settled for the APA's Cantonese opera course. Now increasingly fond of the art form, Lo hopes to become a children's instructor, recognising that her late start effectively ruled out a professional career. "By teaching children, I can nurture [interest] in them and their parents, who are also relatively young. When the children grow up, they'll become the audience." Besides, opera training would not only give youngsters a better knowledge of Chinese culture but also improve their posture and vocals, she says. Her classmate Ryder Chen Huijian, a native of Shunde, Guangdong province, feels the same way. "Being a professional performer is a transitory period. I ultimately want to do something educational," he says. A graduate of the Guangdong Cantonese Opera School, 21-year-old Chen was considering further opera studies in Beijing, but opted for the APA course because he felt it would enrich his theoretical knowledge. The sustainability of Cantonese opera "is not about having everyone learn it and a lot of people taking it up [as a profession]. Teaching is very important as well. Good teachers make good students and good audiences", he says. The APA has announced plans to launch a Chinese opera school within a decade. Its BA degree course in Cantonese opera, which is undergoing accreditation, is due to start in September, although there has been little discussion on its intake. It remains to be seen whether efforts to preserve Cantonese opera will pay off at the Xiqu Centre, the venue for traditional performing arts in the West Kowloon Cultural District that is scheduled for completion in 2016. Will the 1,100-seat main theatre be filled with a new generation of opera fans, and the stage teem with promising young artists? The jury is out on how the centre's objective of promoting the development of Cantonese opera "in a contemporary context", can be met. For all their offhand remarks, Cynthia Tsui Sin-yuen and her sister Sin-yan reveal the depth of passion for their craft when they are asked what they had to sacrifice to become Cantonese opera artists. "Why would I see it as sacrifice?" they reply, almost in unison. The question about what they had to forego is only natural. Both rising young talents in Cantonese opera, Cynthia, 27, and Tsui-yan, 24, have spent more than half their lives in gruelling practice sessions for their art. The pair fell in love with Cantonese opera 16 years ago when their mother, a former opera performer, took them to see their first production, a staging of Princess Changping (Dai Nui Fa), and they started private lessons soon after. This "old-fashioned" taste in music left them isolated at school. Undaunted, the sisters have turned their passion into a career. The pair now head East Sing Cantonese Opera Troupe, a company set up in 2000 by their father, a traditional Chinese physician. Cynthia, who goes by the stage name Yue Tung-sing, specialises in xiao sheng (young male) roles. "I like the straightforward nature of the male characters," says Cynthia, the more assertive of the sisters. Sin-yan plays hua dan (young heroine) roles as Yue Ling-lung. Her reticence belies a strong stage presence, which won her a Hong Kong Arts Development Award in 2009. Perhaps the youngest pair of leads in Cantonese opera in Hong Kong, the sisters have won some respect for young practitioners. They've even had a fan club (a common practice among established artists) for a few years, and they attract people of different ages and nationalities to their performances. "They perform some alternative works, so they offer us more choices," says Ho Hoi-ling, 49, who has been attending their performances since 2006. East Sing often presents classical scripts that more established troupes neglect. The performances sometimes involve a cast of over 100 people. In June, for instance, they will be staging a large-scale production at Sha Tin Town Hall based on a Chinese creation myth. Another fan, Gloria Poon, 36, says she finds the two sisters' performances very touching. Poon can recall how they once moved an old woman in the audience to tears. "There are so many distorted values in society nowadays. Their works convey a lot of positive messages, which encourage the audience," says Poon.

Hong Kong still beats China as yachting hub, elite boat builder CRN says (By Anita Lam Elite boat builder says low taxes and lots of billionaires keep city sailing - Yacht owners may have to wait for up to two years before securing berths for their boats in Hong Kong, but yacht maker CRN still prefers the city over other fast-developing mainland marinas as its base in the East. "Hong Kong has a culture of yachting and has a concentration of billionaires," explained Lamberto Tacoli, president of CRN - the prestigious Italian luxury yacht builder within the Ferretti Group favoured by boat-owning tycoon Li Ka-shing and many Hollywood movie stars. "And the opening of the Hong Kong, Zhuhai and Macau bridge in 2016 will also pose new opportunities for more marinas," Tacoli said. "Hong Kong is like Monte Carlo. There is a limit to the amount of space available and it is very difficult to create new marinas in the city. But we can create them in other places like Zhuhai, which can be easily reached by boat owners." Guangzhou and Sanya are among the southern mainland cities keen to tap the booming yacht business. But the mainland's hefty 43 per cent tax on yacht values means Hong Kong - with its tax-free policies - remains more attractive for yacht owners. However, if they moor their boats for any length of time outside of the jurisdictions in which they are registered they may still have to shoulder part of the tax. Despite a shortage of berths, Hong Kong's Gold Coast Yacht and Country Club said it had noted a steady increase in the number of yacht owners in the city. The number of yachts showcased at the club's annual boat show rose by 15 per cent last year, general manager Albert Wu said. Ferretti's Hong Kong office was set up after China's state-owned Shandong Heavy Industry took it over in a €374 million (HK$3.7 billion) deal last year. Positioned as the group's custom-made specialist and maker of mega yachts of up to 80 metres in length, CRN said it sold around 10 vessels during the past five years, although none has yet been sold to a Chinese buyer. Tacoli said CRN might outsource part of its production, such as the construction of ship hulls, but works that involved sourcing of materials, and ship assembly and finishing, would continue to be done in Europe. The price of a CRN yacht starts at about €19 million. Ferretti chief executive Ferruccio Rossi said earlier the firm was looking to add smaller boats ranging between six to eight metres to their collection in a bid to meet growing demand from the country's affluent middle class. The group is also considering a stock exchange listing in Asia over the next three to four years to gain visibility.

Boat owners face stormy waters after enforcement of mooring rules (By John Carney Officials step up enforcement of mooring rules, meaning hundreds of vessels may be forced out - Vessels moored at Shum Wan Typhoon Shelter, where owners have been given two weeks to move oversized boats. A crackdown on moorings means hundreds of boat owners could see their vessels left at the mercy of the typhoon season. The Marine Department has stepped up enforcement of rules regarding boat length and ownership of moorings. Where owners are found in breach of the regulations, they are being given just two weeks' notice to move their boats. And with a chronic shortage of sheltered moorings, it means many vessels could be left without a safe haven. The action comes at a time when boat owners fear rents at some privately held moorings could soon more than double. Paul Zimmerman, a Southern district councillor and chief executive of Designing Hong Kong, urged the government to create public marine centres. "We need to address the shortfall of safe moorings for the increasing number of boats used for tourism, pleasure, recreation and sports," he said. "This shortfall of moorings makes it impossible for people - except for the super-rich - to enjoy Hong Kong's magnificent shorelines and beautiful waters." The department has issued warning letters to hundreds of boats in Aberdeen Harbour for exceeding the lengths designated for their moorings. Many moorings are for vessels up to 19 feet, but a lot of the boats exceed this. Owners of the moorings were also reminded they must be the owners of the boats using those moorings, to prevent problems created by rampant sub-letting. Owners in breach of the rules are being given two weeks to vacate their moorings. The department refused to extend the notice period until the end of the typhoon season in November. The marine authorities said they were only enforcing the law. Every private mooring should be used only by the designated vessel, they confirmed. "Moreover, any oversized vessel may also cause obstruction to other vessels," a department spokesman said. "Owners will be required to remove any oversized vessel from the private mooring within 14 days." Failing this, the department had the power to remove the vessel itself and re-allocate the berth. Kandy Chan, manager of the Sun Hing Shipyard at Po Chong Wan Road, Aberdeen, agreed the government had to act fast to avert further problems. "Along the coastline between Kwun Tong and where the old Kai Tak airport used to be is a perfect area to erect temporary and permanent moorings for pleasure boats," she said. "In the long term, expanding the Aberdeen Typhoon Shelter would also create new moorings."


The loss still hurts – ten years on, Leslie Cheung is remembered (By Mathew Scott) A decade after Leslie Cheung's death, his friends and fans say thanks for the memories. Mathew Scott looks at his legacy on the anniversary - Leslie Cheung received eight best-actor nominations at the Hong Kong Film Awards, including one for his role in 1997's Happy Together (left, with Tony Leung Chiu-wai). It will be 10 years tomorrow since Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing took his own life and left his legions of friends and fans with memories frozen in that exact moment. The city that had raised and nourished him – and that he had once escaped from – didn’t really know how to react to the news as it came down the wires and flashed across television screens. After sitting down to a meal of spaghetti bolognaise at his favourite restaurant in Causeway Bay, Cheung made his way to the Mandarin Oriental in Central and asked for a seat on the balcony outside its health club. He asked for a drink, and for a pen and paper, and then at about 6.40pm, the 46-year-old’s body was found lying on the pavement, 24 floors below. On the piece of paper, he had written his goodbyes to family and friends and mentioned his depression – a condition most of those close to Cheung knew he had been battling for years. Cheung had never been far from the spotlight throughout a career that spanned more than two decades. The public had a long-held fascination with a man who had tried to keep his private life away from prying eyes, despite the attention that came with being one of the first Hong Kong celebrities to come out as gay. In an instant, the city had been robbed of one of its brightest talents, a nuanced and lauded actor, a chart-topping singer and an artist who pushed the boundaries of performance on both stage and screen. It felt at the time like a blow to the very spirit of a city still caught up in the Sars outbreak. With a decade now passed, the city will host a number of events dedicated to Cheung’s legacy – from the Hong Kong International Film Festival’s screening of his film Rouge tomorrow, to the 2013 Love Journey Leslie Cheung 10th Anniversary Commemorative Concert at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre on Tuesday, to “The Art of Leslie Cheung’s Movie Images” exhibition being staged at the Hong Kong Central Library until April 8. These events will provide fans a chance to reflect on their own relationship with the man universally known as Gor Gor (“Elder Brother”), to hear from those who held him closer, and to enjoy once again the work that he left behind. Cheung was a commanding presence on stage at his pop concerts. Photo: SMP Pictures Music producer Clarence Hui Yuen first met Cheung in the 1980s – “at the height of his career” – and would work with the artist in the studio and on the production team which put together series of concerts which would be sold out for weeks on end. “His pop idol stage was very different to when he returned from retirement,” says Hui, referring to the period between 1990 and 1995, when Cheung walked away from music – and from Hong Kong. “He really thought he would never sing again. But after living in Vancouver for a while he realised his passion for music had never died. He had felt tormented by the media and some fans of other artists. But when he came back he had lost that pop-idol aura and his spirit became more like a true musician. He had a magic in his lower register and in the way he delivered his lines like poetry. He could sing with true emotion. He was like a breath of fresh air,”  Hui says. Film director Peter Chan Ho-sun worked with Cheung on the 1994 production He’s a Woman, She’s a Man and remembers an actor at the height of his powers. The role of a music industry power broker in that film earned Cheung a nomination in the best-actor category at the Hong Kong Film Awards. “When I first worked with Leslie, he was already a major movie star,” says Chan. “He was always very accurate in his moves and his techniques. In his delivery of a scene he would set the pace for the camera and for the other actors, which was a great help for a director. I told him he would make a great director. "In his delivery of a scene he would set the pace for the camera and for the other actors, which was a great help for a director" PETER CHAN HO-SUN, FILMMAKER. “He was very generous to other actors with his time and guidance,  a great inspiration who was very personable. His pacing would lead the scene which really was something special to witness.” It was such talent that also drew fans towards Cheung the singer. Ginice Chow Ling-ling, part of the Red Mission HK and Leslie Cheung Artist Studies organisations which are hosting events to mark the anniversary of Cheung’s death, says she became aware of the entertainer in the 1980s. “I first bought his second album, chipping in the money with my friend,” she says. “My friend got the cover and I got the record. She liked his looks and I liked his voice and the way he presented himself on stage. He was young, he was energetic and was way different from the other, more conservative Chinese singers of his time. A lot of people were attracted to his aesthetic, to just the way that he moved,” Chow says. “I still remember when I was eight and I went into my sister’s bedroom and saw his poster on the wall,” says Ho Sie-ya, a fan who regularly attends events organised by Red Mission HK. “I was captivated by his good looks and then I started to listen to his music. I would save up for his cassette tapes and his video tapes. It was expensive for me and I was living in Edinburgh so it was hard to find them. I would get them one or two months after their release, but it was always worth the wait.” Fellow fan Louise Wong Oi-ping says she came across Cheung’s work when she was going through some troubles of her own. “I was going through a very bad time – the most difficult of my life,” she says. “Listening to his music – particularly the album Salute – was like magic to me. He seemed like a very gentle person and his voice stays with you all the time. It is like he is talking to you through his singing and through his music.” Cinematographer Christopher Doyle would, under the direction of Wong Kar-wai, capture some of Cheung’s most memorable roles. He says it was obvious Cheung was a natural, from beginning to end. “I don’t feel Leslie had a career: he was always a star in his way and want and intent,” says Doyle. “I don’t feel Leslie got old and that’s part of why 10 years later, he is there as he wished us to share him, as he is. There was always this innocence of an orphan who needed our love … and the cockiness of the flirt who gets what he wants, and then throws it in your face just to see what it’s really worth.” Asked to reflect on the times they worked together, Doyle replies, cryptically: “Days of Being Wild – you dance, we dance. Happy Together – we love and question, and lose and try to assert. Temptress Moon – we are so physically close [with my hand holding the camera] that when Leslie asks me, ‘Chris, how was I?’ I am too involved in what we shared that my only reply is always, ‘We were great’. “You were and are and will always be great, Leslie. And you will always be needing and wanting to be on top and asking such of yourself that we want to return at least as much [if not more] of the same. It’s been worth a lot and means a lot to a lot of us. Thanks Leslie. Eternally. Thanks.”

Basic Law interpretation a last resort to settle universal suffrage debate, says Tam (By Phila Siu and Stuart Lau) Maria Tam Wai-chu speaks turning a City Forum live radio programme at RTHK in Kowloon Tong on Sunday. A Basic Law interpretation from Beijing would be necessary as a last resort if Hong Kong had difficulties in finalising universal suffrage arrangements for the 2017 chief executive election, a veteran Basic Law Committee member said on Sunday. Maria Tam Wai-chu, speaking on a TVB talkshow on Sunday, made the comment after she was asked whether there should be a Beijing interpretation of what meant by the Basic Law article that states the chief executive will be selected by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative committee in accordance with democratic procedures. “The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress is very busy, and they try their best not to do an interpretation of the Basic Law,” said Tam, who is also head of the Hong Kong delegation to the NPC. “No one, including the central government … is happy doing an interpretation … but if there is a problem Hong Kong cannot solve, then there is a need for an interpretation.” Tam was speaking exactly one week after Qiao Xiaoyang, chairman of the National People’s Progress Law Committee, dropped a hint about introducing a screening mechanism for candidates ahead of the chief executive election in 2017. Tam also defend Qiao’s remarks of a week ago when he said that under the “one country, two systems” formula, any chief executive candidate had to “love China and love Hong Kong”, and that any members from the opposition camp who insist on confronting the central government could not become a candidate for chief executive. On the same issue, pro-Beijing lawmaker Ip Kwok-him, from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said on Sunday he “completely disagreed” with those pan-democrats who say that Qiao last Sunday introduced a “new” criterion that chief executive candidates could not confront the central government. But Ip, speaking on RTHK’s City Forum on Sunday, which Tam also attended, he said there was a need for the pan-democrats to build up “mutual trust” with Beijing. Political analyst Johnny Lau Yui-siu said that while he agreed the chief executive needed to “love China”, such a critieron, he said should be a relaxed one.

Exhibition held to mark 10th anniversary of Leslie Cheung's death - A total of 1,900,119 origami cranes, folded by fans around the world, are displayed inside a giant red cube, which broke the Guinness World Record. Fans commemorate 10th anniversary of Leslie Cheung's death (By John Carney A statue of Leslie Cheung at Times Square, with a red paper crane signifying his fans' well wishes are well received. Hong Kong's music and film fans are expected to turn out in force tomorrow to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing's death. Affectionately known as Gor Gor, which means older brother in Cantonese, the pop idol shocked Chinese communities around the world with his suicide on April 1, 2003. He was only 46. When his body was found lying outside the Mandarin Oriental in Central, it brought to an end a life that had seen tremendous highs, but also crushing lows. It was a tragic conclusion to his legendary show business career as a singer and actor. Cheung initially rose to fame as a Canto-pop singer in the 1980s after studying at Leeds University in England. His acting career took off in 1986 when he starred opposite Chow Yun-fat in John Woo Yu-sen's gangster movie A Better Tomorrow. Other film roles included Happy Together and Days of Being Wild, directed by Wong Kar-wai. But it was his decision as one of the few Asian stars who dared to play openly gay characters on screen that made his name. In 1993, Cheung gained international acclaim for his portrayal of a gay opera singer in Farewell My Concubine. In the film he falls in love with a fellow performer. It was a global art house success. Cheung later revealed he was bisexual, but that did not dent his popularity. In 2000, he was named Asia's biggest superstar by China Central Television. Even after his death, in 2005 he was voted favourite actor in 100 years of Chinese cinema. In the final years of his life, though, he was plagued with severe bouts of depression brought on by his fame and attacks on his sexuality, which eventually lead to his death. But for the likes of Ginice Chow, who is a member of Cheung's fan club, Red Mission, he will always remain an icon. Since the mid-80s Chow has been a huge fan of Cheung and says rather than being forgotten, his popularity has actually grown over the past 10 years. "A new generation of young fans in Hong Kong are listening to his music now," she said. "As well as this, his films, such as Farewell My Concubine, have been finding a new audience over the years, too. He's now known by even more people as a singer and an actor. It means his spirit will continue to live on, no matter what."

 China*:  April 2 2013

China to get its own version of Iron Man 3 (By Bloomberg in Los Angeles) Chinese variation features actress Fan Bingbing and will have bonus footage for viewers in China - Walt Disney will release a separate version of its Marvel comic-book movie Iron Man 3 on the mainland, an unexpected plot twist for Hollywood's most prominent collaboration yet in the country. Disney won't seek official Chinese co-production status for Iron Man 3, according to an e-mailed statement. The film, set to debut in the US on May 3, was partly filmed in China with partner DMG Entertainment. A release date for the mainland version was not announced. The decision, just over a month before Iron Man 3 is set to kick off the US summer movie season, hints at the challenges confronting Hollywood studios as they expand in China's government-controlled market, which surpassed Japan last year as the biggest box office outside the US. The first two Iron Man movies grossed a total US$1.21 billion worldwide. The studio won't comment beyond the statement about the reasons for the decision, differences between the two versions or when the Chinese movie will be released, Melissa Zukerman of Principal Communications Group, a spokeswoman for Marvel Studios, said. DMG, which produced last year's Looper, is marketing and distributing the film on the mainland, according to the statement. Chinese actor Wang Xueqi will appear in both versions, and both include footage filmed in Beijing in December. The Chinese version will feature actress Fan Bingbing and will include bonus footage for the Chinese audience, according to the statement. China limits the number of foreign movies released into theaters each year to about 34. US studios have sought to bring more movies in by making co-productions, which don't count against the quota. While the government censors all movies, co-productions must meet additional requirements. For example, one-third of the major actors must be Chinese, according to Robert Cain, who writes the China Film Biz blog. Co-productions also require a certain amount of Chinese cultural content, which could limit the film's appeal elsewhere, making co-production status less attractive to the studio, he wrote in a March 7 blog post. Disney said in April last year it would co-produce Iron Man 3 with DMG, which would make an investment in the production, manage the Chinese co-production and jointly produce the film in China, the entertainment giant said.

Despite moderation in the Chinese economy, United States-based companies remain upbeat on the near-term outlook of their businesses here, according to the results of a recent survey. Over three-quarters of respondents indicated that they are optimistic about how their companies will perform over the next two years in China, the latest Business Climate Survey from the American Chamber of Commerce in China (AmCham-China) showed Friday. U.S. companies turned out strong performances in China last year, as 71 percent of respondents said they posted sales growths in 2012 and 44 percent reported better operating margins in China than the global average, according to the annual survey conducted among 325 member companies of the chamber. More U.S. businesses are oriented toward selling in the Chinese market, rather than seeing China only as a processing and export hub. The percentage of respondents who said their goal this year is to sell directly into China reached a record high of 71 percent. However, U.S. companies seem to have downsized their expansion plans. The percentage of respondents with plans to increase investment by 21 percent to 50 percent dropped from about 30 percent to 18 percent over the past four years. The results reflect a slightly more conservative business outlook amid China's focus on promoting higher-quality economic expansion in an era of rebalancing, the chamber said. Flagging exports and domestic tightening to tame property prices drove China's growth below 8 percent last year. It had stayed above 8 percent since 1999. The survey also revealed that rising labor costs and a lack of qualified employees are top concerns among respondents. AmCham-China is a non-profit organization representing the interests of over 1,000 U.S. companies and 3,500 individuals doing business in China.

Contestants present in 8th China Super Model Final Contest - Champion Zhang Lingyue, runner-up Zhao Siyu and second runner-up Lei Shuhan greet the audience during the 8th China Super Model Final Contest in Beijing, March 30.

Hong Kong*:  April 1 2013

Hong Kong dentist helps Europe's search for life on Mars again (By Christy Choi Inveterate inventor has developed multiple gadgets for planetary rovers; his latest, a space dust compactor, should see action in 2018 - The ExoMars rover will be sent to space in 2018 to gather samples that may offer more clues on whether life could be sustainable on Mars. Ng Tze-chuen's Causeway Bay office looks more like a gadget workshop than a clinic. Failure is very much an option when you're involved in space exploration. Just ask Dr Ng Tze-chuen. Ten years ago he was anticipating planetary sampling tools he had designed for the Beagle 2 would begin digging into the surface of Mars, but contact with the British-designed rover was lost after it landed on the red planet. Two years ago a Russian probe carrying tools Ng designed to Phobos, one of the planet's moons, veered disastrously off course. Now, at the age of 60, the Hong Kong dentist is hoping it will be third time lucky for his Mars-bound tools. New tools he has designed have been accepted and more are being considered for the ExoMars rover mission scheduled for 2018, a joint project of the European Space Agency and Russia's federal space agency Roscosmos. "They'll be doing subsoil drilling several feet underground, and they'll need to retrieve the work sample and grind it to a fine powder … to a smoothness of a woman's compact [face powder]," says Ng, a Hong Kong dentist, who has designed a tool that pats down the powder samples that will be analysed for signs of life on Mars. "It sounds very simple, but if you don't have the right shape for the blade, the surface will stay rough because the soil on Mars is cohesive. It sticks and adheres to the surface," says Lutz Richter, 45, the planetary sampling expert for German space technology company Kayser-Threde. The company, which executes Ng's ideas, is under contract with the ESA to design and test planetary sampling tools to be used on the red planet. The blade, Richter says, has two parts - one that initially clears the debris and a second that smooths out the powder. Ng - who sticks out among the engineers and scientists that the firm usually receives ideas from - comes up with imaginative solutions to some engineering problems, then Kayser-Threde in the following months does the engineering and testing to make the designs work. "We tend to design something that is reliable and we're not always good with clever concepts, so we're happy to work with people like [Ng]," said Richter. It also helps that the dentist does not ask for payment for his designs and funds his own research. Planetary sampling is a small part in the already small field of space exploration. Only around 100 or so people in the world design and create tools that can withstand the pressures of space - tools that are able to help scientists assess if Mars could in the future be a base for further space exploration. "It's very earth-like. If you look at a panorama it looks like a desert on earth. To me it looks very inviting," says Richter. "There was liquid water, there were oceans, there were rivers and there's still a lot of ice. It explains why so many people are interested in going there." Designs for the ExoMars mission are in the final stages of testing. The rover will take a nine-month journey to Mars, where it will trundle across the planet's surface looking for amino acids, sugars and water - some of the building blocks of life. But missions to Mars take time and are no easy feat; a small miscalculation or change of circumstance could jeopardise the entire project. The last European effort led by British scientists, in 2003, ended when the Beagle 2 rover crashed into Mars' surface. Scientists speculated the air in the atmosphere may have been thinner than they anticipated. The tools designed by Ng for that mission never had the chance to be used.So in his dentist's office in Causeway Bay, surrounded by posters of the 2003 Mars Express mission on the walls, along with gadgets, gizmos and copies of the ESA's bulletins and magazines, Ng waits for the day his tools can go to work. "Maybe I'll be third time lucky," he says. Meanwhile, with a boyish passion, he has started other, more earthly projects, such as exploring Mexican pyramids and attempting to get a line of clothing to a show in Paris. "I have 100 projects I want to do. I need to do as many as I can before I die."

Movie "Saving General Yang" promoted in Singapore - Director Ronny Yu, actor Ekin Cheng, Vic Chou and Chun Wu attend press conference for movie "Saving General Yang" in Singapore, March 30, 2013. 

Sun Hung Kai pays more than expected for luxury site; Cheung Kong cuts prices (By Paggie Leung, Sandy Li and Kanis Li) Sun Hung Kai Properties won a HK$4.14 billion auction for a residential and a hotel site on Wednesday. Sun Hung Kai Properties' Riva luxury units in Yuen Long. Those waiting for the right moment to buy property in Hong Kong were sent mixed signals yesterday. Sun Hung Kai Properties won a luxury residential site at Kau To Shan in Sha Tin, paying a higher-than-expected HK$1.42 billion. It's a sign the appetite of big developers for high-end sites has not been curbed by the government's market-cooling measures. But this came as Cheung Kong announced an 11.8 per cent price cut for the remaining six houses at Uptown in Yuen Long, a day after chairman Li Ka-shing said land prices in Hong Kong would remain high and home prices would stabilise. SHKP outbid 13 other developers for the 86,973 square foot land parcel at an average price of HK$10,885 per sq ft - the highest among five residential sites in that area and up to 14.6 per cent higher than surveyors' estimates - based on the maximum gross floor area of 130,460 sq ft. The company also won a harbourfront hotel site in North Point for HK$2.72 billion, within market expectations. The 57,792 sq ft site could provide a total gross floor area of 387,504 sq ft. "We're very happy to have won the sites," SHKP deputy managing director Victor Lui Ting said. "The Kau To Shan site is a prime one. We love the environment, as the area has low density and the site offers a full sea view. It also has a wide frontage, which makes it easy to design the project. And the North Point hotel site is a rare waterfront site on Hong Kong Island." Lui said the company would invest HK$3 billion in the residential project, while the hotel project would involve about HK$5.5 billion. Midland Surveyors director Alvin Lam Tsz-pun said the land sales showed "developers are confident about properties in traditional luxury areas and are thirsty for rare and quality land lots". Cheung Kong executive director Justin Chiu Kwok-hung said the average price of the six houses at Uptown had been reduced to HK$6,700 per sq ft of gross floor area from HK$7,600 per sq ft. It is the second Cheung Kong development in a month to have prices reduced. The price cut came just before SHKP's planned release this week of Riva, its own low-density project in Yuen Long, at an average price of HK$12,747 per sq ft. The Uptown houses, each with a gross area of 2,154 sq ft, are on sale for HK$16.42 million to HK$16.75 million each. Meanwhile, the number of mortgage applications last month fell 24.5 per cent from January to 9,013, Hong Kong Monetary Authority figures show. Mortgage loans drawn down during February fell 23 per cent to HK$12.2 billion, and loans approved fell 12.3 per cent to HK$18.6 billion. Of these, the value of loans issued to buy new homes dropped 8.4 per cent to HK$3 billion, while those for purchases in the secondary market declined by 11.8 per cent, to HK$12.9 billion.

 China*:  April 1 2013

Xi wraps up Africa tour in Republic of Congo (By Reuters in Brazzaville) President Xi Jinping (left) and his wife Peng Liyuan wave upon their arrival in Brazzaville, capital of the Republic of Congo. China’s newly appointed President Xi Jinping wrapped up a six-day tour of Africa on Saturday in Republic of Congo, where he signed off on infrastructure projects and pledged deeper cooperation between his country and the continent. Thousands of people, many wearing T-shirts bearing the president’s likeness, turned out under a blazing equatorial sun to welcome the new Chinese leader to the former French colony’s sprawling riverside capital, Brazzaville. Xi, who in previous stops along the week-long trip has attempted to outline his African policy as a partnership among equals, used a speech before Congo’s parliament to point to China and Africa’s mutual reliance for their future success. “The future, the development of China will be an unprecedented opportunity for Africa, and Africa’s development will be the same for my country,” Xi told lawmakers. “We expect to work together with our African friends to seize upon historic opportunities and deepen co-operation ... in order to bring greater benefit to the Chinese and African peoples,” he said. China is offering US$20 billion of loans to Africa between this year and 2015, and many governments welcome Beijing’s growing business-focused presence on the continent as a welcome alternative to Western influence. The mainland imports oil from Congo, and on Saturday, in line with promises to deepen the relationship with African partners, Xi oversaw finalisation of nearly a dozen new deals. He agreed to finance a US$63 million project to construct a river port in Oyo, the hometown of Congo’s President Denis Sassou N’Guesso, where the government plans to develop a new special economic zone. Other projects to receive Chinese backing include a 19-megawatt hydroelectric power station in the northwest, and the construction of a new port capable of handling mineral ore shipments in Congo’s economic capital, Pointe-Noire. China also agreed to around US$29.36 million in grants and zero-interest loans, and will build 200 homes and a school in the capital’s Mpila, which was largely destroy when a weapons depot exploded there last year.

Despite moderation in the Chinese economy, United States-based companies remain upbeat on the near-term outlook of their businesses here, according to the results of a recent survey. Over three-quarters of respondents indicated that they are optimistic about how their companies will perform over the next two years in China, the latest Business Climate Survey from the American Chamber of Commerce in China (AmCham-China) showed Friday. U.S. companies turned out strong performances in China last year, as 71 percent of respondents said they posted sales growths in 2012 and 44 percent reported better operating margins in China than the global average, according to the annual survey conducted among 325 member companies of the chamber. More U.S. businesses are oriented toward selling in the Chinese market, rather than seeing China only as a processing and export hub. The percentage of respondents who said their goal this year is to sell directly into China reached a record high of 71 percent. However, U.S. companies seem to have downsized their expansion plans. The percentage of respondents with plans to increase investment by 21 percent to 50 percent dropped from about 30 percent to 18 percent over the past four years. The results reflect a slightly more conservative business outlook amid China's focus on promoting higher-quality economic expansion in an era of rebalancing, the chamber said. Flagging exports and domestic tightening to tame property prices drove China's growth below 8 percent last year. It had stayed above 8 percent since 1999. The survey also revealed that rising labor costs and a lack of qualified employees are top concerns among respondents. AmCham-China is a non-profit organization representing the interests of over 1,000 U.S. companies and 3,500 individuals doing business in China.

China will drop import tariffs and import-related value-added taxes for a range of advanced components and raw materials for making sophisticated equipments, the Ministry of Finance (MOF) said Friday. Items that will enjoy tax exemption include signal system of high-speed railways, garbage sorting system, solar cells, integrated circuits and manufacturing equipments for flat-panel display, among others. The new rules will take effect starting April 1, 2013. Importers of those components and raw materials should register with customs and taxation authorities for tariff exemption review during April 1 and April 30. Authorities also created a separate list of technological equipment and materials that will be taxed starting from April 1, 2013. The list included electric transmission and transformation equipments and concrete pump trucks.

Chinese doctors help and learn in Africa (By Shan Juan Xia Wei, assistant researcher with the national immunization program of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said his three-month stint as a World Health Organization volunteer in Africa has helped him in his work back home. Chinese doctor Wang Liqun works at a hospital in Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi. More than 10 Chinese doctors live in the southeastern African country and provide medical service. In 2011, the center selected Xia to go to Namibia under a WHO program called Stop Transmission of Polio, or STOP, which aims to curb the disease, particularly in Africa. It was the first time Chinese public health specialists had joined a global program through application. "They were quite interested in the China experience, particularly in building and operating a public-health system. Meanwhile, their working methods there helped with my job back in China, especially in underprivileged areas," he told China Daily. His task there included assessing the country's polio surveillance system, designing vaccination programs, conducting on-site vaccinations, and training staff. Polio became an epidemic in Namibia in 2006, he said. "It was wonderful that what I have learned in China about polio intervention also worked well in Africa," he said. Notably, Namibians' work methods, like making detailed plans before implementation, impressed him. Xia said such methods "should be also applied in China in remote and less-developed areas like the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region and the Tibet autonomous region". Luo Huiming, deputy director of the national immunization program, said 14 other Chinese specialists in addition to Xia have been sent to Africa so far under STOP. "That's a significant step for China to begin joining global efforts for public health," he said. Ren Minghui, who heads the international cooperation department of the National Health and Family Planning Commission, said this model emerged as a new trend in China's health diplomacy. Previously, international medical aid programs by the Chinese government focused more on the clinical side, Xia said. During the past 50 years, China has sent more than 17,000 medical workers to 48 countries in Africa, treating nearly 200 million people on the continent, statistics from the commission showed. By 2012, China had built more than 30 hospitals and 30 anti-malaria centers in Africa. Zou Xiaoming, the economic and commercial counselor of the Chinese embassy to Uganda, said Chinese methods of delivering aid have special advantages, particularly a shorter execution time and high implementation efficiency. "The Western way may lead to a lower execution efficiency and undesirable value for money conditions. The Chinese methods of executing grants have some advantage in the current situation," he said. It definitely targets the need of grant-recipient countries as the two sides jointly decide which projects will be provided through grant channels, he said. Okello Oryem, Uganda's minister of foreign affairs, agreed, adding that aid from China has been increasingly preferable as it indeed followed real needs of recipient countries without imposing stringent conditions. "The aid we ask from China rightly related to our wishes and intentions while some from the West are predetermined without consulting us," he said. In addition, in the field of medical assistance, China might be the only country that sends medical workers paid by the government to work in Africa for extended periods. Other medical teams working in Africa are usually sponsored by charities rather than governments. Unlike the West, which gives African countries expensive medical equipment, China provides low-cost and yet effective equipment, according to Dr Michael Osinde, the Jinja, Uganda, hospital director.

Hong Kong*:  Mar 31 2013

Elite squad to crack down on smuggling syndicates (By Clifford Lo Crime syndicates are ferrying containers of illegal goods worth millions of dollars between Hong Kong and the mainland every day - Elite squad to crack down on smuggling syndicates - An elite customs team has been set up to tackle smuggling syndicates who are making millions of dollars a day shipping container loads of illegal goods between Hong Kong and the mainland. Dozens of containers are smuggled into the mainland on a daily basis by well-organised syndicates, with the illegal proceeds of only one syndicate believed to exceed HK$100 million. To combat the operations, an elite 203-strong Syndicate Crimes Investigation Bureau has been established by the Customs and Excise Department. Investigations by the newly-formed team found that the crooked shippers are paid about 10 per cent of the value of the illegal goods, or they charge about HK$100,000 for each shipped container. Intelligence shows a wellorganised syndicate could smuggle dozens of the containers into the mainland each day - "Intelligence shows a wellorganised syndicate could smuggle dozens of the containers into the mainland each day," a source said. The containers are usually declared to contain waste or low-value products to disguise the true contents. The most popular destination is Guangdong. Smuggled goods include precious metals, animal furs, seafood, computer hard disks and frozen meat. "As the mainland economy has boomed, there is always a high demand for such products," the source said. Some syndicates have their own fleet of vessels to ferry contraband to the mainland through legitimate logistics businesses. The clients are understood to be mainland businessmen who want to avoid paying mainland tariffs such as a 17 per cent value added tax on general cargoes. "They can save a lot of money," the source said, adding that the customers would receive compensation from smuggling syndicates if their goods were confiscated by law enforcers. Bureau head Senior Superintendent Chong Wai-ming said: "The bureau carries out investigations into indictable offences involving syndicates and large sums of crime proceeds, and looks mainly into smuggling and money laundering activities." Established in late January, the bureau has about 50 financial investigators who help to scrutinise suspicious transactions. The Organised and Serious Crimes Ordinance will be used to prosecute smugglers and freeze all their proceeds. "Confiscating their proceeds is the best way to hit crime syndicates and make them cease their illegal operations completely," Chong said. The senior superintendent said his team would also mount investigations into drug trafficking, illegal cigarette trading and the infringement of intellectual property rights. The bureau has two teams - the Financial Investigation Group and the Special Investigation Group. "Pooling expertise in criminal and financial investigations, the bureau seeks to enhance the department's capability to trace the command chain of syndicates and apprehend their masterminds," Chong said. The Special Investigation Group is the former task force that was established in 1999 to crack down on disc piracy. Last year, Hong Kong Customs detected 198 smuggling cases, seized HK$342 million worth of contraband and arrested 189 people. Smuggling activities between Hong Kong and the mainland accounted for 90 per cent of all the cases.

Beijing warns pan-democrats of 'misjudgment' in using mass protests (By Ng Kang-chung Global Times editorial dares pan-democrats to use 'economic suicide' gamble in confronting Beijing - Members of the Alliance for True Democracy seek to submit an invitation to a mainland official for a debate. Beijing has warned Hong Kong's pan-democrats that using mass protests to confront the central government would be a "misjudgment". The strongly worded remarks came as the United Nations Human Rights Committee's latest report on Hong Kong expressed concern about "the lack of a clear plan to institute universal suffrage and to ensure the right of all persons to vote and to stand for election without unreasonable limitations". The Global Times newspaper, affiliated with Communist Party mouthpiece the People's Daily, dared the pan-democrats to try pushing Hong Kong to "economic suicide" - apparently referring to the Occupy Central campaign. Beijing pledged in 2007 that the city's chief executive would be democratically elected as early as 2017, and the campaign plans, as a last resort, to block traffic in the city's central business district next year to press for true universal suffrage. The Global Times wrote: "The pan-democracy camp … should not be under the illusion that they can control Hong Kong's political development. Confronting the central government is not an option if Hong Kong is to survive. China has adequate power to stop Hong Kong [from] ... becoming a threat." Confronting the central government is not an option if Hong Kong is to survive. China has adequate power to stop Hong Kong [from] ... becoming a threat . The editorial added: "Those who want to threaten the central government by trying to mess up Hong Kong should recognise that the losses brought about to Hong Kong by their act would be much bigger than those the rest of China would suffer. "If they believe [Hongkongers will support them] in using 'economic suicide' as a political gamble, let them try and see." Veteran China watcher Johnny Lau Yui-siu said the editorial showed Beijing was determined to have full control over the election. "Beijing will not back down even though this could give rise to instability and economic losses in Hong Kong," said Lau, citing his recent contacts with his Beijing sources. "The Global Times comes under the People's Daily. I would be surprised if it is not reflecting Beijing's official views on the issue," he added. Hong Kong lawmaker Ip Kwok-him, who is also a National People's Congress (NPC) deputy, said: "We have to follow the Basic Law when planning universal suffrage. But [the pan-democrats] do not want to follow the Basic Law. That is why Beijing expresses concern." Qiao Xiaoyang, chairman of the NPC's Law Committee, told Beijing-loyalist lawmakers in Shenzhen on Sunday that under the "one country, two systems" formula, a chief executive had to "love China and love Hong Kong", and that Beijing had the final say on who is appointed. The Alliance for True Democracy - which includes the 27 pan-democratic lawmakers - yesterday challenged Qiao to come to Hong Kong for an open debate on "true universal suffrage". Legislator and executive councillor Starry Lee Wai-king, of the Beijing-loyalist Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said it was reasonable for Beijing to expect Hong Kong's future leader to be patriotic. She expressed worries Hong Kong could end up without universal suffrage if Beijing and the pan-democrats refused to compromise.

Sinopharm Group Co, China's biggest drug distributor, will sell as much as a fifth of its H-share capital to raise up to HK$4 billion ($515 million) to expand its sales network. The company will place as many as 165.7 million shares at HK$24.60 each, Sinopharm said in a filing to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange on Thursday. Shares of the Shanghai-based company fell the most in almost three years after the announcement. The money raised will be used for "the expansion of pharmaceutical distribution and retail network and replenishment of liquidity after the expansion," Sinopharm said in the statement.

Market-killing actor has new movie in the offing (By Jeanny Yu Adam Cheng Siu-chow as General Yang in the soon to debut movie 'Saving General Yang'. Hong Kong stock investors may not be happy after the Easter holiday – actor Adam Cheng Siu-chow has a new movie coming next week. The TVB actor known to every household in the city has been a market killer every time a new television series or film starring him airs. Market players are worried that once again the pattern will repeat. “This is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Many locals, especially retail investors, are very superstitious,” said Ben Kwong, chief operating officer at KGI Asia. “Once everyone believes in it, there will be an across-board sell, and a sharp fall is inevitable.” Cheng’s new movie, Saving General Yang, is going to be aired on April 4. The movie’s story is based on the legendary generals of the Yang family during the earlier years of ancient China’s northern Song dynasty. Cheng, 66, plays General Yang the senior, one of the Yang family of generals who defended the Song’s borders from foreign invaders. Yang killed himself after losing a battle. CLSA last year said in a report that the more tragic the TV series that Cheng stars in, the worse the market performs. In addition to the imminent airing of the movie, market strategists said this could be a good time for local investors to cash out amid new worries over the euro zone and liquidity outflow from the city. “The market sentiment is already weak and Adam Cheng’s new series might become a perfect selling excuse,” Kenny Tang, general manager for the securities business division of AMTD Financial Planning. “China’s key meetings in March failed to bring exciting news and earnings results are a bit disappointing,” he said. “The market is already very frustrated.” With the exception of the Italian stock market, the benchmark Hang Seng Index has been the worst performing developed stock market in the first quarter globally. As of Thursday, the HSI lost 1.58 per cent year-to-date and stood at 22,299.63 points. AMTD’s Tang said the index could fall back to around 21,500. The HSI has had a good run-up since September last year on the back of strong inflowing liquidity; however, over the past two months, hot money has been flowing back to the US market as the dollar strengthens. In 1992, TVB broadcast the famous TV series The Greed of Man, in which Cheng played Ting Hai, an actor who made an immense fortune by short selling derivatives and stocks during a bear market. The Hang Seng slumped 13 per cent when the series aired. Cheng’s negative influence on the Hang Seng was dubbed the “Ting Hai effect” at the time and it has largely proven true over the past 10 years. Cheng has appeared in around 17 TV series since 1992, the debuts of 11 of them matched with stock market drops. In 1997, when his series Legend of Yung Ching was broadcast, the Hang Seng dropped below 10,000 points. Cheng series debuts coincided with the Asian financial crisis in 1998 and the bursting of the tech bubble in 2000. 

 China*:  Mar 31 2013

Xi Jinping vows to boost bilateral ties with Congo-Brazzaville (By Agence France-Presse in Brazzaville) Final leg of African tour takes president to Republic of Congo, where he signed deals worth several million dollars with his Congolese counterpart - Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso (right) and his wife Antoinette welcome China's President Xi Jinping and and his wife Peng Liyuan upon their arrival at Brazzaville's Maya-maya airport. China’s President Xi Jinping on Friday signed deals worth several million dollars with his Congolese counterpart in sectors as varied as banking and infrastructure, on the final leg of his three-nation Africa tour. His visit to Tanzania, South Africa and now the Republic of the Congo underscores Beijing’s growing presence in the resource-rich continent. Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan were greeted by President Denis Sassou Nguesso on their arrival in the capital Brazzaville on Friday, as well as several thousand Congolese wearing T-shirts emblazoned with images of the two leaders, dancing under a blazing sun. Xi said that he hoped to “deepen mutual understanding and friendship (with the Republic of the Congo) and lift bilateral ties to a new and higher level”, China’s state-run Xinhua news agency reported. Xi said that he hoped to 'deepen mutual understanding and friendship (with the Republic of the Congo) and lift bilateral ties to a new and higher level' The two leaders signed 11 deals worth several million dollars after Xi arrived for his two-day visit, the first by a Chinese president to the impoverished country of four million with significant oil resources. The accords cover projects in a number of areas including communications, infrastructure and banking. They build on two further accords worth several billion dollars already underway, one of which will finance the building of more than 500 kilometres of highway between Brazzaville and the economic capital on the Atlantic Coast, Pointe-Noire. China is already Congo’s largest trading partner, with bilateral trade ballooning to five billion dollars last year from US$290 million in 2002, according to Xinhua. China’s business boom and its rise to become the world’s second-largest economy has seen financial and trade ties rocket in recent years as it sources many of its raw materials from Africa. But ahead of Xi’s visit to Congo, many expressed doubt that he will bring job opportunities with him, as Chinese companies that set up shop in Africa often bring their workers with them. “It’s like we don’t have able hands in Congo,” a teacher at a training college told reporters. “If you import labour when there are no able people or specialists, that’s OK. But they even bring their own chauffeurs. There’s no transfer of abilities.” Xinhua said however that more than 85 per cent of the staff of some 2,000 Chinese companies operating in 50 African countries are Africans. In South Africa, Xi attended the summit of the BRICS group of emerging economic powers – Brazil, Russia, China, India and South Africa – at which they agreed to launch a new development bank while failing to set up an infrastructure fund. South African President Jacob Zuma, after meeting Xi on Tuesday, hailed China’s economic success as an inspiration for Africa’s biggest economy, but urged more equitable trade ties. Earlier in Tanzania, Xi called Africa a “continent of hope and promise” and urged the rest of the world to “respect (its) dignity and independence”. Bilateral trade reached some US$200 billion last year, Xi said in Tanzania, adding that China would “intensify not weaken” its relationship and noting a commitment to provide a US$20 billion credit-line to African nations over the next two years. On Saturday Xi, who was named China’s new president on March 14 after taking the reins of the Communist Party last November, will inaugurate a hospital and a library before heading home to Beijing.

China President Xi Jinping hails China-Congo ties as 'model of cooperation' (By WU JIAO in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo and LI XIAOKUN in Beijing) President visits Republic of Congo on the last leg of his African tour - President Xi Jinping arrived in the Republic of Congo on Friday, making the first state visit to the country by a Chinese president since diplomatic relations were established 49 years ago. "The ties between China and the Republic of Congo can be called a model of South-South Cooperation," Xi said in a written statement on his arrival in Brazzaville, the country's capital. President Xi Jinping is welcomed by Denis Sassou Nguesso, president of the Republic of Congo, at an airport in the country’s capital Brazzaville on Friday. Xi said the rapid development of bilateral ties has witnessed fruitful pragmatic cooperation in various dimensions and brought tangible benefits to people of both nations. Later on Friday, he met the president of the Republic of Congo, Denis Sassou Nguesso. They witnessed the signing of a series of agreements dealing with economics, trade and finance. Xi, who visited Russia, Tanzania and South Africa on his first foreign trip as president, is on the final leg of his journey. He was scheduled to deliver a speech to parliament in Brazzaville, Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Zhai Jun said. Sassou Nguesso told reporters on Wednesday Xi's visit to his country will be historic. Bilateral cooperation is longstanding and the two nations will celebrate the 50th anniversary of their diplomatic ties next year, he said. Qu Xing, president of the China Institute of International Studies, said the Republic of Congo is a relatively less-developed nation among African countries, and Xi's trip there marks far more than major progress for bilateral ties. "The state visit also serves as an impetus for expanding the scope of the China-Africa relationship," Qu said. Liu Guijin, former Chinese special representative on African affairs, said the two countries have an enduring friendship, and Sassou Nguesso is a good friend of the Chinese people. Sassou Nguesso has made 12 trips to China. "President Xi's trip to the African nations sends a clear signal that China ensures the consistency of its policies toward Africa. China, as a developing country, still puts its ties with developing countries among the priorities of its foreign policies," Liu said. Bilateral trade jumped to $5.08 billion in 2012 from $290 million in 2002, and China has become the Republic of Congo's largest trading partner. China's exports to the country are mainly mechanical and electrical equipment, textiles and new technology products, while imports from the African nation are mainly timber and crude oil. Li Anshan, director of the Center for African Studies at Peking University, said Xi's three-stop African tour has comprehensively covered three symbolic parts of the continent. "Tanzania stands for East Africa, South Africa represents the southern part, while the Republic of Congo is a symbol of the coastal nations of West Africa," Li said. Guan Jian, Chinese Ambassador to the Republic of Congo, said both countries have made remarkable achievements in cooperation on economy and trade, culture, education, healthcare and media, which "have not only facilitated the development of the Republic of Congo but also brought benefits to China". "Under the framework of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, China will intensify cooperation to improve the livelihoods of the Congolese people and the country's capability in self-development," Ambassador Guan said. China provided aid to the Republic of Congo after a weapons depot exploded in Brazzaville in March last year and the African nation donated $1 million to China after the devastating earthquake in Sichuan province in 2008. To further bilateral cultural and educational exchanges, China has opened a Confucius Institute at Marien Ngouabi University in the Republic of Congo. Beijing has been offering college scholarships to Congolese students every year since 1975.

Launching ceremony of - is the first national channel that China's mainstream media launched specially for a certain country.

A Boeing 737-800 airplane is seen during the celebration of the delivery of the 1,000th Boeing airplane for China, in Seattle, the United States, March 28, 2013. Boeing and China Eastern Airlines on Thursday celebrated in Seattle the delivery of the 1,000th Boeing airplane for China, one of the world's most dynamic markets for commercial airplanes. Boeing forecasted that China would need 5,260 new airplanes, valued at $670 billion, in the next 20 years 

Xi concludes South Africa trip (By Xinhua) Chinese President Xi Jinping concluded his South Africa trip and left Durban for Brazzaville Friday for a state visit to the Republic of the Congo. Chinese President Xi Jinping participates in a breakfast meeting with African countries' leaders in Durban, South Africa, March 28. Xi began his state visit to South Africa on Monday, where he also attended the fifth summit of BRICS countries, namely Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, in Durban. On Tuesday, Xi met his South African counterpart Jacob Zuma in Pretoria. Both leaders discussed ways to enhance the comprehensive strategic partnership established between the two countries in 2010. The two presidents agreed to make the bilateral relationship a strategic focus and priority in their respective foreign policies. They also vowed to further expand and deepen political, economic and trade cooperation, and people-to-people and cultural exchanges, as well as cooperation in international and regional affairs. In the South African port city of Durban, Xi attended the fifth BRICS summit, under the theme of "BRICS and Africa: Partnership for Development, Integration and Industrialization." Speaking at the summit, the Chinese president said that to enhance cooperation with other BRICS countries has always been a priority on China's diplomatic agenda. "China will continue to strengthen cooperation with other BRICS countries, in order to make the economic growth of BRICS countries more robust and our cooperation better structured and more productive," he said. "This will bring tangible benefits to people of all countries and make greater contributions to world peace and development." Xi also attended the first BRICS Leaders-Africa Dialogue Forum, which was centered on the cooperation between BRICS and African countries in infrastructure. Addressing the forum, Xi said the dialogue between leaders of BRICS and African countries reflected the political will of both sides to realize equality and inclusiveness, and seek common development. Xi said the world cannot enjoy stability and prosperity without peace and development of Africa, and international affairs cannot be properly dealt with without Africa's participation, adding that the global governance system would lose vitality without Africa's saying. BRICS and African countries are like-minded friends with extensive common interests, he said, noting that the development of each side holds opportunities for the other. On Thursday morning, the Chinese president had a breakfast meeting with a group of African leaders. They exchanged views on the further development of China-Africa ties. Xi's ongoing four-nation trip, his first after being elected China's president earlier this month, has already taken him to Russia and Tanzania.

 *News information are obtained through various sources: South China Morning Post, The Standard, Hong Kong Trade Development Council, Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office, Hong Kong Government, Asia Society, Wall Street Journal, China Daily, Xinhua, World Journal, The Singtao Newspaper, TVB, CCTV Stations in China and others that are deemed reliable, but not guaranteed

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