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Protests Could Undermine Hong Kong’s Ability to Compete with Singapore

Hong Kong and Singapore have always been rivals of a sort. Government stability and transparent legal systems have attracted thousands of multinationals to both since the 1960s, giving each the title of Asian financial center.Antigovernment protests since June suddenly threaten the prowess of Hong Kong. The millions of people massing in the streets, shutting down the airport and setting fires in public places are eroding the sense of stability that multinationals want when they pick a base in Asia.Singapore is standing by now to take any Hong Kong refugees.Pro-democracy protesters react as police fire water cannons outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong, Sept. 15, 2019.Hong Kong would start giving ground to Singapore, people close to one or both places think, if the protests show signs of going on long term and especially if they drive changes in the law or keep snarling the airport. That would mean an exodus of multinationals to Singapore or at least corporate decisions to add Singapore staff rather than Hong Kong staff during Asia expansions.“It really depends how long this continues,” said Rajiv Biswas, Asia-Pacific chief economist at the market research firm IHS Markit. “If it becomes protracted and the disruptions are ongoing, then I think it does erode confidence in the financial center. Definitely it could undermine Hong Kong’s ability to compete with Singapore.”The rise of two dragonsHong Kong was described in the 1960s as one of Asia’s four economic dragons, a reference to fast industrialization and economic growth.Under British rule through 1997, the territory attracted multinationals with rules that made business easy and transparent for outsiders. It had been described as a financial center as early as 1950. The World Bank ranked Hong Kong No. 4 this year in its worldwide ease-of-doing-business survey.Hong Kong remains one of the world’s four largest international financial centers, though pressured by the rise of Chinese hub cities such as Shanghai and Shenzhen, Biswas says in a Sept. 9 research note. Singapore is on the list too, along with London and New York.A woman uses her smartphone to take pictures of a lantern display depicting Singapore’s iconic architecture and multiracial society during Mid-Autumn Festival celebrations at Jurong Lake Gardens in western Singapore, Sept. 9, 2019.Singapore averaged 8% GDP growth from the 1960s to the 1990s, putting it among the Asian dragons.About 3,000 multinationals from developed countries keep offices there. The fellow former British colony ranks No. 2 on the World Bank’s ease-of-doing-business chart and 13th on the World Justice Project’s scale for adherence to rule of law. The World Justice Project evaluation covers absence of corruption, presence of security and the transparency of government.An historic haven in AsiaA Sept. 12 survey by the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore found that Hong Kong was “unlikely to attract those” who don’t have any presence there now.More than 80% of respondents said the protests had affected their decisions related to investing in Hong Kong. Among the companies eyeing a move from Hong Kong, the survey found, 91% called Singapore the backup location.Singapore has come through as a historic “haven” when crises pop up elsewhere in Asia, said Song Seng Wun, economist in the private banking unit of CIMB in Singapore.Despite higher costs than in much of Asia, he said, Singapore offers “strong” rule of law, he said. “Singapore has always been a neutral, safe haven place during times of uncertainties, especially around the region,” Song said.Protesters carrying umbrellas take part in march in Hong Kong, Sept. 15, 2019.No tipping point yetProtests to date have a “temporary” aura, Biswas said, compared to a scenario of lasting for “years.” He doesn’t expect companies to uproot just yet from Hong Kong in favor of Singapore, but those with offices in both places might now consider focusing more resources on the Singapore side.Protests began in Hong Kong June 9 in reaction to a proposed extradition bill that would let citizens get deported to China for political crimes and face harsh sentences. Protesters have added calls for democracy in Hong Kong despite rule by Communist China since 1997.Hong Kong people have a way of reacting vehemently to a cause at first and then quickly relenting, said Michael McGaughy, portfolio manager with Fusion Wealth Management in Hong Kong. He recalls how people covered their faces in masks during the deadly SARS outbreak of 2002 but suddenly stopped when the epidemic showed a decline in early 2003.Common law and the tax system that financial companies like about Hong Kong show no signs of changing, McGaughy said. Anyone tempted to leave because of the protests would “think twice,” he said. His company has not discussed pulling out.“My gut feel is that there’s going to be a lot of talk about it, but if the legal system stays the same then I’d be surprised if people leave,” McGaughy said.


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Kiribati Cuts Ties With Taiwan, Presaging Switch to China

The Pacific island nation of Kiribati cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan on Friday, becoming the second country to do so this week and strengthening Beijing’s hand.Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said that Kiribati had officially notified his government of the decision.Kiribati is expected to recognize China, which has pledged billions of dollars in aid to help lure it and six other countries into switching allegiance since 2016, when Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen took office.
 
Taiwan “deeply regrets and strongly condemns the Kiribati government’s decision, which disregards the multifaceted assistance and sincere friendship extended by Taiwan to Kiribati over the years,” Wu said at a news conference.Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang commended Kiribati’s switch, which comes four days after the Solomon Islands, once Taiwan’s largest ally in the South Pacific, severed ties in favor of China.’This fully testifies to the fact that the one-China principle meets the shared aspiration of the people and constitutes an irresistible trend of the times,” he said.China claims sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan and wants the island to reunite with the mainland. The two split in 1949 during a civil war. Beijing resents Tsai for rejecting its precondition for dialogue that both belong to a single China. It has flown military aircraft near the island and pared back Taiwan-bound tourism to add pressure on her government.Taiwan has 15 allies left, compared to about 180 countries that recognize China.China has made the point that it can snatch as many diplomatic allies of Taiwan as it wishes,” said Fabrizio Bozzato, a Taiwan Strategy Research Association fellow who specializes in the Pacific.Taiwan looks to its allies, mostly small, poor countries, for international legitimacy and a voice in the United Nations. Taiwan left the United Nations in 1971 as the international body recognized China.A total loss of allies would cut all formal outside recognition of Taiwan’s government, formally called the Republic of China, and make it easier for Beijing to claim it, said Chao Chien-min, dean of social sciences at the Chinese Cultural University in Taipei.”Other countries will call you a non-state and then what happens?” he said.” Let’s say the People’s Liberation Army uses non-peaceful means for an activity in the Taiwan Strait. The United Nations can’t do anything. If other countries get involved, what legitimacy do they have to help Taiwan?”The Chinese pressure is scaring ordinary Taiwanese, he said.In the Solomon Islands, Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said in a statement Friday that his country had recognized China to ensure stability and avoid uncertainty over what might happen if Taiwanese decide to unite with China.Wu remained defiant, saying that Taiwan is not a province of the People’s Republic of China, the Communist government that took power in 1949.”China’s international pressure will only consolidate the Taiwanese people’s determination never to capitulate to the Chinese government,” he said.
 
Some analysts believe Taiwan has built legitimacy by strengthening an informal alliance with the United States, its chief arms supplier, and joining the World Trade Organization and the inter-governmental Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.”Taiwan is globally relevant economically, geopolitically and geo-strategically,” Bozzato said. “It is indisputable that the Republic of China would continue to be independent, effectively exerting civil and military jurisdiction over a territory and a population.”Wu said China had used investments in fisheries and other industries to build up a presence in Kiribati, penetrating political circles and extending its influence.”Kiribati President Taneti Mamau requested “massive financial assistance” from Taiwan to buy commercial aircraft, he said, a request inconsistent with Taiwan’s international aid law.China’s Geng said that “those used to dollar-diplomacy may not understand that certain principles cannot be bought with money, neither can trust.”
 
China and Taiwan competed for South Pacific allies before 2008, often using aid to motivate switches in recognition. The two sides observed an informal diplomatic truce from 2008 to 2016, during China-friendly Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou’s term.


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Singapore Awaits Spillover of Companies Tired of Protest-Torn Hong Kong

Hong Kong and Singapore have always been rivals of a sort. Government stability and transparent legal systems have attracted thousands of multinationals to both since the 1960s, giving each the title of Asian financial center.Antigovernment protests since June suddenly threaten the prowess of Hong Kong. The millions of people massing in the streets, shutting down the airport and setting fires in public places are eroding the sense of stability that multinationals want when they pick a base in Asia.Singapore is standing by now to take any Hong Kong refugees.Pro-democracy protesters react as police fire water cannons outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong, Sept. 15, 2019.Hong Kong would start giving ground to Singapore, people close to one or both places think, if the protests show signs of going on long term and especially if they drive changes in the law or keep snarling the airport. That would mean an exodus of multinationals to Singapore or at least corporate decisions to add Singapore staff rather than Hong Kong staff during Asia expansions.“It really depends how long this continues,” said Rajiv Biswas, Asia-Pacific chief economist at the market research firm IHS Markit. “If it becomes protracted and the disruptions are ongoing, then I think it does erode confidence in the financial center. Definitely it could undermine Hong Kong’s ability to compete with Singapore.”The rise of two dragonsHong Kong was described in the 1960s as one of Asia’s four economic dragons, a reference to fast industrialization and economic growth.Under British rule through 1997, the territory attracted multinationals with rules that made business easy and transparent for outsiders. It had been described as a financial center as early as 1950. The World Bank ranked Hong Kong No. 4 this year in its worldwide ease-of-doing-business survey.Hong Kong remains one of the world’s four largest international financial centers, though pressured by the rise of Chinese hub cities such as Shanghai and Shenzhen, Biswas says in a Sept. 9 research note. Singapore is on the list too, along with London and New York.A woman uses her smartphone to take pictures of a lantern display depicting Singapore’s iconic architecture and multiracial society during Mid-Autumn Festival celebrations at Jurong Lake Gardens in western Singapore, Sept. 9, 2019.Singapore averaged 8% GDP growth from the 1960s to the 1990s, putting it among the Asian dragons.About 3,000 multinationals from developed countries keep offices there. The fellow former British colony ranks No. 2 on the World Bank’s ease-of-doing-business chart and 13th on the World Justice Project’s scale for adherence to rule of law. The World Justice Project evaluation covers absence of corruption, presence of security and the transparency of government.An historic haven in AsiaA Sept. 12 survey by the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore found that Hong Kong was “unlikely to attract those” who don’t have any presence there now.More than 80% of respondents said the protests had affected their decisions related to investing in Hong Kong. Among the companies eyeing a move from Hong Kong, the survey found, 91% called Singapore the backup location.Singapore has come through as a historic “haven” when crises pop up elsewhere in Asia, said Song Seng Wun, economist in the private banking unit of CIMB in Singapore.Despite higher costs than in much of Asia, he said, Singapore offers “strong” rule of law, he said. “Singapore has always been a neutral, safe haven place during times of uncertainties, especially around the region,” Song said.Protesters carrying umbrellas take part in march in Hong Kong, Sept. 15, 2019.No tipping point yetProtests to date have a “temporary” aura, Biswas said, compared to a scenario of lasting for “years.” He doesn’t expect companies to uproot just yet from Hong Kong in favor of Singapore, but those with offices in both places might now consider focusing more resources on the Singapore side.Protests began in Hong Kong June 9 in reaction to a proposed extradition bill that would let citizens get deported to China for political crimes and face harsh sentences. Protesters have added calls for democracy in Hong Kong despite rule by Communist China since 1997.Hong Kong people have a way of reacting vehemently to a cause at first and then quickly relenting, said Michael McGaughy, portfolio manager with Fusion Wealth Management in Hong Kong. He recalls how people covered their faces in masks during the deadly SARS outbreak of 2002 but suddenly stopped when the epidemic showed a decline in early 2003.Common law and the tax system that financial companies like about Hong Kong show no signs of changing, McGaughy said. Anyone tempted to leave because of the protests would “think twice,” he said. His company has not discussed pulling out.“My gut feel is that there’s going to be a lot of talk about it, but if the legal system stays the same then I’d be surprised if people leave,” McGaughy said.


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Amnesty International: Hong Kong Police Using Excessive Force

Amnesty International on Friday accused Hong Kong police of using excessive force against pro-democracy protesters, in some cases amounting to torture, criticizing a “disturbing pattern of reckless and unlawful tactics.”In a report based on interviews with nearly two dozen activists, most of whom were hospitalized after their arrests, the global rights watchdog said the city’s police officers routinely went beyond the level of force allowed by local law and international standards.“In an apparent thirst for retaliation, Hong Kong’s security forces have engaged in a disturbing pattern of reckless and unlawful tactics against people during the protests,” Nicholas Bequelin, East Asia director at Amnesty International, said. “This has included arbitrary arrests and retaliatory violence against arrested persons in custody, some of which has amounted to torture.”Policemen clash with demonstrators on a street during a protest in Hong Kong, Aug. 25, 2019.The rights group backed calls for an independent inquiry into police brutality, a key demand of protesters but one that has been rejected by government officials and police top brass.Hong Kong’s police force dismissed Amnesty’s findings and rejected allegations it had used excessive force.In a statement issued Friday, police said their officers “exercise a high level of restraint at all times in the use of force.”In response to specific allegations contained within the report, police said they “do not comment on individual cases” and said those alleging abuse should make a complaint with the police watchdog instead.Frequently violent demonstrations featuring hundreds of thousands of protesters have raged in Hong Kong for more than three months.Anti-government protesters have hurled rocks, bottles and petrol bombs as well as used slingshots in their battles with police who have responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon.Videos of police baton charging and beating protesters have frequently gone viral online.‘Batons and fists’Amnesty interviewed 21 people who had been arrested, 18 of whom were later hospitalized for injuries.“Almost every arrested person interviewed described being beaten with batons and fists during the arrest, even when they were not resisting and often already restrained,” the report’s authors wrote.Most interviewees reported the violence stopped once in custody.But one detainee said he was assaulted for being uncooperative and another described seeing police shine a laser into the eye of a young detainee, a tactic protesters have employed against police.Two defense lawyers also claimed their clients were beaten.Multiple suspects described lengthy delays in receiving medical attention or access to defense lawyers.Hong Kong’s police denied those allegations, saying officers “respect the privacy, dignity and rights” of those arrested.Beyond extraditionHong Kong’s protests were sparked by a now-abandoned plan to allow extraditions to the authoritarian Chinese mainland.But after Beijing and local leaders took a hard line, the protests snowballed into a wider movement calling for police accountability and universal suffrage.Amnesty’s Bequelin said he believed the city’s police “is no longer in a position to investigate itself and remedy the widespread unlawful suppression of protesters” and called for an independent inquiry.
 


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Taipei: Kiribati Considers Switching Diplomatic Ties to China

The Pacific island nation of Kiribati is considering switching diplomatic relations to China from Taiwan, a senior Taiwan government official said on Friday, amid Chinese pressure on the remaining nations with ties to the self-ruled island.China claims Taiwan as its territory, and says the democratic island has no right to formal ties with any country.The official’s remarks to Reuters came days after the Solomon Islands cut ties with Taipei, which accused China of trying to influence its presidential and legislative elections in January with diplomatic pressure. 
 


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South Korea Reports 2 More Suspected Swine Fever Cases

South Korean officials are investigating two more suspected cases of African swine fever from farms near its border with North Korea, as fears grow over the spread of the illness that has decimated pig herds across Asia.An agriculture ministry official said Friday that officials are testing samples of dead pigs from two farms in Paju city that are about 9 kilometers (5.5 miles) away from a farm where the country’s first case of the disease was confirmed Monday. A second case was confirmed Tuesday in the nearby town of Yeoncheon.South Korea has stepped up efforts to contain the disease, which may have crossed from North Korea, which reported an outbreak in May.Workers had culled some 10,400 pigs at border area farms as of Friday morning.
 


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Huawei Faces Public Test as it Unveils Sanction-Hit Phone

Chinese tech giant Huawei launched its latest high-end smartphone in Munich on Thursday, the first of its mobile devices not to carry popular Google apps because of U.S. sanctions.”Today because of the U.S. ban … we cannot pre-install” Google’s applications, said Richard Yu, who heads Huawei’s consumer business group, as he unveiled the group’s latest Mate 30 and Mate 30 Pro models.But heading off fears that a phone without popular apps like Whatsapp, YouTube or Google Maps could not succeed, he stressed that the equivalent platform by the Chinese giant offered a choice of 45,000 apps through the Huawei App Gallery.Richard Yu, head of Huawei’s consumer business group, speaks on stage during a presentation to reveal Huawei’s latest smartphones Mate 30 and Mate 30 Pro in Munich, Germany, Sept. 19, 2019.Yu added that the Chinese giant was investing US$1 billion (900,000 euros) into its Huawei Mobile Services (HMS) core software ecosystem, as he urged app developers to bring their creations to the system.Huawei, targeted directly by the United States as part of a broader trade conflict with Beijing, was added to a “blacklist” in Washington in May.Since then, it has been illegal for American firms to do business with the Chinese firm, suspected of espionage by President Donald Trump and his administration.As a result, the new Mate will run on a freely available version of Android, the world’s most-used phone operating system that is owned by the search engine heavyweight.OS warsWhile Mate 30 owners will experience little difference in the use of the operating system, the lack of Google’s Play Store — which provides access to hundreds of thousands of third-party apps and games as well as films, books and music — could be unsettling.Household-name services like WhatsApp, Instagram and Google Maps will be unavailable.The tech press reports that this yawning gap in functionality has left some sellers reluctant to stock the new phones, fearing a wave of rapid-fire returns from dissatisfied customers.With the trade conflict with the U.S. unlikely to be resolved imminently, Huawei has little choice but to ramp up the development of its own “ecosystem” of devices, apps and services that would bind users more closely to it.The world’s second-largest smartphone maker after Samsung, Huawei earlier this month presented its proprietary operating system HarmonyOS, a potential replacement for Android.The Mate 30 will not yet have HarmonyOS installed.But it could make for a new round in the decades-old “OS wars” between Microsoft’s Windows and Apple’s Mac OS, then Android versus Apple’s iOS.European roleMeanwhile, Eric Xu, current holder of Huawei’s rotating chief executive chair, has urged Europe to foster an alternative to Google and Apple.That could provide an opening for Huawei to build up Europe’s market of 500 million well-off consumers as a stronghold against American rivals.”If Europe had its own ecosystem for smart devices, Huawei would use it … that would resolve the problem of European digital dependency” on the United States, Xu told German business daily Handelsblatt.He added that his company would be prepared to invest in developing such joint European-Chinese projects.


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Japan Court: TEPCO Execs Not Guilty in Fukushima Disaster

A Japanese court ruled Thursday that three former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Company were not guilty of professional negligence in the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant because ensuring absolute safety at nuclear plants was not a government requirement at that time.The ruling by the Tokyo District Court ended the only criminal trial related to the nuclear accident that has kept tens of thousands of residents away from their homes because of lingering radiation contamination.Lawyers representing the 5,700 Fukushima residents who filed the criminal complaint said they will push prosecutors to appeal the decision. A group of supporters stood outside the court Thursday with placards reading “Unjust ruling.”The court said ex-TEPCO Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, 79, and two other former executives were also not guilty of causing the deaths of 44 elderly patients whose health deteriorated during or after forced evacuations from a local hospital and a nursing home.The executives were accused of failing to anticipate the massive tsunami that struck the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant on March 11, 2011, following a magnitude 9 earthquake, and of failing to take measures that might have protected the plant.Katsumata and co-defendants Sakae Muto, 69, and Ichiro Takekuro, 73, pleaded not guilty at the trial’s opening session in June 2017. They said predicting the tsunami was impossible.Three of the plant’s reactors had meltdowns, spreading radiation into surrounding communities and into the sea.Prosecutors in December requested five-year prison sentences for each executive, accusing them of not doing enough to guard against the threat of a large tsunami despite knowing the risk.In its ruling, the court said the defendants held responsible positions at TEPCO, but that did not necessarily mean they were responsible for taking measures beyond those in the legal regulatory framework.It said there is no proof they could have foreseen that a tsunami could flood the plant the way it did in 2011.TEPCO officials were aware of a need to improve tsunami prevention measures and were considering taking steps by 2008 and 2009, but those steps were in line with government safety standards at the time.The prosecutors argued that TEPCO could have prevented the disaster had it halted the plant to install safety measures before the tsunami. But the court said the company’s responsibility to supply electricity to the public meant that idling the plant would have had a “social impact,” and that possible measures were likely not ready in time.The acquittal disappointed dozens of Fukushima residents and their supporters who attended the ruling.“Who is going to take responsibility then? It was TEPCO that caused the accident, there is no mistake about it,” said Masakatsu Kanno, a Fukushima resident whose father died after being evacuated from a hospital.Hiroyuki Kawai, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the decision must be appealed.“The ruling showed that the judge did not understand the dangers of nuclear plants at all, and it was sympathetic to the company executives and their management decisions,” Kawai said. “The ruling sounded as if it was written by supporters of nuclear energy.”Prosecutors had told the court that the three defendants had access to data and scientific studies that anticipated the possibility of a tsunami exceeding 10 meters (33 feet) which could trigger a loss of power and a severe accident.Defense attorneys told the court that the tsunami prediction was not well established. They said the actual damage was larger than projected, and that if TEPCO had taken steps based on the projection, it would not have prevented the disaster.TEPCO declined to comment directly on the ruling but pledged to devote itself to the compensation of disaster-hit people and the cleanup of the plant and its surroundings while enhancing the safety of nuclear plants “with unwavering determination.”Katsumata apologized “to the people for causing tremendous trouble” in a statement released by his lawyer.More than eight years since the disaster, the Fukushima plant has been stabilized and being decommissioned — a decades-long process that is still at an early stage. TEPCO is struggling with massive amounts of treated but still radioactive water that is stored in 1,000 tanks on the compound, hampering the cleanup work.Prosecutors said TEPCO was conducting a tsunami safety review following a 2007 earthquake in Niigata in northern Japan that damaged another TEPCO plant, and the three former executives routinely participated in that process. In March 2008, a TEPCO subsidiary projected that a tsunami as high as 15.7 meters (47 feet) could hit Fukushima, prompting the company to consider building seawalls, but the executives allegedly delayed the idea to avoid additional spending.Prosecutors presented hundreds of pieces of evidence including emails between safety officials and the two vice presidents that suggested increasing concern and a need for more tsunami defenses at the plant. More than 20 TEPCO officials and scientists testified in court.Government and parliamentary investigations said TEPCO’s lack of a safety culture and weak risk management, including an underestimation of tsunami risks, led to the disaster. They said TEPCO colluded with regulators to disregard tsunami protection measures.The company has said it could have been more proactive with safety measures, but that it could not anticipate the massive tsunami that crippled the plant.TEPCO has spent 9 trillion yen ($83 billion) on compensation related to the disaster. It needs to spend an estimated 8 trillion yen ($74 billion) to decommission the plant and 6 trillion yen ($55 billion) for decontamination.


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