Hong Kong Gov’t Talks But Little Action For E-Business

In two separate events on Friday, Hong Kong officials talked about promoting the Internet industry in the Special Administrative Region (SAR) but offered few specifics on how the government would meet the needs of e-business enterprises.

At a press conference announcing several corporate supporters of the Chief Executive’s Commission on Innovation and Technology, little was mentioned in regard to how the policy would serve the Internet industry in Hong Kong.

When asked what priority the commission placed on the development of a broadband infrastructure and the local Internet industry, the director-general of industry, Francis Ho, commented, “If you look at the commission, there is a very clear commitment and objective to develop Hong Kong into an Internet hub and Multimedia hub.”

Nevertheless, among the corporate supporters, including 3M, Sybase, Nortel Networks, Star TV, Motorola, Hong Kong-based VTech, and Silicon Valley venture capitalist group–H&Q Asia Pacific, there were no real hard-core Internet companies.

Of the representative business leaders, only the managing director of Nortel Networks (Hong Kong), Stephen Tsui, spoke about Hong Kong’s Internet industry.

“Hong Kong can become a leading Asia Pacific technology and Internet hub, and the electronic gateway to China,” said Tsui. “And we pledge our support and resources to help realize this vision.”

“For Hong Kong to become a regional Internet hub and an e-commerce gateway to the Mainland, the right telecommunications infrastructure must be in place,” added Tsui.

Echoing the cry of most local e-businesses, he said, “We welcome further policies and strategies to enhance the ability to deploy high-bandwidth services leading to market expansion and innovation that benefits service providers and end users, alike.”

Nortel has put its money where its mouth is by setting up its Asia Pacific Center for E-commerce and its Wireless Center for Engineering where it will service and develop its mobile webtone products which are designed to allow access to the Internet via “any information appliances.”

At another event on Friday, K.C. Kwong, the secretary for information technology and broadcasting, spoke to a gathering of several foreign chambers of commerce more specifically about government policy on the Internet industry.

Kwong mentioned four e-commerce initiatives including the Electronic Service Delivery (ESD) scheme for government departments, the planned implementation of public key infrastructure and certification authorities by the Hong Kong Post, the development of cyberlaws in the Legislative Council, and an e-commerce promotion campaign.

Kwong said that in 1998-99 the government was spending HK$2.1 billion (US$271 million) but did not provide details of how much of this would be spent on e-commerce.

Many Hong Kong Internet professionals and entrepreneurs believe that while the government is moving on e-commerce, it’s not moving quick enough to catch up with neighboring competitive markets, Singapore and Taiwan. Both have broadband and rapidly developing e-commerce industries.

In Hong Kong, e-businesses still can’t get local merchant accounts because local banks don’t trust the security of the electronic medium.

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