City's new innovation chief says Hong Kong must exploit manufacturing prowess to prosper in digital age

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 November, 2015, 3:26pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 November, 2015, 5:20pm

Nicholas Yang, Hong Kong’s newly appointed secretary of innovation and technology, plans to take advantage of the city’s manufacturing legacy to boost the process of re-establishing certain industries to their former glory.

“We have a generation of industrialists,” he said.

“Their experience can be applied to new industrialization.”

Officially appointed last Friday, Yang has not revealed much about his plans for Hong Kong except for announcing his so-called “nine focusses.”

“I am discussing this matter with industries to find out what areas are most suitable for Hong Kong,” he said at a computer fair in the city this week.

Hong Kong used to be a regional manufacturing hub. The city’s richest man, Li Ka-shing, had his first major business success making plastic flowers.

As China opened up in the late 1970s, the manufacturing sector moved to the mainland while finance and real estate gained greater prominence in Hong Kong.

Manufacturing in the city accounted for 1.3 per cent of its GDP last year, according to the local census department.

Yang said new industries do not require much space or manpower, especially in the digital age of rapidly increasing automation.

“New industries are automated and utilise the internet and big data,” he said, citing the robotics industry.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying first proposed an innovation and technology bureau as part of his election platform in 2012. It finally came into being after three years of failed attempts to pass the vote.

With Leung due to step down in the middle of 2017, Yang has about 18 months to prove himself under the current leadership.

“I believe the bureau is a long-term effort,” Yang said.

“My job is to make sure it gets off to a good start.”

Yang said he has already spoken with over 40 members of the city’s Legislative Council (LegCo).

“I hope I can win their support, understanding and cooperation,” he said.

Born in Taiwan, Yang attended the California Institute of Technology and Stanford University. He held senior positions at Shell and optical communication device company JDSU before becoming the president of Cyberport in Hong Kong ,and later the vice president of Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

He has served as Leung’s innovation and technology adviser since March.