【明報專訊】THE WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM has published its Global Competitiveness Report for 2016-2017. Out of 138 economies around the world, Hong Kong is ranked number nine, a fall of two places from last year. This is attributable to its continued stagnation in innovation and technology.
According to the report, for seven years in a row, Hong Kong has maintained the top ranking for the highest quality infrastructure in the world. It is ranked fourth for its financial sector and 23rd — a lower position — for its innovation and technology. The report says that the challenge lying ahead of Hong Kong is how it can "evolve itself from one of the world's foremost financial hubs to an innovative powerhouse". In terms of comprehensive competitiveness, Hong Kong is being gradually overtaken by neighbouring countries and regions like Singapore, South Korea and Shenzhen. The primary reason is that our city has been relying on its existing advantages and lacks aggressiveness, while those neighbouring countries and regions have seized the opportunities and forged ahead. Innovation and technology, in particular, is where Hong Kong is lagging far behind, so much so it has become a structural "short stave" of its competitiveness. Innovation and technology is a yardstick of national power for any country. To a region, it is a "thermometer", as it were, for its economy. That Hong Kong is lagging behind in innovation and technology has not only dragged down its competitiveness; it also impacts on its economic prospects. Hong Kong cannot afford to be in two minds any longer. It should exert itself and seek to carve out a position for itself in the field of innovation and technology.
Looking at Hong Kong from the perspective of its innovation and technology, we are convinced that effort should be made in the devotion of resources and the application of outcomes. The government has the inescapable responsibility for both aspects. First, more resources should be devoted to Research and Development (R&D) in Hong Kong. According to a study published by Our Hong Kong Foundation late last year, Hong Kong's total spending on R&D (including the government's investments and businesses' R&D expenditures) made up only 0.75 per cent of Hong Kong's GDP, a percentage significantly lower than those of other countries and regions. In Israel, for example, the percentage was 4.4 per cent, while it was 4.2 per cent in South Korea, 3.4 per cent in Japan, 2.8 per cent in the United States, 2.4 per cent in Taiwan, 2.1 per cent in Singapore and 2.1 per cent in Mainland China (4 per cent in Shenzhen and 6 per cent in Beijing). No doubt R&D involves high risks, and large investments are not a guarantee of success. But investing too little is even less likely to generate results. It can be said that the amount of expenditure on R&D determines the outcomes. Given Hong Kong's minimal amount of investment in R&D (as shown by above-mentioned figures), it is very natural that the related industries have had a barren patch all along.
Second, the government should play a leading role in the transformation of R&D into applied technology. According to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings published late last year, Hong Kong universities received particularly low marks in "knowledge transfer". While Peking University and Tsinghua University were both awarded 100 marks in that area, the University of Hong Kong had only 53.7 marks, and the Chinese University, 37.5 marks, the Polytechnic University, 45.1 marks, the University of Science and Technology, 68 marks. This shows that there is a huge gap between Hong Kong universities and their mainland counterparts in this aspect, which will affect not only those universities' positions in rankings but also Hong Kong's economic development.
Hong Kong factories can achieve success in R&D as well if the government's policies come as an encouragement to them. Are they good at nothing but low-end manufacturing or speculation in the property market? No they are not. As long as there is an incentive, these companies can make use of their wisdom to achieve results in R&D.