China has unveiled a sweeping plan to link Hong Kong and Macau with cities in southern China to create a so-called Greater Bay Area, aiming to transform the coastal region into a high-tech megalopolis to rival California’s Silicon Valley.
The outline plan, published in Chinese late on Monday by Xinhua News Agency, said that the Chinese government will seek to turn the area into a leading global innovation hub, boost infrastructure connectivity between cities and strengthen Hong Kong’s role as an international center of finance, shipping and trade as well as the center for the offshore yuan business.
Hong Kong, Macau, Shenzhen and Guangzhou would be the four key Bay Area cities and territories, driving the region’s economic development, the blueprint said.
HSBC Holdings PLC has estimated that the region — with more than 67 million residents — would boast a trillion-dollar economy and eclipse Japan as the world’s fourth-largest exporter.
“This policy framework sets out a clear vision for a global economic powerhouse in the Greater Bay Area,” which allows cities and regions to leverage those complementary strengths more effectively, HSBC Holdings Asia-Pacific chief executive officer Peter Wong (王冬勝) said in an e-mailed note.
The announcement of the plan drove stocks in the region higher.
The long-heralded plan has led to unease in Hong Kong that further integration would erode the autonomy that allows the territory to maintain separate legal, monetary and political systems from communist China.
Although the plan emphasized the importance of maintaining the “one country, two systems” frameworks to ensure a high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong and Macau, it did not mention which customs and legal systems would predominate.
The development of the Greater Bay Area has been challenged by diverging social, legal and customs systems, the plan said.
A comprehensive blueprint can “add new impetus into the development of Hong Kong and Macau” and help build a “world-class cluster of cities,” it said.
China has already spent billions of US dollars on infrastructure projects linking the territories and cities, and the plan envisages a strategy for the region that stretches to 2035.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) last year inaugurated a US$15 billion, 55km bridge, the world’s longest sea crossing, linking Hong Kong with Macau and the mainland city of Zhuhai.
In September last year, Hong Kong plugged into China’s 25,000km high-speed rail network with a futuristic new terminus overlooking the Victoria Harbor.
The railway faced resistance from Hong Kong democracy advocates because of the location of the Chinese border crossing in the terminus building.
They said that it would undermine a constitutional ban on Chinese law enforcement officers operating in the territory.
Hong Kong passed the enabling legislation in June last year, but only after the Chinese parliament stepped in to ratify the plan.
Under the blueprint, the major cities and territories of the Greater Bay Area would establish themselves as hubs for different sectors.
Hong Kong is to focus on international finance, navigation and trade; Macau is to be an international tourism territory and a platform for trade with Portuguese-speaking countries such as Brazil; Guangzhou, formerly known as Canton, is to take a role as an administrative hub; and Shenzhen — home to Huawei Technologies Co (華為) — is to expand its role as a special economic zone and tech hub.
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