Chinese Vice-Premier Han Zheng, the point man on Hong Kong and Macau affairs, recently gave the green light to the official document on the “Greater Bay Area” following extensive consultations with local governments, a Beijing source said.
“No party or agenda, including even environmental protection, will be left behind by this all-inclusive blueprint,” the official said.
More than three years in the making, the Greater Bay Area was first mentioned in a development action plan jointly outlined by China’s top authorities on economic planning, commerce and foreign affairs to create a new economic growth engine by pooling together Hong Kong, Macau and nine neighbouring cities in Guangdong province.
The mega zone covers 56,500 square kilometres, has a combined population of about 67.6 million and accounted for 12.5 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product in 2016.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has taken part in discussions on the scheme since August last year, becoming the city’s first chief executive to join a leading group under China’s cabinet, the State Council.
Authorities were now working on the implementation plan, Zhang said in an interview with state broadcaster CCTV which was aired on Saturday night.
Hong Kong, Macau, Guangzhou and Shenzhen would be the central cities in the bay area, and each had their own unique positioning, he said.
Hong Kong will be the international finance, navigation and trade centre, as well as a transport hub. It will have the role of pushing finance, trade, logistics and professional services towards the high-end market.
Macau will be an international tourism city and a platform for trade with Portuguese-speaking countries. Guangzhou will take a leading role as a national central city while Shenzhen will take a leading role as a special economic region and an innovative city, he said.
The planners hope the advantages these four cities enjoy can complement each other and offset the challenges brought by gaps in the legal and economic systems.
The international network and mature market economy of Hong Kong and Macau could have big potential when combined with the vast hinterland and market Guangzhou enjoyed, he said.
“Under the new circumstances, Hong Kong and Macau still have their unique position and advantages that cannot be replaced,” Zhang said.
He revealed for the first time that there were almost 100,000 Hong Kong residents and nearly 20,000 Macau residents who had applied for a new identity card that would grant them access to a wide range of social and public services on the mainland. The arrangement was introduced on September 1 last year.
There were high expectations that Beijing would reveal the blueprint when Premier Li Keqiang said in March last year there would be an announcement soon. But the central government has since been embroiled in a trade war with its biggest trading partner, the United States.
Sources said that the tussles over political interests and dominance among the Greater Bay Area parties was a reason behind the delay and meant the central government had to step in to coordinate.
“But the most important question here is whose model to follow and whether the tussle is about Hong Kong converting mainland cities or the other way around?” said an academic who has direct knowledge of the blueprint’s planning.
“Mainland cities are hesitant to follow Hong Kong’s model in case they lose official powers.”
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An internal study by an official think tank seen by the Post said the crux of the Greater Bay Area integration was about putting “one country, two systems” into practice but differences in economic, tax, customs and legal systems that would ensure Hong Kong and Macau’s high degree autonomy have remained key challenges.