Posts Tagged ‘Hong Kong’

HSBC says net profit dived 82% to $2.48 bn last year

February 21, 2017

AFP


© AFP/File | HSBC’s reported net profit of $2.48 billion for 2016 compared with $13.52 billion recorded in 2015
HONG KONG (AFP) – HSBC said Tuesday that net profit fell 82 percent in 2016, calling it a period remembered for its “largely unexpected economic and political events”, while it warned of further uncertainty this year.

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The net profit of $2.48 billion compared with $13.52 billion recorded in 2015, with group chairman Douglas Flint saying geopolitical changes contributed to “volatile financial market conditions”.

The bank also swung to a $3.45 billion pre-tax loss in the final quarter of the year.

“We highlight the threat of populism impacting policy choices in upcoming European elections, possible protectionist measures from the new US administration impacting global trade, uncertainties facing the UK and the EU as they enter Brexit negotiations,” Flint said in a statement filed to the Hong Kong stock exchange.

On the impact of Brexit, he reaffirmed earlier reports that “current contingency planning suggests we may need to relocate some 1,000 roles from London to Paris progressively over the next two years, depending on how negotiations develop”.

Like most global banks, HSBC has been struggling to boost profits as uncertainty caused by Britain’s looming exit from the European Union casts a shadow over the sector.

HSBC in 2015 announced a radical overhaul to cut annual costs by $5 billion over two years by shedding 50,000 jobs worldwide, exiting unprofitable businesses and focusing more on Asia.

On top of that, it has been grappling with stricter capital rules, low interest rates and scandals stemming from its own misbehaviour.

Chinese president calls for broad-brush strategy on national security

February 18, 2017

President urges stronger push to prevent major industrial accidents

By Cary Huang
South China Morning Post

Saturday, February 18

President Xi Jinping on Friday called for an all-inclusive approach to national security to encompass areas ranging from politics to territorial integrity.

At a meeting yesterday of the Communist Party’s National Security Commission, which Xi heads, the president also called for stronger efforts to prevent major industrial incidents.

“The major task of national security work now and in the ­future is to cover areas related to politics, the economy, territory, society and the internet, among others,” state-run Xinhua quoted Xi as saying.

The meeting was attended by top party, government and military officials as well as Premier Li Keqiang and top legislator Zhang Dejiang, two of the commission’s deputy heads.

The meeting was the second in near three years and came just days after a deadly knife attack in Xinjiang.

Public Security Minister Guo Shengkun; vice-minister of foreign affairs Zhang Yesui, who is also in charge of Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan-related affairs; Xinjiang party secretary Chen Quanguo; and Hebei party secretary Jiang Chaoliang also updated attendees on areas under their remit.

Xi also said efforts must be made to strengthen transport safety, fire prevention and the storage of dangerous chemicals to prevent big industrial accidents. Poor regulation and oversight have contributed to numerous major industrial accidents on the mainland in recent years.

Xi also called for more materials, equipment, personnel, law and institutional support to be directed towards national security work.

The commission was established in late 2013 to steer and co-ordinate the country’s national security affairs, previously implemented by various civilian, military and law enforcement bodies.

While it aims to coordinate matters of strategy and security among various departments, the commission is also responsible for crisis and risk management of internal and external security threats.

In July 2015, the National People’s Congress passed a new national security law that was set to strengthen the commission’s role in implementing national security policy. The NSC is among a dozen central leading organs directly under Xi.

http://www.scmp.com/news/china/policies-politics/article/2071887/chinese-president-calls-broad-brush-strategy-national

Hong Kong: Pan-democrats could be the “kingmakers” in a tight political race

February 17, 2017

By Joyce Lim
Hong Kong Correspondent
The Straits Times

Holding over 25% of the votes, they aim to stop Beijing’s preferred candidate Carrie Lam

On March 26, Hong Kong’s next leader will be voted in by an Election Committee of 1,194 members. That only so few have a say reflects the failure of the 2014 Occupy Protests, where protesters demanded “one man, one vote” in choosing the chief executive.

But the experience has galvanised the pan-democratic, or pro-democracy camp, to be more pragmatic. Previously, they would cast blank votes to show that they do not support pro-establishment contenders. This time, they hold 326 votes – which is more than a quarter of the votes in the Election Committee – and are determined to make them count.

With the election featuring three pro-establishment figures – Mrs Carrie Lam, Mr John Tsang and Ms Regina Ip – for the first time, the pan-democrats could be the “kingmakers” in a tight race.

Former security chief Ip, 66, who won the most votes for a female lawmaker in last September’s Legislative Council Election, was the first among the three to announce her candidacy, followed by Mr Tsang, 65, a former finance chief, and Mrs Lam, 59, a former chief secretary. Others include retired judge Woo Kwok Hing, 70, and radical pan-democrat Leung Kwok Hung, 60.

To become the next chief executive, at least 601 votes are needed. To qualify, each contender needs at least 150 nominations from the Election Committee made up of mostly pro-Beijing property tycoons, lawmakers as well as representatives of professional bodies and trade associations.

That’s the challenge for all but Mrs Lam, who has been endorsed by Beijing. She has reportedly secured 300 to 400 nominations while Mr Tsang has 24 nominations from pan-democrats.

Mr Tsang, who is leading in popularity polls, is seen as the strongest contender to Mrs Lam.

Some see Beijing’s move to name its preferred candidate as its bid to control the election, said Professor Lau Siu Kai, vice-chairman of the Beijing-backed Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies. And it is the pan-democrats’ aim to stop Beijing’s choice candidate from becoming the next chief executive.

“If John Tsang and Woo Kwok Hing are able to join the race, there may be unexpected results,” said Prof Lau, referring to the duo deemed acceptable by the pan-democrats. That is because the next leader would be picked by a secret ballot system, which could see Mrs Lam’s supporters switching sides.

Still, if Beijing had not declared its preferred candidate, it is unlikely that any contender would be able to win enough votes.

Last week, radical lawmaker Leung, better known as “Long Hair”, declared his intention to run and urged pan-democrats not to vote for the other four contenders who “do not represent (the) pro-democracy camp”.

But lawmaker Dennis Kwok, who is coordinating votes from the pan-democrats, told reporters the bloc is considering voting for Mr Tsang, Mr Woo and a third nominee picked from a mock online poll.

With nomination closing on March 1, pan-democrats should decide by next week, he said.

Critics have said Mr Leung’s intention to run has further split the pan-democratic camp already faced with the dilemma of whether to support Mr Tsang. Some worry about the possible backlash from endorsing someone who wants to enact the unpopular national security law.

But with Mr Tsang having a huge lead in popularity polls, even if he turns out to be like incumbent Leung Chun Ying, whose policies are unpopular with Hong Kongers, the pan-democrats could say that the candidate they have endorsed was the people’s choice.

http://www.straitstimes.com/asia/east-asia/pan-democratspragmatic-approach-to-upcoming-polls

Hong Kong police officers condemn court verdict in Ken Tsang assault case — “Are we China or Britain?”

February 17, 2017

Senior officer calls for ‘restraint’ as Junior Police Officers’ Association says court decision to jail seven members of the force for two years was ‘beyond their acceptance level’

By Christy Leung
South China Morning News

Friday, February 17, 2017, 3:30pm

Frontline police officers and union members have said the verdict jailing seven of their colleagues for beating Occupy activist Ken Tsang Kin-chiu was “beyond their acceptance level” and some believe there may have been “political factors” behind the court decision.

A police union, which represents more than 20,000 members of the force, said in a statement that they were “extremely shocked” by the verdict.

The chairman of the Junior Police Officers’ Association, Joe Chan Cho-kwong issued a statement to all members on Friday morning and said the sentence was unacceptable and the union would raise funds for the seven, who have decided to appeal against the ruling.

“I feel shocked [over the jail term] like every one of you and found it unacceptable. The jail term already went beyond our acceptance level,” Chan said in the statement.

“It is understood that the seven colleagues have decided to appeal against the case that bears a lot of suspicions and an unacceptable sentence. We will raise funds for them so as to ease their financial difficulties brought by the incident,” the statement continued.

Chan added he would attempt every legal means to seek justice for the officers.

A police officer, who did not wish to be named, told the Post his Whatsapp groups were flooded with unhappy and irritated messages from his colleagues since the court handed down the two-year sentences on Friday morning, with many of them comparing the jail term with other convictions.

Examples included a Nepalese hawker who was jailed for one year for manslaughter which caused the death of a food and hygiene officer in 2015, and a teen who hurled a brick at a police officer during the Mong Kok riot last year was put on 18 months’ probation.

“Throwing bricks at police officers can be lethal … so many officers asked: are ‘fighters for democracy’ free to behave like that?” he said, adding that he found the two-year jail term “quite harsh”.

“The sentence would discourage police officers with passion,” another officer told the Post anonymously.

Some officers turned their Facebook profile pictures black to express frustration and sadness over the verdict.

Another officer, who believed the group should not be convicted, said he felt “heartbroken” for his seven colleagues and the city’s legal system, as the group did not go through a “fair judicial procedure”.

“The evidence was broken and the news clip was edited. Is it fair to convict the seven? Many of the cases I have handled were dropped for this reason in the past,” he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

“The court said the sentence should have deterrent effect as they were police. But how about those who broke the law during the Occupy Movement? They are lawyers, teachers and social worker as well who should hold high integrity. I believed political factors were behind the verdict.”

A senior police source in a directorial rank said his colleagues should not be blinded by “sympathy” over the seven officers, as questioning the city’s judiciary system was a “very dangerous act”, which could mean the courts had also mishandled all crime cases cracked by the force in the past.

He said that no one in the city, especially law enforcers, should judge any court rulings as the independent judiciary system was a core foundation of Hong Kong.

“If we doubt or even overturn the legal system based on this court case or out of sympathy to the seven officers, then does it mean the courts had also flawed when handling all crime cases in the past?” the senior police source said. “I understand the disappointment and frustration over the verdict, but questioning the legal system is very dangerous.”

The chairman of the police inspectors’ association, Lee Jim-on, said he was “surprised” by the jail term. He also issued a letter to members, urging them to stay restrained, despite their anger and frustration over the case.

http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/law-crime/article/2071786/outraged-hong-kong-police-officers-condemn-court-verdict

Peace and Freedom Comment: A friend who is a Westerner in Hong Kong told us that the police were outraged by the court verdict because “in China, the government doesn’t second guess the police.” He said many in the Hong Kong Police consider this verdict an “unjust vestige in the court system of British rule.” He also said, “In a few years you won’t be able to tell that Britain was ever here.”

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Seven Hong Kong Police Jailed for Two Years Each — Guilty of Beating Handcuffed Democracy Protester Ken Tsang

February 17, 2017

HONG KONG — A Hong Kong court jailed seven policemen for two years each on Friday for beating a handcuffed activist during democracy protests in 2014, a rare case of police brutality in the financial hub that triggered public outrage.

The beating happened on Oct. 15, 2014, at the height of the 79-day protests that paralyzed parts of Hong Kong and posed one of the most serious political challenges to Communist Party leaders in Beijing for decades.

The policemen were filmed dragging the handcuffed protester, Ken Tsang, to a dark corner near the protest site, where he was kicked and punched repeatedly as he lay on the ground.

 Tsang (third from right) escorted by police in Admiralty in the early hours of October 15, 2014. Photo: AFP

District court judge David Dufton, who had earlier found the policemen guilty of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, sentenced all seven to two years in prison, saying they had “brought damage to Hong Kong’s reputation in the international community”.

There had been no justification for the attack on Tsang, he said.

Despite pleas for mitigation from the officers’ lawyers, Dufton said imprisonment was appropriate. Dufton acknowledged, however, that the “Hong Kong police were working under great pressure” to maintain order during the protests that blocked major roads for almost three months.

Tsang, a social worker, suffered face, neck and shoulder injuries. He was handcuffed with plastic ties at the time, although the court heard he had earlier thrown some liquid at police.

Some of the policemen, dressed in dark suits and ties, were stern-faced while others smiled at family members in the gallery after sentencing.

Some in the gallery cried, while a few people cheered.

Tsang described the ruling as a “small victory for civil society in the fight against police violence” and said the people of Hong Kong should fight on for full democracy.

Supporters of the police outside the court said the sentences were unfair.

Heavy-handed policing is rare in Hong Kong and the case triggered public outrage and deepened tension during the protests in which clashes erupted occasionally.

Hong Kong reverted from British to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula that accords the city a degree of autonomy and freedom not enjoyed in mainland China.

China bristles at dissent, however, especially over issues such as demands for universal suffrage.

Many in Hong Kong are increasingly concerned about what they see as Beijing’s meddling in the city’s affairs. Unease about the future has stoked protests and has even led to calls for independence from China.

(Writing by James Pomfret; Editing by Paul Tait, Robert Birsel)

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Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters, September 30, 2014. AP photo

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Police used tear gas and pepper spray on the protesters

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A protester (C) raises his umbrellas in front of tear gas which was fired by riot police to disperse protesters blocking the main street to the financial Central district outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong, September 28, 2014. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Lawyers for rights activists in China increasingly persecuted, report says — Insufficient obedience to rule of law and human rights

February 16, 2017

Attorneys face legal action, violence and other forms of intimidation from the authorities amid crackdown on dissidents on the mainland, rights group says

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 February, 2017, 2:50pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 February, 2017, 3:20pm
 Image may contain: one or more people and people sitting
15 Feb 2017

Lawyers who defend human rights activists and dissidents targeted by China’s communist government increasingly face political prosecutions, violence and other means of suppression, according to a report released on Thursday.

The Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders, a coalition of groups working within and outside China, identified six occasions last year when lawyers were beaten.

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“The government is trying to give this impression that it’s abiding by the rule of law,” said Frances Eve, a researcher at the network. “In fact, it’s just legalising repressive measures.”

Since President Xi Jinping took office China has widely suppressed independent organisations and dissenters, as well as lawyers defending people caught in the crackdown. The report says 22 people have been convicted since 2014 of subversion or other crimes against state security, including 16 last year alone.

Dozens of lawyers have been questioned or detained in an ongoing campaign against dissident lawyers known as the 709 crackdown launched in July 2015.

Wang Quanzhang, who defended members of the Falun Gong meditation sect banned by China, was charged with subversion of state power last year after previously being beaten and detained. His wife, Li Wenzu, said on Wednesday that Wang was now under indictment and held without access to family or lawyers.

“We have to wait until the sentencing to see him in jail,” she said.

Four people associated with Wang’s law firm, Fengrui, were convicted in August on charges that they incited protests and took funding from foreign groups.

China last year also passed a law tightening controls over foreign non-governmental organisations by subjecting them to close police supervision, a move critics called a new attempt by the authorities to clamp down on perceived threats to the ruling Communist Party’s control.

NGOs can be blacklisted if they commit violations ranging from illegally obtaining unspecified state secrets to “spreading rumors, slandering or otherwise expressing or disseminating harmful information that endangers state security”.

Ordinary Chinese who share audio or video of a protest or other news event may be detained and the authorities can shut down phone and internet networks in response to perceived threats to national security and social order.

Chinese internet censors already exercise tight control with the so-called “Great Firewall” that blocks many foreign news sites and social media platforms.

Prominent activists have frequently been taken into custody without notice to their family or legal teams. One was Liu Feiyue, the founder of a website that detailed local corruption cases, veterans’ issues, and allegations that perceived troublemakers were detained in mental hospitals. After his disappearance in November, Liu’s family was told he was charged with subversion.

Despite its well-publicised record, China was re-elected last year to the United Nations’ Human Rights Council. But even as China reported its membership on the council through state media, it refused to let banned activists attend United Nations events, the report said.

When Philip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur for human rights, visited China in August, the authorities forbade him from meeting several activists and tightly controlled his schedule. One activist who did meet with him, lawyer Jiang Tianyong, was arrested three months later and charged with inciting subversion of state power.

Eve at Chinese Human Rights Defenders said some activists believed that after Xi became president in 2013 that they might find common cause over his stated goals of rooting out government corruption. But those limited hopes have not come to fruition, she said.

“It’s gone completely the opposite direction,” she said. “And it’s a tragedy because those are the kinds of alliances that can make real impact.”

The Chinese foreign ministry did not respond to faxed questions.

http://www.scmp.com/news/china/policies-politics/article/2071421/lawyers-rights-activists-china-increasingly-persecuted

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Asia markets dip as Trump rally takes a break

February 16, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | Tokyo ends the morning 0.6 percent lower as stock markets across Aisa also dropped

HONG KONG (AFP) – The rally in Asian markets petered out Thursday, while the dollar also dipped as investors brushed off another record Wall Street close and upbeat US data to cash in profits.Another positive assessment of the US economy and reassurance over tax reform from President Donald Trump was not enough to spur further buying in Asia after the past week’s rally.

New York’s three main indexes pressed on with their surge, racking up a fifth successive day of record closes, after figures showed US inflation hit a four-year high in January, fuelling bets on an interest rate hike soon. Also, Trump said Wednesday he would release specifics on his new tax plan in the “not-too-distant future”, adding it will be “good and simpler”.

His remarks came less than a week after he promised “phenomenal” reforms to the tax system, spurring a surge in global markets and the dollar.

The strong numbers highlight that the US economy is in fairly healthy shape,? Greg McKenna, chief market strategist at CFD and FX provider AxiTrader, said in a note.

The key is the data and president Trump’s recommitment to the release of the tax plan everyone is waiting for,? McKenna said.

Federal Reserve Yellen also reiterated her view to Congress that the world’s top economy was on a strong growth track, a day after indicating borrowing costs to increase any time soon — leading to speculation of a move as soon as March.

However, the greenback was unable to push on with its gains and in early Asian trade was down against its major peers as well as higher-yielding currencies in the Asia-Pacific such as the Australian dollar and South Korea’s won.

Regional stock markets were also in the red. Tokyo ended the morning 0.6 percent lower while Shanghai and Hong Kong were each down 0.1 percent and Sydney and Seoul both gave up 0.2 percent.

Wellington lost one percent and Taipei eased 0.2 percent.

– Key figures around 0230 GMT –

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.6 percent at 19,318.36 (break)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: DOWN 0.1 percent at 23,982.48

Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 0.1 percent at 3,210.99

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.0612 from $1.0602

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.2460 from $1.2459

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 114.07 yen from 114.18 yen

Oil – West Texas Intermediate: DOWN four cents at $53.07 per barrel

Oil – Brent North Sea: DOWN two cents at $55.73

New York – Dow: UP 0.5 percent at 20,611.86 (close)

London – FTSE 100: UP 0.5 percent at 7,302.41 (close)

China: Missing Billionaire Xiao Jianhua “Has had no contact with the outside world” — Who is running his business empire and what has happened to him?

February 14, 2017

 

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Xiao Jianhua

By Zhou Xin
South China Morning Post

February 14, 2017

Doubts are rising over missing ­tycoon Xiao Jianhua’s grip on his vast business empire, with one source close to Xiao’s family ­saying the billionaire’s contact with the outside world has been ­severed “in the last couple of days”.

The source said that in the days immediately after his return to the mainland from Hong Kong on January 27, Xiao had been allowed limited external contact, including phone calls to his wife.

“That’s not the case any more,” the source said last night.

But another source close to the investigation insisted that Xiao was still in contact with his wife and his business associates.

Xiao has not been seen since he disappeared on the eve of Lunar New Year.

The saga took another turn yesterday with The New York Times reporting that Yao Long, one of ­Xiao’s employees, was taken from Hong Kong International Airport on Sunday night as he tried to board a flight for Tokyo.

Hong Kong’s Immigration ­Department was investigating whether Yao’s travel document was valid, the report said.

The department said it would not comment on individual cases. But an officer at the department’s detention centre at Ma Tau Kok said a man named Yao Long had been held there since Sunday night and was taken away by officers from the department’s investigation branch yesterday morning . Under Hong Kong law, the authorities can hold Yao without charge for up to 48 hours.

Xiao, has built up a sprawling business empire of financial vehicles and listed companies that could send major shocks through to the market if their shares ­collapsed.

Sources have told the South China Morning Post that Beijing is eager to avoid any market fallout from the Xiao case.

Shares linked to Xiao and his Beijing-based Tomorrow Group have stabilised since an initial ­sell-off.

Shares of Baotou Tomorrow Technology gained 0.23 per cent yesterday, Baotou Huazi Industry fell 1.75 per cent, while Xishui Strong Year gained 0.44 per cent.

Political analysts said Xiao’s deals with the country’s elite and his knowledge of the transactions could be used to influence power at the top as the mainland prepares for a personnel reshuffle at a key Communist Party congress later this year.

Xiao’s disappearance was also related to Beijing’s campaign to investigate tycoons involved in a mainland stock market rout in 2015, according to people familiar with the matter.

Without naming names, Liu Shiyu, chairman of the China ­Securities Regulatory Commission, said in comments published last week that the authorities would capture more “big crocodiles” and take them back to the mainland.

The Post was unable to reach Xiao or his wife. Repeated phone calls to a mainland mobile phone number previously used to contact him went answered.

The billionaire’s disappearance has also raised fears that Beijing is eroding Hong Kong’s autonomy.

In response to concerns that Xiao was abducted by mainland agents, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said: “No one should speculate on a matter like this, and anyone who has information should provide it to police.”

After a report on Saturday that Xiao was believed to have been transported by boat from Hong Kong and eluded border controls, Hong Kong police spokesman Wilson Fok reiterated on the weekend that Xiao entered the mainland via a border control point. Authorities on the mainland have not provided any information regarding Xiao.

Tomorrow Group said in a brief statement on its official ­WeChat account on February 2 that the company and its affiliated businesses were operating as usual.

The company’s previous two statements, which said Xiao “was receiving treatment overseas”, were deleted shortly after being published.

Additional reporting by Violet Law

Asian markets edge up amid deep uncertaint

February 9, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | The US dollar has been a major casualty of the uncertainty in Asian markets about President Donald Trump’s economic plans

HONG KONG (AFP) – Asian markets edged up Thursday but traders remain cautious, with another record close on Wall Street providing some support but Tokyo hit by a stronger yen.The uncertainty that has tainted trading floors for weeks continues to weigh as Donald Trump appears to press on with a protectionist agenda but provides no details on his pledge to ramp up the US economy and cut red tape.

The dollar has been a major casualty as dealers withdraw initial bets that his big-spending plans would stoke US inflation, and in turn, interest rates. The greenback has fallen around five percent from this year’s highs against the yen.

On Thursday the US unit was sitting around 112 yen, having fallen below that level for the first time since November.

However, the dollar remains buoyed against the euro as the rise of populists ahead of elections this year in France, Germany, the Netherlands and Italy fuel worries about the future of the European Union. Added to that is the prospect of a return to the Greek debt crisis.

In share trading Tokyo ended the morning 0.2 percent lower, while Sydney was down 0.1 percent.

Hong Kong added 0.4 percent and Shanghai put on 0.2 percent while Seoul was marginally higher.

In New York the Nasdaq ended at a record high for the second successive day, while the Dow closed above 20,000 despite ending slightly lower.

But while US markets are pushing on, Asian dealers are more concerned about the new US president’s anti-globalisation rhetoric, which has fuelled fears of a trade war.

“The Trump trade is the primary focus for equity markets and without any further guidance on US tax policies, investors stay on the sidelines, annoyed and concerned about the unknown,” said Stephen Innes, senior trader at OANDA, in a note.

Investors will be closely watching this weekend’s meeting between Trump and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe in which they will discuss trade and other issues.

“The event risk is clearly the downside, if this meeting does not go well as on trade negotiations,” Innes said.

Gold prices extended their recent gains as nervous traders move into safer assets as a hedge against volatility. The precious metal climbed $3 to $1,240, and is up eight percent since the start of the year.

– Key figures around 0230 GMT –

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.2 percent at 18,971.46 (break)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: UP 0.4 percent at 23,578.43

Shanghai – Composite: UP 0.2 percent at 3,174.66

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.0682 from $1.0696

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2504 from $1.2541

Dollar/yen: UP at 112.08 yen from 111.95 yen

Oil – West Texas Intermediate: UP 17 cents at $52.51 per barrel

Oil – Brent North Sea: UP 18 cents at $55.30

New York – Dow: DOWN 0.2 percent at 20,054.34 (close)

London – FTSE 100: UP less than 0.1 percent at 7,188.82 (close)

Deleted postings about missing Chinese billionaire hint at tensions

February 6, 2017

A statement of Chinese billionaire Xiao Jianhua is printed on the front page of local newspaper Ming Pao in Hong Kong, China February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Bobby Yip
By Julie Zhu and Venus Wu | HONG KONG
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Scores of China social media postings about a well-connected billionaire who went missing from a Hong Kong hotel have been deleted, pointing to what appears to be heightened sensitivity in Beijing over the case of Xiao Jianhua.

Mystery surrounds the whereabouts of Xiao, one of China’s richest men who has close ties to some of its leaders and their relatives. He was last seen at Hong Kong’s Four Seasons hotel in late January, with some media saying he was abducted and taken to the mainland.

The case has echoes of the disappearance of five Hong Kong booksellers more than a year ago who had published books critical of China’s leaders.

The booksellers’ case raised concern about interference by Beijing in Hong Kong and the erosion of its freedoms, guaranteed under a 1997 deal that returned the former British colony to Chinese rule.

Authorities in Beijing have declined to comment on Xiao’s case.

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Xiao Jianhua

Hong Kong’s government has also not commented. The city’s police say they are investigating and have approached Chinese authorities to ascertain his “situation in mainland China”.

Xiao’s disappearance has sparked widespread media speculation that he has been drawn into Chinese President Xi Jinping’s crackdown on corruption, which has ensnared a string of Chinese executives.

After his disappearance, a statement from him appeared on his company’s verified WeChat account saying he had not been abducted and had not been taken to mainland China.

The statement added he was “currently abroad being medically treated”. Hong Kong police say Xiao crossed the border to mainland China.

When news of Xiao’s disappearance in Hong Kong began breaking early last week, searches on Chinese search engines and social media for him generated many results, mostly links to reports related to statements he had issued via his company, Tomorrow Holdings, a financial group headquartered in Beijing.

But those posts and most reports related to Xiao have disappeared, with search results only bringing up reports about him from several weeks earlier.

DELETED POSTS

According to Freewechat.com, which tracks censored or deleted posts on China’s biggest social network, WeChat, more than 40 articles with the keyword Xiao Jianhua had been censored since Jan. 30.

A similar number of reports with the word “Mingtianxi”, which refers to Tomorrow Group and its subsidiaries, were also deleted.

Tencent Holdings Ltd (0700.HK), which operates WeChat, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A spokesman for Sina, which runs China’s Twitter-like microblogging service Sina Weibo, told Reuters it censors and deletes posts according to its code of conduct.

But the spokesman declined to comment on any deleted posts related to Xiao and his business ties.

More social media posts purportedly detailing Xiao’s business links with high-profile companies and senior leaders were also deleted over the weekend.

The Chinese government routinely censors the internet, blocking many sites it deems could challenge the rule of the Communist Party or threaten stability.

China’s internet regulator did not respond to a request for comment on Monday.

Shares in firms directly or indirectly controlled by Tomorrow Group slumped on Friday, with Baotou Huazi Industry (600191.SS) and Xishui Strong Year Co Ltd Inner Mongolia (600291.SS) both down the maximum 10 percent.

Shares of Baotou Huazi were down 2.6 percent on Monday, while Xishui Strong Year was down nearly 5 percent.

Xiao was ranked 32nd on the 2016 Hurun China rich list, China’s equivalent of the Forbes list, with an estimated net worth of $5.97 billion.

(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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