The Asian downturn that caused property prices to crash in Hong Kong was 'very good' for the territory, the secretary for commerce, industry and technology said yesterday. Henry Tang Ying-yen walked into a fresh controversy when he said the bursting of the bubble in 1997 had served as a welcome 'cold shower' because it killed off unhealthy property and stock market speculation. Speaking in Kuala Lumpur at the World Economic Forum for East Asia, Mr Tang said: 'I actually think that most of it [the effect] has been very good . . . 'We will learn something from it, we will learn that one cannot just rely on speculation, whether it is the financial markets or whether it is property.' Mr Tang also echoed earlier comments when he said that he did not see an imminent return to full employment in Hong Kong, which along with the bankruptcy rate, has risen to record levels as the economic downturn has intensified. 'I wish that the jobs would come back but it will take a long time,' he said. The brunt of the slump would continue to be borne by the lower-skilled, the secretary said. Unemployment was a 'genuine concern', he added. Mr Tang said that before the handover, asset-market speculation and the lure of spectacular rewards had drawn workers away from more productive sectors. That trend had now been reversed, setting Hong Kong on course towards a better-founded economy that focused on genuine and sustainable work, he said. 'I think that we will learn that we must earn something based on our knowledge, based on what we know, based on the value-added . . . and not just because we buy a flat and we speculate on it to make money,' Mr Tang said. He cited the case of university professors in the years before 1997 quitting their faculty posts to punt stocks and shares or to engage in property market speculation. The academics had now returned to their classrooms, he said. Mr Tang, one of the five policy secretaries drafted by Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa from the private sector this summer, has previously embarrassed the administration with remarks which critics said were inappropriate. The 50-year-old stirred controversy when he said in June that the unemployment rate, currently at 7.6 per cent, was unlikely to drop to the pre-handover level of 2.2 per cent in his lifetime. Then, amid growing calls on the government to help boost the ailing film industry, Mr Tang - whose portfolio includes movies and broadcasting - criticised many Cantonese films as 'meaningless'. Ho Hei-wah, head of the Society for Community Organisation, said that Mr Tang had failed to understand the plight of the public. 'I think Mr Tang is bathing in his warm jacuzzi in his holiday villa while people are taking the 'cold shower' out there.' Unionist legislator Leung Yiu-chung also criticised Mr Tang for being insensitive to people's needs. 'Of course he isn't the one who has been hardest hit by the downturn,' the lawmaker said. 'I think he's living in a world detached from reality.'