Experts clash on future of product research in HK

WHILE one expert believes Hong Kong will become a centre for product and technology development, another thinks no such thing will happen without a firm push from government.

Raymond Ch'ien, chairman of the industry and technology development council, said: 'Hong Kong may well earn the sobriquet, over the next several years, as an excellent centre for product development.' But Charles Chapman, executive director of the Hong Kong Electronics Association, said without support from government, firms were lacking the impetus to invest in research and development and had no focused direction.

'When there is no force to push you to advance, you stay stationary.' Other governments in the region had realised the advantages in terms of economic growth that could come from supporting the domestic electronic industry, he said.

'Most governments look at the electronics industry as a growth industry,' he said, but 'in Hong Kong, the problem is it is still very much up to individual companies to develop new technology.' For years, the territory has been famous for producing low-cost, low-technology products for the mass market, rather than investing in research and development (R&D) of more technologically advanced products, he said.

Mr Ch'ien said companies in the territory had remained competitive by stressing quick response to product trends, marketing capability and sales related services.

However, Hong Kong was now entering 'the third wave of industrial development'.

This wave would be marked by innovators and scientists among the returning Chinese, taking advantage of the entrepreneurial spirit of the territory and the low-cost labour base in China, Mr Ch'ien said.

'We are still seeing a lot of low-technology products, but the new wave is going to grow.' Mr Ch'ien said the Government realised there was a need for it to act as a catalyst within the industry.

'The government realises it has to make it easier for companies investing in R&D.' New government programmes would seek to address these issues, and starting next year, there would be assistance for companies looking to develop commercial patterns, he said.

However, Mr Chapman believes it may be too late for any significant progress to be made by government.

It would take some time to plan and implement any new industrial policy, and with only a few years remaining for the British-Hong Kong Government, the administration was too busy working on more important issues.

Nonetheless, he hoped after 1997 China would encourage industry as a means of attracting foreign technology.

Mr Ch'ien and Mr Chapman were attending the opening day of the 14th Hong Kong Electronics Fair.

The fair, which is only open to the trade, runs until Saturday and showcases a variety of electronic products, from electronic toys and karaoke systems to multimedia products and telecommunication equipment.

There are 260 overseas exhibitors and 490 domestic ones, for a record total of 750, at the fair.