GBA offers opportunities on both sides of the delta

In February 2019, Ana Nicolaci da Costa, a reporter for the BBC, wrote an article titled “Greater Bay Area: China’s ambitious but vague economic plan”. While introducing some basic statistics about the Greater Bay Area, such as GDP volumes of the nine mainland cities and the two special administrative regions (Hong Kong and Macao), major infrastructure projects, etc., the author commented that the GBA might be facing challenges that would eventually undermine its prospects. She said some analysts believed “closer economic integration could be challenging for a region with different customs, legal systems and public services”. She said other analysts also contended that “an enormous amount of red tape related to transport, customs, immigration will need to be cut to make it actually easy to move people, goods and money between these areas”, and that the GBA project would threaten the position of Hong Kong in the “one country, two systems” framework.

Likewise, The Economist in February 2019 published an article titled “China’s master-plan rings alarm bells in Hong Kong”. The main theme of the article apparently was to express concerns on Hong Kong’s losing its strengths after being part of the GBA because of the “encroachment” of its special status as an SAR. Such kind of skeptical, and sometimes jaundiced, views on the GBA by Western media are not surprising amid the de facto Cold War mentality since Donald Trump openly commenced his China-bashing campaign in 2017. Unlike businessmen, many politicians and reporters in the Anglo-Saxon world are more than happy to see the failure of the GBA project and the arrival of doomsday in Hong Kong.

Despite all these pessimistic forecasts, many people in Hong Kong nonetheless think otherwise. I am one of them, and what I have observed in the GBA through my businesses and social experience are quite different from these 

Development of the GBA is closely relevant to the Belt and Road Initiative, which is already generating enormous economic and political achievements

negative comments. Since 2015, I have been visiting the GBA frequently, although after my last trip in January 2020, I could not go there again until October last year due to the quarantine required during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, work arising from cross-border legal matters is on a steady growth in my law firm, notably after a joint venture partnership law firm was set up in Nansha district of Guangzhou with our Guangdong and Macao partners in early 2020. Although the stringent quarantine requirements have by and large limited movements of people, hence discouraging physical meetings with clients and fellow lawyers in the mainland, we still witness a strong need of cross-jurisdictional legal services from clients for both sides of the Pearl River Delta.

Being the representative of our Hong Kong firm in the joint venture law firm, I finally decided to go to Nansha in October and worked together with our mainland colleagues for about a month (the first two weeks being confined in a quarantine hotel but working online). Such face-to-face discussions proved to be hugely fruitful. Albeit short, the intensive period of interactive exchanges of ideas and knowledge have effectively enhanced mutual understanding between legal practitioners from three different jurisdictions. I find that my mainland and Macao colleagues are greatly appreciative of my experience in a common law jurisdiction. Lawyers from our mainland joint venture partner (a medium-sized multi-practice law firm with branches in several GBA cities and a workforce of more than 400 lawyers) applaud the high standard of legal services in Hong Kong and are always eager to refer their clients to us in matters needing services in Hong Kong law. Our international perspectives are another key factor, making us widely welcome by our mainland counterparts. Many enterprises on the mainland, especially those in the GBA, have rapidly growing trade and investment needs with foreign countries. As legal professionals in an international business hub like Hong Kong, Hong Kong lawyers play an important role as the “super connector”, and mainland officials in the GBA fully acknowledge that.

Differences in currencies, taxation, banking systems, etc., indeed have created hurdles in business operations of firms like us. But there are various solutions, and I am confident that such problems will be ameliorated gradually following extensive integration of the nine mainland cities and the two SARs. From professionals to business executives to white-collar workers seeking opportunities in the GBA, of course it is imperative that Hong Kong people equip themselves with better Chinese-language skills (Mandarin is the predominant working language, although the Cantonese dialect is spoken among ordinary folks in shops and markets), and understand and respect official protocols that might be different from those of Hong Kong. But all these do not mean the status of the Hong Kong SAR is belittled. It is simply a matter of respect to the other parties and a question of practicality. The use of Mandarin is necessary and appropriate, given the fact that there are more than 1.3 billion Mandarin-speaking people in the mainland and Taiwan, plus people in Singapore, Malaysia and many other overseas Chinese communities elsewhere.

Development of the GBA is closely relevant to the Belt and Road Initiative, which is already generating enormous economic and political achievements. The central government of China regards the GBA as a gem in the country, and it is nonsensical to speculate that the top brass in Beijing is happy to nullify Hong Kong, which is the only common law jurisdiction in the GBA.

Perhaps some people in the West believe that the apple they are not able to eat is sour.

The author is a practicing solicitor in Hong Kong, specializing in criminal law, wills and probate, as well as cross-border legal matters between the Chinese mainland and the SAR.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.