Following is the full text of the speech (English only) by the Acting Financial Secretary, Mr Stephen Ip, at the opening ceremony of the Hong Kong International Computer Conference 2001 today (September 12):
Mr Lai, Ms Chow, Mr Cheung, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to be here today for this 24th Hong Kong International Computer Conference. For those of you who may be a little surprised at seeing this 'virtual' Financial Secretary standing before you, the 'real' Antony Leung has been called away to attend an APEC Finance Minister Meeting in Suzhou and a visit to Shanghai. And sends his apologies for not being able to be back in time for the opening of this important international conference.
First of all, let me welcome to Hong Kong those participants who have come from countries either within the region or from further afield. I hope your schedule will allow you to spend a few extra days here in Hong Kong to enjoy some of the things we like doing best - eating, shopping and sightseeing (real and not virtual!). I'm sure you'll find we have plenty of everything to keep you fully occupied.
The current global economic downturn has shaken the confidence in the drivers of the 'New Economy'. Sectors of the industry have taken a hit over the past 18 months following the bursting of the IT bubble economy. But for those of us who have witnessed and experienced the improvements the information revolution has brought to our life, we know there is no turning back!
I recall glancing through a series of articles called 'the wild wild web' in the Financial Times late last year. In the final article, it said 'the Internet has turned out to be one of the most powerful forces shaping business for decades'.
I couldn't agree more. Online technologies allow companies to expand their markets, get closer to their customers, streamline their supply chains and link with partners in competitive networks - in short, to turn information and how it is handled into a competitive weapon to enhance efficiency, save costs and expand business opportunities. The prospect is good with the growth of the knowledge-based economy.
And the downturn has certainly not put the brakes on Hong Kong enterprises leveraging the use of IT to enhance their operations and competitiveness with innovative applications. As e-commerce continues to expand, interest in broadening the horizons with mobile commerce has gathered momentum. Business partnerships have been established to develop secure infrastructure for wireless transactions that are set to spur the development of mobile commerce in Hong Kong still further.
Another encouraging sign has been the establishment by the private sector of a certification authority that has successfully gained government recognition. This 'CA' is now providing secure electronic authentication services to support trade related e-commerce transactions. With the emergence of these IT infrastructural and applications developments, we can look forward to the wider adoption of IT and e-commerce in Hong Kong.
And, of course, the community's efforts to capitalise on our infrastructure and the technology development never cease. For instance, local banks have been launching Internet banking to provide customers, small and large alike, with fast and convenient services. Online stock trading has been rolled out and investors can now purchase or sell stocks through the Internet or their mobile phones.
Coming on the horizon is the introduction of third generation mobile services. We have introduced a royalty-based payment licensing scheme that is intended to minimise the financial burden on operators. By the close of play next Tuesday [18 September], bidders will have submitted their applications. These will then be assessed to ensure they meet the pre-qualification criteria. The first phase of the spectrum auction is expected to follow in the same week and we plan to issue the licences by the end of the year.
We firmly believe Hong Kong is ideally placed to enjoy the full benefits of 3G. We remain a leader in mobile services and technology; we have a highly competitive market; and with 82 people out of every 100 owning a mobile phone we have one of the world's highest ownership rates. Our hybrid method should also create good opportunities for both network operators and providers of content and service applications. Small innovative enterprises have the potential to benefit greatly by the licensing requirement that successful bidders have to open up at least 30 per cent of their capacity for use by non-affiliated mobile virtual network operators and content and service providers.
I think you would all agree that Hong Kong business is quite innovative and certainly entrepreneurial. However, as a government we believe we have an important supporting role to play. There are a number of external factors that the market alone cannot take on such as basic research, clustering, networking, competition, regulation or deregulation.
We have a major role to play in equipping our population with the know-how in seizing the benefits of the advances in IT. Apart from efforts to promote the use of IT in all sectors of the community, we are committed to ensuring the free flow of information. We have built up a complex network of international links over the years. Internally, we are also developing an effective network linking up our research agencies, mainly the universities, with industry so the results of R&D flow to the commercial sector. We are doing this through industrial sponsorship of projects financed by our Innovation and Technology Fund and the various university-industry collaboration schemes. The Fund is but one of the many initiatives to promote R&D and encourage creativity and risk-taking in the deployment of R&D results.
We are keen to ensure that public sector policies are designed to stimulate innovation, encourage, rather than stifle competition in the private sector. In other words, we have to reduce the barriers to competition. We are catching up on this front with greater attention to competition issues. The liberalisation of the telecommunications market is a case in point which has encouraged strong price and service competition. Even Internet charges, which average out at less than HK$1.40 an hour, are amongst the lowest in the world.
Ladies and gentlemen, let's not be taken aback by the bursting of the IT bubble economy. We all know that it will in no way halt the "IT Reality" and its implications on "Business and Community". What we should do is to continue with our efforts to exploit the full potential and business opportunities created by the technology advances. China's imminent accession to the World Trade Organisation will open up promising business opportunities in the IT and telecommunications field. Indeed, the Mainland is the world's fourth largest telecomm market. With our geographic, language and managerial strengths, we will be seen as valuable strategic partners for foreign investors who intend to enter the Mainland market.
Our progressive liberalisation polices have already resulted in an eight-fold increase in telecommunications capacity between Hong Kong and the Mainland in the past year. And greater market competition has reduced the cost of private-leased circuits by more than 50 per cent since January 2000. These developments will help meet the surging demand for cross boundary communications and give Hong Kong the edge in seizing the opportunities in a post WTO China.
From where I stand, I see a very sound future in information technology. We are bound to hit rough patches on the way, but our march towards the knowledge-based economy is irreversible. I wish your conference every success and congratulate the Hong Kong Computer Society for once again organising this important event.
End/Wednesday, September 12, 2001