Posts Tagged ‘Hong Kong’

Irish minister floats Hong Kong solution for post-Brexit N.Ireland

November 22, 2017


© AFP/File | Britain has until early December to make sufficient progress on three key Brexit divorce issues to move on to trade talks

BELFAST (AFP) – Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney on Wednesday said the arrangement linking Hong Kong with China could be a possible solution for addressing the fate of Northern Ireland after Brexit.The border between EU member Ireland and British-ruled Northern Ireland is becoming an increasing concern in divorce talks with Britain, with Dublin demanding that the frontier remain completely open, or risk endangering the peace process.

Ireland fears that any divergence of Northern Ireland from EU law will automatically require the creation of cross-border controls, hitting the economy and reviving memories of when military checkpoints split the island.

“Britain … must take on their responsiblity to Northern Ireland … and we will try to help them design that in a way that is fair to both communities,” Coveney told reporters while on a visit to a community centre in the Northern Ireland city of Belfast.

“This isn’t entirely new by the way, there are other parts of the world whereby one country has difficult jurisdictions in terms of customs arrangements and trading arrangements,” Coveney added.

“Hong Kong is an example of that. I think there is probably no country in the world that defends its sovereign borders more aggressively than China does,” he said.

“Yet China lives with (and) functions with Hong Kong which has very much been part of Chinese territories, but operating under a different set of rules,” he said.

“I’m not sure whether the Hong Kong solution is appropriate, for Northern Ireland or not, but it is an example, of ironically a British-designed solution,” he added.

Britain — the former colonial power in both Hong Kong and Ireland — handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997.

Since then Hong Kong has been governed under a “one country, two systems” deal which allows citizens rights unseen on the mainland, including freedom of speech and a partially directly elected parliament.

The EU has given Britain until early December to make sufficient progress on three key Brexit divorce issues — Northern Ireland, its exit bill and the rights of EU citizens living in Britain — in order to move on to trade talks at a summit on December 14.


Hong Kong, Singapore key centres of trafficking ring sending thousands of Filipino helpers to Russia

November 16, 2017

Senior Philippine official says domestic helpers lured to take up bogus jobs in Russia, Brazil and Turkey

By Billy SK Wong
South China Morning Post

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 November, 2017, 11:26pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 November, 2017, 9:21am

Hong Kong has been a top breeding ground for job recruitment frauds as thousands of Filipino domestic helpers in the city have been trafficked to countries like Russia, Brazil and Turkey for bogus jobs, a senior Philippine official told the Post on Wednesday.

Over 4,000 undocumented Filipinos were currently working in Russia, most of them former Hong Kong domestic helpers transiting through the city, the senior official said, citing statistics from the Philippine embassy in Moscow. He was speaking on condition of anonymity.

The official added that some cases of trafficking from the city to Russia dated back seven years and that Filipinos from other places like Singapore and Taipei were also involved.

Jalilo Dela Torre, labour attaché at the Philippine consulate in Hong Kong, confirmed the situation and said some Hong Kong-registered recruitment agents had promised domestic helpers high-paying jobs in Moscow and lured them into breaking their contracts with employers in the city before arranging flights to Moscow.

“The intermediaries would pocket agency fees of HK28,000 to HK$43,000. Almost all victims would borrow the amount from financial institutions or even loan sharks,” Dela Torre said.

United Filipinos in Hong Kong chairwoman Dolores Balladares-Pelaez said most Hong Kong helpers would get loans to pay agency and training fees totalling up to HK$15,000 when they first came to the city. Victims of human-trafficking were therefore already in debt while the lucrative jobs they were promised never came to fruition, she said.

 Filipino workers sitting on the streets on a Sunday around Hong Kong. Photo: Dickson Lee

The plight of trafficked domestic helpers came to light as Manila imposed a three-week ban on the export of labour by suspending the issue of overseas employment certificates, which are needed by those wishing to work overseas.

The Philippine labour and employment department announced the ban last Friday, citing “persistent reports of illegal recruitment” and “pernicious activities of certain unscrupulous individuals preying on Filipinos.”

Dela Torre said: “When the victims first came to Hong Kong, they probably didn’t have the intention to go to Russia. They were usually approached on Facebook or social media to take up bogus jobs in Russia.”

He said he had recently received complaints from four former domestic helpers from Hong Kong who claimed to have been tricked into working in Russia.

They were usually approached on Facebook or social media to take up bogus jobs in Russia

Dang, which is not her real name and who is currently in Moscow, was one of the complainants. She told the Post on Wednesday a local employment agent deceived her into going to Russia in 2011 for a domestic helper job that was supposed to pay several times more than she was getting in Hong Kong. But it turned out she only got a job that paid about the same as in the city and therefore fell into debt.

“Even if I want to go back home to the Philippines or to Hong Kong, it’s impossible because we need first to pay all the debts [incurred] in applying to go to Russia,” Dang said.

“That’s why maybe it’s much better for me to stay and work illegally for a few more years until my children finish their studies [in the Philippines] and pay all our debts and save a little money that I can use when I go back home,” she said.

 Dang, as she preferred to be called, said she was deceived into going to Russia for a job that never existed. Photo: Handout

Matt Friedman, the chief executive officer of the Mekong Club, a human-trafficking watchdog, said recruitment agents would fabricate job offers tailored to a victim’s preference.

“They would prey on vulnerable domestic helpers who might want more money or better jobs, for example as a social worker or teacher, ” Friedman said.

“They were made to believe they could easily repay the debts from agency fees … and would eventually be held in a foreign country to repay them.”

“It’s the first time I’ve heard the Philippine consulate confirming the situation … which has been discussed in the NGO community for years,” he said.

United Filipinos in Hong Kong staged a rally outside the Philippine consulate in Admiralty on Wednesday, demanding compensation for outbound workers affected by the labour export ban in their home country.

Balladares-Pelaez said an estimated 75,000 outgoing workers seeking employment worldwide would be stuck in limbo with no income. She accused the Philippine government of seeking to curtail illegal recruitment at the expense of outgoing workers.

A spokesman for the Hong Kong government said: “Upon receipt of complaints, the Labour Department will [initiate] investigations promptly on suspected overcharging by employment agencies. It will also refer the case to police for investigation on the fraud aspect.”

Pacific trade deal reached but leaders won’t endorse it yet

November 11, 2017

Tran Tuan Anh, Toshimitsu Motegi

DANANG, Vietnam (AP) — Trade ministers from 11 Pacific Rim countries announced an agreement Saturday on pushing ahead with a free-trade deal whose destiny was uncertain after President Donald Trump dropped it.

“We have reached an agreement on a number of fundamental parts,” Vietnam’s trade minister, Tran Tuan Anh, told reporters in the coastal resort city of Danang, on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. But more work must be done before leaders of the countries involved can endorse the plan, said Anh and his Japanese counterpart, Toshimitsu Motegi.

The 11 counties remaining in the trade pact rejected by Trump in January have been working to revise the deal to allow them to proceed without U.S. involvement. That involved a difficult balance between maintaining high standards and pragmatism, Motegi said.

“Through a pragmatic response of the officials involved we could come to an agreement,” Motegi said. He said it was clear there would be a need for further changes but that differences had been narrowed down.

“The substance is something all the TPP countries can agree on,” said Motegi. “This will send a very strong message to the U.S. and the other countries in the region.”

The talks resulted in an even longer name for the trade pact than originally devised. It is now the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The announcement of a basic agreement was delayed by last-minute discord that prevented the TPP leaders from endorsing the plan when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not join other leaders who gathered Friday to endorse an agreement in principle on pressing ahead without the U.S.

In the end, Canada’s Minister for International Commerce Francois-P Champagne said in a tweet Saturday that “after lots of work, big progress on the ‘Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership.’”

Trudeau had said days earlier that Canada would not be rushed into an agreement.

Despite enthusiasm for sticking with the plan following the U.S. withdrawal, criticism over various issues persists. Detractors of the TPP say it favors corporate interests over labor and other rights. Trudeau said days before arriving in Danang that he would not be rushed into signing an agreement that did not suit Canada’s interests.

Aspects of the trade pact have also raised hackles over a requirement that companies be allowed to sue governments for lack of enforcement of related laws.

The proposed basic agreement reached in Danang said that the ministers maintained “the high standards, overall balance and integrity of the TPP while ensuring the commercial and other interests of all participants and preserving our inherent right to regulate, including the flexibility of the parties to set legislative and regulatory priorities.”

The U.S., the biggest TPP economy, had been one of its most assertive supporters before Trump took office. Trump has said he prefers country-to-country deals and is seeking to renegotiate several major trade agreements to, as he says, “put America first.”

Trump reiterated his markedly different stance on trade before the 21-member APEC summit convened late Friday with a gala banquet.

“We are not going to let the United States be taken advantage of anymore,” he told an APEC business conference. He lambasted the World Trade Organization and other trade forums as unfair to the United States and reiterated his preference for bilateral trade deals, saying “I am always going to put America first.”

Trump said he would not enter into large trade agreements, alluding to U.S. involvement in the North American Free Trade Agreement and the TPP.

In contrast, Chinese President Xi Jinping told the same group that nations need to stay committed to economic openness or risk being left behind.

Xi drew loud applause when he urged support for the “multilateral trading regime” and progress toward a free-trade zone in the Asia-Pacific. China is not part of the TPP.

APEC operates by consensus and customarily issues nonbinding statements. TPP commitments are to be eventually be ratified and enforced by its members.

But even talks this week on a declaration to cap the APEC summit had to be extended for an extra half day as ministers haggled over wording. The release of a set of ministerial agreements early Saturday suggested the leaders would finesse any disagreements, as usual, to demonstrate unity and avoid embarrassing their hosts.

As a developing country with a fast-growing export sector, this year’s host country, Vietnam, has a strong interest in open trade and access for its exports to consumers in the West. The summit is an occasion for its leaders to showcase the progress its economy has made thanks largely to foreign investment and trade. Danang, Vietnam’s third largest city, is in the midst of a construction boom as dozens of resorts and smaller hotels pop up along its scenic coastline.

APEC’s members are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, the U.S. and Vietnam.


Associated Press writer Robert Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.

In China’s ‘democracy village’, no one wants to talk any more

November 10, 2017


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A billboard which reads “Advance solidly to execute the strategy of loving the people and enforcing the border. Police and citizens collectively build a harmonious and civilized Wukan”, is shown on a main road leading to Wukan village in China’s Guangdong province October 31, 2017. REUTERS/James Pomfret Reuters

By James Pomfret

WUKAN, China (Reuters) – Surveillance cameras peer at residents from every major street corner. Informants are everywhere, villagers say. And more than a dozen villagers are languishing in prison or detention.

The southern Chinese village of Wukan was once a symbol of grassroots democracy in China. Now, a year after the authorities quelled protests over land grabs and the jailing of a local leader, Wukan is locked in a stifling security squeeze.

A rare visit to Wukan by a Reuters team and interviews with half a dozen villagers and sources familiar with the situation revealed that the village and surrounding area remain tightly policed as the government tries to maintain security at all costs.

Villagers in Wukan once warmly welcomed the media, but many are now afraid of speaking for fear of reprisals.

“There’s nothing left here,” said one young man in Wukan who was edgy and wouldn’t talk for long. “You know what happened,” he added before moving quickly away.

The sources said that a provincial-level “Wukan Mass Working Group” had been set up with about 100 full-time personnel and charged with ensuring “stability” by marshalling a network of informers, security patrols, surveillance systems and floodlights in the village.

In the 1980s, the Chinese government began allowing elections in villages nationwide, although democracy activists say the votes for village committees were rarely free from official influence.

But after a series of protests against local officials in Wukan in 2011, when government offices were ransacked, authorities eventually backed down, allowing the village to hold open elections that became a beacon for democratic hope in China.

But now, Wukan, once famous in China as the “democracy village”, has succumbed to China’s tightening grip over civil society and individual rights, said Zhuang Liehong, a former Wukan protest leader who helped lead an uprising against local authorities in 2011.

“What is happening in Wukan is what is happening in China,” said Zhuang. “It’s a dark reflection of China, with no freedom of expression. No individual rights.”

There was no immediate response from the Guangdong provincial government to faxed questions from Reuters seeking comment.

Under President Xi Jinping, the government has intensified efforts to deepen the reach of the Communist Party into all aspects of life in China. Critics say it brooks no dissent, and has been cracking down on civil society, which it sees as a challenge to central authority.

“When Xi took the reins in 2013, repressing boundary-pushers in civil society was a cornerstone of his political campaign to consolidate power,” Diana Fu of the University of Toronto and Greg Distelhorst of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology wrote in an academic paper on “Grassroots Participation and Repression in Contemporary China”.

With China’s recent leadership transition further consolidating Xi’s power, the next five years will likely see a continuation of tough social stability policies that will have an impact on places like Wukan, some analysts say.

“The party has decided to double down on authoritarianism after the problems they’ve faced,” said Nicolas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s director for East Asia.


During the 2011 protests, Zhuang helped barricade the coastal hamlet of 15,000 people against battalions of riot police. He spoke by telephone with Reuters from New York, where he is now in exile after leaving Wukan in 2014.

Wukan sits in a picturesque region flanked by hills and a deep water harbor, with lush farmland, ponds teeming with fish and shrimp, and the occasional flash of kingfishers.

Its troubles began in the 1990s when swathes of farmland began being sold off to property developers by the village leadership in a series of opaque deals.

In 2011, these problems came to a head, when many villagers began demanding that the land be returned.

    A months-long insurrection against local authorities and riot police put a global media spotlight on Wukan, leading to a rare populist victory in Communist China when the provincial authorities eventually backed down.

The village committee at the center of the land deals was removed and a free election was allowed that saw all seven of the protest leaders voted into public office.

This village committee soon came under pressure from allies of the old leadership seeking retribution, they said. Over the course of the next few years most of the protest organizers left public office, including their leader, Lin Zuluan, who was jailed for corruption last summer.

The protests last year erupted after villagers demanded Lin’s release. Many villagers say the charges were concocted and that a confession by Lin on state television was forced.

The protests ran for several months and were quelled by hundreds of riot police firing rubber bullets, hurling tear gas and beating up villagers with batons, victims and witnesses told Reuters at the time.

Last December, the People’s Court of nearby Haifeng town, which oversees Wukan, sentenced nine villagers to jail terms ranging from two to nine years for a number of charges including illegal assembly, disrupting traffic and spreading false information, according to a notice on its website.

There was no immediate response to a Reuters request for comment from the Lufeng government, which has jurisdiction over Haifeng and Wukan.

    One villager, Zhang Bingchai, was jailed for two years for allegedly spreading false information, the court said. Two acquaintances who knew him said he had spoken about the situation in Wukan, to outsiders on his mobile phone and had posted some images of the crackdown.

Zhuang said his 67-year-old father, Zhuang Songkun, was jailed for three years on a charge of gathering a crowd to block traffic during the protests.

The hard line against the protests reflects the government’s desire to ensure stability, said Xiong Wei, the founder of New Enlightenment, a village advocacy organization in Beijing who has visited Wukan on numerous occasions.

    “And they’ve been very successful,” said Xiong. “No one dares raise their head. But the problems haven’t been resolved,” he added, referring to the land seizures.


Beyond a checkpoint manned by paramilitary police with guns, the main road into Wukan is now lined with giant billboards and colorful flags projecting a new narrative of stability and peace. Propaganda billboards and posters were also displayed around town.

“Advance solidly to execute the strategy of loving the people,” read one, illustrated with a flock of doves flying over uniformed officers clutching rifles as they look across toward a portrait of Mao in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

“Police and the people build a harmonious and civilized Wukan together,” it read. Another sign urged a “New Ethos”.

Beneath the surface, however, resentment lingers amongst those who spoke to Reuters.

“Wukan has reached a dead end now,” said one villager. “People won’t do anything.”

Back in New York, Zhuang, the exiled former Wukan protest leader, said he’ll keep speaking out.

    He said his mother has been harassed and his house surveilled with cameras. Visitors to his house have been questioned and several detained, he said. His assertions could not be independently confirmed.

All of the other former Wukan protest leaders have since quit their posts, been jailed, or harassed, he said.

“Besides me, there are no voices left. It is silent now.”

(Reporting by James Pomfret; Editing by Philip McClellan)


China jails nine over protests in Guangdong ‘democracy’ village

Nine residents of ‘democracy village’ to serve up to 10 years over unrest sparked by imprisonment of an elected leader and simmering land disputes

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Protesters attend a candlelight vigil in support of China’s Wukan democracy  village outside the Chinese Liaison Office in Hong Kong on Sept. 17, 2017. (Isaac Lawrence/AFP/Getty Images)

Defiant Hong Kong football fans boo Chinese anthem

November 9, 2017


© AFP | Hong Kong fans fly a flag that says “Die for Hong Kong” before an international friendly football match between Hong Kong and Bahrain at Mong Kok Stadium in Hong Kong on November 9, 2017.

HONG KONG (AFP) – Defiant Hong Kong football fans booed the Chinese national anthem at a home match against Bahrain Thursday, ahead of the implementation of a law making it illegal to disrespect the song.

Hong Kong’s government had on Saturday said that China’s new National Anthem Law will apply in the semi-autonomous territory, once authorities enact a local version of the legislation.

Fans on Thursday night unfurled a large Hong Kong regional flag in the stands of Mong Kok Stadium while loud booing was heard during the broadcast of the Chinese national anthem, with some supporters turning their backs on the field.

“Basically we don’t feel Chinese, we are Hongkongers,” a fan, who wanted to remain anonymous, told AFP after he turned his back when the national anthem was played.

He added that he was angered by the idea of the National Anthem Law.

Kitson Wong, another fan, told AFP ahead of the match that he thought the law would “seriously limit” residents’ freedom of speech.

But some fans said it was pointless to continue disrespecting the anthem.

“The things you don’t like won’t disappear after you boo it,” said 25-year-old Pius Chan, a lab technician.

China passed legislation to punish anyone who disrespects the national anthem with up to three years in prison, state media reported on Saturday.

It has been fine-tuning legislation on the proper way and place to sing its national anthem, recently tightening rules that already bar people from performing it at parties, weddings and funerals.

The country in September passed a National Anthem Law applying to those on the mainland, which specified a much lesser jail term of 15 days for disrespecting the song.

It was unclear which of the two laws would take precedence in cases involving alleged disrespect to the anthem.

Hong Kong football fans have booed the anthem at matches for years, as concerns grow about the city’s liberties coming under threat.

Pro-Beijing politician Ip Kwok-Him said on Saturday that “when this law is passed, people must stand, there must be a display of solemnity”.

Ip, a Hong Kong deputy to the National People’s Congress, told a radio programme on Saturday that people in the city would have to stop when they heard the anthem even if they were walking.

Written in 1935 before the Communist Party took power and officially adopted in 1982, the buoyant, military-minded score calls on the Chinese people to “march on” toward the establishment of a new nation.

Jailed Hong Kong democracy activists win last chance to appeal

November 7, 2017
Pro-democracy activists take part in a protest on China's National Day in Hong Kong, China, Oct. 1, 2017.

Pro-democracy activists take part in a protest on China’s National Day in Hong Kong, China, Oct. 1, 2017.

HONG KONG (Reuters) – A Hong Kong court on Tuesday allowed three jailed young activists, who spearheaded pro-democracy protests that brought much of the Chinese-ruled city to a halt in 2014, a final chance to appeal against their sentences.

Hong Kong’s appeals court jailed Joshua Wong, 21, Alex Chow, 27, and Nathan Law, 24, in August for illegal assembly, a ruling that angered rights activists who fear creeping interference by Communist Party rulers in Beijing in the former British colony.

 Image result for Joshua Wong, 21, Alex Chow, 27, and Nathan Law, photos
(From left) Activists Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Alex Chow Yong-kang and Nathan Law Kwun-chung appear at the High Court. Photo: Dickson Lee

The three are serving six, seven and eight-month jail terms, respectively but have been released on bail.

The trio helped lead the largely peaceful “Umbrella Movement” that blocked major roads for 79 days in 2014, demanding Beijing grant Hong Kong full democracy.

Hong Kong has been governed under a “one country, two systems” formula since its return from British to Chinese rule in 1997, allowing freedoms not enjoyed on mainland China that include an independent judiciary but not a fully democratic vote.

In a short hearing on Tuesday, Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal granted the trio leave to appeal, with the case to be heard on January 16 with the three to remain on bail until then.

The next legal steps will likely be scrutinized closely, with the jailings having shaken confidence in Hong Kong’s vaunted rule of law.

Pro-democracy activists Alex Chow, Joshua Wong and Nathan Law walk out of the Court of Final Appeal in Hong Kong, China November 7, 2017. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

Wong, Chow and Law were sentenced last year to community service for unlawful assembly. However, Reuters reported that Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen had overruled other senior colleagues to re-open the case and push for a harsher sentence that eventually led to their imprisonment.

“I know the world is having their eyes on us to see whether the judges, our legal professionals, will restore the confidence of our jurisdiction. Or whether it will smash the confidence of the people, not only in Hong Kong but also around the world,” Chow told reporters.

“The verdict given in the future will matter a lot and will redefine whether our constitution – the Basic Law – will value civil liberties more or control stability as claimed by the government.”

U.N. human rights experts urged Hong Kong to respect the rights of the trio, including the legal right to peaceful assembly under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Hong Kong is a party.

“We fear that if their sentences are upheld, this will have the effect of stifling the expression of dissenting opinions, the right to protest and the overall work of human rights defenders,” David Kaye, U.N. special rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and Michel Forst, U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, said in a joint statement from Geneva on Monday.

“We call on the Hong Kong authorities to respect the independence of judicial powers and the rule of law.”

On Saturday, China’s largely rubber-stamp parliament formally extended a law banning disrespect of the national anthem to cover Hong Kong, another example of a move that critics have said undermines the Chinese-ruled city’s freedoms.

Qatar Buys a Chinese Ally Against Gulf Bullies

November 6, 2017
A stake in Cathay Pacific hands CEO Akbar Al Baker several advantages.
By David Fickling

The world’s most richly valued major airline is suddenly looking a little less shiny.

Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd., whose 9.5 times enterprise value-to-Ebitda multiple is almost double that of Singapore Airlines Ltd. despite a forecast HK$1.3 billion ($167 million) loss this year, is losing a key shareholder.

 Image result for qatar airways president, photos
Qatar Airways CEO, Akbar Al Baker

Affiliates of Kingboard Chemical Holdings Ltd. sold their 9.6 percent stake to Qatar Airways Ltd. for HK$5.16 billion, according to a filing Monday. That’s a large change for an illiquid stock: Only 15 percent of Cathay’s equity is freely traded, with Swire Group and Air China Ltd. having 45 percent and 30 percent interests respectively. The shares that do trade fell as much as 4.9 percent in Hong Kong, headed for their worst performance in six months.

One obvious reason for the drop is that Cathay’s valuation, and Kingboard’s strategic stake, were both seen as bets not so much on the company’s financial performance as the odds of Air China buying out Swire in a bid for complete control. Such a deal would allow state-owned Air China to create the world’s largest cargo carrier and build Cathay into a premium global brand, Corinne Png, an analyst at Crucial Perspective in Singapore, has argued. It would also fit a pattern of Beijing gradually tightening its control over Hong Kong, both politically and — with recent deals such as Cosco Shipping Corp.’s takeover of Orient Overseas International Ltd. — in business terms.

Cathay shares have done rather well since Kingboard’s affiliates first declared a holding last December, gaining 25 percent, of which 17 percent was in the past month alone. An airline stake never made a lot of sense for a maker of circuit-board laminates, but Kingboard’s HK$800 million gain isn’t to be sniffed at.

More tantalizing is the question of Qatar Airways’ motivation. The carriers first struck a two-way relationship in 2014 with the announcement of twin daily flights between Hong Kong and Doha, although Qatar seems markedly more keen on the arrangement: When the congenitally aloof Cathay dropped its routes last year, the Gulf partner was so eager to keep up access into China that it matched the dropped flights on its own planes.

The stake further extends Qatar Chief Executive Officer Akbar Al Baker’s traction within the Oneworld alliance, where he now has influence with five of 13 members thanks to shares in IAG SA and Latam Airlines Group SA. 1  It may also help consolidate Baker’s presence in air cargo: Cathay and Qatar are, respectively, the fourth- and fifth-biggest cargo carriers, with Emirates at No. 2.

Still, to focus on those issues alone risks missing the wood for the trees. It’s hard to miss the diplomatic ramifications as Qatar heads into its fifth month under blockade by neighboring countries, and as Saudi Arabia arrests senior figures in politics, business and royalty, further consolidating Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s grip on power.

Qatar at present depends on emergency routes negotiated via the UN’s aviation organization ICAO to cross the air traffic control regions that surround the country and are entirely controlled by its rivals Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. A pivot to Asia makes sense in that context, since most destinations are accessible more or less directly through the friendlier skies of Iran.

More to the point, a seat around the table with Cathay’s Chinese shareholders could buy Baker some powerful allies. Qatar now has something Air China would badly like, in the form of an option on an outright takeover of Cathay Pacific. China, meanwhile, has an outbound tourism market that the UAE’s Emirates (and at some point, even Saudi Arabia itself) might want to tap, not to mention a voracious demand for oil that’s currently seeing the likes of Riyadh lose share to the Russians. If Doha’s enemies push too hard, they risk antagonizing a very powerful ally.

A lesson known in every playground is that when you’re being ganged up on, you need a friend who’s stronger than your bullies. Qatar’s state airline, in sidling up to China, may have done just that.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

  1. The five are IAG-owned British Airways and Iberia, Latam Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Qatar Airways itself.
Before it’s here, it’s on the Bloomberg Terminal.

Qatar Airways’ CEO Expected Trump To Be “More Shrewd”

Qatar Airways’ CEO Expected Trump To Be “More Shrewd”
June 13

MIAMI – The CEO of Qatar Airways, Akbar Al Baker, said he was expecting President Trump to be more “shrewd” after the governments of Saudi Arabia and Egypt stated last week that their airspace, land, and sea borders are closed to any traffic from Qatar.


“I’m extremely disappointed in President Trump. I thought he was more shrewd,” Qatar Airways CEO, Akbar Al Baker, told The Wall Street Journal in an interview. “I was expecting that the U.S. will lead the challenge to this blockade.”

Last Friday, the President of the United States, Donald Trump, said, “Qatar, unfortunately, has been a funder of terrorism at a very high level,” and has supported Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates in their actions taken against the Qatari Government.

Qatar’s support for Islamist organizations, including Hamas and an Al Qaeda, as well as its relationship with Iran compared with other Gulf states, are the main reason of the Middle Eastern blockade.

However, Qatar is host to Al Udeid Air Base, which has over 11,000 American military personnel. This armed forces relationship, created during Trump’s visit to the Middle Eastern countries last month, was strategically established to launch airstrikes against the Islamic State.

Considering this, the United States Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, stated last week, “We certainly would encourage the parties to sit down together and address these differences. If there is any role we can play in terms of helping them addressing those, we believe it is important that the GCC remains unified.”


Al Baker said his company will face “a difficult year,” but remarked that the airline has plans in place to mitigate the damage. “If they think they are going to go laughing to the bank at Qatar’s cost, I think they are mistaken,” he said.

According to the controversial CEO, “Qatar Airways’ focus is on supporting our passengers and ensuring that we continue to deliver our award-winning service. As far as we are concerned, it is business as usual,” he said.

Qatar Airways chartered three flights with competing airline Oman Air to bring stranded passengers in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, via Muscat. Similarly, additional flights were chartered with Kuwait Airlines via Kuwait.

Al Baker also stated that Qatar Airways isn’t planning on slowing down the airline’s customary expansion, keeping new airplanes joining the fleet and opening up new destinations. However, at the moment, 18 Qatar Airways destinations are out of bound because of the traffic restriction.

More than a third of Hong Kong shark fin products are from threatened species, study reveals

November 1, 2017

Research calls for more government measures and tighter controls

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 November, 2017, 8:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 November, 2017, 1:32pm

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More than a third of shark fin products sold in Hong Kong shops come from species that are vulnerable or endangered, a landmark study employing new techniques of DNA analysis has found.

The report, published in scientific journal Conservation Biology on Tuesday, sheds new light on the city’s secretive domestic trade. It also provides fresh baseline data on what is being imported and sold at retail level in the world’s biggest shark fin trading hub.

“What surprised us was that some of the endangered species are the more common ones on the market,” research supervisor Dr Damien Chapman from Florida International University said.

“So when you have a bowl of shark’s fin soup in Hong Kong, there’s a reasonable probability that it came from an endangered species.”

The research was funded by US-based Pew Charitable Trusts and carried out by the university with the Bloom Association, a non-profit group, and the Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden education centre in Hong Kong.

Between February 2014 and February 2015, scientists collected 4,800 random samples of shark fin trimmings from about 300 dried seafood shops mostly in Western district.

Using a sensitive DNA testing technique they developed, the team managed to trace the samples to 76 different species of shark.

Of these, 25 per cent have been assessed as “vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, while 8 per cent are classified as “endangered” ­– both just three to four ranks away from “extinction” status. The union keeps track of animal and plant species worldwide, as well as measures to safeguard them. The red list assesses rare species on a seven-point scale.

While the relatively abundant blue shark is still the dominant species in the market – comprising 34 per cent of samples ­­– the endangered scalloped and great hammerheads and the vulnerable silky shark, bigeye thresher, shortfin mako and oceanic whitetip, were also found to be among the top 20 types.

Three species each of rays and chimaeras – a type of cartilaginous fish – were also found in samples and were being sold as shark fin.

At least nine of the species in the market are also listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Species listed under this category may be at risk of extinction unless proper controls are implemented on trade.

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said only eight CITES Appendix II species were regulated in Hong Kong with a further four being processed. A spokesman said the department was already proposing an increase in maximum penalties concerning offences over Appendix II species.

The last study that looked into the species composition of fins in the industry was a survey in 1999, which only sampled a small subset based on auction records.

“The latest study provides a species list of the contemporary shark fin market which was not previously available to us,” Stan Shea, marine programme director at Bloom, said.

Shea suggested the government mandate proper labelling of shark fin products at retail level, step up monitoring by allowing only some ports to load and unload wildlife products and increase penalties for the illegal trade of endangered species.

Hong Kong traders have long insisted that up to 80 per cent of their products comprised fins from the blue shark.

Asian markets rise after Wall Street gains

November 1, 2017


© AFP/File | Sony was the latest Asian tech giant to announce it was expecting record annual profits after the market closed Tuesday

Wednesday, Novembner 1, 2017

HONG KONG (AFP) – Tokyo led a rally in Asian shares Wednesday, tracking overnight gains on Wall Street that saw the Nasdaq close at a fresh record.

The gains, after a muted start to the week in Asia, came on the back of solid US economic data, and were augmented by rising oil prices and a series of strong earnings reports that combined to provide a positive outlook for global growth.

Data releases showed US consumer confidence hit a 17-year high in October, just as congressional Republicans prepare to unveil President Donald Trump’s long-anticipated tax cut plan, which allows for about $1.5 trillion in tax cuts.

Meanwhile oil prices rose to a two-year high, as OPEC members honoured pledges to curb supply and exports from northern Iraq fell.

And Asia has witnessed an impressive profit reporting season, with Sony the latest tech giant to announce it was expecting record annual profits.

Sony surged 11.6 percent at one point Wednesday, with strong results attributed to its PlayStation games division and a booming smartphone parts business, as well as a hit with the newest Spider-Man movie.

Tokyo was trading up 1.4 percent at the lunch break, with technology shares soaring as exporters benefited from a weak yen.

Japan’s central bank announced Tuesday it would keep its ultra-loose monetary policy unchanged, even though overseas counterparts have started turning off the stimulus taps.

Honda and ANA were due to release first-half results Wednesday.

Hong Kong was trading up 0.6 percent, and Shanghai 0.2 percent, as new numbers showed Chinese factory activity stabilised in October.

In South Korea, where Samsung Electronics logged a record profit of $10.0 billion for the third quarter and announced a sweeping reshuffle of its top management on Tuesday, the Kospi index rose 1.0 percent, despite data showing October exports rising by less than expected.

– US Federal Reserve meets –

The result of the US Federal Reserve meeting is due to be published after Asian markets close Wednesday.

While interest rates are not expected to move immediately, investors will scrutinise the announcement for indications of a widely anticipated December hike.

Overshadowing the whole process is Trump’s imminent decision on whether to replace Fed chief Janet Yellen, with the announcement likely to come out Thursday ahead of the president’s departure on an 11-day Asia tour.

Centrist Jerome Powell is tipped to be the frontrunner, with investors pricing in his more dovish continuity stance compared to rival John Taylor.

Activity at the Fed comes at the forefront of a busy week of economic news out of the US more generally, with traders also keeping a close eye on key payroll data out on Friday.

Meanwhile, US Republicans have delayed unveiling the Trump-backed tax overhaul until Thursday, signalling potential trouble ahead as congressional leadership struggles to lock in support for the historic but controversial effort.

The New York attack by a truck driver that killed eight people, and Trump’s pledge of more robust “extreme vetting” of travellers coming into the US, took place after the close on Wall Street, but did not appear to have impacted on investor sentiment.

– Key figures around 0300 GMT –

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: UP 1.4 percent at 22,324.64 (break)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: UP 0.6 percent at 28,404.94

Shanghai – Composite: UP 0.2 percent at 3,399.28

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.1632 from $1.1647 at 2100 GMT

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.3274 from $1.3283

Dollar/yen: UP at 113.87 yen from 113.65 yen

Oil – West Texas Intermediate: UP 28 cents at $54.66 per barrel

Oil – Brent North Sea: FLAT at $61.37 per barrel

New York – DOW: DOWN 0.4 percent at 23,348.74 (close)

London – FTSE 100: DOWN 0.2 percent at 7,487.81 (close)

China considers three-year jail terms for disrespecting national anthem, flag

October 31, 2017

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BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s largely rubber-stamp parliament is considering tougher penalties for people who disrespect the national anthem or flag in public, including up to three years in jail, state news agency Xinhua said on Tuesday.

Xi Jinping has ushered in new legislation aimed at securing China from threats both within and outside its borders since taking over as president in 2013, as well as presiding over a sweeping crackdown on dissent and free speech.

China passed a new law in September mandating up to 15 days in police detention for those who mock the “March of the Volunteers” national anthem, a law that also covers the Chinese territories of Hong Kong and Macau.

Parliament is now looking at whether to amend China’s Criminal Law to include criminal penalties for disrespect of the national anthem, including intentionally distorting the lyrics or tune, Xinhua said.

The tougher penalties also apply to desecration of the national flag, or emblem, including burning, defacing or trampling on it in public, the report said. That, too, had previously been punishable by up to 15 days’ detention.

A draft amendment has been submitted for deliberation at a bi-monthly session of parliament’s standing committee, which started on Monday.

“Violators in this regard may face punishments of up to three years of imprisonment, according to the draft,” it said.

It was not clear when the amendment might be passed but it could be at the end of the week, when parliament’s standing committee closes its current session.

The earlier national anthem law has fueled concern in Hong Kong, whose residents have grown nervous over China’s perceived encroachment of the city’s autonomy following such events as the disappearance of booksellers who later emerged in mainland Chinese custody.

In 2015, Hong Kong football fans booed the Chinese anthem during a World Cup qualifier, prompting a fine for the territory’s football association from world body FIFA.

In August, Shanghai police detained three men for having “hurt patriotic feelings” by dressing up as Japanese soldiers and posing for photographs outside a memorial to China’s war with Japan, state media said.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Michael Perry and Paul Tait