Why Hong Kong businesses need its neighbours’ soil and worms to boom

Hong Kong needs to combine its strengths in finance, rule of law and international links with China’s technology, manufacturing and logistics capabilities to stay competitive

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 June, 2017, 9:02am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 June, 2017, 9:33pm

Hong Kong should embrace what its mainland neighbours have to offer and do more to augment innovation and the adoption of new technology to ensure that it remains a key business gateway between China and the rest of the world, speakers at a South China Morning Post seminar said yesterday.

People, businesses and government should have a mindset change, and catch up on new technology utilisation in industries ranging from finance to transportation, they told the forum titled “Celebrating Hong Kong’s Coming of Age” to mark the city’s 20th anniversary as a special administrative region of China on July 1.

“Instead of thinking I am a Hongkonger, think I am a [Greater] Bay Area person,” said Witman Hung, the principal liaison officer for Hong Kong of the Shenzhen Qianhai Authority. “If you look at the ecosystem, the bacteria and worms are as important as the flowers. You can’t say I want to be a flower, forget about the worm and the soil.”

He urged Hong Kong businesses to combine their strengths in finance, access to capital, rule of law and international links with mainland China’s technology, manufacturing and logistics capabilities. “It is only then you become an important part of the Bay Area [where] you will still have a role to play,” he said.

If you look at the ecosystem, the bacteria and worms are as important as the flowers. You can’t say I want to be a flower, forget about the worm and the soil
Witman Hung, Shenzhen Qianhai Authority

The Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area concept dates back to 2011 when Beijing initiated a study that aimed to integrate and better develop economies in the Pearl River Estuary region.

Hung, a former information technology consultant and manager who became an adviser to the Hong Kong government and a top promoter in the city for Shenzhen’s Qianhai special economic area, said Hong Kong should focus on its competitive advantage in serving the needs of mainland firms in their overseas ventures.

He was speaking amid concerns that Hong Kong has been lagging behind the mainland in the adoption of information technology in conducting business, especially in the financial services.

“Hong Kong is embracing fintech [financial technology], but there is no regulatory framework for crowd funding, which plays a role in bringing new products to the market, despite rising competition in China,” said Horst Geicke, chairman of the European Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong.

Crowd-funding refers to the financing of a project or business venture by raising money from a large number of people, often via online platforms.

Hong Kong also lags behind the mainland in adopting mobile payment technology despite having a head start in rolling out its famed Octopus contactless smart payment card a decade ago.

“Hong Kong has fallen way behind on its payment systems ... we still use cash and credit card,” said Lan Kwai Fong Group chairman Allan Zeman, who has lived in Hong Kong for 46 years.

Still, the city was not slow in adopting other technologies, said Leonie Valentine, managing director, sales and operations at search engine giant Google’s Hong Kong branch.The city was a good place to test new technologies and products, she added.

“We have no lack of investment here,” she said. “We have extremely good infrastructure. We are one of the fastest in adopters of new technology.”

But the city appeared to be lacking innovativeness when it came to start-up ideas, said Cindy Chow, executive director of a start-up fund launched in 2015 by mainland e-commerce giant Alibaba, which owns the South China Morning Post.

To boost innovation, Hong Kong needs more research funding, better science education and talent from all over the world, educators say.

Eden Woon, vice-president for institutional advancement at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, said government research funding accounted for just 0.73 per cent of the city’s gross domestic product, compared to 4 to 6 per cent in Singapore, the United States and the mainland.