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TRADE WARS
Hong Kong unveils new bid to cool property market
by Staff Writers
Hong Kong (AFP) Feb 22, 2013


Chinese visitors to Taiwan up 45 percent in 2012
Taipei (AFP) Feb 22, 2013 - Taiwan said a record 2.6 million Chinese nationals visited the island last year, up a massive 45 percent from 2011, highlighting the fast improving ties between Taipei and Beijing.

Last year, two million Chinese arrived in Taiwan for sightseeing while another 570,000 came for business and other purposes, compared with a total of 1.8 million in 2011, the tourism bureau said.

The figures excluded visitors from the Chinese territories of Hong Kong and Macau, which came in at one million in 2012, up 24 percent from the previous year, the bureau said.

Taiwan has seen a dramatic influx of visitors from mainland China since the island's Beijing-friendly government lifted a ban on Chinese group tourists in 2008 and further allowed in solo tourists in mid-2011.

China has replaced Japan to become the biggest source of visitors to Taiwan and Chinese tourists are among the biggest shoppers on the island, spending more than Tw$85.7 billion last year, the government data showed.

And the number of Chinese tourists is expected to grow with Taiwan set to increase their quota by 40 percent to allow 7,000 arrivals a day starting in May, in a fresh bid to boost travel from the mainland.

Relations have improved in recent years but Beijing still considers Taiwan part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary, even though the sides have been governed separately since the end of a civil war in 1949.

The flood of Chinese nationals holidaying in Taiwan helped boost the total number of international arrivals by 20 percent to a new high of 7.31 million in 2012, generating an estimated Tw$340 billion ($11.7 billion) in tourism revenue, the bureau said.

Hong Kong unveiled fresh measures Friday to cool its red-hot property market, as the finance minister warned that an asset bubble is forming in the southern Chinese city.

Property prices in the Asian financial hub, famous for its sky-high rent, have surged over the past few years due to record low interest rates and a flood of wealthy people from mainland China snapping up homes.

The government last year implemented several measures to curb the rise, including an unprecedented bid to restrict the number of non-local homebuyers with a 15 percent property tax on foreign investors, but prices have continued to climb.

"The risk of an asset bubble is increasing," finance minister John Tsang told a news conference, after saying that residential prices had jumped 120 percent since 2008, while prices for commercial properties had also soared.

He announced higher stamp duties, with the top rate doubled from 4.25 per cent to 8.5 percent.

"Maintaining a healthy, stable property market will be our ongoing endeavour. We shall continue to monitor the market closely and I will not hesitate to introduce further measures when necessary," Tsang said.

The new measures come after investors this week flocked to buy 360 hotel suites sold by the leading property developer Cheung Kong Holdings, a firm controlled by Asia's richest man Li Ka-shing.

Recent measures to rein in soaring property prices have drawn some investors away from traditional markets, sparking a craze in investing in alternative real estate markets, such as hotel rooms, car parks and offices.

Hong Kong's Beijing-backed leader Leung Chun-ying said last month that tackling the housing crisis was a top priority for his government, as he promised to increase land supply to boost the number of new homes.

Hong Kong's property prices have risen to become some of the world's highest in recent years, pushing home ownership beyond the reach of many of its seven million inhabitants and fuelling discontent towards the Beijing-backed city government.

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