Hong Kong can be China’s data hub, says famed app developer

July 05, 2018 13:06
Jason Chiu, founder and CEO of Hong Kong-based app developer cherrypicks, said local startups should grasp the opportunities in countries along the Belt and Road. Photo: HKEJ

Hong Kong can become a regional data hub by taking advantage of the opportunities brought by China's Belt and Road Initiative, famed app developer Jason Chiu said.

Startups in the territory have been looking beyond the relatively small local market, and many of them are expanding to the mainland. While many believe Hong Kong lags behind on technology and innovation, Chiu stressed that the city enjoys a unique position and many advantages.

"When our nation starts building a digital Silk Road, Hong Kong can play the role of China’s data center hub,” Chiu said.

“Hong Kong is the freest city in China, it has an environment known for probity, a well-established intellectual property system and it has its own common law legislation under the principle of One Country, Two Systems. In view of those advantages, large enterprises worldwide will feel safe to store data in Hong Kong.”

“The ‘Hong Kong’ brand value cannot be underestimated,” he added.

Chiu said the Hong Kong government can act as a coordinator to help local companies open new markets abroad. It can, for example, forge agreements with ASEAN countries like Singapore and Malaysia on investment protection and avoidance of double taxation.

He said the government could offer funding support for startups promoting their businesses abroad, citing the Technology Voucher Programme launched by Innovation and Technology Commission as a good way to promote technology adoption in small and medium-scale enterprises in the city.

As the convenor of the SME and Younger Generation Working Group of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council’s Belt and Road Committee, Chiu said countries along the Belt and Road that will be participating in the initiative could provide enormous opportunities for SMEs and startups in the city.

He cited the case of Myanmar, where 70 percent of the population still does not have electricity. He said Hong Kong startups can grasp the opportunity by supplying solar panels and other equipment to provide off-the-grid power or setting up WiFi routers on lampposts across the country.

Local SMEs can also sell their products via e-commerce platforms to urban residents who have internet access in countries along the Belt and Road.

Chiu’s mobile solutions business cherrypicks was sold to Chinese online gaming firm NetDragon for about US$30 million in 2014.

Chiu said that compared with China and the US, where tech leaders are the fastest-growing segment of entrepreneurs and billionaires, Hong Kong’s richest people almost all come from the real estate sector. “The society neglected the development and education of internet and technology talents,” he said.

“While other countries are adopting advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) in traditional agriculture like growing crops and raising pigs, Hong Kong is still stuck in discussing how the banking industry should apply AI and attract technology talents," said Chiu.

He believes that the shortage of talents is a difficult issue for technology companies. In response to Hong Kong’s efforts in importing foreign tech talent, he said: "If the technology talent policy tends to protect locals, the city will fall behind others in the competition for talent."

Chiu expects that with the growing attention to STEM education in the city, "20 years later, most of the Hong Kong graduates will have the ambition to join the technology sector".

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 5

Translation by Ben Ng

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal