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When opportunity knocks, it must be seized

By Daniel de Blocq Van Scheltinga | China Daily | Updated: 2019-02-26 07:54

Development of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area shows central government's commitment to continue to speed up its reform agenda

The Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, which has now formally been ushered in with the release of the outline of the development plan, heralds the beginning of a new era for the region, especially Hong Kong.

As a catalyst for deeper economic reform, the cluster of cities to be an economic engine, and a high-tech model region for the world, the development plan is very ambitious, covering a broad range of sectors and presenting many future opportunities.

The Greater Bay Area plan envisages the close integration of Hong Kong and Macao special administrative regions and nine Pearl River Delta cities - Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Foshan, Huizhou, Dongguan, Zhongshan, Jiangmen and Zhaoqing.

When opportunity knocks, it must be seized

Altogether, the Greater Bay Area covers an area of 50,000 square kilometers and has a combined population of over 70 million people (slightly bigger than France with 67 million, or Italy 61 million), and a combined GDP of just under $1.5 trillion (almost five times the GDP of Singapore, and half the GDP of Germany).

The general aim, as described, is to develop this economic powerhouse area into "an international first-class bay area and a world-class city cluster" in which each separate entity can play to its respective strengths to enable a greater whole.

It is repeated many times that this plan in no manner weakens "One Country, Two Systems" or the Basic Law. On the contrary, the outline suggests that Beijing understands the unique strength and character of Hong Kong and wants to maintain that, in order to not only add to the greater good, but in fact to assist in fostering change and reform in the rest of China.

The plan underlines the Chinese government's commitment to continue and speed up its reform agenda, whereby the Greater Bay Area becomes the catalyst for deeper economic reform for the rest of China, "provides support for national supply-side structural reform", through the accelerated development of a new system of an open economy. This is a positive confirmation that the reform agenda is on track, with an eye on the future benefits it will bring.

Hong Kong is one of the four core cities in the plan (along with Macao, Shenzhen and Guangzhou), but seems to have been designated a more important role than the others.

Hong Kong will play the leading role in a number of ways. Being the natural international finance center of the Area, it will have to expand its role as an offshore renminbi business hub, and strengthen its asset management and risk management capabilities. It must also enhance its status as an international aviation hub, and become the center for international legal and dispute resolution services for the Asia-Pacific, and play a leading role in managing the legal aspects of the Belt and Road Initiative, IP protection and dispute resolution.

These are all areas in which Hong Kong can excel and lead the way for the rest of the country. It also offers ample opportunities for Hong Kong companies and residents to benefit from certain aspects of closer integration with the other parts of the Greater Bay Area, thereby making it more convenient for Hong Kong residents to study, live and work within the mainland part of the Greater Bay Area.

This covers many aspects such as enabling Hong Kong research institutions to cooperate closer with their mainland counterparts and obtain funding from the mainland, a reduction in mobile phone roaming charges when in Guangdong or Macao, and giving Hong Kong schoolchildren in mainland schools some of the same benefits as their mainland counterparts.

Of the 11 chapters in the plan, it is extremely encouraging that there is one solely dedicated to the environment: "Taking forward ecological conservation." In fact the plan stresses China's desire to pursue green development and ecological conservation, and move to a low-carbon lifestyle. As the outline puts it, to "cherish the environment as we cherish our own lives".

This translates into a number of proposals to cooperate further and strengthen regulations regarding water pollution, air pollution (including more stringent clean shipping policies) and regional cooperation regarding waste management. This is an important element of the Greater Bay Area development plan and hopefully will become visible sooner rather than later.

It took a few years for the world to become familiar with the Belt and Road Initiative. But I suspect that it will not take as long for the world to be impressed by the Greater Bay Area as it witnesses the area's transformation into a vibrant, prosperous, and green world-class city cluster. Hong Kong and other cities have been granted a life-changing and golden opportunity that must be grabbed with both hands.

The author is founding partner of Polarwide Ltd., a financial and strategic advisory firm. He served as chairman of the Dutch Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong between 2014 and 2017. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

(China Daily 02/26/2019 page13)

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