How HK increases competitiveness on path towards normalcy

February 02, 2023 11:26
Photo: Reuters

Hong Kong is gradually on road to normalcy from the Covid-19 pandemic but it is difficult for the economy to regain momentum. At a time when people are uncertain about the prospects, the opinion of outsiders may be a good reference.

In late 2022, IESE Business School in Spain released its annual Cities in Motion Index 2022 (ICIM), covering the smart city performance of 183 cities in 92 countries around the world. Hong Kong's ranking has been quite stable in the past few years, hovering between 10th and 11th from 2018 to 2020. However, it has plummeted to 26th this year with a one-year pause in 2021, reflecting Hong Kong's poor economic situation in recent years.

The ICIM rankings are based on nine criteria: from human capital (developing, attracting and nurturing talent), social cohesion (harmony among different social groups), economy (current and estimated GDP), governance (quality of state involvement), environment (pollution levels, water quality and other ecosystems), mobility and transportation (ease of movement and access to destinations), urban planning (including health infrastructure, sanitation services and housing policy), to international profiles (branding and tourism outreach) and technology (smart uses of information technology).

When compared with previous evaluations, IESE's rankings this year are almost exclusively tied to economic dimensions. The epidemic has significantly affected the worldwide economies which become a major factor causing a change of the ranking of individual cities. Dublin, the capital of Ireland, for example, was one of the biggest beneficiaries from Brexit, leading to multinational employment hitting a record high in 2020. Supported by strong growth, it jumped from 33rd in 2020 to 18th this year.

Although Hong Kong ranks 26th in the world, it still ranks fourth in Asia, only behind Tokyo, Singapore and Seoul. Based on popularity of smartphones and internet access, Hong Kong is the world leader in terms of “technology” but is weakest in "environment", followed by "economy" and " human capital".

In terms of environmental management, the authorities have been actively applying innovative technologies in recent years to enhance the environmental planning and assessment process to achieve smart environment. For example, to improve and expedite environmental planning and assessment, the Environmental Protection Department has been using a three-dimensional geographic information system (3D GIS) to show Environmental Impact Assessment reports’ impact predictions. Environmental modelling data and development web tools were also shared to facilitate project proponents and their consultants to conduct technical assessments. The department also uses artificial intelligence to assist in identification of environmental issues in Hong Kong. Therefore, I hope that the environmental score will improve soon.

However, the economic aspect is a problem. Recently, I could not help but sigh when I read the news that Singapore and Shenzhen are strengthening their cooperation to grasp the market opportunities of ASEAN. Since 2019, I have repeatedly proposed to the government to export smart city services to ASEAN, because these countries, including Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand, have experienced strong economic growth in recent years, but their urban development has lagged behind. This has created huge business opportunities which are estimated to worth trillions of dollars. How can we seize the opportunity? We'll talk about it next time.

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Adjunct Professor, Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering; Department of Geography, Faculty of Social Sciences; and Faculty of Architecture, The University of Hong Kong