CALL IT THE 'wallpapering' of the world: the relentless spread of a style and design ethos variously defined as chic, cosmopolitan, hip, minimalist, international, modern and - increasingly - bland, impersonal and anodyne. It was supposedly a reaction to the excesses of the 1980s with its Joan Collins power shoulder pads, the Christian Lacroix gowns bejewelled and beaded to an inch of their lives, the bovine greed of the world's Gordon Geckos, the senseless tokenism of post-modernist architecture and design, and the big bad hair of neo-romantic rockers. Sown from the creative loins of architects Mies van der Rohe, Frank Lloyd Wright, Oscar Niemeyer, Le Corbusier and the Bauhaus movement, this 1990s aesthetic movement was also expressed in the works of a new generation of Dutch, Belgian and Italian fashion designers that followed in the wake of Armani, Commes des Garcons, Prada and the early Donna Karan. In the hotel industry, this movement showed itself in the sleek and uber-chic W Hotel of the Starwood group and a host of boutique hotels all over the world designed to make the global nomads feel at home whether they are in the middle of the Uluru plains in Australia or among the rocks of Africa. In Asia, the Balinese, Thai and South Asian designs were interpreted and distilled - some say cannibalised - in the form of the resorts and spas of the Aman group, the Banyan chain, the Evason and Chivasom, and Christina Ong's Como properties. Seeing the latest Mandarin Oriental at the Landmark in Central, especially its ultra-cool and achingly hip MO Bar, one cannot help but wonder if the 'Amanisation' of the hotel industry has turned into another global McDonald's phenomenon, this time in exotic and hi-tech materials, and negative cholesterol. In Hong Kong, plans to turn the Western Kowloon reclamation site into a cultural district is also in danger of 'Disneyfication' as some bidders have proposed a smorgasbord of international culture, such as an outlet of the Guggenheim or the Saatchi global franchise - offerings undifferentiated from those already on show in Las Vegas, New York or London. Such an outcome would be tragic, as the West Kowloon Cultural District is a rare opportunity for Hong Kong to offer something unique to the world. Hong Kong should observe the tenets of comparative advantages, taking a leaf from most of the world's critically - if not exactly commercially - successful museums and art centres. This may sound absurd to critics of the Lion City, but the Singapore Art Museum comes to mind. Talk to most artists and art dealers in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, Jakarta and Bali in Indonesia, Manila and Baguio in the Philippines, and it is often said that an artist is considered 'made' if his or her works are collected by the region's pre-eminent repository of Southeast Asian art, which happens to be found in Singapore. It will be very hard to dislodge Shanghai and Beijing as centres for contemporary Chinese arts, in the same sense that Hong Kong is world-famous for its antique traders on Hollywood Road. And it is probably this arts-merchant image that Hong Kong can build upon as it tries to muscle its way into the global art stage. Why not play up Hong Kong's highly regarded reputation as a marketplace for artworks? Why not give incentives to art dealers, sellers and collectors - both dabblers and monomaniacs - to turn Hong Kong into the region's premiere arts market? If Europe has the London antiques fair and the Basel mega-arts salon (and its sister show in Miami), maybe Asia can have the Hong Kong regional arts expo, along the lines of the now defunct ArtAsia, but with more commercial panache? The private arts sector has actually taken the lead in this area with the highly successful - and literally intoxicating - annual art walk sponsored by a steadfast phalanx of very progressive galleries and arts groups. For starters, the government can help promote this annual arts pilgrimage to a regional audience to entice Asia's burgeoning nouveau riche. And taking a leaf from the Venice Biennial, the Basel art fair or the Edinburgh festival, it can seasonally open up government venues at subsidised rent to enable small under-capitalised galleries and young un-capitalised artists to display their wares over a short, specified time. The government will not be starting from scratch, as the city already has a number of arts events, including the highly regarded, though sometimes uneven, Hong Kong Arts Festival. But if one applies the diktat of cost analysis and returns on investment, such events and the rare but very expensive visiting art shows from New York's Museum of Modern Art or the Louvre of Paris - though highly admirable - may not be the smartest way of investing tax money to promote the arts. There may be some wisdom in putting public money in a Monet, but the savviest and most sustainable way of promoting art is probably by relying on the smart money of Asia's newly minted Medicis. Sooner or later, they will need something to cover or replace those super-cool but ultra-cold wallpapers.