After the roar, time to oil the squeaks

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 September, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 September, 1994, 12:00am

FIRST, let's pat each other on the back. All those long hours, hard work, international travelling and risk-taking has paid off, and Hong Kong is ranked as the fourth most competitive nation in the world.

As the World Economic Forum says, it is a remarkable achievement, given the uncertainties which the territory faces.

Now, Hong Kong has shown just how loud a mouse can roar (although Singapore can produce greater volume still).

But after self congratulation should come the more sober assessment. The respondents to the Forum's survey highlight the shadows that 1997 still throws over the territory.

These are not over its competitiveness but reflect the concern that the departure of Hong Kong's finest to foreign shores is not necessarily over.

The political ping-pong being played between Britain and Beijing is apparently continuing to unsettle workers in the territory, however much the story that '1997 has already happened, so there is nothing to worry about' continues to be the standard reply to questions on the loyalty of the citizens.

In this category, Hong Kong ranks a low and, when it is realised that the countries which rank lower still include former communist states, politically unstable South Africa and the recession-hit European countries such as Greece and Ireland, the results are telling.

Of even more concern is Hong Kong's deplorable ranking in research and development. Few would ever have described Hong Kong as a hotbed of high technology (although it scores top for innovation), but in every measurement of commitment to R & D it ranks in the bottom quartile - and in some cases scores absolutely nothing at all.

This underscores arguments that the territory is a player with too few clubs in its bag. Great trader, great at putting up its own buildings on scarce property and, thanks to the international presence of major houses, a key financial centre.

What is lacking is the sort of long-term attitude which is reflected by the investment in research and development, and the further we lag, the harder it will be to catch up.

Even more evidence of the one dimensional character of the territory is the criticism levelled by the report that there has been an inadequate investment in education - which could explain the lack of depth in development elsewhere.