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MIT Centers announce Hong Kong initiative

MIT has announced a research project to analyze the role of industry in the future development of the Hong Kong economy and to formulate recommendations for government, industry and academia based on the results of the analysis.

The Made by Hong Kong study is a joint initiative of the Industrial Performance Center and the MIT International Science and Technology Initiative/China program. The research will take place within the IPC.

The sponsors of the research represent a broad spectrum of industrial, trade and government organizations from Hong Kong, the British crown colony that will become a Special Administrative Region under Chinese sovereignty as of June 30, 1997.

The specific objectives of the study were outlined by the project leaders. They are Dr. Suzanne Berger, professor of political science and director of the MISTI/China program and Dr. Richard K. Lester, professor of nuclear engineering and director of the IPC. In broad terms, they said, the research seeks to understand:

  • How a society with a strong manufacturing past can develop new strengths and new activities.
  • How industries operating in the larger China region can use the advantages presented by the proximity of a large market, low-cost labor, and access to emergent strengths in advanced technology.
  • How economic capabilities, employment and social well-being can be maintained even as many of society's production facilities move outside domestic territory.

"These are the challenges that Hong Kong confronts over the next decade," Professors Berger and Lester said. "They are, as well, problems that all advanced industrial countries face today."

The MIT research team, they said, seeks to make three kinds of contributions:

  • To the Hong Kong community seeking to identify the sectors and policies that bear most promise for enhancing and expanding the distinctive strengths of the Hong Kong industrial economy.
  • To the MIT community of researchers and students, trying to reach deeper understandings of economy, society and technology in the Asia-Pacific region for their own professional and personal lives.
  • To industry, government, nonprofits and others in the United States, who need to learn to deal with China-based economies in order to do well for our own society.

In their announcement, the project leaders said, "One of the objectives of the research is to analyze the resources and handicaps of a significant set of Hong Kong industries as they attempt to utilize a diverse and strong set of assets: proximity to China, Hong Kong's historic competencies in rapid and flexible response to demand, new technologies, and a highly educated workforce.

"On the basis of this analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the major industrial sectors now responsible for Hong Kong's performance, we shall recommend ways of maintaining and enhancing productive capabilities.

"Secondly, we will evaluate the prospects for developing new firms and activities in biotechnology and information technology by bringing in international experts in these fields from the MIT research community.

"Finally, we hope through the publication of `Made by Hong Kong,' and a series of discussions with members of the Hong Kong and international industrial communities, to stimulate a wide-ranging debate on Hong Kong's strategic options, as well as informing Americans about opportunities and challenges in Hong Kong and more broadly in the Asia-Pacific region."

MIT faculty and research staff participating in the project currently include: Professor Alice Amsden of urban studies and planning; Professor Andrew Bernard of economics; Dr. James Leung, a research associate in IPC and the Biotechnology Process Engineering Center; Dr. Helen Meng of the Laboratory for Computer Science; and Professor Rafael L. Reif of electrical engineering and computer science and director of the Microsystems Technology Laboratory.

Also, Professor Paul Schimmel of biology; Institute Professor Daniel I. C. Wang of chemical engineering, director of the Biotechnology Process Engineering Center (BPEC); Dr. Iching Wu, a research associate in IPC and BPEC, and Dr. Victor Zue of the Laboratory for Computer Science.

Ruth Ying-Hsin Schindler serves as executive director of the Made by Hong Kong project's Hong Kong office.

After publication of the Made by Hong Kong report, the Hong Kong Productivity Council (HKPC) will help disseminate the findings in Hong Kong and solicit feedback from various parties. Based on this input, HKPC will develop an action plan for consideration by the government through the Industry and Technology Development Council. The sponsors of the research represent a broad spectrum of industrial, trade and government organizations with funds coming from the Hong Kong government, the Better Hong Kong Foundation, Chen Hsong Holdings, Ltd., the Hong Kong Industrial Technology Centre and the Hong Kong Trade Development Council. The Federation of Hong Kong Industries and the Chinese Manufacturers Association of Hong Kong are supporters of the project. A local coordinating sponsors' committee will serve as an oversight body.

The MIT Industrial Performance Center is dedicated to the study of industry in the United States and in other advanced economies. Established in 1991 with the help of a major grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Center seeks to help leaders in business, labor, government and universities better understand global industrial developments, and to work with them to develop practical new approaches for strengthening public policies, business strategies, engineering practices and education.

The MIT International Science and Technology Initiative (MISTI) is a new program designed to provide opportunities to internationalize research and education at MIT. The MISTI/China program supports curriculum and activities on campus; student internships in Hong Kong, the People's Republic of China and Taiwan; and faculty research collaborations on topics such as sustainable development and industrial performance.

For further information, contact the IPC at x3-7522.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 1, 1996.

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