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Trade and Industry Department The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region
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Speeches

Speech by the Director-General of Trade and Industry
October 13, 2000

Following is the full text of the speech on "Graduating into the New Economy" by the Director-General of Trade and Industry, Mr Joshua Law, at the Congregation of the Engineering Doctorate/Integrated Graduate Development Scheme/Integrated Manager Development Scheme jointly organised by the Hong Kong Polytechnic University and the University of Warwick today (October 13):

Mr Tsang, Professor Sir Brian Follett, distinguished guests, graduates, parents, ladies and gentlemen,

I am honoured to have been asked to address this Congregation of the Integrated Graduate Development Scheme jointly organised by the Hong Kong Polytechnic University and the University of Warwick. I must congratulate all who are graduating this afternoon. It is especially pleasing to see that so many of you have passed with flying colours.

Graduations are a time of great joy and relief. When I graduated from university, I thought - wrongly as it turned out - that at last I could take a well-deserved break. Not long after graduating I joined the Hong Kong Government. That was 20 years ago. And here I am this afternoon, still a civil servant and still waiting to take that long break I had promised myself all those years ago. But it has been a most enjoyable and rewarding career choice. In my present job, I travel quite often, which means my kids have a wonderful collection of toys and souvenirs from around the world. And part of my job is to promote the free trade philosophy of Hong Kong, which is something I strongly believe in. So I have the good fortune to be in a job that is rewarding both personally and professionally.

Today, this graduation ceremony is your major preoccupation at the moment. But I know that all of you have given a great deal of thought, and probably experienced quite a bit of angst, about what the future holds. You have passed one major threshold but now face even greater challenges in the workplace.

So, I would like to share some observations about the changing economic landscape that awaits you. I will touch upon some of the challenges ahead, as well as the knowledge and mindset you may need in order to excel in the 'New Economy'.

The 'New economy'

Generation after generation, human civilisation has experienced constant change and upheaval. Hong Kong is no exception. Young people of this generation are perhaps seeing more rapid change than that experienced by any other. In just the past three years, we have witnessed the successful and peaceful reunification of Hong Kong with the Mainland; increased globalisation of the world economy, in part caused by rapid advances in information technology; and we have managed to ride out of the storm of the Asian financial crisis.

The reunification in 1997 brought Hong Kong back under the wing of our nation after a long separation. But the Hong Kong we know today was founded as a trading port for the China market back in the 1840s. There has always been a fruitful and symbiotic relationship. But that relationship entered a new era in the late 1970s with the 'open door' policy of the Mainland government. The door to the vast Mainland market will open even further once China enters the World Trade Organisation (WTO), hopefully before the end of this year.

This will have a significant impact on the local economy. China's WTO membership will mean a more open market, greater investment opportunities, and stronger demand for skills and talents as China continues to integrate with the global economy. Hong Kong has a unique role to play in this process. We have been blessed with a strategic location and one of the finest deep-water ports in Asia. We have a profound knowledge of the Mainland market, as well as world-class economic, financial and transport infrastructure. We have positioned ourselves as the major Gateway to the fast-expanding Mainland economy.

But that does not mean we can simply sit tight and expect windfall gains to lob into our laps. Indeed, Hong Kong's great strength has been the ability to quickly and positively respond to change; to seize opportunities when new challenges arise. More importantly, we rely heavily on the vision of our talented professionals and entrepreneurs who can see beyond the limited horizons of Hong Kong to ensure our competitiveness in the regional, as well as, global markets.

The government, too, has a crucial role to play. In the past few years, various measures have been implemented to further strengthen our economic fundamentals. These helped us to recover solidly and strongly from the Asian financial crisis, as well as better prepare us for the emergence of the new economy.

Shortly after the establishment of the Hong Kong SAR, the Chief Executive Tung Chee Hwa established a Commission on Innovation and Technology to help provide Hong Kong with a roadmap to navigate the new economy. It was clear from the Commission's final report that Hong Kong, like all other advanced economies, has to embrace innovation and technology if we are to overcome the challenge, and take full advantage of the opportunities, arising from a knowledge-based economy.

The knowledge-based society is, in fact, with us now. Advances in technology, particularly information technology (IT), are capable of improving exponentially the efficiency and productivity of individuals, corporations and of course the economy as a whole. This is possible because of cheap and quick access to information for everyone, from manufacturers to retailers, from large corporations to small and medium enterprises, through faster computers, fibre optics and the Internet. To ensure Hong Kong remains a world-class economy in the new millennium, we must maintain our pre-eminent capability in technology applications and innovation. Above all, we must nurture our human capital as the primary source of wealth creation and as the principal means to enhance competitiveness.

The Asian financial turmoil that hit the region just a day after our reunification in 1997 actually helped us to expedite the pace of the transformation to a knowledge-based society. Entrepreneurs, professionals and managers quickly realised that they could no longer rely upon existing skills and tools to maintain competitiveness or to create wealth. They recognise that the world economy is getting highly globalised and that no single economy can be totally insulated from another.

Competition is keen, and the best way to sustain growth momentum is to sharpen our competitive edge in the world market. This requires a deeper understanding of how a knowledge-based economy works, the establishment of a technology-driven capability, greater awareness about the benefits and applications of IT, and by placing due emphasis on 'non-cost' factor competition such as responsiveness, product design and the ability to add value to the business chain.

Engineered for the new economy

You may well ask how all of the changes taking place now relate to you as an engineer. Well, quite a lot actually. Perhaps the most obvious change is that sooner or later you, and those interacting with you, will find it difficult to classify you by occupation. You will most likely perform the role of both engineer and manager. The same applies to other professions.

Employers in this new information and knowledge-based economy will expect employees at all levels to possess multiple skills; to be all-round, knowledge workers with a mindset for managing change. For those who will run their own business will come the realisation that, in a dynamic and evolving economy, you have to be a multi-skilled and entrepreneurial 'engineer' in order to lead your team, beat your competitors, impress your clients and, at the same time, master the influx of information that comes to you from all directions.

This is understandable given that technological advance has inevitably brought with it new demands on workers who must interact with an increasingly complex stock of capital. Technical know-how may well lead you to a technological breakthrough. But I believe it is the 'soft skills' such as management, IT application, entrepreneurial flair and liberal arts training that will really empower a person with the ability and motivation to create, analyse and apply new technology.

Some of you may have heard of Tom Byers, an associate Professor at the Stanford School of Engineering and the co-founding director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Programme. He sums up perfectly what I mean about the skills required of an engineering graduate today, especially the need for an entrepreneurial spark. He said: "I don't care what discipline of engineering a student is in, they'll be living and working in an entrepreneurial economy."

I am sure that all graduates fully understand the impact of the new economy and have responded promptly to these changes by equipping yourselves through continued education. I know it has not been easy to take further study while working, especially since most, if not all, of you are concurrently pursuing many other commitments in life. However, I earnestly believe that you have all made the best investment in your life, and that you will soon reap the rewards for the time and effort you have spent on widening your knowledge base at this critical stage of your career.

You should all be congratulated for moving ahead. Gone are the days when a first-degree course can adequately serve a person for an entire lifetime. Today's professionals are expected to make use of a wide range of knowledge and skills to achieve their goals over their career life, and be expected to add value beyond their profession.

A similar transformation has, in fact, taken place where I work. In July this year the Trade Department and part of the former Industry Department merged to form a new Trade and Industry Department. This reorganisation and rationalisation will help broaden market access for Hong Kong businesses and create a better synergy in the development of our trade and industry. It is a change specifically designed to meet the new challenges facing our economy.

Looking ahead, we need engineers who can lead us through changes. But let me add this. As promising engineers, your mission is not confined to the realms of mushrooming higher technology. Please do not neglect the call from traditional industries where restructuring is happening and transformation is imminently required. It is an important sector of our economy which needs particular attention to raise general awareness and enhance capacity to take full advantage of the technological advances that are shaping the world today. This is one area where your entrepreneurial and professional skills can be put to good use.

Before I finish, I would like to leave you with a quote from the American philosopher Eric Hoffer, who once said that: "The only way to predict the future is to have the power to shape the future". By persevering with study, the graduates here this afternoon have empowered themselves with the knowledge to shape not only their own futures, but perhaps even those of other people in Hong Kong or elsewhere in the world. This is the power of education.

Finally, may I congratulate the Hong Kong Polytechnic University and the University of Warwick for running such a successful joint programme. I am confident that the Hong Kong economy, particularly our industries, can continue to count on the talent emerging from this programme. May I also take this opportunity to wish all graduates every success in all your endeavours.

Thank you.

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