Confidence key issue in Bay Area success

Updated: 2018-04-11 07:45

By Ho Lok-sang(HK Edition)

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Ho Lok-sang points out massive project needs strong legal protection and trust in the reliability and ability of partners across the region

Wang Rong, chairman of Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference Guangdong Provincial Committee, pointed out that success of the Greater Bay Area project must not be taken for granted. He reaffirmed the potential of the area as an economic power house but six things needed to be done to make it successful: a national-level coordination mechanism, policy reform, technological innovation, social support, as well as improvement in transport networks and public services. He was concerned about there being more talk than concrete action. He made the remarks in a plenary meeting of the CPPCC last month.

The concept of the GBA is that all the cities in the Bay Area will benefit from the proximity to one another and the convenience of working together made possible by the infrastructure. Working together they can achieve much more than working separately. Economists have explored the concept of agglomeration economies for decades. Now that the infrastructures linking up the cities are taking shape, and that each of the cities has developed strengths in different ways, and with a huge pool of talents and access to skilled workers, the time is ripe for the GBA project to fly.

However, without the right mindset, the full potential of the area will not be realized. The greatest problem is a lack of trust, and this can be manifested in different ways.

First of all, a lack of trust will undermine longer-term collaboration that will take many years to bear fruit. Within the business sector, there is always the fear that intellectual property right infringement may occur, as copycats readily appear. Some investors fear that business partners may steal a business idea and copy product designs to make a quick buck.

Second is a prejudice against people that one treats as inferior somehow. The perceived or imagined inferiority may be in terms of morals, cultures or any dimension of behavior or performance. This kind of prejudice can be based on generalizations from isolated incidents or from hearsay from friends, acquaintances, social media or other channels. Once such prejudices are formed, giving up the prejudice will be very difficult, because the person will take any challenge to such prejudiced views as unfriendly and offensive, and will try to defend his prejudices like defending "his own house".

Confidence key issue in Bay Area success

To deal with the first is easier; to deal with the latter is much more difficult.

The first problem is common to all businesses when they try to find a strategic partner in a new setting and it can be alleviated by better laws and a stronger judiciary. The presence of official advisory channels will also help.

The second problem is much more intractable but it is possible to contain it. The problem is intractable because no one admits to prejudice, and those affected by prejudice actually may not realize how their acts, words or thoughts are being affected by deep-seated biases. Prejudice after all affects us all to different extents in subtle ways.

Wang is correct in suggesting that the project needs a "State leader" to take charge of coordination work because only such a senior official can "work with the relevant bureaucrats at the national and city level to move the project along".

But just as the Belt and Road Initiative stresses the need for bringing the hearts of people in different lands together, the Bay Area project also needs shared dreams and visions among people in the different cities. This requires an effort in education and in marketing.

This past weekend saw the last episode of a series of TV documentaries on the GBA. In this episode viewers see the concentration of talents from not just different corners of China but also from all over the world working in various startups in various industries. They are full of youth, ambition and innovative ideas. One very successful company actually is incorporated in Hong Kong and the ideas driving the company originated from Hong Kong. One entrepreneur put it very well: In order to be successful, entrepreneurs have to be close to the market, so that the product/service design can adapt to the needs of consumers. Hong Kong entrepreneurs will do much better joining other entrepreneurs in the Bay Area in exploiting the huge market on the Chinese mainland and working together to sell to the world.

Success of the Bay Area requires realizing the full potential of agglomeration: with cross-fertilization of ideas, ready access to complementary factors of production and ready access to capital and markets. It may be difficult to win the hearts of those with deep prejudices. But as success stories spread, more and more hearts will be won. Meanwhile, the different levels of government across the GBA need to work together to facilitate the interflow of people and capital. They must work together to turn the Bay Area into one of the world's most attractive places to live in. Only so can it attract and retain talents. Once the engine is started properly, it will roar on.

(HK Edition 04/11/2018 page7)