What you are looking at here folks is good old office politics

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 July, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 July, 2010, 12:00am

According to the World Investment Report 2009, released by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad), Hong Kong is the world's seventh largest and Asia's second largest FDI [foreign direct investment] recipient. Despite the global financial crisis, Hong Kong attracted foreign investment worth US$63 billion in 2008.

SCMP, July 20

Haul out the trumpets, tune up the violins and let's have a drum flourish. This sounds like InvestHK singing the praises of InvestHK again. It is what these people do best, and they give themselves a lot of practice.

I shall be nasty, however, and boo the performance. Why not? For every thousand publicity agents who spend their waking hours telling us that it (whatever it may be) is beautiful, wonderful, superb, terrific, splendid, magnificent, etc, there is perhaps one commentator who has the privilege of saying: 'No, it ain't.' I shall not misuse my privilege.

InvestHK is in the coals-to-Newcastle business. Ostensibly this government agency helps us by bringing foreign investment here. But as Hong Kong is already gorged on a surfeit of investment capital and is, in fact, one of the world's big net providers of investment capital, this is a service we do not need.

When the people at InvestHK can be pushed to concede this - and they spend a great deal of time sticking their heads in the sand about it - they argue instead that they bring new industries to Hong Kong. This is sometimes true, although these are often just new sales outlets dressed up as new industries, but, again, we don't really need it. Specialisation does better for a city economy than over-diversification. We can't be all things to all people. Push InvestHK a bit harder and you get the real motivation - Singapore does it and therefore we must do it too, especially because people in Singapore bad-mouth us all the time and we can't let them get away with that, can we? Yes, we can, and laugh while we're at it.

Singapore is a town of career bureaucrats. Almost all their industrial investment is foreign while Hong Kong has one of the world's most entrepreneurial economies. The Singa-la-las have a crying need to beg foreigners to come in. We don't.

And that brings us to today's nub of things. As the chart shows, the investment inflow to Hong Kong is indeed huge, much greater relative to the size of our economy than in other Asian countries.

The outflow, however, is even bigger (note that in Singapore it is less than half the inflow). All that we really have here is people, mostly from the mainland, briefly parking their money in Hong Kong on the way to mainland destinations. This way they can claim it is foreign investment and jump the queue for converting it back from funny money to real money when they choose. We accommodate this as we accommodate all silly games to pull the wool over the eyes of the authorities in Beijing. It was how this town was founded and still thrives.

It also, however, gives InvestHK an opportunity to try to pull the wool over our eyes. They know these figures do not represent real foreign investment, but there is a knifeman in charge of the Trade Development Council again and he would just love to cut InvestHK out of the promotion business.

What you're looking at here, folks, is politics, good old stab-'em-in-the-back, tell-the-boss-any-story-that-fits office politics.

Here is an easy recipe to stir up a hornet's nest. Name 18 companies given special privileges for innovation in technology and then say you doubt their innovations.

I gave a pass grade to two the other day, said five were possible and the other 11 should not have been allowed into Science Park. I shall make that three, five and 10 now.

YiYi Hong Kong, which I said was a telecommunications service provider that should have been based in Lan Kwai Fong, has convinced me that it actually does some real software development at Science Park. The service tells mobile phone users where they can spend money on restaurants, concerts and other things near to them at any time.

Now about that law office at Science Park ... do tell me.