The regional financial crisis caused a sharp fall in Asian investment and tourism in Beijing, but overall foreign investment has increased, and the city's economy has shown signs of a long-awaited recovery. Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan and Southeast Asia account for 60-70 per cent of foreign investment in Beijing, but their investments fell in the first quarter, the city statistics bureau said yesterday. Foreign investment was US$940 million, an increase of 15 per cent over the 1997 first quarter. The number of Asian tourists fell more than 50 per cent in the period, with the result that in March, the total number of foreign visitors to Beijing fell for the first time, by 6.1 per cent, the bureau said. Despite this bad news, the city's economy showed signs of recovery. Gross domestic product in the quarter was 31.32 billion yuan (about HK$29.12 billion), a year-on-year increase of 9.17 per cent and compared to an 8 per cent rise in the first quarter of 1997. The fastest growth was 10.9 per cent in the service sector, which accounts for 54 per cent of the city's GDP. The city's GDP target for all 1998 is 9 per cent. With retail inflation falling 0.3 per cent in the period, retail spending in the quarter was 27.46 billion yuan, rising by a price-adjusted 14.3 per cent - a record level. Sales of large-size televisions rose 99.7 per cent and air conditioners 320 per cent. Investment in real estate rose 22.4 per cent, with 540 million yuan worth of commercial property sales, up 34.2 per cent, including 200 million yuan in sales to individuals, up 124.2 per cent. This was, in part, due to government measures to encourage people to buy apartments. A growth rate of 9 per cent is vital to dealing with the city's largest social problem - unemployment. The city government has promised to give at least one job opportunity to each of its 190,000 laid-off workers and is offering firms a subsidy of 1,000 yuan to 6,000 yuan for each one they hire, the Guangming Daily reported yesterday. On Saturday, as part of the city's effort to give work to the unemployed, 19 job centres advertised 34,000 posts in 1,094 companies, of which 20 per cent would be created by dismissing the migrant labourers who at present hold them, it said. More than 4,000 went to the job centres, but many came away disappointed, complaining about the 'two lows and one high'. The two lows are wages of about 300 yuan a month, against the 200 they receive as a minimum living allowance, and a demand that applicants be 25 years old or below, when most of the laid-off are over 35. The high is the demand for tertiary education, but thousands of Beijing people now in their 40s who were in their teens in the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) were sent to work in the countryside after only six to eight years of schooling.