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July 28th, 2011:

US$68.9b in foreign investment – but where did it all go?

South China Morning Post – 28 July 2011

Yesterday InvestHK conducted its annual farce at the announcement of foreign direct investment figures produced by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.

Simon Galpin, director general of InvestHK, sat on the podium looking like the cat that had got the cream when he announced with evident pleasure that Hong Kong had moved into third place behind the United States and China and had apparently received an astonishing US$68.9 billion in FDI last year.

“This is very significant for an economy of only seven million people,” gushed Galpin.

Indeed it is – and you would have thought he might have been a tiny bit sceptical.

However, on he went to explain how Hong Kong’s wonderful business environment had been able to attract more investment than most of the rest of Asia put together.

According to Professor Wong Tak-Jun, the dean of the Faculty of Business Administration at the Chinese University of Hong Kong – who shared the podium with Galpin – this is not hot money or portfolio investment in the stock market, this is money that is invested in Hong Kong and stays here.

Asked where and in what the money was invested in, he responded: “I am sorry. We don’t have these figures.”

Let’s put this in perspective. The Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge is estimated to cost US$10.7 billion so we have the equivalent of at least six of those.

We could also afford at least eight high-speed railways of the kind between Hong Kong to Guangzhou.

The combined IFC1 and IFC2 complex cost HK$20 billion, so according to InvestHK foreign investors put in enough funds last year to build 26 of these vast complexes. Yet they don’t know where the investment went.

If somebody stumbles across a hitherto undisclosed US$68.9 billion of infrastructure could they let InvestHK know?

Of course, these funds are not being invested here. About 10 years ago, Raymond Baker, from Washington’s Centre for International Policy told the Far Eastern Economic Review: “I would speculate, without being certain, that most of what is coming into Hong Kong represents Chinese illegal flight capital that has gone abroad and reestablished itself as a foreign entity. A big proportion then goes back to China.”

According to the International Monetary Fund, FDI is defined as when an investor based overseas acquires an asset in one country with intent to manage that asset.

Another statistic Galpin downplayed was that Hong Kong was ranked fourth for outward FDI, which interestingly came to US$76 billion and was rather more than flowed in. This might explain why we haven’t seen 20 IFCs sprouting up in Hong Kong. So come off it, InvestHK. Stop this nonsense. We are supposed to be Asia’s world city where we do things properly and not play these silly games.

Environmental assessment system is failing to protect vulnerable sites

South China Morning Post – 28 July 2011

I refer to your editorial on Hong Kong’s environmental impact assessments (“Impact assessment in need of review”, July 22).

It is timely given that I am involved in opposing plans for building an artificial island together with a mega waste incinerator beside southwest Shek Kwu Chau, in the otherwise unspoiled waters along southern Lantau.

I considered the EIA report on possible sites for waste incinerators to be strongly biased towards making the Shek Kwu Chau site appear a viable choice, and deficient concerning potential pollution, as well as impacts on scenery, biodiversity, and Hong Kong people’s quality of life.

So when I attended a public session of an Advisory Council on the Environment subcommittee meeting on the report, I looked forward to hearing some strong criticisms, with ACE members pointing out the report’s many shortcomings. Instead, there was little of substance and to my mind the subcommittee functioned largely as a rubber stamp for the report.

What also struck me was that though the meeting included government officials and consultants, together with ACE members, it appeared not one person present was an expert in waste incineration. Indeed, after a little research I felt better informed than most people who spoke. In this case, then, the EIA process was particularly deficient. Not only was the government both proposing and judging a project that would cause environmental damage, but the EIA was discussed by a government-appointed body, with ACE chair Paul Lam Kwan-sing admitting that members lack certain expertise (“Green law has limited impact”, July 19).

The government subsequently withdrew the EIA report, after a judicial review found serious issues with the EIA for the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge. This suggests that though ACE passed the report, the government lacks confidence in it.

Clearly, a better system is needed, not just a bureaucratic mechanism. I believe there is a case for leadership coupled with true dialogue with Hong Kong people; both are sorely lacking at present.

The choice of Shek Kwu Chau for the artificial island where the incinerator is planned has arisen not through vision, but through the government fumbling for a strategy, with a series of consultations, reports and committee meetings that have failed to tackle the root causes of Hong Kong’s waste problem.

Martin Williams, director, Hong Kong Outdoors

People at darker, higher latitudes evolved bigger eyes and brains

Inuit mother and child in Greenland

On average, the eyeballs of people whose ancestors lived within the Arctic circle are 20% bigger than those whose ancestors lived near the equator. Photograph: Alamy

People who live at higher latitudes have larger eyes and more processing power in their brains to deal with visual information compared with those living nearer the equator, a study suggests.

“As you move away from the equator, there’s less and less light available, so humans have had to evolve bigger and bigger eyes,” said Eiluned Pearce from the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology at Oxford University, a lead author on the study.

“Their brains also need to be bigger to deal with the extra visual input. Having bigger brains doesn’t mean that higher-latitude humans are smarter, it just means they need bigger brains to be able to see well where they live.”

This suggests that someone from Greenland and someone from Kenya will have the same ability to discern detail, but the person from the higher latitude needs more brainpower and bigger eyes to deal with the lower light levels.

Professor Robin Dunbar, director of the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology at Oxford University and a co-author of the study, said that people whose ancestors have lived within the Arctic circle, have eyeballs 20% bigger than people whose ancestors lived near the equator. They have an associated increase in the size of the brain’s visual cortex, which previous studies have shown correlates with the size of the eyeball.

Brain volume is known to increase with latitude: people living at high latitudes north and south of the equator have bigger brains than people living near the equator and . Dunbar said that scientists have wondered whether these inherited differences in total brain volume were driven by the pressure to adapt to low light levels at high latitudes.

The researchers measured the brain volumes and eye sockets of 55 skulls kept at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History dating from the 19th century. The skulls represented 12 different populations from around the world, including indigenous people from England, Australia, China, Kenya, Micronesia and Scandinavia.

The results, published on Wednesday in the journal Biology Letters, showed that the biggest brains, averaging 1,484 millilitres, were from Scandinavia, while the smallest brains, around 1,200 millilitres, came from Micronesia. Average eye socket size was 27 millilitres in Scandinavia and 22 millilitres in Micronesia.

Dunbar said the increase in brain volume must have evolved relatively recently in human history. “It’s only within the last 10,000 years or so that modern humans have occupied all latitudes right up to the Arctic circle. This is, I guess, an adaptation that’s happened within the last 10,000 years.”

The researchers controlled for possible confounding variables influencing their data, such as the fact that people who live at higher latitudes are physically bigger and the possibility that the size of a person’s eye socket in colder climates might be bigger to allow for a thicker layer of insulating fat.

The results for human eyes mirror those found in birds and non-human primates. Bird species that sing earlier in the dawn chorus at high latitudes have bigger eyes than those that sing later, and nocturnal primates have bigger eyeballs than species that are awake during the day.