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Published: 21:00, February 22, 2023 | Updated: 18:25, February 23, 2023
I&T set to blossom in HK with budget push
By Wang Yuke
Published:21:00, February 22, 2023 Updated:18:25, February 23, 2023 By Wang Yuke

Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po (second left) and other senior officials of the special administrative region government attend a news conference on the 2023-24 Budget on Wednesday. (CALVIN NG / CHINA DAILY)

Hong Kong’s innovation and technology ecosystem is in for a boost after the HKSAR government announced more investments in life technology, artificial intelligence and big data.

Experts and forerunners in the I&T sector applauded the government’s decision, announced in the 2023-24 Budget on Wednesday, to allocate considerable financial support to technology research and development and commercialization, adding that cross-disciplinary and cross-sectorial cooperation will revive knowledge transfer.

Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po said in his seventh budget themed “Leaping Forward Steadily, Together We Bolster Prosperity under Our New Vision” that HK$6 billion ($765 million) out of the HK$10 billion earmarked to promote the development of life and health technology will be set aside to provide subsidies for universities and research institutes to set up thematic research centers.

“The aims are to foster cross‑university, cross-institutional and multidisciplinary cooperation. We will invite universities and research institutes interested in setting up life and health technology research institutes to submit proposals in 2023‑24,” Chan said.

Life and health technology is one of the pivotal areas exemplifying the most intimate collaboration between Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland, and also the most promising one with reciprocal benefits, a government source told China Daily Hong Kong

Life and health technology is one of the pivotal areas exemplifying the most intimate collaboration between Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland, and also the most promising one with reciprocal benefits, a government source told China Daily Hong Kong.

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The fact that medical equipment from Europe is accessible in Hong Kong but not in the Chinese mainland speaks to the necessity of cross-boundary cooperation, the source said.

“We have to seize the opportunity,” he noted, indicating that the opportunity might be limited.

“Only through cross-disciplinary, cross-sectorial and cross-institutional collaboration could the academic knowledge and research outcomes be possibly translated into applications that bear practical value,” said Wong Kam-fai, associate dean of Engineering at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Wong said he welcomed the government’s vision shown in the budget.

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While an aging population is a common refrain in most societies around the world, Hong Kong’s crisis is particularly fraught, with senior residents aged 65 and over accounting for 20 percent of the population in 2021 – up from just 13 percent in 2011, according to the Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department. The proportion of the elderly is projected to be 27.6 percent and 31.7 percent by 2031 and 2041 respectively.

The health and medical system has borne the brunt of the crisis, eating up an estimated HK$14 billion of government expenditure on elderly services in 2022-23, an increase of about 82 percent over the estimated HK$7.7 billion in 2017-18. Without an effective intervention, the city’s medical care system may well be on the cusp of collapse.

The COVID-19 pandemic sounded the alarm that medicines and medical treatment are the lifeline of humanity, Wong said.

Hong Kong residents line up at a stand outside the Wan Chai Home Affairs Enquiry Centre to get hard copies of the budget speech on Wednesday.  (EDMOND TANG / CHINA DAILY)

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“Some medicines made in the Chinese mainland are off-limits to the overseas market, because they are not approved and recognized there thanks to the disparity in medicine approval standards and regulations. But Hong Kong’s drug regulatory framework is highly aligned with international standards, and thus our city is the ideal laboratory and playground for pharmaceutical and medical equipment companies from the Chinese mainland to carry out their R&D and register for approval by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration),” Wong said. Simply put, Hong Kong will facilitate the mainland to internationalize its medical research outcomes, which will turn Hong Kong into a compelling draw for overseas investors and talents in medical technology and innovation, Wong said. 

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The government’s pivot on life technology research and knowledge transfer mirrors the development blueprint of the Northern Metropolis, where 1,100 hectares have been designated for San Tin in the Lok Ma Chau Loop for development of a “technopole” and health technology research hub, with the focus on biomedicine, big data and artificial intelligence, Wong noted.

The pumping of investment into life and health technology research and development will drive forward the goal of fostering more collaboration between research institutions in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area and Northern Metropolis, said local radiologist Kevin Lau Chung-hang. “By leveraging the resources, networks, and infrastructure of each region, Hong Kong can create a strong foundation for research and development in this area and export the commercialized application to international markets,” he said. 

This should be replenished with a comprehensive financing system and regulatory framework for life technology research, which could include “venture capital, crowdfunding, and other financing instruments; a framework for intellectual property protection, data privacy, and security,” he added. 

Kenny Shui, vice-president and co-head of research at Our Hong Kong Foundation, said he expected the government to pay more attention to the seamless linkage between the upstream and downstream industrial chains, including galvanizing research outcomes transfer and granting the University Grants Committee accountability for monitoring and safeguarding the university faculty members’ intellectual property rights.

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Shui also suggested that more subsidies be allocated to clinical trials between the Hospital Authority and local universities.

Innovation and technology is the common thread in the budget permeating a lot of aspects beyond healthcare and medicine, to new green energy and materials, Wong said, acknowledging that “I&T is the paramount vehicle and answer to a host of issues in the city.”

“To step up investment in technology startups, the HKSTPC (Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation) will inject HK$400 million into its Corporate Venture Fund to help more technology start-ups with potential,” said Chan.

Hailing the endeavor in supporting local startups, Wong said he subscribes to the idea that youngsters’ entrepreneurial experimentation and forays are better suited to starting in universities. With subsidies and funding by the universities, even those that flop won’t have serious consequences and would instead learn from their mistakes, he said.

The availability of adequate computing infrastructure is a prerequisite for promoting the development of scientific research and artificial intelligence industries in Hong Kong, Chan said in his budget speech. “To this end, the government will conduct a feasibility study on the development of an AI Supercomputing Centre”, he said.

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Shui suggested the government consider setting up the center at Lok Ma Chau Loop, to enable big data from the mainland to appropriately flow into Hong Kong to further the development of the local big data industry.

The source said that the AI Supercomputing Centre will fuel the I&T ecosystem, as well as employment opportunities in healthcare, life technology and AI, which is expected to pool the hefty investments from new arrivals under the Capital Investment Entrant Scheme.

Jessica Chen contributed to the story.

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