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  • Apr 18, 2014
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CommentInsight & Opinion
LEADER

Hong Kong has strength to innovate, but other factors hold it back

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 September, 2013, 1:22am

Hong Kong has what it takes to be a place of innovation. We have a highly educated population and some of the world's best universities, top-notch infrastructure, abundant wealth, government incubation programmes and good-quality potential mentors, partners and employees. Yet there is no shortage of concern that we are falling behind other cities by not sufficiently capitalising on our strengths. The latest comes from Beijing's top representative, who says a lack of creativity is holding back development.

Zhang Xiaoming, the director of the liaison office, believes the government, organisations and society should work together to create a better environment for innovative thinking. Young people should make greater effort to not just use technology, but to tap its potential. His advice is amplified by the Geneva-based World Economic Forum's latest global competitiveness index, which showed Hong Kong in 19th place when ranked on higher education and innovation, trailing regional rivals Singapore, in second, and Taiwan, in 11th. The quality of research institutions and limited number of scientists and engineers were cited as areas in need of improvement.

But circumstances are not as dire as they appear. Ranking 19th in a global index on innovation is already a considerable achievement. The international standing of our doctors, researchers and scientists in the fields of transplant surgery and virology prove our capabilities. Projects funded by the government's Innovation and Technology Commission show originality and flair, as do those promoted by a growing number of organisations supporting inventors and innovators.

For all the ideas, though, Hong Kong has not yet spawned a world-beating gadget or device, like the mainland company Tencent's instant messaging application, WhatsApp, Google's driverless car or Apple's iPhone. That may in part be due to the high rents and lack of a garage culture; the backyard shed proved crucial to Silicon Valley's founders, who were long on ideas but short on funds. The Science and Technology Park in Sha Tin goes a way towards nurturing start-up companies, although it does not resolve a host of shortfalls in society. Among them are students steered by parents towards finance and business rather than science and technology, companies reluctant to fund research and development, and investors demanding low risk and quick returns. Until there is greater understanding and collaboration, we will lag competitors.

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pslhk
blue is right about “small-mindedness”
It’s “second generation mediocre migrants’ colonial mentality”
a major cause of HK’s innovation deficit.
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Consider the counter-examples
David the ex BC governor and Eunice the socialite’s bro
2G of successful but unrelated Lam families
who showed down-to-earth entrepreneur spirit
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Small-minded mediocre migrants bred unrealistic and subservient children
Infatuated with defeatist colonial mentality
they’ve become scholarism and copycat occupiers
who know not how to apply youthful dynamism for constructive innovation
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Taiwan won’t be respectably innovative
without many years’ decolonization
when Japanese cars and movies were virtually banned
Singapore won’t be respectably innovative
if it minded “criticisms” against its “authoritarianism ” and lack of HK’s “liberalism”
if it hasn’t enslaved the English language but was like HK linguistically enslaved
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An “international financial center” based on its “impressive” rule of law
HK has neither a locally based international bank
nor the maturity to wean from wearing the laughable wigs
its local bankers and lawyers toil as subservient copycats
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Those who don’t know who/where they’re
and how to be their own masters in what they do
can’t possibly imagine where they can go
caractacus
A stifling, ethno centric, rote learning education system and high rents in a nutshell hold back innovation. Rid Education Bureau of the prejudiced minds and break the corrupt property cartel. Then people with original ideas might have a chance.
raykhlam
It is high time that SCMP web site has a Tech page devoted totally to IT ! I am sure I will be the first one who would browse it.
cfj
Well, the paper edition did have a Technology Section that came out weekly but the quality of the articles declined noticeably to eventual extinction. I now rely on other global sources from newspapers and computer magazines - it's too much to expect the SCMP to be innovative enough to be able to focus on tech. in Hong Kong and say, Shenzhen and the PRD. Companies with cross-border operations might be one place to start but enquiries might not always be welcome :-)
raykhlam
Unfortunately English language is the core of all computer language compliers. The standard of English in HK is declining rapidly which can affect students who want to join this trade.
Yes, SCMP has no moral obligation to push high tech in HK. Being the only English paper in HK, it can at least point out that our only two English channels are now broadcasting a lot of programs in Chinese or other Asian languages. One can hardly find a good English radio station.The list is endless! Our government can keep on talking about how to turn HK into a high tech and innovative hub or it is just talks...
EHI
Since when the terms "innovation" and "technology" seem to have become exclusively tied to computer/internet-related gadgets. Does this mean if you are not a geek who works the switch, you are not innovative? Let's just say the iPhone is responsible for dumbing down an entire generation, the last thing came out of Apple that can be considered anywhere "innovative" was maybe the Mac and its overblown advertising campaigns.
The need of a super-creative core was probably what Beijing was referring to; however, this type of development doesn't usually happen in classrooms or government-funded science parks, neither does it happen very often when a person constantly wastes his/her time reading mindless tweets on twitter. Kids would have more of a chance to exercise their minds running around in the wild observing worms.
Besides, people need to stop this obsession with BS indexes. I see innovation everywhere in Hong Kong, from making a bowl of soup to running a palm-reading stand to conjuring up a sound economic policy or philosophical thought. Painting or writing a piece of calligraphy can also be considered a form of applied sciences. But then again, if one were to be super anal about defining so-called "modern technology", I read somewhere about the Hong Kong University teaming up with the Swiss on the development of a robotic bee, let's just hope the Hong Kong team will be fairly and properly credited for both their hard work and brainwork.
blue
I'm an entrepreneur and I do not find the HK business environment as unbearable as people claim it is for the small business owner. But I am from the west and have that "garage culture" mindset. I run my business from home, and it's an e-commerce website.

Most of my orders are from Europe and the US, and due this I can enjoy tax free revenue too. Since there is no trading activity in HK, there is no need for my corporation to pay any tax here or anywhere else. I also do not need to worry about high commercial rents, and I have plenty of opportunity to innovate. Most of my innovation work is in the field of marketing.

I think parents discouraging their children from starting their own business is a big part of the problem. It's a very small minded, especially considering the self made giants we have in HK that were refugees from the mainland.

I guess that leaves more room for me to grow into something more significant. I have always believed it's possible for the next facebook or wechat to be started from HK, but we need to have that entrepreneurial culture. Incubators and lower commecial rents help, but they do not solve the problem of the lack of people who are willing to become an entrepreneur.

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