Hong Kong should clothe its traditional industry with cutting-edge technology

The 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) has designated Hong Kong to develop into an international innovation and technology center. Much to the delight of Hong Kong people, President Xi Jinping once again visited the city, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region on July 1, and included a tour of the Hong Kong Science Park in his itinerary. 

This clearly demonstrated the high importance placed by the central government on this strategic role of Hong Kong. I believe that Hong Kong’s traditional industries, especially the textile and garment industry, should upgrade its prowess by synergizing with State development strategies of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area and fully tap its full-fledged complete supply chain in the Greater Bay Area to launch a new round of industrial upgrading with cutting-edge technologies.

Industrialization glorified Hong Kong in the 1970s, when the manufacturing and textile industries created a boom-and-bust economy in the city. Today, the SAR remains an important end-to-end supply-chain control center of the textile industry in Asia.

A lesser known fact is that Hong Kong has some of the best research institutes in textiles and garments worldwide. The Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA), the School of Fashion and Textiles (previously the Institute of Textiles and Clothes) of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and Nano Advanced Materials Institute all have a track record of international awards. Just this year, HKRITA alone won three golds and six silvers from nine entries in the prestigious Geneva International Exhibition of Inventions.

The industry also made its own unique contribution to Hong Kong’s fight against the COVID-19 epidemic by leveraging on its latest technologies. We produced and donated “anti-COVID-19, anti-viral and anti-bacterial” gloves to front-line workers, including taxi drivers designated to transport people with COVID-19, and supermarket workers. The reusable masks distributed by the SAR government actually used technology of HKRITA, with the fit also developed by the same institute.

The above are great examples of R&D making its way from the laboratory to customers. However, these are not always the case. Commercialization remains a big hurdle of R&D, and Hong Kong’s textile and garment industry has an edge in overcoming the hurdle with its own strengths and by leveraging on the GBA. The industry can continue to have Hong Kong serving as the headquarters, the mastermind that provides the basic research and financing. Shenzhen will be the perfect base for the transformation of R&D into commercial products that can then be mass-produced in Dongguan. There are also more than 130 textile and garment companies listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, including top mainland apparel brands such as Anta, Li-Ning, 361 Degrees, and Xtep. These companies and brands could be the facilitators, users and marketers of these R&D products. The GBA, with its 80 million population and consumption power, is the home market and the springboard for these products to sell to the whole mainland, even the world.

Utilizing traditional industries such as the textile and garment industry in the development of innovation and technology will bring additional benefits. Hong Kong will have a more-diversified economy, thus providing a wider scope of career options and opportunities for young people. It will also promote deeper, even more mutually beneficial, integration with other parts of the GBA.

I believe more must be spent and done on R&D in Hong Kong. According to a Legislative Council research report, Hong Kong’s total R&D expenditures, mostly by the government, accounted for less than 1 percent of GDP in 2020. Not only did it lag far behind Shenzhen’s 5.46 percent and Singapore’s 1.89 percent (2019), Hong Kong ranked second to last in the GBA! We, especially the private sector, need to spend more. This year’s central government work report targets “fee reduction and tax rebate” to reach 2.5 trillion yuan ($369.5 billion). This will reduce the burden on enterprises and enable them to be bolder in R&D investment. The SAR government could consider more aggressive policies in this regard.

Israel, a country well known for its innovative technology industries, provides food for thought as well. I visited the country some years ago and found it full of enthusiasm for innovation and technology. From government officials to academia, to businessmen and even students I met, everyone talked about and dreamed of success in innovation and technology, how they would develop, apply and commercialize. This is what we want in Hong Kong too. The SAR government should take the lead to create an atmosphere of “everyone to innovate” and cultivate passion and interest in the whole society so that it is a natural aspiration for the business sector to invest and young people to participate in the development of innovation and technology.

On July 1, President Xi asked Hong Kong to continue to create a strong impetus for growth and unlock the creativity and development potential of Hong Kong society. Innovation and technology will be the major driver for this. Backed by the motherland and facing the world, Hong Kong and its textile and garment industry can and will play a role in the push for Hong Kong to become an international innovation and technology center, which will help create a better future for Hong Kong and serve the pursuit of the Chinese nation’s rejuvenation.

The author is a Hong Kong deputy to the National People’s Congress and chairman of the Textile Council of Hong Kong.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.