Hong Kong and Guangdong officials went to great lengths to ensure their leaders would have some good news to announce at the end of a routine meeting yesterday. Sift through the details, however, and one finds little substance. To be sure, theatrics play an important role in smoothing relations and getting things done on the mainland. By that measure, the visit was a success. If nothing else, the pledge of political will by Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and Governor Huang Huahua to clear the air and step up transport links has served a useful purpose. It should go some way to allay concerns that the two neighbours have allowed their relations to be driven by competition at the expense of co-operation. Yet, after discounting their rhetoric, the two senior leaders actually said no more than that every plan was on track. Guangdong reported that two power plants at Zhuhai and Zhongshan had switched to using liquefied petroleum gas, a new gas-fired plant would soon be commissioned and desulfurisation facilities at more coal-fired plants had been installed. But there was no mention of their specific impact. The communique said both sides would 'endeavour' to reach their air quality targets, but there was no word on how this is progressing or whether the 2010 deadline for dramatically reduced emissions is likely to be met. Preliminary work on a cross-border emissions trading scheme will begin later this year. But there are reasonable doubts about whether this will work in practice. Monitoring compliance will certainly be a problem, especially because the two jurisdictions have very different regulatory regimes and Guangdong suffers from a dangerous lack of transparency. As Hong Kong says it is responsible for just about 20 per cent of the region's smog, the local power companies are understandably sceptical about whether the pollution-trading scheme makes economic sense. On the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge, the central government's decision that the three places should each build their own immigration and customs facilities was presented as major progress. It was significant to note, however, that there was no timetable on when construction can begin. Three years ago, news about the project getting Beijing's blessing was announced with much fanfare. The delay in getting it launched since then can only fuel suspicions that Guangdong is, after all, not that keen on it. The only piece of concrete co-operation was the announcement that Hong Kong's Airport Authority has reached a joint venture agreement to manage the Zhuhai airport. Hong Kong's competitiveness partly springs from its status as a gateway to China and a regional transport hub. The Airport Authority wants partnership agreements with four other airports in the Pearl River Delta to ensure they would complement one another. But airports in Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Macau have all shunned the authority's overtures. Questions remain over the way in which the deal to bail out Zhuhai's airport, one of China's biggest white elephants, will benefit Hong Kong as a whole. The heavily underutilised Zhuhai airport has been suffering severe losses since its inception, but it has recently emerged as a hub for low-cost carriers. By taking charge of its operation, the authority will be launching a virtual base for cheap flights. But it needs to ensure the development of Zhuhai airport will not undercut Chek Lap Kok's hub functions. As close neighbours, Hong Kong and Guangdong have been driving one another's development despite the lack of substantial co-operation between their governments most of the time. But economic and personal ties have thickened to a point where official intervention is needed to sort out real problems and to build the infrastructure for continued growth. That needs candid communication by officials on both sides of the border and the political will to turn promises into concrete achievements.