Macau's expansion into Hengqin gives Hong Kong cause for reflection

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 May, 2014, 4:15am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 May, 2014, 4:15am

Hong Kong frets about lagging behind whenever our neighbours roll out eye-catching policies or take steps different from ours. That explains why a request by the Macau government for more land on the mainland island of Hengqin for development immediately fuelled calls for the city to follow suit. The suggestion may sound far-fetched for the conventional-minded, but it triggers reflection on our development strategies and competitiveness.

The two cities share similarities. Both have moved from being colonial outposts of Western powers to modern cities with special autonomy under Chinese rule. Cross-border integration in both places is growing, as is the social tension it causes. Yet the two are different, not just in terms of size, population and strengths. The different socio-political situations mean the two governments have different priorities.

Prompted by a fast-expanding economy, tiny Macau has come up with the novel idea of spilling some of its facilities and commerce onto the neighbouring island, over which it has no jurisdiction. This includes paying HK$1.2 billion to rent a square kilometre of the island for 40 years for an extension of the University of Macau. A request for more land for development has already been made to Beijing.

Whether the Hong Kong government should look beyond its border is something yet to be fully debated. But local entrepreneurs have long realised the merit of going north and have relocated their factories amid rising business costs. Similarly, soaring property prices have pushed some families to live in Shenzhen. But a government-led housing or business venture outside the city would be totally different. Cost aside, the logistics and legal issues involved would be immense.

Each place has its own recipe for development and success. While there is no need to overreact to the steps taken by others, reflection on our development strategy is always advisable. When the existing approach is not seen as adequate, thinking a little outside of the box does no harm.