A technology park was launched yesterday amid the paddy fields and banana groves of Guangzhou's southern Nansha island, aimed at strengthening Hong Kong's position in the Pearl River Delta. Invited dignitaries, and about 100 peasants, watched the ribbon-cutting and lion-dancing ceremony that marked the completion of the first phase of Nansha Information Technology Park - a joint venture between the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), the Fok Ying Tung Foundation and the Guangzhou government. Borrowing a slogan made popular at the 16th Communist Party Congress, Henry Fok Ying-tung told guests at the ceremony: 'Economic development has to progress with time.' The park is an integral part of Mr Fok's decade-long efforts to develop the island. His non-profit foundation has invested $2.5 billion in Nansha, most of it in high-quality, but little used, recreational facilities. He plans to commit a further $1.3 billion. The island has emerged from relative obscurity to become no less than the linchpin in Guangzhou's development plans for the coming 10 years. Guangzhou Vice-Mayor Zhang Guangning said his city could use the park and the Fok Foundation to develop at the same pace as Hong Kong and Macau. The province hopes that the equivalent of Shanghai's Pudong New Area will be created on Nansha. Lionel Ni, head of HKUST's computer science department, said the SAR could no longer act as China's gateway. 'High technology can play an important role because China is still very backward in this respect,' Professor Ni said. 'Hong Kong is in a unique position to play this role because of its legal system, its financial system and its openness.' HKUST will be looking into the technological development of businesses in the Pearl River Delta, according to Otto Lin, the university's research and development Vice-President. 'A lot of these businesses are owned by people in Hong Kong. By helping the Pearl River Delta, we are helping Hong Kong,' he said. Liu Binyuan of Guangzhou's South China University of Technology said that the venture would allow Guangdong to tap Hong Kong's access to international markets and IT expertise. Hong Kong would benefit even more because of the park's strategic location at the geographic centre of the Pearl River Delta area, Professor Liu said. 'There may be other IT parks in Guangdong but Nansha is nearest to Hong Kong. Besides, the Guangzhou government is putting a lot of emphasis on Nansha,' he said. At an earlier briefing, the proliferation of IT parks on the mainland was addressed by Liu Yanhua, the Vice-Minister of Science and Technology. He pointed out that there were 53 IT parks in China and suggested that Nansha should position itself to serve the Pearl River Delta and not have national ambitions. However, Guangdong and Hong Kong experts disagreed with Mr Liu's assessment. They said that demand for IT, especially cutting-edge technology, was still great in China. HKUST's Mr Lin said: 'He is looking at things from a macro point of view and wants to make sure that all resources are properly used. It's not a question of too many or too few but how the parks are managed.' A total of 300 million yuan (HK$283 million) has been invested in the first phase of the park, which covers 15 hectares and comprises convention and training facilities and a software development centre. An electronic packaging centre will be built next month, university officials said. Cathay Pacific and the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation are two of the 10 companies who have already been attracted to the park, along with a travel agent and a company specialising in systems for intelligent buildings, university officials said. The 250-hectare park will be developed in three stages and is scheduled for completion in 2010. The Nansha park is 50 per cent owned by the Nansha IT Park Foundation, which was set up by the Fok Foundation and HKUST. The other half is owned by Nansha Development, an investment company that is 51 per cent controlled by the Fok Foundation and 49 per cent by the Panyu district government, which administers Nansha. University officials said the Fok Foundation had provided all the cash for the project while land worth 160 million yuan was provided by Nansha Development. HKUST is responsible for the design of the park, project management and training and development.