Index > Research
Wednesday, May 02, 2018
Reviving the Economy of Hong Kong to be 'Asia's San Francisco'

In 2018, the University of Hong Kong (HKU) announced that the school's AIDS Research Institute invented a new type of antibody drug (titled 'BiIA-SG'), successfully tested in mice. According to press releases, BiIA-SG strategically ambushes HIV-1 particles to protect CD4 positive T cells. Moreover, gene transfer of BiIA-SG achieves pro-longed drug availability in vivo, leading to a promising efficacy of eliminating HIV-1 infected cells in humanized mice. The achievements are indeed very impressive. The new research findings are published in the April issue of Journal of Clinical Investigation, one of the world's leading biomedical journals.

Hong Kong has been a financial hub for a long time, old saying 'banks more than rice shops'. But now what is the direction for Hong Kong's economy to head towards? It is a challenging issue and the answer for this question is not satisfactory. In the past, there were some talks and doubts that the Hong Kong's economy was "marginalized", 'only dependent on Mainland China' and so on. It is well known that Hong Kong has a special economic status, a narrow geographical area and a huge population. As the manufacturers transferred to the mainland, basically, there is none of manufacturing industry in Hong Kong, well-developed financial services and property sectors left as pillar alone. However, the property boom brought the rising of cost prices, and then made difficult for the general industries to take root on land, also other sectors being 'squeezed'. Finally, Hong Kong's economy is locked in two major industries thriving: finance and property. This is pretty unfavorable to Hong Kong to develop its economy. With the loss of space for industrial transformation, the channels for residents' employment and income increase have been cramped.

It has been 21 years after Hong Kong returned to China in 1997. Hong Kong's economy is still struggling. The government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region failed to introduce policies to be powerful, effective and have clear prospects that could pull Hong Kong's economy out of the situation where have the financial and property industries, the two 'pillar' industries only, that's very regrettable. If we look at the situation and conduct research in-depth, it might be related to the hesitation on industrial policy when the HK SAR government considered; as well, there is lack of talent to do industrial policy research. In fact, Hong Kong has opportunities to revive industries. The key is clearly aware of Hong Kong where would be 'Asia's San Francisco', a direction of industrial rejuvenation against the background of new era.

In the new era, education service is not just simply recognized as teaching and learning; instead, education service becomes one of productive resource crucial to social development. The United States is one case alike. The U.S. development in science and technology industry is closely linked with its education service that is very progressive and prosperity unparalleled. Hong Kong, fortunately, owns excellent education service among the region of Asia. The University of Hong Kong (HKU) is a public research university, the only one colonial 'British' university founded in East Asia, internationally and generally being regarded as one of the most prestigious universities in Asia, and called as Asian 'Ivy League'. HKU, as the comprehensive university with a wide range of academic disciplines, specializes in law, political sciences education, engineering, accounting & finance, life sciences and biomedicine. HKU's Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine was the first institution of the world that successfully identified and uncovered coronavirus (SARS-CoV) in 2003 during the SARS outbreak. The Faculty of Dentistry at HKU ranked global Top One for two consecutive years in 2016 and 2017. HKU and other universities in Hong Kong have already laid an extremely good industrial foundation for Hong Kong to develop the biotech industry, and to become 'San Francisco' in Asia.

It is also a fact that Hong Kong's science and technology education community able to be combined with huge consumer demands in mainland China, and to create biotech miracles in the world.

HKU has invented a patented technology called 'Flow-through hybridization', and licensed it to Guangdong Hybribio Biotech Co., Ltd. The two R&D teams collaborated on the development of HybriMax, a platform for low-density medical gene chip. HybriMax is Hybribio's core system for nucleic acid molecular diagnostis. A research team led by Dr. Barbara Pui Chan, Associate Professor of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at HKU, successfully developed cartilage regeneration technology that enables cells from one's body, mainly stem cells extracted from one's bone marrow, to cultivate a new set of joint tissue and construct it to the appropriate size and shape fit for cartilage repairs and replacements. Compares with traditional treatments patching healthy cartilage tissues from other parts on the patient's body, the new technology is applied for patients who could be benefited from rapid healing without the need to harvest donor cartilage from the patients. This kind of treatment has great market potentials in China to address the needs of a large population, so does in other countries.

There are many similar examples like the above. The point is to look for huge potential market consumption in China where is facing serious challenges of aging. The Chinese population at the age of 60 and above is up to 241 million, almost the same size as the total population of the United States. According to the general rules, objectively speaking, the higher the number of aging population is, and the more biomedical supports are needed. Because of various conditions limited, China's biotech development is at a moderate level, and started up to advance very recently. In view of this, the demand in China with a large consumer group easily to approach to Hong Kong, definitely lays a solid foundation for Hong Kong to promote biotechnology industry. It is the Hong Kong SAR Government that shall make correct choices for industries.

It should be pointed out that the SAR has recognized the importance of technology for the future Hong Kong and begun to undertake some of policy adjustments.

The SAR government propelled the construction of the Hong Kong Science and Technology Park (HKSTP), where has more than 630 technology companies clustered together today. HKSTP's Incubation Program is now fostering more than 260 startups. HKSTP offers scientific research infrastructure and professional support services ranging from nurturing services and matching events for incubatees & potential Investors. The Stock Exchange of Hong Kong (SEHK) also serves as a channel to have launched a platform for technology companies those who stay at different stages, plan to raise capitals or prepare for an initial listing. Unprecedentedly, SEHK also permits that the ventures without income apply for initial public offering. Now, SEHK mainly targets at industries from biomedical technology, electronics, green technology, information and communication technology, materials and precision engineering.

Here review industrial policies that every Government initiated in the past years. The first Chief Executive of the SAR, Tung Chee Hwa, decided in 1998 to study the development of innovation and technology as new engine to spur the economic growth. In his 1998 Policy Address, Mr. Tung Chee Hwa set out a blueprint for the future development of Hong Kong and proposed to set up a HK$5 billion Innovation and Technology Fund to provide finance for projects which will contribute to the improved use of innovation and technology in HK industrial and commercial sectors. After that, Mr. Donald Tsang proposed six "New" pillar industries for Hong Kong, including education and medical services. Subsequently, under Leung Chun-ying's leadership, as many of hospitals expand more lands quite insufficient in Hong Kong, the education and medical industries had reached the end in fact. It is watched that Hong Kong's industrial policies have been wavered and executed ineffectively, with much talk and less done. There lacks of an effective system between resource allocation and the development of science and technology industries so that policies did little to effect industrial changes. Even nowadays, the technology industries supported by the SAR government nearly cover all of 'hot sectors' in the world. Obviously, the industrial policies are following the popularity, which do not have clear focuses. If the SAR government does in a top-down manner, it is clearly impossible at all to have so many resources. At the same time, cultivating those popular technology industries gain success, unless the SAR Government will take the responsibility for industrial development and technology industrial policy, regarded as a kind of commercial behavior like venture capital investment.

As a matter of fact, Hong Kong's scientific and technological resources , which tempt more and more capitals, have been highly valued by Mainland. For example, Sequoia Capital and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology in collaboration with a dozen of science and technology giants from universities and industries of Hong Kong, they jointly established Hong Kong X-Tech Startup Platform and the service system. The Hong Kong X Technology Fund supports 120 startup projects and over 50 Angel ventures. According to the plan, the Fund invests HK$ 2-3 million per year. Sun Hung Kai Properties freely provides young entrepreneurs with almost 10,000 feet to be used as research offices and laboratory space.

Studying the industrial policy of Hong Kong, we find the current problem is too ambitious, with limited resources and industrial distribution too broad, although the general direction is identified. This type of industrial policy looks more like the view of capitals, but it does not accord with the development process of industry. None of cities in the world is capable of having so many industries well grown synchronously. San Francisco in the United States is one for its biopharmaceutical industry renowned globally. Whatever, Hong Kong would be good enough as a cosmopolitan city if it could build itself to be "Asia's San Francisco". As noted, the biopharmaceutical industry is one of major pillars for the economic development in California, and San Francisco also the heart of California. In 2011, there were 2,323 biotech companies in California, employing 267,000 persons and generating US$11.54 billion of output value. Among these, biotech industry accounted for 30% of venture capitals in San Francisco. Moreover, biotechnology needs strong support from service industries. In Hong Kong, financial capitals will benefit from that greatly. Then someone wonders whether Hong Kong contributing efforts to develop biotechnology would miss opportunities that information industry is full swing in the Mainland. The answer is certainly no, because of inseparable relations between the development of information technology and biotechnology. The biotech innovation is closely associated with information technology. The two types of technology always go hand in hand and advance together. The availability of biotechnology makes it as a true leading industry suitable for Hong Kong.

Therefore, the main issue for Hong Kong is to formulate industrial policy clearly and explicitly, approach to a favorable model of industrial coordination, concentrate the resources on industrial development. Under the circumstances of relying on financial services and property too much, it is necessary for Hong Kong to clarify its industrial position. Hong Kong, is the 'San Francisco' of Asia.

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