Hong Kong must be primed for takeoff in the GBA

The past two and a half years have been difficult in Hong Kong, resulting in no small part from the COVID-related restrictions we have had to endure. Thankfully, however, we can see light at the end of the tunnel, as these restrictions are quickly being rolled back. As Hong Kong “returns to business”, we would do well to remind ourselves of our place within the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area.

Even in the best of times, the messaging surrounding the GBA has been a little opaque and unfortunately characterized by unwarranted skepticism. With the COVID-19-induced restrictions limiting exchanges of all kinds between Hong Kong and its GBA counterparts, the opacity and skepticism has only increased. This must change if Hong Kong is to fulfill its potential and live up to its role as one of the “core” cities within the GBA.

At the Greater Bay Area Conference 2022 and 25th Anniversary Ceremony of China Daily Hong Kong Edition, held on Oct 6, the message pressing the importance of the GBA was made clear, coinciding with the need for Hong Kong to turn over a new leaf, and to reboot and recharge its beleaguered economy.

The Honorable Mr Leung Chun-ying was one of the keynote speakers at the conference, and the number of interesting and inviting issues he raised regarding Guangzhou’s Nansha district alone — as a microcosm of the opportunities that exist within the GBA — go to show that, for those of us in Hong Kong in particular, the GBA must in our minds move beyond a mere abstraction, an area offering various points of trivia to be memorized and repeated or, even worse, a mere curiosity, “out there somewhere”. We must acknowledge the realness of the GBA and thereby the urgent need to integrate ourselves into it.

For example, Mr Leung intimated how, in Nansha, the definition of Hong Kong residency has been relaxed to also include nonpermanent residents who are not Chinese nationals. As Hong Kong opens back up and welcomes both permanent and nonpermanent residents (not to mention tourists) back to its shores, this is no trivial point.

Additionally, Nansha’s land area of 803 square kilometers is greater than that of Singapore’s, which if put into context (compared with Hong Kong’s 1,100 sq km), is a fact with implications beyond what repeatable trivia can tell us. The land and human resources available within the GBA are significant and expansive — sufficiently robust if utilized wisely.

Finally, Mr Leung explained that personal income-tax concessions are now on offer in Nansha for Hong Kong residents, with the results that the excess over what would be paid in Hong Kong by the same taxpayer will be waived. Again, this is more than just an abstraction, as Hong Kong residents meaningfully consider the work and other opportunities available to them.

All of the above is in addition to the fact that Chinese customs have released new measures to support full-scale cooperation between Nansha and Hong Kong, including freer flow of materials for biomedical research, support for the development of an international logistics center, and support for cross-boundary e-commerce.

Granted, these are not the easiest of times for Hong Kong to integrate into the GBA, but the COVID-19-related restrictions will ultimately loosen, even on the Chinese mainland, just as they have done in Hong Kong. When this does happen — and it is only a matter of time — Hong Kong must be primed to take off within the GBA.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Hong Kong’s throughput at its container port was in decline (Nansha port’s container throughput is presently on par with Kwai Chung’s), and Hong Kong’s shipping roles vis-a-vis the mainland’s were in reverse (today, goods destined for Hong Kong are shipped to the Nansha container terminal and warehoused there for forwarding to Hong Kong). Post-COVID-19, Hong Kong must ensure that the complementary strengths of the 11 GBA cities are harnessed so as to benefit both Hong Kong’s and the broader GBA’s economy.

The GBA initiative was launched in February 2019. Unfortunately, the launch coincided with the eve of the COVID-19 pandemic. More than three years into the pandemic, as we move into the disease’s endemicity phase, it is imperative that Hong Kong pick up the slack and urgently make up for lost time in restoring its connections with the world (as it is currently doing). This reestablishment, however, must not come at the expense of its equally important integration into the GBA.

It is in this regional context that most of the low-hanging fruit is there for Hong Kong to pick. In the longer term, integration of the nine cities and two special administrative regions — involving people, capital, goods, knowledge and data — promises to release new energy that Hong Kong and the other GBA cities can mutually exploit.

The author is a professor of public policy at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.