Reforming HK for the better: Technology, connectivity and people

April 14, 2022 10:02
Upon the completion of the Three-runway System, there will be a significant jump in the cargo-handling capacity of Hong Kong International Airport. Photo: Reuters/Hong Kong International Airport

Building off our previous discussion, it is of our view that Hong Kong must leverage technology to connect – not just hardware and existing infrastructure, but also people and networks, that have come to define our city’s competitive edge. Hong Kong must ride on the latest trends, to set a vision that brings people together, as opposed to pulling them apart (i.e., the trends that we have seen taking to our home over the past few years).

The incoming waves of exciting developments across the metaverse, non-fungible tokens (NFTs), cryptocurrency, blockchain technology must be seized upon by the city’s administration to ensure that Hong Kong becomes the regional leader in nascent digital technologies – whilst juggling considerations pertaining to privacy and information security. In the age of Web 3.0, also known as the age of radical disintermediation that quasi-authentically captures and renders real-life experience in virtual and augmented realities, there exists enormous economic opportunities yet to be harvested. For example, the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation joined other leading firms within the Metaverse/Digital Technologies space, and announced its partnership with The Sandbox platform to enter the Metaverse; indeed, the South China Morning Post, under the helming of outgoing CEO Gary Liu, has also undertaken drastic steps to make a splash in the Metaverse, capitalising upon its established legacy to carve out a niche in the web-space.

In April 2020, the China's State Council formally designated data as a factor of production, joining land, labour, capital, and technology. This elevation of data is indicative of a vision for a future economy whereby data drives development. It falls upon those who govern Hong Kong to investigate how data could be harvested to generate foresights as much as it is from other factors or production, but in a secure manner. The improvement of regulation-technology (reg-tech) must follow suit.

When it comes to improving the quality of life for all in the city, Hong Kong must integrate technology and infrastructure to connect those residing within Hong Kong, and those in Hong Kong with the rest of the world at large. The current government’s Smart City Blueprint 2.0 focuses on the wider adoption of smart tech as a city-wide project – this is a prescient and reasonable step. Infrastructurally, Hong Kong has a world-class airport and the upcoming completion of the Three-runway System, which is expected in 2024, will accommodate 9 million tonnes of cargo annually by 2030, which is a 80 per cent increase compared to around 5 million tonnes currently. In addition, the Smart Airport Initiative, which initiated streamlined and fast handling at the customs, autonomous vehicles and human-less contacts to reduce public health risks, are examples of technological and innovation developments that ought to be consolidated and expanded both vertically and horizontally.

The recent transfer of ownership of AsiaWorld-Expo from the Government to the Airport Authority, will enable a higher volume of synergy for those seeking to push forward the ambitious SKYCITY and Airport City projects on the island. Currently used as a treatment facility for COVID patients, a post-COVID recovery plan is well placed to capitalise the island to consolidate its leading role as the international trade and aviation centre. Additionally, Hong Kong’s ranking as a port city has been dropping in recent years amidst fierce competition among rivals in East Asia and mainland China. Hong Kong international container ports need to upgrade as smarter ports and may take lessons from, for instances, Port of Rotterdam, which uses a Digital Twin, to generate insights for real-time monitoring of all operations and Port of Hamburg that uses intelligent solutions for safety, real time navigation, and green electricity from land are implemented into operations.

At the peak of the fifth wave, the emergency pilot to build temporary bridges around the Lok Ma Chau Loop to transport adequate materials and resources across the border to enable the construction of more community isolation and treatment facilities within a short period of time was a success – the government should strive to explore more on ensuring the best and building seamless border arrangement with the mainland, to allow supplies of necessities, including food and medical supplies, to be delivered to Hong Kong most efficiently and effectively.

Post-COVID, Hong Kong’s six major land crossings with mainland China would deserve another closer look in order to allow quicker and more seamless crossings between Hong Kong and the mainland. Such reforms should also ideally echo the 14th Five-Year-Plan, thereby elevating the logistics network into a pillar position in supporting economic and social development, as well as to enable greater connectivity between Hong Kong and the mainland.

Furthermore, with the well-developed transport system in Hong Kong, more work could be done to connect the remote areas and islands of Hong Kong. With over 250 islands in Hong Kong and over 170,000 residents in the Island District, the new administration should explore the use of technology and transportation infrastructure to increase the connectivity of these remote habitants and to potentially craft a more sustainable tourism strategy, expanding the sector's economic contribution to above the pre-COVID level of five per cent of Hong Kong's GDP.

The Smart City village pilot offers a promising start, in providing WiFi services and relevant facilities in these remote villages. Yet more work could be done to improve transport infrastructure – to explore further incentives to provide higher frequency of ferries and strengthen the foundation for sustainable tourism development.

Look, technology is obviously not a panacea to all problems, but it serves as a useful means to connect and for our city to continually thrive as a global, cosmopolitan city. Technological innovation is necessary but insufficient for genuine modernity and international competitiveness. To achieve genuine improvements to quality of life and our city’s viability at large, a people-oriented management and development approach must be adopted in relation to technology.

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Brian YS Wong is the Founding Editor-in-Chief of the Oxford Political Review. Neville Lai is the Vice Curator-elect of Global Shapers Community Hong Kong Hub.