China Claims NGOs Supported Hong Kong Unrest And ‘Should Be Punished’

China Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang

 

China on Monday defended barring the head of Human Rights Watch from entering Hong Kong, saying non-governmental organisations were responsible for political unrest in the city and should “pay the proper price”.

Kenneth Roth was supposed to give a press conference in Hong Kong this week to unveil the New York-based rights group’s latest global survey, which accuses China of prosecuting “an intensive attack” on international human rights agencies.

The long-time executive director said Sunday that he was turned back by authorities at the city’s airport.

China last month announced sanctions on American NGOs, including HRW, in retaliation for the passage of a US bill backing Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.

“Allowing or not allowing someone’s entry is China’s sovereign right,” foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a regular press briefing.

“Plenty of facts and evidence show that the relevant NGO has through various means supported anti-China radicals, encouraged them to engage in extremist, violent and criminal activity, and incited Hong Kong independence separatist activities,” Geng said.

“They bear major responsibility for the current chaos in Hong Kong. These organisations should be punished, and should pay the proper price.”

Hong Kong has been battered by nearly seven months of occasionally violent protests, its biggest political crisis in decades.

Millions have turned out on the streets of the semi-autonomous financial hub to demand greater democratic freedoms.

Not the first

Roth joins a growing list of openly critical academics, researchers, politicians and activists who have been refused entry in recent years.

Financial Times journalist Victor Mallet was denied a visa renewal without reason in 2018 after he hosted a talk with the leader of a small and now banned independence party at the city’s press club.

Last September, an American academic was barred from entering after he testified in a Congressional hearing alongside prominent Hong Kong democracy activists.

“I had hoped to spotlight Beijing’s deepening assault on international efforts to uphold human rights,” Roth said. “The refusal to let me enter Hong Kong vividly illustrates the problem.”

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, said that when Roth asked why he was prevented from entering Hong Kong, he was only told that it was “immigration reasons”.

“What we believe is that he was stopped because the Chinese government is afraid to have the world know what they are doing to the people of Hong Kong and the people of China,” Robertson told AFP in Bangkok.

The unrest that began last June is the biggest crisis the former British colony has faced since its return to Chinese rule in 1997.

Under the terms of the handover, Hong Kong enjoys unique freedoms unseen on the mainland, but in recent years fears have increased that these liberties are being chipped away as Beijing exerts more control over the territory.

China and the Hong Kong administration have refused to cede to the protesters’ demands, which include fully free elections in the city, an inquiry into alleged police misconduct, and amnesty for the nearly 6,500 people arrested during the movement — nearly a third of them under the age of 20.

Hong Kong’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club, which was to host Roths’ press conference on Wednesday, said in a statement it was concerned that the city’s government was using the immigration department to “act punitively against organisations and media representatives it does not agree with, which is a violation of the commitment to free expression and free speech in Hong Kong law.”

 

AFP

China Reports First Death From Mystery Virus Outbreak

 

China on Saturday reported the first death from a virus believed to be from the same family as the SARS pathogen that killed hundreds in China and Hong Kong more than a decade ago.

Forty-one people with pneumonia-like symptoms have so far been diagnosed with the new type of coronavirus in the central Chinese city of Wuhan where it was first confirmed, with one of the victims dying, the city’s health commission said on its website.

Seven others remained in serious condition while two were discharged from treatment, it added, saying the latest tally was completed on Friday.

The commission did not specify when the death occurred or give further details on the patient other than to say the bulk of those diagnosed worked at a Wuhan seafood market that was closed January 1 following the outbreak.

The episode has caused alarm due to the link to SARS, or Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which killed 349 people in mainland China and another 299 in Hong Kong in 2002-2003.

READ ALSO: Iran Accepts Shooting Down Ukraine Passenger Plane ‘Unintentionally’

State-run Xinhua news agency reported on Friday that Chinese scientists investigating the outbreak had made a “preliminary” determination that it was a previously unknown type of coronavirus.

The WHO says coronaviruses are a large family of pathogens ranging from the common cold to more serious illnesses like SARS and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), which emerged in 2012 and also caused scores of deaths.

“No new cases have been detected since January 3, 2020,” the Wuhan health commission said.

“At present, no infections among medical staff have been found, and no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission has been found.”

Wuhan authorities had earlier said 59 people had fallen ill, but Saturday’s statement suggests that not all have been confirmed as cases of the new virus.

The outbreak was first confirmed on December 31 in Wuhan, which has a population of more than 11 million.

Authorities in Hong Kong have since taken precautions including stepping up the disinfection of trains and planes, and checks of passengers.

The WHO, however, said Thursday it was not recommending any specific measures for travellers, nor the application of any trade or travel restrictions on China based on current information, expressing confidence in the ability of Chinese authorities to manage the situation.

China has since ruled out a fresh recurrence of SARS.

Travel Rush Looms

China has entered its annual Lunar New Year holiday travel rush, raising the spectre of the mass movement of people serving as a vector for the pathogen’s spread.

In the world’s largest annual human migration, hundreds of millions of people are expected to pack together on trains, buses and planes for the Lunar New Year holiday that this year falls in late January.

Authorities have said 400 million train tickets have been purchased for holiday-related travel, with hundreds of millions more expected to travel by air and road.

China has not announced any travel restrictions.

Authorities in Hong Kong have said 48 people have been hospitalised in recent days after returning from Wuhan and displaying flu-like illnesses, but none were confirmed to have contracted the new coronavirus.

City residents worried about the outbreak have rushed to buy face masks from local pharmacies, with many selling out earlier this week.

The coming holiday has prompted concerns in Taiwan, where officials urged the island’s health and welfare ministry to strengthen quarantine controls at airports.

The US embassy in China warned on Tuesday that Americans travelling in the country should avoid animals and contact with sick people.

AFP

Asian Markets Mostly Higher As Iran Fears Recede, Eyes On US Jobs

People wait to cross a street in front of a stock indicator displaying share prices of the Tokyo Stock Exchange in Tokyo on January 9, 2020. BEHROUZ MEHRI / AFP

 

Most Asian markets rose Friday but investors were struggling to maintain a rally triggered by easing US-Iran tensions the previous day as focus turned back to the global economic outlook.

The toning down of rhetoric from Donald Trump and Tehran following an Iranian missile attack on US assets in Iraq soothed concerns about a possible conflict in the Middle East and lit a fire under global equities on Thursday.

That has allowed dealers to resume their buying spree that had characterised business for the past few weeks, cheered by China and the United States reaching a trade deal, central banks easing monetary policy and data pointing to an improved global outlook.

“Even though we are hitting close to or near all-time highs, we still feel pretty excited about this market,” Invesco strategist Timothy Horsburgh told Bloomberg TV.

“What we’ve seen over the past couple of days with some of this relief rally, this is indicative of a market that’s wanted to go higher for a while now as a result of better fundamentals and a little bit of optimism around reaccelerating growth here in the US.”

Wall Street’s three main indexes racked up fresh records and Asia broadly followed suit, though the gains were light.

Tokyo ended 0.5 percent up, Seoul added 0.9 percent and Sydney jumped 0.8 percent, while Singapore put on 0.2 percent, Taipei jumped 0.5 percent and Mumbai climbed 0.7 percent. Wellington, Bangkok and Jakarta also rose.

But Shanghai dropped 0.1 percent, while Manila lost 0.6 percent.

Oil falls further

There appeared to be little negative market reaction to claims by Canada that Iran shot down an airliner in Tehran this week, killing 176 people.

Investors are now looking to the release later in the day of US jobs figures for a better idea about the state of the world’s top economy, while next week sees China and the US put pen to paper on their mini trade deal.

The “critical payroll data comes as a most welcome distraction and will provide an essential update on the pace of US job gains”, said Stephen Innes at AxiTrader.

“With US economic growth mostly dependent on the consumer, a healthy labour market is crucial to any constructive ‘risk-on’ narrative”.

“With the market backdrop remaining supportive –- namely, improving macro, central bank easing, and receding… risk around trade, Brexit, and the Middle East, the path of least resistance remains up.”

Oil prices dipped, with the sharp gains enjoyed in the wake of the US assassination of Iran’s top general last week being wiped out. The commodity is now below levels seen before the killing early last Friday.

Innes added that with “the chance of a proxy or rogue threat of disruption to physical supply still elevated, we could see a floor start to build around current (price) levels”.

“At the same time, traders will now turn the focus back on the relatively pedestrian views around trade and data, which remain positive for oil.”

Key figures at 0710 GMT

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: UP 0.5 percent at 23,850.57 (close)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: UP 0.2 percent at 28,609.63

Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 0.1 percent at 3,092.29 (close)

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.3083 from $1.3064 at 2200 GMT

Euro/pound: DOWN at 84.90 pence from 84.98 pence

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1108 at $1.1105

Dollar/yen: UP at 109.57 yen from 109.51 yen

Brent Crude: DOWN eight cents at $65.29 per barrel

West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 10 cents at $59.46 per barrel

New York – Dow: UP 0.7 percent at 28,956.90 (close)

London – FTSE 100: UP 0.3 percent at 7,598.12 (close)

China Replaces Top Envoy To Hong Kong

 

Chinese state media said Saturday the country had replaced its top envoy to Hong Kong, the most significant personnel change since democracy protests broke out in the city last year.

“Wang Zhimin has been dismissed from his position as head of the Liaison Office” for Hong Kong affairs and was replaced by Luo Huining, state broadcaster CCTV said, without giving details.

Hong Kong has been battered by nearly seven months of unrest — its biggest political crisis in decades — which has seen millions come out on the streets demanding greater democratic freedoms.

Police, Protesters Clash During Huge Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Rally

 

 

Tens of thousands of pro-democracy marchers thronged the streets of Hong Kong for a massive rally on New Year’s Day, looking to carry the momentum of their movement into 2020 as police and hardcore demonstrators faced off again.

Hong Kong has been battered by nearly seven months of often-violent unrest, with frequent clashes between the police and hardcore protesters as the city battles its biggest political crisis in decades.

Despite a peaceful start on Wednesday, violence erupted near the march as it snaked through the Wan Chai district on the financial hub’s main island. Riot police used pepper spray and tear gas, while hardcore protesters lobbed Molotov cocktails.

The Civil Human Rights Front, the umbrella group which organised the march, had permission for the march from city authorities, but they were ordered to end it soon after the clashes began.

“The police have… asked us to dismiss the rally,” the organisers told marchers using megaphones. “Please calmly and slowly leave the scene right now.”

In now-familiar scenes, riot police were seen taking positions at several locations, including the Wan Chai subway station.

Black-clad, masked protesters also gathered to set up makeshift barricades, while some businesses were vandalised in the afternoon.

The unrest in Hong Kong was sparked by a proposal to allow extraditions to mainland China, bringing millions out on to the streets in June last year. It has since morphed into a larger revolt against what many fear is Beijing’s tightening control.

Despite the continued unrest, China and the Hong Kong administration have refused to cede to the protesters’ demands, which include fully free elections in the city, an inquiry into alleged police misconduct, and amnesty for the nearly 6,500 people arrested during the movement — nearly a third of them under the age of 20.

“It is sad that our demands from 2019 need to be carried forward to 2020,” the CHRF’s Jimmy Sham said at the start of the rally.

Activists have accused the police of brutality and rights violations, while city authorities — and the central government in Beijing — have accused pro-democracy protesters of rioting.

China has also alleged that the unrest has been fanned by foreign powers, and has bristled at criticism from rights groups and governments of the way the protests have been handled so far.

‘Hopeless situation’

Hong Kong saw in the new year with an evening of peaceful protests that descended into tear gas-choked clashes between hardcore demonstrators and the police overnight.

Thousands of people linked arms to form human chains that stretched for miles along busy shopping streets and neighbourhoods on New Year’s Eve.

Later, protesters set fire to barricades in some parts of the city as the police launched 2020’s first volleys of tear gas and used water cannon to disperse the crowds.

The protest movement has become quieter since the city’s pro-democracy camp scored a landslide victory in a municipal-level vote in November — seen as a referendum on the Beijing-backed government — and violent clashes at some of the city’s university campuses.

But protesters have vowed to continue their fight for greater freedoms.

“Hong Kong people have been pushed to a hopeless situation. That’s why today we have to come out,” a masked protester said in a speech at the rally on Wednesday.

The unrest that began in June last year is the biggest crisis the former British colony has faced since its return to Chinese rule in 1997.

Under the terms of that handover, Hong Kong enjoys unique freedoms unseen on the mainland, but fears have increased in recent years that they are being chipped away as Beijing exerts more control over the territory.

Police Arrest 15 In Fresh Hong Kong Protests

Riot police detain a man (C) after a pro-democracy protest inside a shopping mall in Sheung Shui in Hong Kong on December 28, 2019. DALE DE LA REY / AFP

 

Hong Kong riot police arrested at least 15 people in clashes Saturday with dozens of pro-democracy protestors who targeted a mall near the border with China to demonstrate against mainland tourists and shoppers.

The fresh unrest ended a brief calm after protestors had battled riot police in shopping malls and streets of commercial districts across the city for three days over the Christmas period.

On Saturday afternoon, masked plain-clothed officers wielding batons arrested 14 people, including a 14-year-old girl, who were protesting inside the mall in Sheung Shui district, forcing shops to shut and harassing shoppers, an AFP reporter at the scene said.

Riot police charged into the mall to reinforce the officers and used pepper spray to disperse a crowd of residents who gathered to protest against the arrests.

After the police left, some protesters stayed on a footbridge linking the mall to an MTR metro station and harassed passers-by they thought were mainland Chinese tourists.

Another man was arrested by riot police in a later incident inside the mall, his head covered in blood.

Similar protests and clashes also took place in a mall in Kowloon Bay district, where a number of people were arrested Saturday evening.

Blood and a black mask were seen by an AFP reporter on the floor where plain-clothed police subdued protesters in the mall.

In recent years Sheung Shui has been swamped by a huge influx of mainlanders and parallel traders seeking to circumvent Chinese taxes, angering many residents who have seen their local shops transformed to cater to the visitors.

Hong Kong’s many malls have become regular protest venues as protesters try to cause economic disruption in their push for greater democratic freedoms and police accountability.

The last month had seen a relative drop-off in violence and protests after pro-democracy candidates won a landslide at local elections.

But with Beijing and city leaders refusing further concessions, rallies and clashes reignited over the Christmas period.

The protests were initially sparked by a now-abandoned attempt to allow extraditions to the authoritarian mainland.

They have since morphed into a popular revolt against Beijing’s rule, with spiralling fears that the city is losing some of its unique liberties.

Among the demands being made by protesters is an inquiry into the police, an amnesty for the more than 6,000 people arrested and the right to elect Hong Kong’s leader.

AFP

Police, Protesters Clash As Hong Kong Celebrates Christmas

A protester reacts after police fire tear gas to disperse bystanders in a protest in Jordan district in Hong Kong, on early December 25, 2019. Philip FONG / AFP

 

Hong Kong‘s Christmas celebrations were marred by sporadic clashes between police and pro-democracy activists on Wednesday as the city’s pro-Beijing leader said the festive season was being “ruined” by demonstrators.

Police used pepper spray and tear gas as activists held small flashmob protests in malls and multiple districts across the city.

In Mong Kok, an area that has seen frequent clashes over the last six months, police fired multiple rounds of tear gas to disperse crowds that were heckling officers, an AFP reporter at the scene said.

Pepper spray was also used in at least two malls as police and protesters clashed. Multiple young protesters were detained, some by plainclothes police who had mixed with the crowds, according to live local TV broadcasts.

Wednesday’s skirmishes were less sustained than those on Christmas Eve, when battles between democracy activists and riot police swept through a major shopping district for hours.

That evening’s unrest was the most serious in what has otherwise been a few weeks of comparative calm for a city upended by more than six months of often-violent protests.

Police used tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper spray on Christmas Eve in multiple locations while protesters responded with throwing sporadic petrol bombs, blocking roads and vandalising businesses deemed to be sympathetic to the government.

Hong Kong‘s pro-Beijing leader Carrie Lam on Wednesday condemned the Christmas Eve protesters on Facebook, describing them as “reckless and selfish rioters”.

“Such illegal acts have not only dampened the festive mood but also adversely affected local businesses.”

Subdued Christmas

A former British colony with a sizeable Christian population, Christmas has been distinctly muted in Hong Kong this year.

Swathes of the population are seething against Beijing’s rule and the semi-autonomous city’s administration as they push for greater democratic freedoms and police accountability.

The months of protest have helped tip a financial hub already battered by the US-China trade war into a recession and intensified political polarisation.

The protests were initially sparked by a now-abandoned attempt to allow extraditions to the authoritarian mainland.

They have since morphed into a popular revolt against Beijing’s rule, with spiralling fears that the city is losing some of its unique liberties.

Among the demands being made by protesters is an inquiry into the police, amnesty for the more than 6,000 people arrested and the right to elect Hong Kong‘s leader.

The city’s many malls have become regular protest venues as demonstrators try to cause economic disruption.

Online forums have called for pop-up protests over the Christmas and New Year period targeting shopping districts.

The recent fall-off in violence came after hundreds of hardcore protesters were arrested during a university campus siege — and after the pro-democracy camp won a landslide in local elections — last month.

But both Lam and Beijing have refused any further concessions since that electoral defeat.

Earlier this month, a huge crowd of some 800,000 people marched peacefully.

The same group behind that rally have applied for permission to hold a similar march on New Year’s Day.

 

AFP

Hong Kong Police Claim Protester Fired Live Round At Officers

 

Police detain a young man after fights broke out between pro-China supporters and anti-government protesters  2019./ AFP

 

Hong Kong police on Saturday said an armed suspect fired a live round at officers as they tried to arrest him in an operation linked to the months of pro-democracy protests engulfing the city.

Police said a 19-year-old man pulled a semi-automatic pistol from his waistband as officers approached him in Tai Po district on Friday evening.

The shot did not hit anyone and the man was subdued.

A subsequent search of a nearby flat uncovered an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and more than 250 rounds of ammunition.

Police said they believed the man and the newly discovered weapons were linked to a group arrested earlier this month who were also allegedly found in possession of a pistol and were plotting to attack officers.

“The firearms we discovered matched the intelligence we had collected which indicated that some people hoped to use firearms in some public assemblies to wound some others, including police officers on duty,” Senior Superintendent Lee Kwai-wah told reporters on Saturday.

However, Lee said the suspect was also facing ongoing firearms charges from an arrest last year before the protests.

Riot police had to be called in to back up the officers as local residents began heckling police, with at least two tear gas rounds fired to disperse them, the South China Morning Post reported.

Semi-autonomous Hong Kong has been shaken for six months by increasingly violent pro-democracy protests.

They were initially sparked by a now-abandoned attempt to allow extraditions to the authoritarian mainland but have since morphed into a popular revolt against Beijing’s rule, with spiralling fears that the city is losing some of its unique liberties.

Millions have marched peacefully in multiple rallies, with Beijing and local leader Carrie Lam digging their heels in.

But a newly radicalised youth armed with petrol bombs, bricks and sometimes bows and arrows has added a dangerous layer to the movement, leading to increasingly violent battles with riot police.

Over the last six months, police have fired more than 16,000 rounds of tear gas and 10,000 rubber bullets. Some 6,000 people have been arrested, with 1,000 charged, a large chunk of them students.

In recent weeks, police have made arrests indicating some protesters may be plotting more drastic action.

Alongside the arrest earlier this month of a group of people in possession of a pistol, police said they also discovered two homemade nail bombs that had been stored in the grounds of a school.

Both Lam and the Hong Kong police force’s reputation have taken a hammering during the protests but Beijing has publicly backed both.

The South China Morning Post published a new poll on Sunday which found 73 percent of respondents felt the police’s handling of the protest had eroded trust in the force.

Among the demands being made by protesters is an independent inquiry into the police, amnesty for those arrested and fully free elections.

In the last month, the frequency of protests has declined as well as the level of violence after pro-democracy candidates won a landslide at local elections.

But Lam and Beijing have given no sign of budging.

On Saturday afternoon, small groups of a few dozen masked protesters held flashmob rallies in shopping malls.

One group vandalised a restaurant owned by a conglomerate that is deemed to be pro-Beijing before police arrived on scene and the protesters dispersed.

AFP

Hong Kong Protests: Five Teenagers Arrested Over Man’s Death

High school students light up their mobile phones as they sing ‘Glory to Hong Kong’ during a pro-democracy rally at the Salisbury Garden in Tsim Sha Tsui district of Hong Kong on December 13, 2019. Philip FONG / AFP

 

Five Hong Kong teenagers have been arrested in connection with the death of a man hit on the head by a brick during clashes between pro- and anti-government protesters last month, police said Saturday.

The three males and two females aged 15 to 18 were arrested on Friday on suspicion of murder, rioting and wounding and had been detained pending further investigation, police said in a statement.

The incident occurred in mid-November as the pro-democracy movement was in its fifth month, with hardcore demonstrators engaged in a “blossom everywhere” campaign across the city to stretch police resources.

Footage of the event showed rival groups of protesters throwing bricks at each other, during which a man was hit by a brick and fell to the ground.

The 70-year-old was rushed to hospital unconscious and certified dead the following day.

He was the second person in less than a week to die in protest-linked incidents.

Alex Chow, a 22-year-old university student, died on November 8 from head injuries sustained during a fall in a multi-storey carpark while police and demonstrators were clashing.

Although the events leading to his fall are unclear and disputed, protesters have blamed police.

Allegations of police brutality are one of the movement’s rallying cries.

Thousands of Hong Kongers formed long lines to attend a memorial service for Chow on Thursday ahead of his funeral.

Chow’s death was followed three days later by police shooting an unarmed 21-year-old protester in the abdomen, sparking days of unrest that culminated in pitched battles on university campuses.

Meanwhile, police arrested three men, aged 27 to 40, on Saturday morning in relation to a test of explosive materials and remote control device in a remote area in northwestern Hong Kong.

Li Kwai-wah, senior superintendent of the organised crime and triad bureau, said they believed the men were planning to use the explosives during processions and that they were investigating who the potential target was.

Hong Kong has been upended by six months of massive pro-democracy protests that have seen violent clashes between police and hardcore demonstrators, as well as regular transport disruption.

The past three weeks have seen a lull in the violence and vandalism after pro-democracy parties won a landslide in local council elections.

AFP

Broke Hong Kong Airline Handed Lifeline

The Hong Kong airline is owned by struggling Chinese conglomerate HNA Group

 

Cash-strapped carrier Hong Kong Airlines was handed a lifeline by regulators on Saturday after they decided not to punish it for delaying salary payments amid an ongoing financial crisis.

The international finance hub has seen six months of protests which has dealt a massive blow to the tourism sector and airline operators.

Hong Kong Airlines is owned by struggling Chinese conglomerate HNA Group, which has been looking to lower its debt burden.

Last month the carrier announced it would delay salary payments to some staff as it struggled to find cash, triggering a warning from regulators that their license might be at risk.

But earlier this week, the company announced it had found a last minute injection of funds.

“The Civil Aviation Department has been satisfied that Hong Kong Airlines is able to continue to operate properly and safely,” a spokesman for the Hong Kong Civil Aviation Department said on Saturday.

The city’s Air Transport Licensing Authority (ATLA) said on the same day that the airline has met the conditions for raising and maintaining its cash level.

The authority added that it will continue to monitor the carrier’s operation closely.

In late November, the carrier said its business was “severely affected” by the social unrest in the city and a sustained weak travel demand, which also impacted its payroll.

The licensing authority later required the airline to raise a significant amount of funds within a deadline in order to prevent its financial situation from deteriorating and to protect public interests.

Earlier this year, HNA unloaded budget carrier HK Express to rival Cathay Pacific and cut some operations.

On Wednesday, in a letter to staff and colleagues, the carrier’s chairman Hou Wei said “an initial cash injection plan has been drawn up.”

Although the amount of cash was not disclosed, the chairman said the company would pay outstanding salaries to staff on Thursday and the airline’s services will gradually return to normal as soon as the funds arrive.

The tourism industry in Hong Kong has been battered by nearly six months of pro-democracy protests that have become increasingly violent.

Visitor arrivals have tanked with arrivals from the Chinese mainland plummeting, hammering retail sales and helping to tip the city into recession.

 

AFP

Hong Kong Close To Recording First Budget Deficit In 15 Years

Students of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) participate in a march towards HKUST president Wei Shyy’s lodge in Hong Kong on November 8, 2019. Philip FONG / AFP

 

 

Hong Kong is set to record its first budget deficit in 15 years, the city’s finance chief warned Monday, as the business hub reels from the twin shocks of the trade war and seething democracy protests.

In the latest grim assessment for the city, financial secretary Paul Chan told lawmakers that the economy was set to contract 1.3 percent in 2019, hitting the city’s usually bulging coffers.

Chan blamed the 2019-2020 deficit on decreased tax revenues, a slowdown in land sales and recent economic sweeteners he unveiled in a bid to win over the public during a tumultuous year of unrest.

“At the end of the financial year, the SAR government will be in the red,” Chan said, using an abbreviation for the Hong Kong government.

“Hong Kong’s economy is now in extremely difficult times,” he added, as he called for political violence to cease.

The city has been battered by nearly six months of protests triggered by rising public anger over China’s rule and the police’s response to protests.

Crowds are pushing for greater democratic freedoms and police accountability but the city’s pro-Beijing leadership has refused any major political concessions.

The increasingly violent rallies have hammered the retail and tourism sectors, with mainland Chinese visitors abandoning the city in droves.

Figures released Monday showed retail sales fell by a record 24 percent in October, the fourth consecutive month of double-digit declines.

October is a crucial holiday period in China known as “Golden Week” when visitors from the mainland to Hong Kong usually spike and spend heavily.

But this year, as violence escalated, the crowds fell a record 46 percent that month.

Protests are not the sole cause of Hong Kong’s woes.

The economy has also taken a pummelling from the US-China trade war in a city that serves as a crucial link between the authoritarian mainland and global markets.

The last time Hong Kong recorded a budget deficit was in the aftermath of a deadly 2003 outbreak of the Sars virus that killed some 300 people.

The city’s budget usually ends the year in an enviable position and successive fat years have built up an impressive cushion.

In March the government said its reserves stood at HK$1.17 trillion ($150 billion) with some critics saying successive leaders have not done enough to alleviate endemic inequality.

Confirmation of a deficit will do little to restore business faith in the hub given Beijing is offering no political solution to the crisis.

On Monday, the city’s aviation regulator gave Hong Kong Airlines five days to find fresh revenue streams or risk seeing its licence suspended.

The carrier, which is owned by the struggling mainland conglomerate HNA Group, has been one of the most high profile casualties of plunging visitor numbers and announced last week it was delaying salaries to some staff.

AFP

China Sanctions US, NGOs Over Hong Kong Unrest

Protesters burn items at the Causeway Bay metro station entrance in Hong Kong on October 4, 2019, as people hit the streets after the government announced a ban on facemasks. Nicolas ASFOURI / AFP

 

 

China suspended US warship visits and sanctioned American NGOs on Monday in retaliation for the passage of a bill backing pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.

The financial hub has been rocked by nearly six months of increasingly violent unrest demanding greater autonomy, which Beijing has frequently blamed on foreign influence.

Last week US President Donald Trump signed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which requires the president to annually review the city’s favourable trade status and threatens to revoke it if the semi-autonomous territory’s freedoms are quashed.

The move came as the world’s two biggest economies have been striving to finalise a “phase one” deal in their protracted trade war.

“In response to the unreasonable behaviour of the US side, the Chinese government has decided to suspend reviewing the applications for US warships to go to Hong Kong for (rest and) recuperation as of today,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a regular press briefing.

China had already denied requests for two US Navy ships to dock in Hong Kong in August, without specifying a reason why.

“Operationally, from a military point of view, it doesn’t really make a difference for the US, as they can use many naval bases in the region,” Michael Raska, a security researcher at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, told AFP.

However, it “sends a signal that US-China tensions will continue to deepen,” Raska said.

The last US Navy ship to visit Hong Kong was the USS Blue Ridge in April.

J. Michael Cole, a Taipei-based senior fellow with the Global Taiwan Institute, said the move was “mostly symbolic” but yet another sign of the “tit-for-tat escalation which is poisoning the bilateral relationship.”

– Behaving ‘badly’ –

Hua said they would also apply sanctions to a number of US-based NGOs, although failed to give any specifics over the form the measures would take.

Sanctions will apply to NGOs that had acted “badly” over the recent unrest in Hong Kong, she said, including the National Endowment for Democracy, Human Rights Watch and Freedom House.

There was “already a large amount of facts and evidence that make it clear that these non-governmental organisations support anti-China” forces and “incite separatist activities for Hong Kong independence”, Hua said.

She accused them of having “great responsibility for the chaotic situation in Hong Kong”.

Protesters in Hong Kong are pushing for greater democratic freedoms and police accountability, but the city’s pro-Beijing leadership has refused any major political concessions.

The increasingly violent rallies have hammered the retail and tourism sectors, with mainland Chinese visitors abandoning the city in droves.

The city’s finance chief warned Monday that Hong Kong is set to record its first budget deficit in 15 years.

AFP