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SHA's speech at HK Association Luncheon in London (English only)


Following is the speech by the Secretary for Home Affairs,

Dr Patrick Ho, at the luncheon hosted by Hong Kong Association at Painters' Hall, London on December 11 (London time):

Baroness Dunn, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for your kind welcome, and for the chance to speak with you today in such fine surroundings. It is a particular honour for me, as one of the new 'ministers' under the accountability system, to have been given an opportunity to address an audience with such close ties to Hong Kong, and who take such a keen interest in what is taking place in our part of the world.

I know, too, that a long list of esteemed speakers precedes me at gatherings of the Hong Kong Association. I can't compete with Anson Chan's dimples, or Donald Tsang's bow ties, nor with the grace and elegance of Baroness Dunn for that matter.

But what I can offer you today is an insight - and I hope an interesting one - into one particular area of my portfolio that holds great promise, and that is the promotion of our creative industries. That is just one part of my mission this week.

As Secretary for Home Affairs, I have responsibility for a wide range of areas. Gambling policy is one, district administration and rural affairs is another. As many of you may have heard, we have decided to regulate soccer gambling in Hong Kong. So I am taking a look at how this is handled in the UK. And because there is such a large population of New Territories villagers now living here and elsewhere in Europe - about 70,000 at last count - I'm also taking the opportunity to brief them on new arrangements for rural elections that we are aiming to have in place by the middle of next year.

The others areas I look after are recreation and sport; culture and arts; district administration; human rights, equal opportunity and data privacy; building management; youth development; civil education; opinion gauging; and various licensing matters.

On the 'hardware' side, this includes provision of public facilities such as libraries, games halls, museums and community centers. On the 'software' side we promote and develop policies and laws that add to the institutional foundations of our city as a free, open and tolerant society. Our overall goal is to enhance civic pride, promote good citizenship and a sense of social and civil responsibility, as well as improve the quality of life for our residents.

That last point relates to what I want to speak about today - creative industries. Our films, music, performing arts - just to mention a few - have long enjoyed popular recognition in Hong Kong, and amongst the Chinese diaspora. They are what you could call the 'soul food' of the city, 'heart-ware' of our people, and there is no doubt that they have greatly enriched our lives. But what we are now trying to do is to take that talent and creativity and energy to the world.

This week, I have been looking at how the creative industries are promoted in the UK. We can learn a lot from cities like London and New York that have vibrant creative sectors. On the other hand, with our eclectic mix of East and West in Hong Kong, we also have a lot to offer.

Just a month ago, I took part in a Creative Cities conference in Hong Kong, organized by the British Council. Plenty of ideas were exchanged during that two-day event. And I certainly hope that we see some creative collaboration come out of it as a result.

It has been said that 'the market kills more artistic passion than anything else'. And that is one of the key challenges we face - how to better harness the creative capital of our community without compromising their cleverness, imagination and talent. Or, to put it another way - how do we combine the brainpower of our creative minds with the business acumen of our entrepreneurs. Or, better still, how can we help our creative people to think like entrepreneurs?

Hong Kong is a perfect testing ground for the development of creative industries. We have a large population in a small area - 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 - from Europe and North America, from Asia and the Pacific and the Indian sub-continent. All of these people enrich the mix of our open and pluralistic society.

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 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 create an environment conducive to the development of business and wealth. Our low taxes are a big drawcard for individual entrepreneurs as well as businesses. They provide 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 and success. I have in mind a three-pronged approach.

First, we must drum up the latent creativity of our people. We can do this by promoting local arts and crafts, by encouraging creativity in our education system, and by giving our young artists an opportunity to experiment and shine. This is really a grass-roots, back to basics approach. Before we can do anything we must develop a critical mass of creative talents in Hong Kong, as well as an appreciation for the creative industries. That's not to say we don't already have these elements in Hong Kong. We most certainly do. But I would like to nurture them further and help them grow and bloom.

Second, we must get our house in order. We must encourage and steer people to think more about the business end of creativity. 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 seven years ago, has been gradually evolving. It 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 in Hong Kong and in other markets in China and elsewhere in Asia.

Third, we must 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 than we do 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 beyond into the rest of 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 US$271 billion, which is more than Switzerland and Sweden and puts the area amongst the world's top 20 economies. GDP is expected to double to over US$500 billion within the next seven years. Including Hong Kong and Macau, the per capita GDP of the region is around US$5,400. And it will go higher. As living standards improve so will the capacity to spend, especially on cultural products.

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

By pushing into the Pearl River Delta we can 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.

Indeed just three weeks ago we took an important first step in this process when we in Hong Kong hosted a Greater Pearl River Delta Cultural Summit involving Hong Kong, Macau and the Guangdong Province. After that very productive meeting I and my colleagues agreed to establish a foundation for cultural collaboration.

We will move forward under three principles: collaborative spirit, common identity and international branding. By taking this approach we all hope to enhance cultural development, strengthen cultural literacy and enrich our residents' cultural lives in the region. Apart from introducing new cultural features from Guangdong and Macau we also hope to stimulate the development of the creative industries in the Greater Pearl River Delta.

Working groups will meet regularly to discuss issues in several areas such as the exchange of information and performing art talent; the joint organization of world-class performances; co-operation in ticketing networks; development of a museum network and the excavation, conservation and promotion of heritage; a digital libraries network; and the promotion of Cantonese opera and the training of talents.

On this last point we will also work very closely with our Guangdong counterparts to have Cantonese Opera included in the UNESCO world heritage list. This would help promote this unique performing art to the rest of the world, and bring a new focus to the promotion of this art form locally.

Once we have established substantial roots in the Pearl River Delta, we will expand further 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 and Japan, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.

The wider we reach, the more creative we become. That's because it is only natural to absorb the arts and culture and commercial practices of the markets in which we have established these links. It also provides us with a ready benchmark to assess our relative strengths and weaknesses and to look at how we might do better; or indeed to look at areas of potential growth that we may not have considered. We are looking for an inclusive experience. Promote and prosper, look and learn.

Ladies and gentlemen, as you know, 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. In Hong Kong, 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. When we do I am confident that, like the invention of gunpowder, it will go off with a bang!

Thank you very much.

End/Thursday, December 12, 2002


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