Monday, September 22, 2008

S China club fire kills at least 43, injures 88

Police have detained 13 people in connection with Saturday's nightclub fire that left 43 people dead and 88 injured in south China's Shenzhen city.

Five of the 43 had been confirmed to be from Hongkong, according to the spokesman of the local authorities.

Police said the legal representative of the unlicensed club, Wang Jing, turned herself in on Sunday afternoon after the general manager, vice general manager, safety officer, technician and performers, were detained.

Wang, 41, a native of central Hunan Province, fled after the accident, police said.

Five officials would be punished, including Huang Hai, vice director of Longgang District, and Jiang Wei, head of the fire department of Longgang police bureau, according to the local department. They are also proposed to be deposed by the local government.

The fire broke out at about 10:49 p.m. at the "King of the Dancers" club in Longgang District, when more than 300 people were watching a performance in a hall, district head Zhang Bei said on Sunday.

As of 11 a.m. on Sunday, 59 of the injured, four in critical condition, were being treated in hospital and six others were under medical observation.

An initial investigation by the police showed that fireworks set off during the performance ignited the flammable material in the ceiling. The fire then spread quickly across 150 square meters.

The nightclub had a hall and 10 chambers with a capacity of 380 people. The hall, on the third floor of a marketplace, was accessible from the staircase by only a narrow passageway, about 10 meters long. Several windows were sealed.

"I saw people rushing out at about 11 p.m. and all lights were off," said club employee Yang Zhi. "Many people were hurt in the stampede."

Yang soaked his clothes and ran out, but suffered burns on his neck.

The fire was extinguished that night.

Shenzhen Communist Party of China chief Liu Yupu asked medical staff to do everything possible to save lives and ordered district-wide safety inspections.

An investigation team of officials from the country's work safety watchdog, the Ministry of Public Security, and the provincial and local governments, has been set up.

Another devastating nightclub fire, which occurred on Dec. 25, 2000, in Luoyang City of the central Henan Province, claimed 309 lives.

The blaze started on the second basement floor of a four-story building. The fourth floor housed an unlicensed nightclub.

The dense fumes flooded into the nightclub where hundreds of people were having a Christmas party.

Most of the people died of suffocation due to inadequate fire-fighting facilities and exits. The club had been warned of unqualified fire-fighting system three years before.

This fire is considered to be the second worst in China since 1990. The death toll was second to the 325 killed in a theater fire on Dec. 8, 1994, in Karamay, northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

Among the dead were 288 schoolchildren, 37 teachers and staff members, and 180 were injured.

The fire started in the Friendship Theater as 796 were watching a performance by students when a spotlight set fire to the curtain. The blaze caused a short-circuit that put out all the lights.

The fiber decoration materials quickly ignited and gave off suffocating toxic fumes.

Seven of the theater's eight emergency exits were locked at the time, and the persons with the keys had left their posts.

The local government said the officials who organized the activity failed to check the safety facilities beforehand or conduct an effective evacuation after the fire broke out.

Source: Xinhua

Space mission makes final preparations before liftoff

Three Shenzhou VII astronauts and their backups arrived in Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center yesterday, marking final preparation for China's third manned space mission.

The main crew members of Zhai Zhigang, Liu Boming and Jing Haipeng are scheduled to meet the press in a brief session that will go live on national television on Wednesday afternoon, after the JSLC authorities' official announcement of the mission's launch date and time.

A structure consisting of a spacecraft, Long March II-F rocket and escape tower were transferred to its launch pad at 3:15 pm on Saturday.

The 58.3-m-high body of the Shenzhou VII and its carrier rocket, slated for takeoff later this month, was transported to its launch pad on a 1.5-km-long heavy rail line, Xinhua News Agency said.

The transfer lasted more than one hour. More than 20 meteorological workers reportedly monitored the process, as the transfer had to be conducted with a wind speed of under 10 m per second.

The manned spacecraft Shenzhou-7 will be launched at an appropriate time between Sept 25 and 30, engineers said.

China successfully put two manned spacecraft into orbit in 2003 and 2005, respectively, becoming the third country to send an astronaut into space after the United States and the former Soviet Union.

Source: China Daily

Measures designed to assist SMEs

The central treasury is implementing six measures this year to help small- and medium- sized enterprises meet the challenges they face, according to the Ministry of Finance.

The ministry will earmark 3.51 billion yuan worth of special funds to help the growth of SMEs, it announced earlier this month. The measures include:

Guiding SMEs to adjust their growth model. SMEs have been encouraged to adjust their corporate structure, save energy, cut emissions and further explore the domestic and overseas markets. The public service system for SMEs has also received a boost.

The fund valued at 500 million yuan dedicated to the development of SMEs this year has been allocated, up 25 percent from last year. About 1.2 billion yuan, or 20 percent more than last year, has been set aside for exploring the international market. The subsidy for improving the public service system for SMEs, summed at 110 million yuan, has been prepared.

Supporting SMEs in starting business and in technological innovation. A technological innovation fund, valued at 1.4 billion yuan, has been earmarked, representing 27 percent growth from last year. An additional 300 million yuan has been directed to commercializing agricultural technological results.

Building the credit guarantee system and improving the financing environment for SMEs. The central treasury has granted greater support to credit guarantee institutions and guided them to actively serve SMEs.

Implementing tax incentives. Starting this year, the corporate income tax became standard at 25 percent for both domestic and foreign enterprises. For some small or marginally profitable enterprises that meet certain criteria the rate is reduced to 20 percent. For some hi-tech companies, the rate is 15 percent.

To help textile and garment enterprises, many of which are SMEs, cope with their difficulties, the export duty rebate rate on textile and garment products was increased from 11 percent to 13 percent in August, which result in a half-year total rebate of 10 billion yuan.

The Ministry of Finance will formulate regulations for government procurement targeting SMEs. Governments at various levels will be encouraged to procure from SMEs.

Sorting out administrative charges and eliminating irrational charges to lessen the burden on SMEs. A decision was adopted on September 1 to stop collecting industry and commerce administration fees and market administration charges, which mostly benefits SMEs.

The country has about 40 million SMEs, including those run by individuals. They have become the economy's most dynamic factor, accounting for about three-fourths of the urban employment.

Yet many labor-intensive SMEs have encountered difficulties this year as a result of slower export growth amid global economic doldrums, rising labor costs, an appreciating Chinese currency and increasingly expensive raw materials.

Experts said the measures are meant to improve the climate for the development of SMEs and to guide them on the path of industrial improvement and technological innovation to realize sustainable development.

Zhang Yansheng, director of International Economic Research Institute of National Development and Reform Commission, said China is at the stage of restructuring its comparative advantages. Against the background of an appreciating yuan, higher costs of labor and production materials have become inevitable.

The only way out for SMEs, he said, is to adjust and make products with higher technology and value.

Source: China Daily

Special funds open for applications

Special funds allocated for this year for the development of small- and medium- sized enterprises are open for applications to promote restructuring, technological innovation, market exploration and brand building.

The announcement was made by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and the Ministry of Finance earlier this month.

The funds are also for promoting the development of credit guarantee institutions and for helping SMEs in areas hit by the massive earthquake in May, as well as SMEs in some difficult industries such as textiles.

The capital is to be used mainly in fixed-asset investment, subsidies for credit guarantee services for SMEs and subsidies for those attending the China International Small and Medium Enterprises Fair.

In the fixed-asset investment category, SMEs can apply the funds for:

Structural adjustment. Crucial is the adoption of new products, new technology and craft, and the promotion of industrial upgrades, industrial transfer and technological innovation in saving energy and cutting emissions.

Services for industrial clusters. The keys are technology innovation in providing technology, testing services and centralized pollution treatment to SMEs.

Construction projects in regions and industries experiencing difficulties. The keys are in comprehensive exploitation of resources and reconstruction projects in the regions worst hit by the May earthquake. The keys also include technology innovation of textile SMEs with propriety brands and substantial export potential.

Projects for creating jobs, with the focus on labor-intensive and agricultural produce processing and innovation in enterprises serving the manufacturing sector.

The sum of free subsidies should not exceed 6 percent of the fixed-asset investment or the entire capital invested by the enterprise itself.

As for credit guarantee services for SMEs, subsidies will go to the institutions actively providing such services and to the types of services with relatively low rates charged.

The subsidy for each project in the category should not exceed the sum of 1 percent of a single credit guarantee project valued under 3 million yuan and 0.5 percent of a single credit guarantee project valued under 8 million yuan in 2007.

In the above services, if the charging rate is 30 percent lower than banks' basic lending rate, the credit guarantee institution will receive additional subsidy no higher than 0.5 percent of the contract value. Any subsidy for each enterprise should not exceed 3 million yuan.

Finally, those attending the China International Small and Medium Enterprises Fair, excluding those from Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, will receive subsidies for the cost of booths.

Each SME attending the fair will receive 3,000 yuan for renting each standard booth. Those from the 51 counties worst hit by earthquake, will receive an additional 3,800 yuan for renting each standard booth.

SMEs applying for the fund should submit documents in both electronic and paper forms.

Source: China Daily

Bank mulled to support smaller companies

China is considering setting up a small- and medium- sized enterprise bank to help the country's myriad smaller companies overcome financing difficulties.

Sources with China National Development and Reform Commission revealed that the NDRC is currently joining with other government departments and organizations to discuss and study the possibility of establishing a SME bank.

The government departments and organizations include the Ministry of Finance, People's Bank of China, and China Banking Regulatory Commission.

But the NDRC has yet to make a timetable for the establishment of the country's first SME bank.

Discussions to establish a SME bank came after more than 67,000 smaller enterprises went bankrupt because of global economic conditions in the first half of this year.

More than 10,000 of those that went bankrupt were labor-intensive producers in the country's textile industry.

It is projected that more than two-thirds of the country's textile companies will have to restructure to meet new demands.

Banks across the country have granted loans valued at more than 2.2 trillion yuan to Chinese companies this year, but only about 300 billion yuan, or 15 percent of the total, went to SMEs.

In response, the China Banking Regulatory Commission issued a notice urging banks and other financial organizations in the country to change their policies and grant more loans to SMEs, according to an official from China Banking Regulatory Commission

The official hopes banks and financial groups will establish a partnership strategy with SMEs to help them overcome their difficulties in financing and fundraising.

Suggested moves include opening multiple channels to raise funds, further lowering thresholds for SMEs to apply for loans and providing better financing services.

Many banks have promised to further simplify procedures for SMEs applying for bank loans in the coming years.

The Chinese government expects that the country's SMEs will play an increasingly important role in China's economic growth, so preferential policies will be formulated for taxes, land use rights, loans, financing, employment, foreign trade and the expansion of Sino-foreign co-operation.

"That means SMEs on the Chinese mainland will be able to enjoy many more preferential policies for development in the near future," an NRDC official said.

Source: China Daily

Outlook brisk despite challenging times

Some of the small and medium-sized enterprises in China facing operational crises have walked out of the shadow with a basket of positive policies from the central and local governments.

Industrial insiders believe that the prospect of SMEs remains brisk despite the negative market elements due to strong government support and timely strategic restructuring.

According to the latest statistics released by the National Development and Reform Commission, SMES polled around the country achieved 6.58 trillion yuan industrial output in the first five months of this year. Their profits increased by 30.8 percent from a year ago to reach 625.8 billion yuan.

The textile sector, where a majority of the companies are SMEs, recorded a year-on-year growth of 17.4 percent in sales and 8.4 percent surge in profits during the period from January to May.

A previous survey showed that at least 67,000 SMEs in China suffered losses or even closed in the first half of this year and two-thirds of the textile SMEs needed restructuring. At the same time, more than 20 million workers were laid off.

However, the survey also showed that nearly 20,000 SMEs were founded in China by June 30 this year.

Shui Pi, a senior commentator, said the nation has launched a package of policies, including finance, tax and credit, to help SMEs out of the operational difficulties.

"The central government has fully addressed the major problems of SMEs, such as raising the export tax rebate for labor-intensive industries including textile and increasing the credit limits to the SMEs," he said.

Some local governments, especially in the coastal provinces home to numerous SMEs, have launched incentive policies to stimulate the development of SMEs.

In East China's Zhejiang province, the government allocated 65 million yuan to serve as a risk compensation fund so that SMEs could get extra loans of 26 billion yuan from the financial institutes.

The government of South China's Guangdong province promised to allocate 40 billion yuan in the next five years to support SMEs and remove the barriers for SMEs to get loans easily.

Liu Pin'an, a senior researcher with Guangdong Academy of Social Sciences, said polices are working on some of industries, including hardware, garments, food, textiles and electronics, which are back to the normal track.

"Our surveys show that the improving support from the government has received wide recognition from SMEs," Liu said.

China's SMEs, which are still weak in global competition without self-owned intellectual property rights and brands, have been struggling to survive in the adverse markets including the shrinking demands from the major importers, price increases for raw materials, rising labor costs and appreciation of the yuan.

Source: China Daily

Banks expected to strengthen private business services

China Banking Regulatory Commission has undertaken frontline investigation to solve the lingering problem of funding for small and medium-sized enterprises . The research results will be handed in to the State Council.

"Under tightened monetary policies, we should pay more attention to satisfy the funding demands for SMEs that comply with the industrial development arrangement," said Yang Jiacai, an official with CBRC, when conducting the market surveys in Shenzhen.

"We will encourage the national banks and other banking institutes to expand their network and services and improve their risk management to grow up with the SMEs," he noted.

Liu Yuan, director of CBRC Shenzhen bureau, said "alleviating SME's loan difficulties should be regarded as a social responsibility of the banks".

By the end of June, outstanding loans to SMEs in Shenzhen amounted to 244.9 billion yuan, up 13.5 percent from the beginning of 2008.

Wang Zhaoxing, vice-chairman of the CBRC, encouraged the five State-owned commercial banks to develop business relationships with SMEs.

"While limiting the growth in the amount of credit, commercial banks have to make sure that the increase in loans given to SMEs isn't slower than the average growth of all loans," Wang told reporters in mid-March.

He asked the big five banks to adjust their credit structure and shift their focus from large corporations to SMEs.

The industry watchdog will also make adjustments to ensure the department overseeing the five State-owned lenders will also coordinate the financial services to the SMEs, he added.

Many banks, including foreign lenders, started to focus on SME services this year.

Shenzhen Ping An Bank, the banking arm of Chinese financial conglomerate Ping An Group, which mainly targets retailing customers and the SME market, introduced a package of products to facilitate financing SMEs shortly after its official launch last year.

Under Ping An's new plan, SMEs can get a loan credit of under 500,000 yuan without a mortgage or guarantee. It also promises to approve loans within 15 days.

"We have given great emphasis to increasing the percentage of loans to SMEs, to provide all-around financial services," Ye Wangchun, vice-president of Ping An, said in an interview late last year.

Shenzhen Development Bank , a mid-sized listed lender based in Shenzhen, said it would continue to strategically focus on retail lending, trade finance and SME markets.

Compared with large corporations, SMEs are more willing to develop a long-term relationship with the bank, and they are more grateful of its services since they have limited fundraising channels, SDB Chairman Frank Newman said in a press conference on the lender's annual results.

Standard Chartered Bank China announced plans this year to place an emphasis on business development for SMEs financial services and develop SMEs in the second-tier mainland cities.

HSBC China also kicked off its special services recently to help SMEs explore overseas markets by improving their financial efficiency and through tailor-made cross-border trade and financing resolutions.

Source: China Daily