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GBA integration will power Hong Kong’s future

Hong Kong is gradually integrating with the world’s fastest modernizing region. Image of Guangzhou East Railway Station above by Keith Lau/ Unsplash

Hong Kong has had a variety of evolving relationships with the urban areas north of the border over the years, but the latest has the most potential, says urban planner and Legislative Council member Andrew Lam


DISCUSSION ABOUT HONG KONG’S roles in regional collaboration frameworks, in particular the recent one between our city and the neighbouring cities, are not quite a new idea. Given our geographical location in the region, Hong Kong’s role has always been tightly interwoven with that of the region.

REMEMBER THE “DELTA”?

Over the past 20 years, we have seen the idea being brewed in different forms, from the “Pan Pearl River Delta Regional Co-operation and Development Forum” earlier this millennium, involving neighbouring provinces and Macao Special Administrative Region, to the “Pearl River Delta co-operation” about a decade ago among a few Guangdong cities, to the Central People’s Government’s sponsored “Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area” (“GBA”).

Looking at the GBA’s landmass, population and GDP, it is only natural for Hong Kong to seek a closer economic relationship with a hinterland which is much larger then our landmass, has 10 times our population, and five times our economic power.

Hong Kong’s advantages lie with the free flow of manpower, goods and services, capital and information. Closer collaboration and stronger cooperation will bring mutual benefits and fulfil our role under the 14th Fifth Year Plan and Belt and Road strategy.

Many cities in the GBA have become more like Hong Kong. Image of commuters in Guangdong by Zhou Xuan/ Unsplash

NOW PART OF NATIONAL STRATEGY

As China’s market becomes more open to the rest of the world, the development of the GBA has elevated from the status of “regional cooperation” to being part of the nation’s key strategic blueprint, championed by the most senior echelon.

In 2017, a framework agreement was signed by governments of GBA cities in Hong Kong to set out the goals and principles of cooperation and establish key cooperation areas. By leveraging on each city’s comparative advantages, the deepening and in-depth integration seeks to develop an international first-class bay area ideal for living, working and travelling.

HONG KONG’s UNIQUE ROLE

Hong Kong is by any standard the most open and international city in the GBA. We are an internationally recognised hub of financial, trade, shipping, information and tourism after a century-long development. This can be considered along with our strong pool of talent, management know-how, legal system and market economy. Our renowned professional services and highly effective public services have combined to make Hong Kong an ideal springboard for multi-national corporations to tap into the China’s Mainland market. These are our traditional advantages and the development of the GBA will give us further opportunity to strengthen these.

Under the “One Country, Two Systems” arrangement, should Hong Kong make good use of our traditional strengths, such as our position as the aviation hub in the region, and our linkage with the rest of the world in financing, we will certainly be best placed to collaborate with neighbouring cities to enhance the GBA’s development and serve as one of the growth engines of the region to help reach out to the rest of the world. It is an integral part of the nation’s strategy for Hong Kong to continue to thrive.

The Guangzhou Circle: new partnerships will benefit both sides of the Hong Kong/ Mainland border. Image by Jason Yuen

HONG KONG WILL BENEFIT

The development of the GBA is by no means one-way traffic. We have a long tradition of working together with the GBA and the area has always been the back-end supporting and nurturing Hong Kong’s economic development. In the 1980s we moved our production base to neighbouring cities tapping on the availability of abundant labour while we focus on the high-end high-profit-margin processes of production, such as financing and marketing. This shop-factory approach led to the strong development of the manufacturing base of Guangdong and witnessed Hong Kong’s consolidation of our position as an entrepot between China and the rest of the world.

DIFFERING SPECIALISMS

As time passes, our relationship with GBA might have to be adjusted. For instance, Shenzhen is now a major innovation and research centre while Zhuhai-Macao has been embarking on developing MICE [meetings and incentives] tourism (both internal and external). Hong Kong can seize opportunities in those areas.

As the purchasing power of the population grows, the sheer size of the market will be able to raise Hong Kong to a different level in further developing our economy.

LEADING UNIVERSITIES

Hong Kong has several world-renowned universities with strong research capability as well as rich experience in applying new technologies to commercial uses. Hong Kong may work together with our neighbours to build a common talent-pool to further development.

Separately, we may collaborate with GBA cities to develop world-recognised standards (similar to the British Standards or the American Standards) in different aspects of life.

Equally importantly, as the world moves towards a carbon-zero / carbon-neutral economy, Hong Kong could tap on the huge population of GBA to further develop our green and carbon-free economic activities. The sheer size of GBA means that we can almost say that the sky is the limit.

Co-operation is already advanced in some areas. Image of the Science Block of Chinese University in Hong Kong by Kin Shing Lai/ Unsplash

HELPING OTHER CITIES

On the soft side, we can develop our role as world’s aviation hub and use our first-class transportation infrastructure to help other cities develop their leisure or tourism industries. These are win-win arrangements.

The recent pandemic has already shown us clearly how Hong Kong must not seek to isolate ourselves. Hong Kong and the GBA cities have become inseparable not only because of our heavy reliance on supplies of daily necessities, but also because of the frequent exchange of people. More and more Hong Kong people chase after opportunities following economic growth on the Mainland. Many of our senior citizens choose to live a quiet and peaceful retirement principally in GBA cities. Unofficial statistics show that about 500,000 Hong Kong people are now living on the Mainland.

The people of Hong Kong and the GBA are one family. Together, we stand.


Andrew Lam is a member of the Hong Kong Legislative Council.

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