Tencent's Pony Ma unveils WeChat travel plan for China, Greater Bay Area
Innovation would seek to smooth travel between mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau, which currently requires special permits
Tencent Holdings is working with the Chinese government to create an electronic pass system that smooths travel between Hong Kong, Macau and the southern province of Guangdong.
The unusual proposal would see multiple travel documents linked to Tencent’s WeChat app to streamline border crossings, the Shenzhen, Guangdong-based company said in a statement. With the ‘E-card’ ID system, users some day might be able to check into hotels and set up bank accounts if regulators approve, the company said.
Travellers between mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau are required to have special permits, similar to visas, even though they are part of the same country. Founder Ma Huateng has been a champion for developing Tencent’s home province and the former colonies into the so-called “Greater Bay Area” that could rival the region around San Francisco.
The E-card program will use a feature of WeChat known as “mini program” to allow users to link their Chinese ID card to their travel permits. WeChat has more than 1 billion active users and Tencent also runs news portals, a Hollywood-like movie production and distribution network, online book stores and games including Clash of Clans.
The proposal is a follow up on ideas Ma first put forward last year during an annual legislative meeting in Beijing. While details were vague, his suggestion was written into China’s government work report, and broached the idea of twinning Hong Kong’s capital and financial muscle with the manufacturing prowess of Shenzhen and the Pearl River Delta region. Ma said that it could help “the long-term stability and prosperity of Hong Kong and Macau.”
Ma’s plans for the region compete with at least 120 so-called tech zones now getting drawn up around the country as provinces and cities seek to forge China’s equivalent of Silicon Valley. All are vying for talent and capital.
Proposals to unify the Pearl River Delta elicited some concerns: critics say any plans for Hong Kong and mainland Chinese immigration and customs officials to share locations – to speed border crossings – violates the one-country two-systems framework. But the same ideas that provoke outrage in some has also aroused enthusiasm in others who say simplifying travel will increase the cities’ competitiveness.
It’s the latest example of how China’s tech companies are increasingly becoming facilitators for the government as a new generation of tycoons become de facto ambassadors for their country. Jack Ma, chairman of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. for example, is among the most assured of his cohort, jetting around the world to plug his vision of helping small businesses thrive.
President Xi Jinping has identified the internet as one of the most important sectors for official oversight. He’s reminded the country’s technology entrepreneurs to “demonstrate positive energy in purifying cyberspace” and called for regular contact with new media representatives to build support for the party’s agenda.