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SHA's speech at Creative Cities Conference


Following is the speech (English only) by the Secretary for Home Affairs, Dr Patrick Ho, at the Creative Cities Conference held at the University of Hong Kong today (November 8):

Sir James, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning everybody, and welcome to Hong Kong, Asia's world city. It is a great pleasure to be taking part in today's conference on Creative Cities. I would like to extend my warmest greetings to our esteemed guests from the UK.

I've heard that 'the market kills more artistic passion than anything else'. Therein lies one of the key challenges we face - how to better harness the creative capital of our community without compromising that cleverness, imagination and talent. Or, how can we marry brainpower and business without it ending in a messy divorce and a fight over the kids?

In Hong Kong, we are just embarking on a concerted match-making process. We have a lot to learn from countries like the UK, New Zealand and Australia which have recognized the value of a structured approach to the promotion of creative industries as economic drivers. But we learn fast, and we have a lot to offer.

We are the perfect testing ground for the development of creative industries in this region of the world. We have a large population in a small area - 7 million in 1000 square kilometres - good ideas take off fast, bad ideas flop even faster. We are quick to take up and adapt new technologies. We are a melting pot of cultures, predominantly Chinese but with a large expatriate community of well over 500,000 people who enrich the mix of our open and pluralistic society.

In addition, we have the necessary institutional software. We believe strongly in the freedom of expression and the free flow of ideas and information. We have a robust Customs regime to protect intellectual property rights. Our tried and trusted legal system is based on the British common law and upheld by an independent judiciary. We have a level playing field for business. It doesn't matter whether you come from Britain, Barbados or Bahrain - every company is treated the same as those that are born and bred in Hong Kong. And we have a clean and efficient civil service which aims to make doing business in Hong Kong as easy as possible.

So we have in place the proper platform needed for creative industries to flourish. And, indeed, some already have - film, performing arts, music, fashion, design, advertising, arts and antiques, and Chinese publishing, games software, animation and comics. In many of these areas, Hong Kong is already a regional leader. But as a government we need a more systemic and co-ordinated approach to increase the economic benefits and potential of our creativity, either as businesses in their own right or as creative input into other businesses or industries. This is what we are working on.

As a government, we clearly should not invest in one industry or another. But we should be a market enabler to create an environment conducive to the development of business and wealth. Our predictable, simple and low-tax system is one of the major reasons why businesses big and small, and entrepreneurs galore, come to Hong Kong. With a top profits tax rate of only 16% you get to keep most of what you make, which is a pretty good incentive to work hard, to have a go and to take calculated risks. Creative industries, by their nature, do involve an element of risk. But, I believe the institutional software we have in place, plus our low taxes, helps keep those risks to a minimum, particularly in relation to the protection of intellectual property rights.

While we do need a strategy, we do not need to reinvent the wheel. We know what we're good at. So, we will home in on three or four successful areas first, and then slowly take more on board as we gain more experience, success and momentum. In addition, I have in mind a two-pronged approach.

First, we must get our house in order. And by this I mean we must encourage and steer people to think more about the business end of creativity, and the creative end of business. This applies as equally to those who come up with good ideas, as it does to those in the business sector who might use those ideas to make money or add value to the services or products they provide. Our Arts Development Council, established just seven years ago, is now taking on a new role to reach out to those in the artistic community in Hong Kong to help them manage and promote their talent, skills and knowledge. And we will work hand-in-hand with our Trade Development Council to help promote the creative industries here in Hong Kong and in other markets in China and elsewhere in Asia.

This leads into the second part of our approach, and that is to stimulate and cultivate the market for creative industries. We might be a good testing ground, but at the end of the day we are a market of just seven million. On our doorstep is the Pearl River Delta, the fastest growing and most affluent economic region in China, and home to over 40 million people - or close to 50 million if you include Hong Kong and Macau. Our cousins across the boundary already have a healthy appetite for Hong Kong's creative industries - in fact many more people watch Hong Kong television in the Pearl River Delta that we do here in Hong Kong. They eat in Hong Kong-owned restaurants and buy Hong Kong brand-name goods. And more than six million people are employed by 65,000 companies and factories owned by Hong Kong entrepreneurs in the Pearl River Delta and Guangdong Province.

Just let me expand a little about why the Pearl River Delta is so important. At present, the area has a combined GDP of $258 billion US, which puts it amongst the world's top 20 economies. That is expected to double to $500 billion US over the next 7 years. Excluding Hong Kong and Macau, the per capita GDP of the region is the highest in the Mainland at around $4,000 US. And it will go higher. As living standards improve so will the capacity to spend, especially on cultural and creative products.

So you can see that the Pearl River Delta offers significant potential and specific advantages as a consumer market, a trading hub, a manufacturing base, a services market for creative industries and as a destination for creative investment. And lying at the heart of the Pearl River Delta is Hong Kong.

Now, by pushing into the Pearl River Delta we can also develop a critical mass of talent and market opportunities for the creative industries. We can at first establish a network of contacts within the Delta, testing and promoting our services. We can then expand further afield into the enormous China market, where there are in excess of 300 million people within a two hour flight from Hong Kong. At the same time we can push into the East Asia milieu, extending our reach through a network of alliances with other creative industry and arts groups in Taiwan, Japan, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.

The wider we reach, the more creative we become. We are looking for an inclusive experience. Promote and prosper, look and learn.

Ladies and gentlemen, Chinese culture is the product of centuries of artistic endeavour and innovation. Chinese imagination and ingenuity gave the world the 'four creatives' - the compass, paper, printing and gunpowder. We are renowned for our porcelain and art. Many would argue that some of our cuisine is an art form. We have our own music, opera and performing arts heritage. Here in Hong Kong, as one of the most open cities on earth, we have developed our own sub-culture after decades of interaction with the global village. We are the epitome of the Orient - Occident blend. Over the centuries we have also proven to be canny and astute traders and business people. The overseas Chinese community reaches far and wide. It's part of our nature to haggle and argue and cajole for the best deal and the best price. So there is enormous potential if we can bring all of these strings together to further promote the creative industries in Hong Kong. And when we do I am confident that like the inventor of gunpowder, it will go off with a bang!

Thank you very much.

End/Friday, November 8, 2002


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