Innovation dream remains remote fantasy if citizens stick to their old ways

Updated: 2017-10-30 07:43

By Luis Liu(HK Edition)

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In her maiden Policy Address released this month, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor put special emphasis on innovation and technology (I&T). In her words, I&T was what she "has learnt the most" after assuming office. A series of strategies - including increasing resources, pooling talents and increasing investment - were launched in her policy plan.

She revealed her ambition - to have Hong Kong catch up with competitors and become "an international innovation and technology hub". If Lam makes it happen, the city's economic structure and people's way of life will all change.

I myself have many questions, as in this rapidly changing era catching up on technological development requires great vision and effort, and unique advantages. What will the detailed measures be? What are the breakthrough points? And how could Hong Kong compete with Shenzhen, Beijing and even Hangzhou, where internet giant Alibaba is based.

I thought those questions could be shared by other media, until Lam finished the Question-and-Answer session after delivering the policy plan on Oct 11. Hong Kong's local media, famous for supervising and scrutinizing every move of the government, exhibited a collective silence on the topic. In more than 75 minutes, only one question went to I&T; that was from a China Daily reporter.

That is when I felt discouraged by the city. I am not implying housing measures and political reform are not important; but no world-leading countries or regions have succeeded only by addressing social needs. They create new growth engines. The United States has, Japan has and so has Hong Kong's all-time rival - Singapore.

I&T was the top solution to diversify the economy in Lam's Policy Address. Why not question her on this topic? Is it because she was all correct about it, or everything was clear? Or you just simply don't care?

Reporters are regarded as one of the most curious groups of people in society. What about the general public?

Every year when Hong Kong reveals the result of its college entrance exam - the Diploma of Secondary Education Examination - the city sees almost all top students go to medical schools and law schools. Seldom would you see those Hong Kong talents opt for technology or science studies. In the high tech-driven era, students' general aversion to science studies is not seen in other cities of China, or other developed economies.

Part of the reason is risk-avoidance. However, the lack of willingness of the city's general public to accept change is also worrying.

It reminds me of previous occasions, talking to some of my acquaintances in Hong Kong about mobile payments and internet finance. When I show them how it works on the Chinese mainland, most of them thought it has nothing to do with their daily life.

Some who know about the e-lifestyle jumped into questions about security issues despite the fact that service providers had rolled out a series of measures, including fingerprint or face certification, savings insurance and stricter ID checks, after a few mobile scams happened in early stages. Those innovative tricks have significantly lowered users' risk along with e-commerce development.

My observations tally with the general situation. According to a survey by local political group New Century Forum this year on Hong Kong people's perceptions of e-payments, just 10 percent of the 800-plus people polled had used e-wallets. Among those who did not use e-wallets, over 60 percent voiced security concerns and nearly 30 percent said there is no need for them to have one.

Moreover, half of all respondents think cash is the better vehicle for transactions.

I don't get the rationale behind it. Neighboring the nation's "Silicon Valley" - Shenzhen, where the e-lifestyle is ubiquitous - the Hong Kong public generally showed no thirst. Zooming out, Singapore has already equipped its cabs with Alipay. A number of Southeast Asian countries are expanding their e-commerce at a rapid pace. Let alone developed economies like Japan and South Korea, which have long been pushing hard on I&T creations.

Hong Kong people are proud of the city's status as an international financial center. However, there is never a guarantee in human history that an advanced economy will keep its edge forever. The world has proven its mercilessness; some once-successful countries and regions have fallen behind due to their failure to achieve industry upgrade and transformation.

If Hong Kong people continue to behave like ostriches, however much effort the government puts in, the city's dream of becoming an innovation hub will never be realized. Hong Kong's I&T dream cannot be achieved without people's aspiration and participation.

It is time to open our minds and embrace changes.

(HK Edition 10/30/2017 page10)