Following is the full text of the speech (English only) by the Financial Secretary, Mr Antony Leung, at the Hong Kong Management Association 2001 Annual Fellowship Dinner today (December 11):
David (Li), Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
It gives me great pleasure to attend this annual dinner and to speak with you tonight.
As you all know, today is an historic day for our motherland. After 15 years of hard work, China has finally become a fully-fledged member of the World Trade Organisation. This will bring enormous opportunities as well as a number of challenges to Hong Kong.
There will be many opportunities that directly relate to members of the Hong Kong Management Association. As more and more international companies look for business opportunities in Mainland's huge market, demand for professional services such as accounting, auditing, human resources, real estate management, company and contract law and arbitration is expected to increase significantly. Mainland companies will find that they need high quality managers and professionals if they are serious about competing on the global platform. They will also need all sorts of business services such as trading and logistics, wholesale and retail, and telecommunications and finance. Hong Kong, with its mature and competitive services sector, is well positioned to play an important role in fulfilling this rise in demand.
At the same time, we do expect more international companies to come to Hong Kong and to use Hong Kong as a springboard for their Mainland operations. In the past two years alone, some 750 international companies have established regional operations in Hong Kong. This has taken the number of international corporations with a regional headquarters or office in Hong Kong to over 3,200. These companies are also providing employment opportunities for the professional services sector in Hong Kong.
The biggest challenge for Hong Kong now is how to remain competitive in post-WTO China. How does Hong Kong maintain its edge and relevance now that the doors to China's market have been thrown wide open? How do we sustain growth, continue to lift living standards and provide enough employment opportunities for all sectors of our community?
Rapid advances in technology and communications have greatly accelerated the emergence of new knowledge and changed the way that trades and businesses are transacted. These advances have hastened the process of globalisation by making it easier and more efficient to move money and services around the world. Such changes will inevitably affect all of the world's economies, especially small, free and open economies like Hong Kong.
Some people argue that Hong Kong is also facing additional challenges caused by its comparatively higher costs than most of our neighbours. But I would hasten to add that costs are but one element of competitiveness. You can have the cheapest labour in the world but they may not have the skills you require. Similarly rents may be lower but business volume may be less. Competitiveness is all about creating value for money. In other words, making sure that investors and business get more bang for their buck here in Hong Kong than they can get anywhere else in the region.
At the moment, Hong Kong is in the midst of economic restructuring that will take us to the next plateau of development. We simply cannot afford to remain the way we are. So, in Hong Kong, to maintain our competitiveness in the international arena, we must be constantly upgrading our economic fabric. We must move higher up the value-added chain. And this hinges, to a great extent, on our ability to harness new technologies, foster new industries, devise new business strategies and develop new operating modes. We need to boost our capacity to construct, grasp and apply new knowledge. To do this we will need a broad, deep pool of talented people who are innovative, flexible, adaptable and possess excellent management, organisational and communication skills. This is precisely the reason why we have been emphasising the importance of upgrading our human capital through continuing, lifelong learning.
In the past few years, continuing education has been developing rapidly in Hong Kong. Last year alone, according to a government survey, more than 12,000 continuing education courses were offered by various institutions. Total student enrolment exceeded 550,000 between June 1999 and May 2000. The Hong Kong Management Association itself offers 2,100 courses, which cater for almost 50,000 people annually. This is a tremendous effort, and I commend the Association for its commitment to improving the effectiveness and efficiency of not only management in Hong Kong, but to a broad spectrum of professionals and skilled workers.
These figures are very encouraging. They show that many Hong Kong people already understand the importance of lifelong learning. And not only that, they are doing something about it. The government is also doing its bit, and will do more. We already provide non means-tested loans for people to pursue professional and educational courses offered in Hong Kong by registered schools, non-local tertiary institutions, professional organisations and recognised training institutions.
In addition, the Chief Executive announced in his Policy Address in October a new initiative to set aside 5 billion dollars to establish a special fund to subsidise those with learning aspirations to pursue continuing education and training programmes. We trust that this new fund will further encourage more people to upgrade their knowledge through enrolment to various courses in their spare time.
The government is also considering how to develop a comprehensive qualifications framework covering academic, vocational, professional and continuing education. This will allow greater flexibility in the provision of education services, as well as facilitate mutual recognition and articulation between different learning programmes.
We are also putting in place a series of measures to promote the development of post-secondary education opportunities. From this school year, financial assistance has been provided to students without adequate financial resources to pursue full-time accredited post-secondary education programmes. We also provide other assistance, such as start-up loans, for eligible course providers. These measures should help to promote lifelong learning opportunities earlier in the education of Hong Kong people.
Inculcating a habit of lifelong and continuing education in Hong Kong will also help us to develop as a regional centre for learning. At present we import quite a lot of educational services into Hong Kong - it is a growth industry here, and it will become an important growth industry in China. There is no reason why we cannot export more of our own education expertise to China and throughout Asia. This will help strengthen our human resources foundation, which in turn will help Hong Kong develop as a knowledge-based economy and as Asia's World City.
The Government will devote considerable resources to achieve these goals. But we need to work in partnership with the private sectors and the community at large. The government can provide the policy framework but ultimately, the market will decide whether our vision can come true. We need education providers that are not solely concerned about profits, but who are also driven by a passion for quality education. I know that the Association, through its extensive education and training programmes, also shares this goal.
I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate the new fellows and charter members of the Association, and the award winners tonight. Their commitment and support to lifelong learning will no doubt help promote a culture of continuous education and training in their organisations and the community at large.
Ladies and gentlemen, as I mentioned earlier, Hong Kong is in the midst of great change and challenge. But change and challenge is nothing new to Hong Kong. In every decade since the 1950s we have met and overcome enormous challenges and threats to our development. Each time we have emerged stronger, wiser and better prepared to assert ourselves once again in the world market. Our spirit, resilience and entrepreneurial flair have carried us this far. And with the persistent pursue of lifelong learning among its people, I am confident that Hong Kong will carry itself far into the future as well.
End/Tuesday, December 11, 2001