Beijing’s bay area plan would help Hong Kong prepare for competition among city clusters, minister says

Constitutional affairs minister says mainland Chinese leaders want Hong Kong to be in the driving seat to lead region’s economic development

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 April, 2017, 4:56pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 April, 2017, 10:37pm

Beijing’s latest plan for closer ties between Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta would help the city prepare for competition among “city clusters” and boost shipping and legal services, according to the constitutional affairs minister.

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam Chi-yuen was referring to the central government’s “Greater Bay Area” integration scheme, which was endorsed by Premier Li Keqiang in his work report last month to foster greater economic cooperation in a city cluster involving Hong Kong, Macau and nine Guangdong cities.

The concept dates back to 2011. Guangdong governor Ma Xingrui said last month he hoped the region would become as competitive as other bay areas such as Los Angeles, New York and Tokyo.

Hong Kong is odd man out in plan to integrate bay area

Critics questioned whether the “one country, two systems” principle would be compromised and Hong Kong’s core values and way of life eroded.

But Tam dismissed the suggestion and said the “one country, two systems” principle should help the scheme to succeed.

The minister, who is likely to leave the administration after his term expires on June 30, was speaking a day after it was announced that he would join the city’s outgoing Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying in a high-powered delegation to visit six Guangdong cities later this month.

Speaking on Commercial Radio on Saturday, Tam said Beijing’s plan would match the latest trends in global economic competition.

“More than 10 years ago, many economists predicted that economic competition in the future would be among regions ... and in the last 10 years, a newer prediction talks about competition among city clusters, so neighbouring cities need to cooperate,” Tam explained.

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In a reference to the San Francisco Bay Area, which covers 18,000 sq km and has a population of 7.6 million, Tam said for a city cluster or bay area to succeed, there had to be a good transport network for commuters, while different cities needed a division of labour according to what they were good at.

“For example, San Francisco is a commercial, financial and logistics centre ... while there is a famous university in Berkeley and the Silicon Valley in the south,” he said, referring to the world-renowned technology hub.

“For us, Beijing officials wanted Hong Kong to be in the driving seat to lead the region’s economic development ... and we are an international financial, trading and shipping centre here.”

Tam noted that in Beijing’s five-year plan announced last year, it had promised to back the city’s global role and its efforts to become the regional centre for legal and arbitration services.

“The plan has to fit the ‘one country, two systems’ principle ... and Hong Kong people will have much more space, resources and opportunities if they are interested in a career in Guangdong,” he added.

On his personal plans, Tam, 52, reiterated that he would like to gain other experiences after spending 30 years in the government. He did not rule out returning to the administration in 2022.

On March 31, Tam hinted at a disagreement with chief executive-elect Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who used to be the chief secretary and worked closely with Tam.

“Perhaps my pace and Lam’s were slightly different,” Tam said at the time.

He clarified on Saturday that he was only saying that officials had different paces and views, and this was healthy for the government.