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Chinese fighter jets and bombers approached Taiwan for the second day on Saturday as a senior US official wrapped up his trip to the island and paid tribute to its former president Lee Teng-hui.Chinese military observers described the move as a political declaration and warning that no place on the island was safe.Taiwan said 19 Chinese aircraft, including two H-6 strategic bombers, crossed the midline of the Taiwan Strait and entered its southwest air defence identification zone.Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.Taiwan’s air force scrambled fighters and deployed air defence missile systems to monitor their activities, the island’s defence ministry said.On Friday, it said 18 Chinese aircraft had approached from four directions and entered its air space.Hong Yuan, a military analyst with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said China’s military exercise was not just a drill but also a warning. US diplomat Keith Krach meets Taiwanese leaders but new dialogue still being planned“Purely from the military angle, China’s warplanes can attack the whole island from the southeastern province of Fujian or Jiangxi. They do not need to go across the Taiwan Strait,” he said.“It’s a political declaration that Taiwan is a part of China and no place in Taiwan is safe.”The drills follow the arrival on Thursday of Keith Krach, the US undersecretary of state for economic growth, energy and the environment, who attended the funeral of the late president Lee Teng-hui, who passed away on July 30 at the age of 97.The service was held at the Aletheia University in Taipei on Saturday morning, where President Tsai Ing-wen honoured Lee for bringing about a peaceful political transition to democracy.“We have a responsibility to continue his endeavours, allowing the will of the people to reshape Taiwan, further defining Taiwan’s identity and deepening and bolstering democracy and freedom,” Tsai said.Two members of Krach’s delegation – Robert Destro, the assistant secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labour, and Kelley Currie, US ambassador-at-large for global women's issues, met Lam Wing-kee – one of five Hong Kong booksellers who disappeared in 2015 and later emerged in detention in mainland China, according to the Central News Agency.Krach’s visit has been criticised by Beijing, while some nationalist commentators warned that China would step up its military activities if the US and Taiwan continued their “provocations”.In Beijing, defence ministry spokesperson Ren Guoqiang said the military exercises were a necessary move aimed at the current situation in the Taiwan Strait to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity.“Those who play with fire will get burnt,” he warned at a press conference on Friday.In a separate statement, the PLA Eastern Theatre Command, which oversees the Taiwan Strait, described the drill as “real combat-oriented, joint aerial and maritime”. China protests after US envoy to UN meets Taiwanese official in New YorkChinese military analyst Song Zhongping told the hawkish state-owned tabloid Global Times: “The real combat-oriented, joint aerial and maritime drills mean that the People’s Liberation Army is practising in key areas of a real battle, while the combat-readiness patrols are operations aimed at preparing for combat anytime if anomalies occur on the island.”Global Times warned in an editorial that the PLA drills were a rehearsal for invading Taiwan.“The PLA has lifted the curtain on real-combat military exercises targeted at Taiwan, and the scale of such exercises is bound to expand in the future and meet the requirements for substantive strikes against Taiwan,” said the editorial.“Should they [the US and Taiwan] continue to make provocations, a war will inevitably break out,” it added.Additional reporting by Associated PressThis article Chinese warplanes continue Taiwan operations as island says farewell to former president Lee Teng-hui first appeared on South China Morning PostFor the latest news from the South China Morning Post download our mobile app. Copyright 2020.
Hong Kong’s homebuyers turned up in droves to snap up new flats at two projects on Saturday, shrugging aside concerns about the city’s unemployment and the worst economic recession in decades, as social-distancing regulations eased.Sun Hung Kai Properties (SHKP), Hong Kong’s largest developer by value, sold 126 of 133 flats, or 95 per cent of the units offered in the first batch of the third phase of its Wetland Seasons Park project in Tin Shui Wai as of 9pm today. As many as 22 buyers registered for each available flat.In Sai Ying Pun, Henderson Land Development sold 96 per cent, or 77 of the 80 units offered at Two Artlane, with around nine bidders vying for each flat, agents said.Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.“Some homebuyers may not have dared to come out to view real estate projects over the last two or three weeks, but with the easing of social-distancing regulations and economic activities slowly going back to normal, more prospective buyers have come out,” said Louis Chan Wing-kit, Centaline‘s vice-chairman and chief executive of residential division in Asia-Pacific.The potential sell-out weekend vindicates the decision by developers to put their projects back on the market, as generous discounts and easier financing enticed investors and shoppers back to property launches. New daily confirmed cases have fallen to single digits, giving local authorities the confidence to let restaurants and pubs stay open until midnight, while other entertainment venues closed since July 15 were allowed to reopen.Prices at the latest batch of Wetland Seasons Park started at HK$4.2 million, or HK$12,513 per square foot, going up to HK$12 million (US$1.55 million) with an 18 per cent discount. Flat sizes ranged from 300 sq ft for a one-bedroom unit to 816 sq ft for a three-bedroom flat. The units at Two Artlane cost between HK$5.6 million and HK$8.9 million for flats ranging from 214 sq ft to 287 sq ft.Most flats at both projects were priced at less than HK$10 million each, so would benefit from recent financing and mortgage measures, Chan said. He added that more than half of those who purchased flats at Two Artlane were aiming to rent the properties, due to expectations of a low interest rate environment over the next three years.While the city’s unemployment rate remained unchanged at 6.1 per cent in August during the height of the third wave of Covid-19 infections, the number of people who were underemployed rose to a 17-year high, according to a government report on Thursday.Hong Kong’s economy remains mired in a recession, contracting 9 per cent in the April-to-June period, and falling for the fourth straight quarter. The city’s gross domestic product is forecast to shrink between 6 and 8 per cent this year, as the coronavirus pandemic continued to wreak havoc on the economy.While the city’s tourism sector has ground to a halt, retail sales have fared no better. The city’s retail sales in July fell 23.1 per cent year on year for the 18th month in a row, according to the latest government statistics.This article Hong Kong homebuyers return in droves for a sell-out weekend of flats offered by Sun Hung Kai and Henderson Land first appeared on South China Morning PostFor the latest news from the South China Morning Post download our mobile app. Copyright 2020.
Passenger numbers on Hong Kong’s metro dropped 40 per cent in August as the third wave of the coronavirus hammered the city’s economy, and social-distancing measures kept people at home.Official figures from the city’s rail operator, the MTR Corporation, showed 78.5 million domestic journeys on its network in August, down from 131 million a year ago, and a further 14 per cent drop from the 91 million rides in July.With global air travel almost at a standstill, the Airport Express also suffered, with journeys down 88.6 per cent last month to 148,000, from about 1.3 million a year ago.Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.On its cross-border rail services, passenger numbers in August dropped 99.6 per cent to just 33,000 from about 8 million year on year, as the MTR Corp halted most operations on the East Rail Line from early February to limit the spread of the virus.For the MTR Corp’s intercity, light rail and bus services, patronage dropped 41 per cent year on year to about 11 million, from 18.5 million.With services on the high-speed rail link to Guangzhou on hold since late January amid the pandemic, August figures remained at zero.The grim news came as the government further tightened social-distancing rules in August to combat the third wave of Covid-19 infections, including banning evening dine-in services at restaurants, limiting gatherings to two people, and resuming work-from-home arrangements for 170,000 civil servants.The rail giant recorded net losses of HK$334 million (US$42.8 million) in the first six months of 2020, from a profit of HK$5.5 billion in the same period last year – its worst performance since going public two decades ago. Hong Kong’s costliest rail project ‘faces fresh six-month delay’Quentin Cheng Hin-kei, spokesman for the Public Transport Research Team, a commuter concern group, said he believed passenger numbers would go up in September, as the government started to relax social-distancing rules.“I can imagine that MTR’s rail business will improve this month as more people are going out,” Cheng said.However, he remained pessimistic about the rail giant’s outlook, saying it would take a long time for it to recover from the ravages of the virus.“Hong Kong’s tourism has hit rock bottom,” he said. “Even if the pandemic was over, the city’s heightened political tensions also deter visitors from coming to Hong Kong. Without tourists, it’s difficult for the MTR to turn things around for the better.”This article MTR Corporation takes battering from coronavirus, as Hong Kong rail operator reports 40 per cent drop in passenger numbers in August first appeared on South China Morning PostFor the latest news from the South China Morning Post download our mobile app. Copyright 2020.
The number of Covid-19 infections in Hong Kong surpassed 5,000 on Saturday after 13 new cases emerged, one involving a university laboratory researcher working with coronavirus samples.Health experts urged the public to remain vigilant, pointing to the disease’s continuing spread in the community and warning the city must brace for another wave of infections this winter.Despite the grim milestone, Hong Kong has managed to drive down the number of daily cases from more than 100 in July into the low double and single digits. But predicting the direction of the pandemic remained difficult, according to Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the communicable disease branch at the Centre for Health Protection.Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.“We are seeing unknown cases every now and then,” she said. “From the universal community testing, we understand that there are a certain number of [hidden] cases in the community which are difficult to be picked up, so with the increase in social activities … it is possible that there may be some more cases coming and it is even possible to see a wider spread in the community.”Chuang urged residents to continue to wear masks, wash their hands often and practise social distancing as much as possible.Three of the four latest local infections were untraced, while nine cases were imported, involving arrivals from Ukraine, Argentina, India, and the Philippines. The city’s official tally stands at 5,009, with 103 related deaths. More than 10 people also tested preliminary positive on Saturday, including several arrivals.The daily caseload over the past week has risen and fallen, with three infections recorded on Friday, and nine each on Thursday and Wednesday.One of the new untraced cases involved a research assistant helping with data entry and analysis of genetic sequencing of the coronavirus at the University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health.The woman, who lives in Sai Ying Pun, dealt with virus samples that were not contagious and there was no indication transmission occurred at work, Chuang said, explaining why the infection was classified as from an unknown source.About nine researchers work in the laboratory and are tested every Thursday, according to Chuang.“Apart from working and staying at home during the past weeks, the researcher also had gatherings with her friends,” she said. “One of the colleagues who shared a computer with her was tested but the result was negative.”About 330 sample collection bottles had been distributed to others working in the same building.Six people, including colleagues of the woman and her friends, were deemed close contacts and placed in quarantine. No more wage subsidies for businesses, Hong Kong’s No 2 saysThe university’s Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine said there was no proof the infection was related to the laboratory, noting the woman’s other team members had been given the all-clear.The other two untraced infections involved a 23-year-old Indonesian domestic helper, who lived with her employer at Villa Oceania in Ma On Shan, and a 79-year-old retiree who resided at Yau Oi Estate in Tuen Mun.“The domestic helper stayed at home most of the time and rarely went out or went to markets,” Chuang said. “But on September 14 … she went out to shop with two Indonesian helper friends in Mong Kok, and they ate in Sham Shui Po and Tsim Sha Tsui.”The retiree developed a fever on September 11 and during the incubation period visited a shopping centre at Yau Oi Estate, where she ate breakfast.Dr Joseph Sung Jao-yiu, a gastroenterologist and former president of Chinese University, earlier said Hong Kong needed to prepare for a fourth wave by keeping border controls tight.“I’m worried that there will be a fourth wave in winter,” Sung said. “It is now hard to predict how big it will be or how many people could be infected, but our checkpoints will need to be relatively strict. Border control is a very complicated issue because no country or region can decide it on its own. I believe that our government has been making an effort on that.”Sung said authorities needed to pay attention to social-distancing rules for public places, such as restaurants and karaoke bars, as well as elderly care facilities. All but three border checkpoints in Hong Kong have been closed since February.Authorities are carrying out checks to determine whether businesses and residents were abiding by the relaxed social-distancing rules. On Friday, they made about 2,070 inspections related to catering businesses, issuing 18 reminders. Authorities performed more than 3,400 inspections related to the ban on public gatherings of more than four people.More from South China Morning Post: * Coronavirus: Hong Kong’s fourth wave ‘could be the worst yet’ as city aims for enough Covid-19 vaccine shots to cover double city’s population * Coronavirus: Hong Kong to launch second round of Covid-19 testing for high-risk workersThis article Hong Kong Covid-19 caseload surpasses 5,000 mark after 13 new infections emerge first appeared on South China Morning PostFor the latest news from the South China Morning Post download our mobile app. Copyright 2020.
The MTR Corporation’s aborted launch of a new signalling system has renewed calls for the Hong Kong government to shake up the city’s problematic rail transport scene.Critics slammed the eleventh-hour decision to hold back the signalling system for the East Rail line last Saturday, after the company discovered a software glitch during testing.They said it highlighted once again the company’s unresolved governance issues, including a poor corporate culture and a lack of transparency, despite an overhaul of its top management last year following a series of project scandals and mishaps.Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.The Electrical and Mechanical Services Department was only informed on Thursday – two days before the launch – that the new signalling system was being suspended. It ordered the MTR Corp to submit an investigative report in three months, including a review of its internal communications and reporting mechanisms. Hong Kong rail bosses ordered to probe signal glitches on stricken projectThe fiasco also looks set to cause a delay of up to six months to the scandal-hit Sha Tin-Central rail link, the city’s costliest rail project at HK$90.7 billion (US$11.7 billion). After repeated delays and cost overruns, it was supposed to become fully operational in the first quarter of 2022.The original plan for September 12 was to bring into service six shorter trains – comprising nine carriages rather than 12 – with 31 more to follow within 18 months. The signalling upgrade, along with the shorter trains, would have ensured the line conformed with platform designs for the connecting Sha Tin-Central link.Henry Cheung Nin-sang, chairman of the Association of Hong Kong Railway Transport Professionals, said “a small matter” had snowballed into a management disaster because of miscommunication and the way certain parties skirted their responsibilities.“The upgrade launch was announced on August 28, when the MTR Corp assured the public everything was ready and the signalling system had proved safe,” he said.Cheung, formerly operation division head of the MTR’s signalling system, said he understood that during testing the project team discovered a computer bug which could cause a train to deviate from its intended course in rare circumstances and mistakenly follow the route taken by a previous train.It was a relatively minor problem which would not have compromised rail safety, he said.But as it would have taken time for the software supplier to fix the glitch, he said, the project team decided to proceed with the system launch and felt they could switch to a manual operation where necessary.However, when the operations team learned there was a risk to rail service efficiency, it asked the project unit to fix the software problem first.“A manual operation is prone to human error and might prolong journey time, and these were risks the operations team refused to take,” Cheung said.He felt the incident showed that nobody at the MTR Corp was willing to take responsibility for decisions. “Divisional heads just flung the ball back to other parties for fear of taking the blame if anything went wrong,” he said. July MTR ridership plunges 17 per cent from strong rebound in JuneCheung called for competition in the rail market to improve Hong Kong’s rail service and push for fundamental change in the corporate culture of the city’s sole rail operator.“The problem is that the MTR Corp is becoming a behemoth too complex to handle. It deals with different types of businesses – property development, retail and rail operations,” he said. “Its governing structure is too complex for top management to have effective control of the entire operation.“With too many parties being involved in the decision-making process, its collective responsibility system has turned into one that is unaccountable with nobody willing to take the final responsibility.”Without competition, it will be difficult for the MTR Corp to reflect on its problems and correct mistakesHenry Cheung, Association of Hong Kong Railway Transport ProfessionalsThe government is already studying setting up a new department to supervise railway operations.MTR Corp, listed on the stock exchange in 2000, is about 75 per cent owned by the Hong Kong government after merging with the wholly government-owned Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation (KCRC) in 2007.The company’s recent misfortunes included the city’s first train crash during non-operating hours in March last year, followed by a derailment in September near Hung Hom station, and allegations of shoddy work for the Sha Tin to Central link project.Changes at the top included Rex Auyeung Pak-kuen taking over as board chairman and Jacob Kam Chak-pui becoming CEO last year.“Without competition, it will be difficult for the MTR Corp to reflect on its problems and correct mistakes,” Cheung said. He pointed to Singapore as an example, saying its rail system was run by two operators, SMRT Trains and SBS Transit.He advised the government to buy back the MTR Corp’s rail business for it to be wholly supervised by a new railway department, while its real estate and retail business could be retained by the listed company.“When the government wholly owns the MTR’s rail business, it can redistribute some rail lines for an open tender. The new lines could be constructed by KCRC and rail operations will undergo a bidding process,” he said.Transport operators such as KMB and Hong Kong Tramways were capable of running rail operations, he argued.However, lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun, former chairman of KCRC, saw no need to inject competition in the rail market.“This is unfeasible and unnecessary,” Tien said. “Without offering connectivity to the rail system as an incentive, it can’t attract bidders to run just part of the rail lines.”He foresaw more management problems if rail networks were run by different operators and could not be interconnected.Tien said the East Rail signalling system incident had nothing to do with railway safety, but showed up MTR Corp’s failure to take public perception into consideration in its decision-making processes.“Public perception is the combination of communication and transparency,” he said. “If the MTR had given a transparent account of the technical problems and consequences they encountered at the earliest possible time, this issue would have been resolved easily.“Hong Kong is a place that attaches great importance to public perception and transparency. Having learned many painful lessons, the MTR Corp needs to address these issues to restore public confidence.”The core of the problem lies with the government’s overreliance on the MTR Corp to solve all management issuesQuentin Cheng, Public Transport Research TeamBut Quentin Cheng Hin-kei, spokesman for commuter concern group Public Transport Research Team, echoed Cheung’s views the MTR Corp’s governance issues could only be resolved through more competition.“The core of the problem lies with the government’s overreliance on the MTR Corp to solve all management issues without an effective government system to oversee the rail operation,” Cheng said. “Given its monopoly, the MTR Corp has no incentive to improve its governance or transparency.”Under the terms of the rail merger, the MTR Corp has a 50-year franchise to operate its railways and those of KCRC, but Cheng felt this could be revised.“It depends on whether the government has the will to change the status quo. If there’s a will, there’s a way,” he said.MTR Corp said an investigation panel had been set up to look into the signalling system incident. “At the same time, it’s a priority of the corporation to work closely with the contractor to carry out necessary enhancement works before launching the new signalling system,” it said.Responding to queries from the Post, a Transport and Housing Bureau spokeswoman said the bureau was “gravely disappointed” with the last-minute deferral of the new signalling system and had urged the company to seriously follow up the matter.She said the government was studying the roles, responsibilities, staffing and structure of a new railway department with reference to the ongoing consultancy and would take the issue to the Legislative Council in due course.The spokeswoman said that under its operating agreement with the government, the MTR Corp ran all existing rail lines. For new projects, it would depend on whether there were other companies with the capability and resources to undertake the tasks.“The MTR Corp, as the operator of the existing railway network in Hong Kong, can achieve better synergy in implementing new railway projects, thereby facilitating the connection of railway networks and services for the benefit of the general public,” she said.This article Should Hong Kong’s railway scene be opened up to competition to keep the MTR Corp on its toes? first appeared on South China Morning PostFor the latest news from the South China Morning Post download our mobile app. Copyright 2020.
Hong Kong law enforcement officers seized smuggled goods worth HK$2.5 million (US$322,570) in an operation late on Friday, but the suspects escaped in a speedboat headed towards mainland China.According to officials, members of the Customs and Excise Department and Marine Police spotted two suspicious speedboats in the waters off Lau Fau Shan late in the evening, and attempted to intercept the vessels.During the operation, a man jumped onto one of the speedboats, leaving the other boat behind, and fled out of Hong Kong waters, authorities revealed on Saturday.Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.When customs officers searched the boat, they found a hidden compartment containing mobile phones, electronics, medicine and powdered formula, with an estimated market value of about HK$2.5 million.Officials said there had been a notable rise in smuggling activity in Hong Kong’s western waters in recent months, with criminals taking illicit meat to the coastal province of Guangdong.However, in a major blow to smugglers last month, mainland and Hong Kong authorities broke up a major smuggling ring operating out of the city.In Guangdong province, officers from the China Coast Guard arrested 119 people and seized more than 2,000 tonnes of frozen meat valued at 200 million yuan (HK$224 million).The mainland syndicate was believed to be the major business partner of Hong Kong’s smuggling rackets, and was responsible for picking up deliveries of frozen meat from the city, and then storing and distributing it on the mainland.At the same time, customs officers in Hong Kong struck a heavy blow against a suspected family-run smuggling racket with the arrest of 13 people, and the seizure of HK$28 million of frozen meat and valuables, along with HK$15 million in cash. ‘My mind is racing’: stamp collector says HK$4 billion lost in Hong Kong robberyUp until August, 45 cross-border maritime smuggling attempts had been stopped in Hong Kong waters. That figure was just less than the 55 cases in all of last year, but the value of contraband seized this year is already far higher – up from a total of HK$162 million in 2019, to HK$280 million as of August.In Hong Kong, smuggling carries a maximum penalty of seven years in jail and a HK$2 million fine.This article Hong Kong customs and police seize HK$2.5 million in smuggled goods, but suspects escape in speedboat first appeared on South China Morning PostFor the latest news from the South China Morning Post download our mobile app. Copyright 2020.