|The foreign press often attributes any changes to Hong
Kong in the past two years as being the result of handover
in 1997. These superficial views are misleading and completely
ignore the opportunities that are just around the corner.
Since then, we have indeed made some minor political
adjustments, many of which have been widely reported
and even blown out of proportion. However, the real
fundamental changes to the HKSAR have taken place at
an economic strategic level, although these changes
have been rarely noticed.
Hong Kong has always thrived on change. We embrace
change with an open mind, turning adversity to opportunity
in our bid to create our own fate. This spirit is still
with us today in great abundance. But now it is time
for us to hold a long-term vision of working closely
with China - a vision which will enable us to benefit
from the synergy of working together.
Fortunately, there are signs that we are moving away
from the Asian financial storm. This storm has taught
us not to become over-dependent on financial services
and not to assess our wealth simply by the appreciation
of assets. The fact that we need more business activities
to support our economy is now etched deep in the minds
of our top policy-makers. Hong Kong is slowly on the
road recovery, but as it picks up speed, it is now the
deeper and more fundamental issues exposed during the
crisis that we must seek to address.
Hong Kong has exploited China's cheap land and labour
for over 20 years. We can no longer take this success
formula for granted. As China's own reform intensifies
and begins to take off, it poses a serious challenge
to Hong Kong. Unless we maintain our edge by continually
upgrading our technology and skills, other great cities
will catch up with us in no time.
The 1990s have witnessed the world's IT revolution.
The fast pace of technological changes has intensified
competitive forces, thus separating the strong from
the weak in the race to be the fitness in the business
world. Hong Kong has little option but to throw itself
into this tremendous race.
The advancement of IT and the convenience of travel
have helped to accelerate the pace of globalisation
of the world economy. Powerful economic trading blocks
emerged in North America and Europe rendering the much
weaker and more isolated Asian economies vulnerable.
In response, Hong Kong has had to keep an international
perspective, while also fostering a more rational economic
relationship with China.
To add further flavour to the melting pot, China is
almost set to enter the WTO, where further challenges
and opportunities will no doubt present themselves in
great measure. We have no time to lose in preparing
ourselves before the impact strikes - Hong Kong has
been well-treated by China so far, but the political
halo of 1997 will not last for long. We need to see
clearly our future role and set our goals now. We must
realise that Hong Kong's main value is to be a useful
economic city to China.
Our in-depth knowledge of overseas markets and well-developed
network; foreign language skills; ability to respond
quickly through the latest communication technology
and world-class sea and air ports all give us an advantage
over other Chinese cities. Hong Kong should also take
advantage of its accessibility to capital financing;
liberal and open telecommunications policies and front-line
experience of what the world markets need in order to
gain a lead over China in IT and applied research. If
we can also take advantage of China's huge talent in
research and the vast diversity of production processes
available to test new technologies, there is a good
possibility for synergy.
Another possibility is to develop tourism in the River
Pearl Delta. With a widened vision, we can set our sights
on a unique mix of Chinese and Western entertainment
which is complemented by one of the world's best international
However, actions speak louder than words. We must strive
to stay ahead when devising our land, manpower and financial
polities. China's strengths, weaknesses and the possible
synergy between us is very much part of our success
Hong Kong must keep its land costs at a reasonable
level to avoid overheating the economy with rapid assets
appreciation which would add significant costs. In the
long run, we must recognise that a shortage of land
is a serious disadvantage and we must tap China's vast
resources just as freely as other Chinese cities in
order to be competitive.
Investment in education is our surest bet for the 21st
century, where real advancements in technology and humanity
will result from knowledge. As many young people as
possible should be well-equipped with the abilities
to access and assimilate knowledge for themselves, gain
language skills and good Chinese and international perspectives.
They should also be creative and be prepared to embark
on a career requiring life-time learning. Importing
highly-skilled manpower will also contribute to Hong
Kong's own niche.
Hong Kong is now a major investor both in China and
overseas. We have helped to further deepen China's experience
of international exposure by developing multi-national
management disciplines and networking. Our monetary
policies should also move in parallels, which would
help the region's stability, attracting investment and
supporting China's claim to a rightful place at the
World Economic Forum.
Hong Kong also lacks natural resources, but this should
not discourage us from developing cluster areas for
individual high-technology, high-volume products or
production parts. We still have strong professional
skills, i.e. accountancy, law and financial advisory,
all of which China will need time to catch up on. Our
internationally acclaimed and well-accepted political
and legal systems should be protected and stay open
and free if we are to fulfil our international role