It gives me great pleasure to be here, in Riyadh, for this year's LEAP Tech Conference, one of the world's leading technology gatherings. I am here, let me add, with a high-profile Hong Kong delegation, and we look forward to talking to as many of you as we can today.
This inspired, and inspiring, conference, together with its Into New Worlds theme, smartly reflects Saudi Arabia's rise as an innovation and technology-driven economy, and society, under Vision 2030.
It speaks, too, of each and every one of you – technology innovators, investors and policymakers from all over the world and from every sector, industry and business fast-changing our world.
I am honoured to speak to you today about Hong Kong and our technology-powered vision for the future.
While Hong Kong has been troubled for three years by COVID-19, we have already opened ourselves up to connect to the world, and just today, we resumed normal travel with the Mainland. Therefore, first, if you are wondering, you need wonder no more. Yes, Hong Kong is onstage again. Here, on the Main Stage of the LEAP conference, and on the centre stage of the global arena. We are back in the business of creating business opportunities for you.
We are also back to the business of pleasure, of welcoming travellers from all over the world. Just a few days ago, I launched "Hello Hong Kong", a huge promotional campaign that, among many other things, will give away 500,000 free air tickets – yes, that's half-a-million complimentary air tickets – to welcome the world back to Hong Kong.
And you need not wonder about restrictions, either. There are none. Hong Kong is now wide open for tourists, as well as businesses.
We are also inviting prominent individuals from all over the world – from business, politics, the media, entertainment and other sectors – to come to Hong Kong, to see, first-hand, all that you have been missing these last three years because of the pandemic: one of the world's great global cities, for business and investment, for culture and entertainment and for much more.
The flourishing future of Hong Kong is being built on "one country, two systems".
Implemented since our return to the motherland in 1997, the unique principle of "one country, two systems" has all along ensured that Hong Kong enjoys the country’s steadfast support, while staying highly and openly connected with the rest of the world. This unparalleled advantage is buttressed by our robust rule of law and intellectual property rights protection, and fully supported by our country’s national strategies.
Also supported by our country is Hong Kong's active participation in the Belt & Road Initiative, a grand plan launched by President Xi Jinping in 2013 to promote regional and international collaboration.
Hong Kong is a critical gateway for the Belt & Road Initiative, and has plenty to offer the over 180 countries and international organisations covered by the initiative, including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and other Middle East countries.
Hong Kong, a major international financial centre, being part of China, and the world's largest offshore renminbi business hub, provides capital for Belt & Road economies, companies and projects. Alongside capital, we also serve as a bridge enabling the flow of talent and knowledge between the Mainland and the world at large.
Capitalising on our solid foundation and superb connectivity, Hong Kong is on the fast track to becoming an international innovation and technology hub.
Hong Kong is now home to five of the world's top 100 universities. Mind you, Hong Kong is only a city of 1,100 kilometres. The number of start-ups in Hong Kong has soared – from about 1,000 in 2014 to some 4,000 last year. Over that same period, we have raised 10 unicorns. Hong Kong was ranked second, overall, in the 2022 World Digital Competitiveness Ranking's "technology" factor.
It helps, too, that Hong Kong is among the world's leading financial centres, channelling substantial funding into innovation and technology (I&T). Venture capital investment in Hong Kong surged from US$154 million in 2014 to US$5.3 billion in 2021.
Hong Kong is also the world's leading fundraising hub for biotechnology companies.
Just two months ago, we launched the Hong Kong Innovation & Technology Development Blueprint. Over the next few minutes, allow me to touch on a few of the blueprint's far-reaching themes.
We are accelerating the transformation and realisation of research and development outcomes. We are also working to achieve new industrialisation for Hong Kong. That means increasing I&T land supply and upgrading supporting infrastructure.
In recent years, we have set up a number of innovation and technology venture funds, significantly broadening fundraising channels for start-ups. We will continue to diversify venture financing conduits, optimising, for example, Hong Kong’s existing listing regime, and attracting additional sources of capital investment.
The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government recently set up a Strategic Tech Fund worth about US$637 million. It's supporting Hong Kong tech companies, while attracting foreign start-ups.
Alongside capital, talent drives I&T. To that end, we have recently established the Office for Attracting Strategic Enterprises. In particular, we are targeting companies, and individuals, from such fields as life and health technology, artificial intelligence and data science, financial technology, advanced manufacturing and new-energy technology.
My goal is to attract at least 100 I&T enterprises, or representatives, to set up or expand their business in Hong Kong over the next five years and, in doing so, bring in more than US$1.2 billion of investment.
The Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area is central to our I&T vision. The bay area is a cluster-city development integrating nine cities in southern China together with Macau and Hong Kong. It is destined to rise as a world-class technology and innovation hub.
With a population of some 86 million and a combined gross domestic product of about US$1.7 trillion, equivalent to the world's ninth-largest economy, the bay area presents immense potential for investment and development. Hong Kong will play a pivotal role in realising these ambitions.
The 1.2 million square-metre Hong Kong-Shenzhen Innovation & Technology Park, now under development, will become Hong Kong's largest I&T centre. No less critical, it will serve as the bridgehead for I&T co-operation between Hong Kong and Shenzhen, serving as a hub of global technological innovation and important source of emerging industries.
We welcome I&T companies from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and throughout the Middle East to set up a presence in Hong Kong, to join us in building an international I&T hub in Asia.
Indeed, Hong Kong has developed a number of initiatives to promote global I&T co-operation. They include the establishment of our InnoHK research clusters, focused on healthcare and artificial intelligence and robotics.
To date, the two clusters, at Hong Kong Science Park, have established 28 research laboratories, bringing together more than 30 prominent universities and research institutions from 11 economies. They are collaborating with Hong Kong universities and research organisations on world-class research.
We are also planning to establish an InnoLife Healthtech Hub in the Hong Kong-Shenzhen Innovation & Technology Park. It will pool the formidable research strengths and resources of laboratories in Hong Kong, Shenzhen and beyond.
From challenges to solutions, co-operation to commercialisation, small to substantial, Hong Kong works with our motherland and global partners to harness the power of I&T. Working together, I am confident we can create a sustainable and prosperous future for us all.
I am grateful to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Communications & Information Technology for giving me this invaluable opportunity to speak to you today.
I wish you all a rewarding conference. And all the best of business, health and innovation in this promising Year of the Rabbit.
Ladies and gentlemen, I look forward to seeing you all in Hong Kong, and to saying hello to you in Hong Kong soon.
Chief Executive John Lee gave these remarks at the LEAP 2023 technology conference: Main Stage held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on February 6.
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