Key role in Pearl River Delta will ensure Hong Kong’s future, researcher says

Talk of city's diminishing status against Asian rivals is overdone, says researcher, who sees bright future for 'brain' of Pearl River region

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 May, 2014, 11:12am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 May, 2014, 11:56pm

That Hong Kong is losing ground against regional rivals Shanghai, Singapore and even Seoul is a given among some business leaders and politicians, who are quick to blame the city's declining competitiveness and its whingeing youth.

They can stop worrying for now, as Hong Kong is a leader in Asia and will remain so for many years to come, Greg Clark, the author of a study of global metropolises, said.

[Hong Kong can lead] an innovation economy that has a big geography to it

The city has all the key ingredients for success, including an entrepreneurial workforce and a strong education system, and just needs to be confident and stay relevant in a rapidly developing Asian economy, said Clark, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a US think tank. "Overall, Hong Kong is not dying," he said.

Already the financial capital for China, Hong Kong should embrace its location at the bottom tip of the Pearl River Delta, "one of the most regionally competitive places in the world" and home to about 100 million people, Clark said.

Speaking on the sidelines of the JP Morgan-Asia Society "One Step Ahead" series of seminars on global competitiveness, Clark predicted 10 to 15 successful world cities will develop in Asia over the coming decades, each with its own slice of an ever-growing pie.

Regional integration is just the beginning, and "so long as Hong Kong remains the brain of the PRD, Hong Kong will survive", he said. "Hong Kong should see itself as leading an innovation economy that has a big geography to it," Clark said.

"It's not just about making one science park work. It's about having an innovation system for the PRD where Hong Kong plays a leading role in providing the venture capital, the intellectual property, some of the research and development."

Hong Kong's position vis-à-vis competing metropolises is important, as it influences public perception.

The image of a flailing city struggling to compete is sometimes cited to deter possible image-harming public protests like Occupy Central and as an excuse to limit welfare handouts despite healthy government budget surpluses.

Clark's research looks at 10 criteria, including a city's ability to attract investment, connectivity and global identity. He identifies New York, London, Paris and Tokyo along with Hong Kong and Singapore as leading contemporary metropolises.

But others caution against complacency.

"Initial competitive advantage is not unassailable," said Kim Sun-bae, an economics professor at the National University of Singapore Business School.

Speaking at the same conference, Kim described how America's financial centre shifted from Philadelphia to Boston to New York over a 300-year period as the country's economy evolved from textiles to railroads.

Comparing Hong Kong to a light-reflecting moon, rather than the sun, which creates light, another speaker said the city needed to up its game.

Hong Kong needs a "workforce that can generate innovative solutions to problems", said Michael Enright, a business and economics professor at the University of Hong Kong.

Clark's vision includes the creation of satellite towns run to Hong Kong standards around the delta as one solution to ease local overcrowding and high property prices. It's an image that also addresses lingering concerns of Hongkongers about a post-2047 future after the city reverts to Beijing's control.

Investment life cycles are already starting to extend beyond that date, Clark said. "It is very important to have a confident and thoughtful approach to the future," he said. "Some kind of strategic vision would be useful as part of that process."