Hong Kong as a knowledge-based economy?

Alan Lung says people everywhere - except in Hong Kong - recognise our ability and unique position to develop a thriving knowledge-based economy

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 November, 2012, 11:37am

The story ought to start with Hong Kong's history as a trading port, our rise to become one of the four Asian Dragons and later the world's premier financial centre. But it is also about our attempt to seek a new role in the context of a rising China, our failure to find a strategy for the much needed economic diversification and creation of high-end jobs expected by the younger generation.

This is the story of Hong Kong and China's quest for economic competitiveness. The latest "Global Competitiveness Report" of the World Economic Forum rated Hong Kong the ninth most competitive territory in the world; China ranks 29th. Along with Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan, Hong Kong is among the five countries or territories in Asia at stage three of economic development where the key economic driver is no longer "basic requirements" or "efficiency".

As an unofficial member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Hong Kong is innovation-driven. Yet we rank 22nd in terms of "innovation and sophistication" among 144 places surveyed, a rating that is near the bottom third of the 35 developed economies listed.

So does Hong Kong have the potential to become the Silicon Valley of China? The fact is, Silicon Valley is not just about research and development; it has a solid industrial base, a liberal culture, tolerance of rebels such as Steve Jobs and therefore the freedom to be creative. Most important, Silicon Valley also has the presence of entrepreneurs who are willing to spend their own time and money to help the next generation. Hong Kong is also a very liberal city that is tolerant of rebels, many of whom challenge dominant market players. But we still do not have all the success factors of Silicon Valley.

The proposed "Beijing-Guangdong-Hong Kong Knowledge Corridor" hopes to maximise our external economy of scale by linking it to Beijing's strength in research and development and Guangdong's hi-tech production capacity.

At a practical level, Beijing and Hong Kong will jointly apply for local membership of Enterprise Europe Network, the world's largest technology transfer organisation, owned by the European Union.

At a macroeconomic level, the proposal links regional economic and knowledge clusters that tend to ignore national borders. At a microeconomic level, it assists local businesses across all sectors, especially small and medium-sized enterprises and tech-intensive start-ups, while boosting our service industries. It also squares with the desire of European firms to do business with China via Hong Kong.

But this project can only succeed with support from industries and practical policy measures to make things happen. People outside Hong Kong recognise our potential and market niche in the context of China's rise and a global economy driven by innovation and technology. Yet people in Hong Kong have a problem visualising this form of development. The bottom line is that, unless we and our government see the potential for a knowledge-based economy, and implement measures to make it happen, the idea of a "knowledge corridor" will remain an academic discussion.

Alan Ka-lun Lung is a director of Asia Pacific Intellectual Capital Centre. This is an edited version of a speech delivered at a Beijing-Hong Kong Technology Investment Seminar