Xi Jinping cash route sure to pay off for Hong Kong scientists

By appealing to the president for financial support, Hong Kong’s leading research scientists barely paid notice to the city’s government and the non-track record of Science Park start-ups

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 May, 2018, 5:28am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 May, 2018, 7:04am

Twenty-four of our leading scientists wrote to President Xi Jinping last year to plead for financial support for the city’s research and development.

Now, state-run news agency Xinhua has announced that Beijing will come bearing gifts by allowing local researchers to access national research funding and eliminate tariffs on relocating lab equipment across the border. This could be a game-changer for the city’s research and development community.

Strangely, the news headlines have been about whether national funding could compromise academic freedom in Hong Kong. The news cycles must have been too slow in the past week.

The real story, it seems to me, is that our leading research scientists, many of them already members of the Chinese Academy of Sciences or the Chinese Academy of Engineering, took matters into their own hands and directly approached Beijing, which reciprocated.

Rightly, the parties involved barely paid notice to the Hong Kong government, its Science Park or Nicholas Yang Wei-hsiung and his Innovation and Technology Bureau.

‘Hong Kong’s scientists will not bend to Beijing just because of state funding’

The whole thing leaves our officials looking like bystanders; and this is a government that has, over the past 20 years, been saying it wants to make the city a tech hub.

This is as it should be. Our government has been struggling to come up with a viable hi-tech development blueprint since the handover in 1997.

Meanwhile, Alibaba, which owns this newspaper, was founded in 1999. Tencent started in 1998. Baidu was incorporated in 2000 while Didi, the ride-sharing company, was launched in 2012 and Xiaomi in 2010. DJI may not be a household name but founded in Shenzhen in 2006, it owns 70 per cent of the global market share for civilian drones.

What world-beating start-ups have our officials helped create all this time? Maybe it’s not fair to compare a whole country with a city. How about just one success story? Remind me, when was Science Park, our answer to Silicon Valley, founded? Oh, it was 2001.

What Hong Kong scientists’ questions about mainland funding reveal

With a non-track record, the government still decided to hand over HK$40 billion of a HK$50 billion budget to support IT development this year to the Science Park.

And what’s the latest with Cyberport? Promoting and maybe setting up training courses for online gamers. Sure, let’s make our kids play online games 18 hours a day.

Our scientists will have a better shot working directly with colleagues up north.