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HK government to promote e-commerce

Hongkong, Jan 25 (Asia Pulse) - The Government has adopted various measuresto promote e-commerce in Hong Kong with a view to building Hong Kong as a majorbusiness centre in the digital world of the Information Age. Speaking at a business forum on e-commerce Monday, the Director ofInformation Technology Services, Mr Lau Kam-hung, said,"The Government isfully committed to encouraging the development of e-commerce to maintain HongKong's competitive edge and to drive our overall economic growth.

Hongkong, Jan 25 (Asia Pulse) - The Government has adopted various measures to promote e-commerce in Hong Kong with a view to building Hong Kong as a major business centre in the digital world of the Information Age.

Speaking at a business forum on e-commerce Monday, the Director of Information Technology Services, Mr Lau Kam-hung, said,"The Government is fully committed to encouraging the development of e-commerce to maintain Hong Kong's competitive edge and to drive our overall economic growth." To put its commitment into practice, the Government published in November 1998 the "Digital 21" Information Technology Strategy.

Among the key initiatives of the Strategy, some play vital roles in facilitating the development of e-commerce in Hong Kong. "First of all, to ensure that electronic transactions can be performed effectively and efficiently over the Internet, it is necessary to have a high quality and high capacity telecommunications infrastructure to provide bandwidth and services at affordable prices," said Mr Lau. "Hong Kong already has a world-class telecommunications infrastructure. Our broadband network covers practically all business buildings and we expect the residential coverage to reach 85 per cent in 2000," he added.

To further enhance the telecommunications systems for the development of e-commerce in Hong Kong, the Government will introduce more competitions and encourage innovations in the telecommunications market.

Meanwhile, the Information Technology Services Department is working with Hongkong Post on the development of the Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) to provide a secure environment for electronic transactions in Hong Kong. "The PKI covers the use of public key cryptography and digital certificates to enable us to authenticate the identity of the parties involved, to ensure the integrity and confidentiality of the messages exchanged, and to make sure that the transactions cannot be repudiated," Mr Lau said.

As part of the Government, Hongkong Post will also act as the public Certification Authority (CA), which is responsible for the issuance, renewal and revocation of digital certificates, from next Monday (January 31). To enable the large scale deployment of the PKI technology which in turn facilitates the development of e-commerce, the Government does not impose any ceiling and mandatory licensing requirements for private sector to set up its CAs to meet different demands from the community.

On a voluntary basis, the CAs may apply for government recognition from the Director of Information Technology Services, who is empowered to be the authority for granting government recognition to CAs under the Electronic Transactions Ordinance. Standards and procedures for recognized CAs to carry out their functions have been specified in the Code of Practice for Recognized Certification Authorities issued on January 14.

With the enactment of the Electronic Transactions Ordinance by the Legislative Council on January 5, a clear and supportive legal framework for the conduct of e-commerce in Hong Kong is established. Under the Ordinance, electronic records and digital signatures are given the same legal status as that of their paper-based counterparts and a legal backing is established to promote and facilitate the operation of CAs. "For e-commerce to flourish in Hong Kong and to reach out to all potential customers, we must have a Chinese language interface that is open and common for users in the community who prefer to communicate electronically in Chinese," Mr Lau said.

To solve the problem of multiple coding standards of Chinese characters in electronic communications, the Government is taking an active role in the ongoing discussions with the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) on the development of the ISO 10646 standard. The ISO 10646 standard is intended to encompass all written scripts, including the Chinese characters commonly used in Hong Kong. In the long run, the Government is going to adopt the ISO 10646 standard as the open and common Chinese language interface in Hong Kong.

Leading by example in adopting e-commerce, the Government introduces the Electronic Service Delivery (ESD) scheme to familiarise members of the public with electronic transactions and boost their confidence in it. Through the ESD scheme, members of the public can obtain public services through the Internet and other electronic means round the clock. The first phase of the scheme, in which 10 government departments and public agencies have participated, is expected to be implemented in October this year. "The open and common information infrastructure which we are going to develop for ESD will serve as a platform for the private sector to make use of in conducting e-commerce at a later stage," said Mr Lau.

He also noted that the Government, in conjunction with other non-government organisations, would continue to hold seminars and exhibitions on e-commerce for Hong Kong companies to enable them, especially small and medium enterprises, to embark on e-commerce to explore new markets and to strengthen their competitiveness.