FOREIGN companies are shelving decisions on investment in the territory as widespread recession lingers, according to the Government's industrial promotion branch. But for firms not hit by economic slowdown, Asia is top of the list for investment because of its robust growth. Regional director for Europe Ian Howard said: ''What we are seeing is a change in attitude of people: they are too busy surviving to talk to us. ''In extreme cases, such as in the UK, companies are going bankrupt and obviously cannot spend time talking to us about expanding into Asia. But for those companies that are surviving, they are very interested because this is where business is going well.'' In 1991, Britain was Hongkong's fifth biggest inward investor, pumping in some $1.89 billion, 5.5 per cent of the total foreign investment. The two biggest investors that year - the latest for which figures are available - were Japan, accounting for $10.98 billion, and the US, which put in $9.64 billion. Both countries, which were together responsible for 59.9 per cent of total foreign investment, have been victims of a prolonged economic slowdown. Mr Howard said the full effect of the global slowdown could not yet be calculated, as investment decisions took two to three years. Mr Roger Garcia, his counterpart for North America, said there was a degree of optimism in that region, despite a slower than anticipated recovery, and continued interest in Asia. ''Americans are more aware of Asia than they are in Europe. Companies still have an interest in Hongkong, and want to come here,'' he said. ''There is only one region in the world at the moment that's expanding, and that's our part of the world.'' But he said ignorance about Hongkong remained, with some believing it to be a part of Japan concerned with churning out cheap trinkets. Foreign firms are investing in services and manufacturing-related activities such as maintenance and marketing. Both Mr Howard and Mr Garcia have found themselves fielding questions about the political uncertainty in the territory. Mr Howard said: ''Of course, when you read about so much happening in Hongkong it makes people read carefully and ask us what's happening. At the moment it's too short-term to affect investment decisions. ''Such a decision could take two to three years and we are talking about something that has been going on for three or four months. We don't expect it to go on for a couple of years. If it did, it would have a huge impact on investor confidence, no doubtat all about that. ''It would be a disaster if we had to put up with this uncertainty and confusion over that time-span. As it is, it will have caused a degree of confusion during the decision-making process.'' Mr Garcia said he responded to queries about the political situation by urging potential investors to visit Hongkong for themselves and by asking how America would change after four years under Mr Bill Clinton, the incoming President.