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Published: 01:39, July 25, 2022 | Updated: 09:25, July 25, 2022
Hong Kong SAR needs a long-term perspective that brings youth into its fold
By Naubahar Sharif
Published:01:39, July 25, 2022 Updated:09:25, July 25, 2022 By Naubahar Sharif

As the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region welcomes John Lee Ka-chiu as our latest chief executive, his plate is filled with many a concern, demand, and opportunity.

On his “to-do list” there should, however, be two concerns to which Lee and his team direct their attention: our youth, and our efforts to promote innovation and technology-led development in the HKSAR.

On the surface, these two concerns may seem entirely unrelated. If we dig deeper, however, we find an important connection between innovation-driven, technology-led development and Hong Kong’s youth.

The research I have conducted is to understand why Hong Kong has largely failed to promote innovation and technology-led development since China resumed exercising its sovereignty over Hong Kong in 1997. The result showed that the SAR, especially compared with some booming cities in the north, has lagged far behind expectations, which suggests the lack of a sufficiently long-term perspective as a key factor.

Hong Kong’s leaders should not merely consider goals they hope to achieve in their own respective terms of office; we need someone with the foresight and wherewithal to look beyond their own relatively short terms of tenure, beyond the near future with a long-term vision.

Our previous chief executive, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, offers a case in point. In her very first Policy Address, in 2017, Lam outlined many a noble goal that would advance the development of innovation and technology in Hong Kong. Many of those goals were met, but some were not. Whatever the goals, however, they were all designed to be achieved within the five-year term of office.

While pursuing such goals is entirely laudable, I believe it is high time that Hong Kong takes an even longer-term perspective, or a more-holistic view, rising to the challenge posed by the need to formulate longer-term plans spanning multiple chief-executive tenures.

Inspiration for such an approach can be found on the mainland, which has very successfully introduced and met goals that were outlined in its “National Medium- and Long-Term Program for Science and Technology Development (2006-20)”. This plan by design spanned multiple leaders, and therefore even a change in China’s leadership did not diminish the Party’s resolve to meet the targets set in that plan (which had indeed been largely met by 2020).

My argument is that, for all our big talk espousing innovation and technology-led development, that talk needs to be matched by a concrete, achievable, long-term plan. Such a plan must straddle multiple chief-executive terms. In other words, this plan should envision innovation and technological development well into the future, perhaps 10 or 15 years into the future.

Herein lies the importance of, and connection with, Hong Kong’s youth. If indeed Hong Kong is to adopt a longer-term perspective in its efforts to promote innovation and technology-led development, this perspective must be accompanied by a generational change in mindset. Innovation and technology will not be seen as vital to Hong Kong’s future economic growth by simply “flicking a switch”. Rather, the centrality of innovation and technology must be shown and taught over a period of years.

In other words, such a change in mindset and “culture” surrounding innovation and technology can be brought about only if it is inculcated into Hong Kong’s youth while they are old enough to understand but young enough to plan for their future accordingly. This means incorporating appropriate instructional material and cultural opportunities into secondary-school curricula.

The features of such a mindset include a culture that privileges the challenging and breaking of pre-established scientific and technological boundaries and norms, a keen desire to “do something new” (which is what innovation fundamentally does), and respect for innovation and technology-related jobs on par with how young people seem to think about those in the most traditionally respected sectors, especially finance. Only when such a change in mindset occurs will Hong Kong’s youth become truly persuaded to pursue careers that push innovation and technology to the forefront of economic development.

Innovation and technology represent the key to unlocking the door to future growth. Such an approach need not, however, come at the expense of Hong Kong’s traditional strengths. For example, fintech — the use of information technology through software, mobile apps, and related technologies to automate financial transactions for businesses and individuals — represents an area of technologically led growth that combines Hong Kong’s long-standing prowess in finance with its aspirations to develop innovation and technology locally.

To successfully harness the promise of innovation and technology, it is high time that Hong Kong takes the bull by the horns and moves beyond short-term fixes, however attractive, to embrace new solutions to the challenges it faces.

What we need, then, is a perspective with a longer horizon that hinges on, and wholly includes, a buy-in from Hong Kong’s youth. We need to cultivate in our young adults a vision of a future Hong Kong that targets global leadership beyond finance to truly effect meaningful change by exploiting innovation and technology to drive the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area’s future growth.

The author is a professor of public policy at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.  

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