High-ranked Beijing official needed to ‘parent’ 11 cities if China’s Greater Bay Area plan is to succeed
The 19th party congress next week likely to see more detailed plan for the development put forward
A senior Beijing official with a rank of vice-premier or above should be appointed to coordinate a development strategy for a city cluster, including Hong Kong and Macau, in southern China following a key reshuffle of the Communist Party’s leadership, heavyweight scholars have said.
The 19th party congress next Wednesday is likely to see a more detailed plan for the development of a collective of 11 cities surrounding the Pearl River Delta, known as the “Greater Bay Area”, followed by the appointment of a powerful commander in charge.
Such a proposal came amid concerns that protectionism by individual cities of similar economic functions could hinder Beijing’s efforts to build an economic zone that matches its New York and San Francisco counterparts.
“If you want to have efficient coordination between cities and to implement some special policies, a higher level committee needs to be set up, with supervision of a higher ranking official, preferably vice-premier or above,” Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, an executive councillor to the leader of Hong Kong, said on Monday.
Ip said she would submit the proposal to Beijing through the financial secretary on Tuesday.
Ip’s suggestion is echoed by scholars in Hong Kong and mainland China, as well as business leaders, who think that a powerful central leadership is essential to coordinate works involving two special administrative regions with a different political system and nine mainland Chinese cities.
“Integrating the Greater Bay Area has been a sensitive plan, because it is also seen as a political mission,” Ding Li, professor at the semi-official Guangdong Academy of Social Sciences, said. The formula of “one country, two systems” implemented in Hong Kong and Macau only promises 50 years of unchanged economic and political systems, which expires in 2047.
“To implement a complicated plan of such, getting an official ranked vice-premier or above on board is definitely a meaningful approach,” the economics professor said.
“But the problem is how important the Greater Bay Area development plan is to the central government. We will have a clearer picture after the 19th party congress,” he added.
The answer is “very important” for Professor Lau Siu-kai, vice-chairman at Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies.
The regional development was mentioned in the address during President Xi Jinping’s visit to Hong Kong in June and the government work report delivered by Premier Li Keqiang in March, Lau said. The area is also expected to act as a powerhouse for Xi’s flagship “Belt and Road Initiative” – a modern-day Silk Road aiming to encompass more than 60 countries – he added.
“Given its significance to the overall national development strategy, it is appropriate to have a vice-premier to oversee [the development at the Greater Bay Area],” Lau said.
Such an arrangement would also address the concern of the business sector, as an earlier survey conducted by accounting firm KPMG on 614 senior business leaders named “protectionism” and“silos between and within governments” as the two biggest challenges to the development of the plan.
“Without a strong coordinator, individual cities would only focus on their own best interest. This will cause unnecessary competition,” Jimmy Kwok Chun-wah, chairman of the Federation of Hong Kong Industries, said.
“Brothers fight and they need a parent to talk to them when that happens. The parent to us is Beijing,” Kwok said.