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Greater Bay Area

No room for city rivalries in China’s Greater Bay Area project if region wants to match New York and Tokyo, Hong Kong told

Efforts to transform Hong Kong, Macau and nine Guangdong cities into an innovation powerhouse to catch Silicon Valley could falter if rivalries not shelved and service sector remains underdeveloped, lawmaker says

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 June, 2018, 6:30am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 June, 2018, 2:15pm

An underdeveloped service sector and rivalry between Hong Kong and Guangdong cities could hamper efforts to turn southern China’s “Greater Bay Area” into a tech and finance hub to rival those in Japan and the US, a veteran pro-establishment lawmaker in Hong Kong said on Thursday.

Starry Lee Wai-king, chairwoman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, the city’s biggest pro-government party, said Beijing must learn from integration in the Tokyo, New York and San Francisco bay areas.

In a candid assessment of efforts to transform Hong Kong, Macau and nine Guangdong cities into a financial and innovation powerhouse to rival Silicon Valley, Lee pointed to three key problems Beijing would need to address.

Intercity competition, overlapping roles and the service industry’s relatively insignificant economic presence could hold back the project, Lee said, and the experience of foreign countries would prove instructive.

The Tokyo, New York and San Francisco bay areas were centred around one major city, she said, but “there are three heads in the Greater Bay Area – Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Shenzhen”.

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“If there is no appropriate division of labour and not enough interaction ... These cities could become a source of internal conflict,” she warned.

In the United States, the cities of San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose were California’s financial, manufacturing and innovation hubs, respectively, Lee said.

“In comparison, there are multiple financial, logistics and technology centres in the Greater Bay Area.”

On the service sector, Lee lamented that while it accounted for about 80 per cent of the economy in Tokyo, New York and the San Francisco region, the industry only made up 60 per cent of the 11 urban economies in China’s bay area. In Hong Kong however, 90 per cent of the economy is driven by the sector.

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“[The Greater Bay Area] is still at the stage of a port and industrial economy,” Lee said in an article published in the latest issue of pro-Beijing magazine Bauhinia.

The economies of its 11 cities were worth US$1.58 trillion last year and covered an area of 56,000 sq km with an estimated population of 68 million.

Turning to Hong Kong, Lee said the city must use the bay area project to diversify its economy and address a shortage of housing.

“We should build subsidised housing, hospitals and elderly care homes in the Greater Bay Area,” she said.

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Witman Hung, a Hong Kong deputy to China’s national legislature, said he believed bay area integration would go smoothly as the country’s vice-premier, Han Zheng, had been tasked with overseeing the project.

Han last month paid a visit to Shenzhen during which he made clear to local leaders that they should shelve any intercity rivalries and focus on making the mega project work.

Hung believed it was “healthy for the service industry to be at about 60 per cent ... because we need to manufacture products [designed by] technology innovators”.

“Hong Kong and Shenzhen are actually strong in different areas,” Hung added. “Hong Kong is good at being international, and Shenzhen is good at creating innovative products.”

Another local deputy to the National People’s Congress, David Wong Yau-kar, said it would be an advantage to have the two cities as two regional financial centres.

Hong Kong is China’s largest offshore yuan trading centre, while Shenzhen is home to one of the mainland’s two stock exchanges.

“There wasn’t much coordination in the development of the Tokyo and San Francisco bay areas,” Wong said. “The cities just developed according to their strengths.”