Top officials from Hong Kong, Macau, Guangdong and the central government gathered on Thursday to promote the Greater Bay Area, a wide-ranging development plan unveiled earlier this week.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam said at the symposium that Hong Kong is facing “increasingly serious challenges,” but the Greater Bay Area blueprint offers the city new impetus for development. Hong Kong needs to become a proactive participant in regional affairs instead of just a “connector,” she added.

Carrie Lam. Photo: GovHK.

Lam said the One Country, Two Systems principle will still be upheld: “[The Greater Bay Area] will not, as some people worry, blur the boundaries between the ‘Two Systems’, nor will it weaken Hong Kong’s status as a separate customs territory.”

“It certainly will not lead to the assimilation of Hong Kong into the Mainland either.”

On Tuesday, China’s State Council released a 56-page outline on the Greater Bay Area, which lists Hong Kong as one of four “core cities” that are meant to drive development of the seven Chinese municipalities.

Lam said her administration will focus on consolidating and enhancing Hong Kong’s status as an international financial, transportation and trade centre – as well as a global hub for aviation, innovation and technology. Other goals include strengthening infrastructural connectivity and fostering youth innovation and entrepreneurship.

“Through co-operation with subvented and non-governmental organisations, the [Hong Kong government] will provide young people starting their businesses in various Greater Bay Area cities with start-up grants, support, counselling, guidance, and incubation services,” she said by way of example.

‘Resolve deep-seated problems’

Two officials from the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) – Vice Chairman Lin Nianxiu and Director General of the Department of Regional Economy Guo Lanfeng – also spoke at the symposium on Thursday.

From left: Carrie Lam, Tung Chee-hwa, Ma Xingrui, Wang Zhimin, Huang Liuquan, Guo Lanfeng. Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

Lin said that the Greater Bay Area will help mitigate the “bottleneck problems” faced by cities in the region.

“Currently Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau face many challenges and issues, and the Greater Bay Area outline development plan provided new solutions to deal with deep-seated problems,” he said.

Guo, who gave a briefing on the development plan, said the Greater Bay Area had three special features: “First, it maintains the implementation of One Country, Two Systems… Second, the outline exhibits high-quality development ideas, which are based on fulfilling the needs of the people. Third, it identifies the functions and roles of each city, so they can play to their strengths.”

The Governor of Guangdong Province Ma Xingrui and Macau’s Chief Executive Fernando Chui Sai-on also gave speeches in support of the plan.

Ma said he will “commit the resources of the whole province” to the Greater Bay Area plan, making it easier for people from Hong Kong and Macau to live and work in Guangdong. Chui said his government will align his policies with the Greater Bay Area plan over the next five years.

May lead to ‘conflict’

The symposium, which was held at the newly opened Hong Kong Ocean Park Marriott Hotel, lasted for 90 minutes with no question-and-answer session.

Tam Yiu-chung. Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

Speaking after the event, Tam Yiu-chung – a member of China’s top legislature and a pro-Beijing veteran – said the public will warm to the Greater Bay Area once there are policies that bring practical convenience.

“The two members of [the NDRC] stressed that One Country, Two Systems will still be upheld under the Greater Bay Area development… that left a deep impression on me,” he added.

Lawmaker Michael Tien told reporters that overall it was better for Hong Kong to be a part of the Greater Bay Area than not. However, Tien expressed reservations over the potential effect upon Hong Kong’s labour market and legal system.

Tien said that Hong Kong is currently home to more skilled labour, but the Greater Bay Area may cause a manpower drain. “For things with a limited supply – such as talent in certain fields – the [Greater Bay Area] may lead to a conflict, and we need to be careful,” he said.

It would also require a lot of “wisdom” to manage the intersection of different legal systems, such as the recent extradition case, Tien added.

The League of Social Democrats protest the Greater Bay Area outside the symposium venue. Photo: LSD handout.

During the symposium, members of the League of Social Democrats staged a protest outside the hotel, criticising Lam as becoming “a pawn of Beijing” in terms of economic development.

Around 30 people also held a separate protest, claiming to be investors who lost money on the Guangbohui property in Jiangmen, China. They said that Macau’s Chief Executive Chui had recommended investing in the property, but the construction work was held up and some investors lost as much as HK$2 million.

“Invest in the Greater Bay Area and you’ll lose all your hard-earned savings,” one of their banners read.

Holmes Chan

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.