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Welcome Remarks by SITB at Press Lunch on 3 December 2000

December, 3 2000

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to welcome our media guests from around the globe, who have converged on Hong Kong to cover the ITU Telecom Asia 2000. This is the first time that the ITU has chosen Hong Kong as the venue for the world's most important telecommunications exhibition and forum. This year's event is of particular significance because it is the first ITU event of the new millenium in Asia.

The new century is a time of change, growth and opportunity, thanks to rapid advances in information and communications technologies. When information transcends geographical boundaries, crosses time zones and is instantaneously available at the press of a key, the question we need to ask ourselves is not whether, but how, to embrace the new information world.

Since I assumed the post of the Secretary for Information Technology and Broadcasting in July this year, I have been seeking every opportunity to meet and exchange views with policy makers, regulators and representatives of the IT and communications industry, both here in Hong Kong and overseas. Through experience-sharing, I hope to be able to foster even closer co-operation between Hong Kong and our overseas counterparts in the development of global communications services and to gain a better insight on how Hong Kong should equip and position itself in the globally-connected information world.

Let me take this opportunity to share with you some thoughts on what I think Hong Kong needs to focus on, in order to harness the opportunities ahead.

Firstly, about the market. Liberalisation is a common issue facing governments and business. Most agree the key to success is to establish an open and competitive market for the IT and communications industries to flourish. But the question is how fast, and how governments can facilitate the process. In Hong Kong, we made an early start on liberalisation. Following our decision announced in 1999 on further liberalisation, all sectors of our telecommunications market, local and external, services-based and facilities-based, are now open to competition. Last year alone, this policy led to new investments worth more than US$1.6 billion.

We also took a major step in liberalising the television market by introducing new pay television services, which are expected to bring in over 100 television channels. Under our liberalisation policy, we are firmly committed to providing a level-playing field for both incumbent and new players. We have completed major legislative exercises to put into place enhanced competition safeguards in the telecommunications and broadcasting markets. We believe this is the best way to ensure a most favourable environment for private investment and to ensure that consumers get the best services at competitive prices.

Secondly, about the Government. Having established a facilitating environment, the Government must sit back and let the private sector compete freely. But the Government must also set a good example in driving the wider adoption of e-commerce in the business community. To this end, we have launched a number of pilot e-government projects in the past two years. The most popular are the Interactive Government Services Directory and the Community Map. The former allows the public to obtain information such as employment services and road traffic information over the Internet; the latter provides useful street map information to the community and tourists over the Internet.

Earlier this year, we enacted the Electronic Transactions Ordinance to provide a clear legal framework to facilitate the development of e-commerce. We will continue to launch various initiatives to deliver public services on-line. One such initiative is the launching of the Electronic Service Delivery scheme, our flagship Government-to-Citizen (G2C) and Government-to-Business (G2B) on-line service.

Another is to provide a common information infrastructure for the private sector to carry out e-commerce activities. At the community level, we will step up our efforts to raise IT awareness and foster a culture that welcomes the exploitation of new technologies.

Thirdly, about the workforce. A shortage of IT workers is an issue facing all economies. The rapidly growing, worldwide competition for skilled IT manpower, coupled with a corresponding shortage of these skills locally, will be a critical factor in sustaining Hong Kong's economic development. We have already launched a five-year strategy to improve the use of IT in education. We will continue to work on a number of initiatives to ensure a stable supply of quality IT professionals for Hong Kong.

Fourthly, about the social and legal environment. Despite our efforts to promote IT and move into the New Economy, we must not forget that all our efforts must be founded on the main principles of a free and open society. We have a free economy and an open market - we believe the freest economy in the world. We have a free flow of capital; and low taxes that give our business people and workers the freedom to spend or save as much or as little as they please, without restriction or direction.

We have a level-playing field that allows business to compete freely without fear of bias or corruption. Information, news and ideas flow freely in our robust and vibrant media.

Most importantly, these freedoms are not just government policy; they are enshrined on constitution in the Basic Law. These freedoms are firmly protected by the rule of law, upheld by an independent Judiciary. At a time of rapid change in the global economy, we fully understand the need for an environment firmly rooted in these institutions of civil society.

Hong Kong is fortunate to have an entrepreneurial and innovative business sector, which will continue to be the driving force in our quest for a leading role in the global information economy. Members of our community are also responding enthusiastically to the use of IT in their everyday lives. As the Policy Secretary responsible for this challenging sector, I wholeheartedly pledge my best endeavours to provide a facilitating and stimulating environment for ideas to develop and aspirations to materialize.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am very much looking forward to some interesting dialogue and exchanges during ITU Asia 2000. I'm sure that what I learn can be put to good use to improve the Hong Kong SAR Government's policies and programmes. And to all of our guests from abroad, I wish you a rewarding and memorable stay in Hong Kong.

Thank you.