Innovation and technology are now among the most important engines of economic growth in the world, whose significance has been well-recognized by the leadership of China. That explains why the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region has been designated as a future international innovation and technology hub in the country’s 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25).
I&T has not been a key sector in the city. Why, then, has Hong Kong been given such a new role? A correct understanding of the central government’s strategic thinking for national development is not only crucial to answering this question but also to the success of such an endeavor.
Science and technology development is one of the core areas of interest in China’s modernization drive. The burgeoning development of I&T on the Chinese mainland has brought about the creation of some world-class technology enterprises. However, I&T development would be restrained should it be confined by national territory. International exchanges and collaboration are crucial to greater success. Hong Kong can leverage its distinctive advantages — as mentioned by President Xi Jinping in his speech at the meeting marking the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China — including its wide connections with the global market and the strong support it receives from the Chinese mainland, to drive local I&T development. Hong Kong is also gifted with several world-renowned educational institutions and four clinical trials centers recognized by the National Medical Products Administration, the Chinese agency for regulating drugs and medical devices; it also operates Asia’s largest, and the world’s second-largest, biotechnology fundraising hub. The city, therefore, is well-positioned to turn itself into the country’s international I&T hub.
The I&T sector has not been able to prosper in Hong Kong mainly because of the constraints of a small market and a narrow economic base. But as the sector continues to develop on the mainland — and especially with neighboring Shenzhen being a vital breeding ground for I&T development — Hong Kong has access to unprecedented opportunities in this area. Leveraging its own unique strengths, Hong Kong can focus on the high-end segment of the I&T industry chain under the framework of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area. Conceivably, the I&T sector in Hong Kong should strengthen collaboration and alignment with the mainland cities in the Greater Bay Area in I&T development.
The HKSAR government … must also explore ways to absorb the much-needed I&T talents from around the world, and formulate policies aimed not only at incentivizing technology specialists to settle in Hong Kong but also at promoting exchanges and collaboration between local, national, and international talents
With a clear strategic position in place, the next step is for Hong Kong to establish a platform for achieving such a role. Currently, the Lok Ma Chau Loop is recognized as the most important site that can potentially develop into a world-class I&T locomotive. A feasible plan is to attract I&T giants to set up research and development centers inside the loop, which should, later on, partner with the universities in Hong Kong in expanding R&D initiatives to form a complete R&D chain. The aim is to establish a complete I&T ecosystem in the Greater Bay Area that is characterized by complementarities between enterprises, universities and research institutions. And the ultimate objective is to strengthen Hong Kong’s role in the I&T industry chain, facilitate the commercialization of Hong Kong’s research findings in the Greater Bay Area, and establish an efficient formula for the distribution of patents and benefits. Communication and exchanges are crucial elements in I&T development. To this end, a science and technology information platform should be established to promote collaboration among Greater Bay Area cities. Additionally, a digital library for technology transfer should be set up to facilitate the sharing and commercialization of scientific research findings, as well as the alignment of I&T industry chains in Hong Kong and the mainland.
Talent is an essential element that deserves great attention. Hong Kong is in a good position to build a talent pool, counting on its highly internationalized business environment, freewheeling market, robust rule of law, and the limitless resources of mainland enterprises. But the HKSAR government should devote more effort and resources to strengthening I&T education. It must also explore ways to absorb the much-needed I&T talents from around the world, and formulate policies aimed not only at incentivizing technology specialists to settle in Hong Kong but also at promoting exchanges and collaboration between local, national, and international talents.
In the I&T realm, Hong Kong can be likened to a chip. A chip alone, however, can hardly achieve anything big. The HKSAR government, therefore, will have to improve the chip’s quality, identify its role, and align it with the distinguished hardware of the country so that it can play a bigger role in the I&T chain, benefiting both the city and the whole country.
The author is senior research officer of the One Country Two Systems Research Institute.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.