Following is a speech by the Secretary for Information Technology and Broadcasting, Mrs Carrie Yau, at the Breakfast Conference organised by Enterprise Ireland in honour of Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland, Ms Mary Harney, today (September 15):
Deputy Prime Minister Harney, Ambassador Connolly, Honorary Consul Lee, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
I am delighted to be here this morning to speak at this breakfast conference organised by Enterprise Ireland. I understood that your trip from Shanghai to Hong Kong was not very smooth. I hope you managed to have a good sleep last night. If you haven't, I'm sure a cure can be found in a cup of strong black coffee, but perhaps not Irish coffee at this early hour of the day.
I am particularly pleased to welcome Deputy Prime Minister Mary Harney and other members of her delegation to Hong Kong. Seeing you today reminds me of my own visit to Dublin last month, where I met government officials and representatives of IT companies. My visit to Citywest Digital Park was an insight into purpose-built IT cluster developments similar to our own Cyberport that is now taking shape. In our case, with a bit more land we might have been able to provide the sort of landscaping you have at Digital Park.
As Secretary for Information Technology and Broadcasting, I am interested in exploring ways in which we can mutually benefit from Ireland's strengths in software development. Perhaps by bringing your expertise to Hong Kong and then marketing it in the Mainland of China and the Asia Pacific region. And, as I'm speaking to such a knowledgeable group of technology professionals, let me share with you my views on why we believe Hong Kong should be chosen as a business partner in the Asian information revolution.
I think few would query the potential of the Asian market today. With most countries in the region now recovering from the impact of the Asian financial turmoil, the IT industry, in particular, is experiencing exponential growth. The International Data Corporation estimates that the number of Internet users in the Asia-Pacific region, excluding Japan, will grow from the present 33 million to 95 million in 2004. In parallel, the value of e-Commerce will leapfrog from US$22 billion to US$770 billion - a 34-fold increase. So, it would be a risky move for any company, or country for that matter, not to include Asia-Pacific on its development agenda, particularly for IT businesses.
Having made the right decision, you will then need a reliable partner to help you seize the opportunities. And this brings me to the nub of my speech: Why partner with Hong Kong? What can we offer? To answer these questions, let's look at it from both the macro and micro levels.
At the macro level, Hong Kong is a pluralistic, tolerant society. We have a hard-working, entrepreneurial workforce, many of whom are bilingual. We have a deep pool of professionals in key sectors such as law and accounting, logistics and transport, management and corporate services. We have long, close and national ties with China, the largest and fastest growing market in the region. We have well-regulated financial markets and Asia's best-regulated banking sector that proved itself during the Asia financial crisis. All these added-values make Hong Kong a great place - we believe the best place - to do business in Asia.
Part of this framework, as I mentioned, is a mature financial sector. A notable example is the 'live' trading in the Asian time zone of seven leading NASDAQ stocks on the Hong Kong stock exchange. It is the first time this service has been offered in the region and five [Cisco, Dell, Intel, Microsoft and Applied Materials] of the seven stocks [the other two are Amgen (pharmaceutical co.) and Starbucks (coffee co.)] are technology counters. In the near future, selected Hong Kong stocks will also be traded on the NASDAQ. Another development has been the establishment of our own NASDAQ-style second board - the Growth Enterprise Market - or GEM for short. GEM provides an opportunity for emerging and growing companies - many in the technology field - to raise capital from local and overseas investors. Since its establishment some 10 months ago, it has raised capital of US$2 billion for 45 companies. If we work together, I can't see why the listings of CBT Systems and Iona Technologies (1) on NASDAQ cannot take place in Hong Kong as well.
Another significant factor contributing to our future success is the enormous prospects for business opportunities in our vast hinterland, the Mainland of China. I am sure you have been able to draw your own conclusions on those opportunities as a result of your visit to both Beijing and Shanghai during the past few days.
Hong Kong's unique partnership with provincial and municipal enterprises in the Mainland underscores the role we can play in further opening up China's market once it becomes a member of the World Trade Organisation. We believe there will be substantial room for Hong Kong companies to further develop, especially for those in the IT and telecommunications sectors. Indeed, many IT firms in the US, Canada, the UK and Australia have already identified their strategic partners in Hong Kong and are preparing to expand into the Mainland market. I strongly urge you to act now.
Turning to the micro level, Hong Kong has all the necessary infrastructure to benefit from the IT boom. We have one of the most advanced telecommunications networks in the world which will support the operation of all types of communications technologies. We have one of the highest mobile phone penetration rates in the world, currently at 69%, a factor which will stimulate the growth of mobile-commerce. Also we have a PC home penetration rate of 50% and one third of our population are Internet users. We are building the Cyberport and a Science Park to foster IT development in Hong Kong. And we are complementing these with a programme to attract overseas IT professionals.
As for training of local IT manpower, we have 19,000 full time degree level students studying in IT-related fields and a further 17,000 students receiving vocational training in IT at the sub-degree level each year. We have also launched a 5-year strategy to improve the use of IT in education in primary and secondary schools. Our long term aim is to train our local people for sustaining our IT development but short term speaking, we will rely on overseas IT professionals to bridge the gap as in many other places in the world.
So, in the words of the Internet language, I believe Hong Kong is the most desirable one-stop-portal in the Asia Pacific region. You can start your R&D in our Cyberport or Science Park; test run the technologies or product on our advanced and high-capacity telecommunications networks, wireline or wireless, locally or with overseas partners; get funding through GEM or access the more than US$17 billion in venture capital from financial institutions in Hong Kong; and, most importantly, market your products to the fastest growing region of the world, through our well-established and extensive trading networks.
And finally back to basics and fundamentals, Hong Kong will continue to upkeep the pillars of success in our society by maintaining the rule of law, an independent Judiciary, a free economy with level playing field, and the free flow of information.
Ladies and gentlemen, Hong Kong and Ireland may be separated geographically by time, oceans and continents, but there are no barriers in the cyber world. Our further success in the Asian information revolution relies on how best we can combine our competitive advantages to achieve the greatest and most effective synergy. I am sure that my visit to Dublin and Deputy Prime Minister Harney's visit to Hong Kong are just the first of many more to come.
Let's hope that when we meet again in the not too distant future we will be able to toast the start of a successful partnership between Hong Kong and Ireland in IT development in Asia. And of course, the toast will be with Irish Whisky.
(1) CBT Systems (supplier of interactive training software to IT professionals in over 20 countries around the world) and Iona Technologies (provider of enterprise middleware technology and solutions) are two successful Irish IT companies listed on NASDAQ.
END/Friday, September 15, 2000