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Deepening Cooperation Between Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macao to Develop the Greater Bay Area

By He Lifeng Source: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2021-09-08

To develop the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area (GBA) is an important decision of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) led by Xi Jinping. It is a strategic necessity for creating a model to guide China's high-quality development and continuing to make our economy more innovative and competitive, for optimizing locational functions and bringing about coordinated regional development, for building a new open economic system and a new platform for international economic cooperation that supports the Belt and Road Initiative, and for improving practical aspects of the "One Country, Two Systems" policy so as to secure the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong and Macao. Moreover, it is an important component of our efforts to achieve the Two Centenary Goals and the Chinese Dream of national rejuvenation.

The CPC Central Committee and the State Council released the Outline Development Plan for the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area (hereinafter "Outline Plan") on February 18, 2019, which marked a new phase in the construction of the GBA.

I. Pursuing innovation and enhancing technology and competitiveness

The intensity and extent of global technological innovation has been unprecedented since the beginning of the 21st century. The new round of scientific and technological revolution and industrial transformation is reshaping the global innovation landscape as well as the global economic structure. China has transitioned into a stage of high-quality development. While it actively responds to various risks, challenges, and bottlenecks, it has a great and urgent need for technological innovation. Never has science and technology had such a profound impact on the future and destiny of a country or on people's lives and wellbeing as it does today. The GBA is home to a high concentration of factors for scientific and technological innovation, with outstanding R&D and industrial application capabilities as well as nationally, and even globally, influential universities, research institutes, high-tech enterprises, and major national-level projects. All of this gives it the conditions to become an active participant and leader in the new round of global scientific and technological revolution and industrial innovation.

The Outline Plan identified the development of an international innovation and technology hub as a primary task. It proposed deepening cooperation on innovation between Guangdong, Hong Kong, and Macao, building an open and integrated regional collaborative innovation community, concentrating international innovation resources, and optimizing innovation systems and the policy environment, with a focus on improving the area's ability to convert scientific and technological achievements into real-world applications. In recent years, the Office of the Leading Group for the Development of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area ("GBA Leading Group Office"), working with central departments and relevant regional and provincial governments, has established sound coordination mechanisms, driven technological innovation, improved institutional mechanisms, and promoted the construction of a modern industrial system.

Expanding scientific and technological innovation capabilities

The key to promoting scientific and technological innovation is to strengthen basic research and strategic scientific and technological capabilities, with the aim of converting those into practical applications that boost industrial development. In accordance with the CPC Central Committee and State Council's plan to develop an international technology innovation hub in the GBA, "two corridors" (the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong and the Guangzhou-Zhuhai-Macao innovation and technology corridors) and "two hubs" (the Lok Ma Chau Loop, which occupies a strategic location on the border of Shenzhen and Hong Kong, and Hengqin, which is located in Zhuhai in southern Guangdong and is next to Macao) have been developed. In addition, construction has begun on a pilot zone of the Comprehensive National Science Center in the GBA, and a number of major scientific and technological infrastructure and scientific research platforms are in the pipeline or being developed.


An independently developed high-precision automated production line runs busily in a clean room at Guangdong Ruigu Optical Network Communication Co., Ltd. in Dongguan, Guangdong Province, April 22, 2021. To promote scientific and technological innovation, bolstering basic research and strengthening strategic capabilities in science and technology are key tasks for China, while spurring the application of breakthroughs and boosting industrial development are main objectives for the country. PEOPLE'S DAILY / PHOTO BY ZHANG JINGANG

In terms of major scientific and technological infrastructure, the China Spallation Neutron Source has been put into operation, and work is accelerating on a high-intensity heavy-ion accelerator facility, a brain analysis and simulation project, synthetic biology research, and a large materials genome facility. Guangdong, Hong Kong, and Macao are cooperating on the construction of innovation platforms in fields including new materials, artificial intelligence, biomedicine, marine technology. The Peng Cheng Laboratory has been inaugurated, and the Hong Kong Institute of Science and Innovation, which is affiliated with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, has been established.

In the area of industrial innovation, initial results have been achieved in key core technologies such as microchips, and projects in areas such as 5G, ultra-HD video, and integrated circuits have successively gone into production.


The Liantang—Heung Yuen Wai border crossing. When freight inspection lanes officially opened, August 26, 2020, Liantang—Heung Yuen Wai became the seventh land crossing between Shenzhen and Hong Kong, adding yet another major logistics channel in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area. PHOTO BY XINHUA REPORTER MAO SIQIAN

Improving the innovation environment 

Led by a problem-oriented approach and driven by technological and institutional innovation demand, efforts are being made to promote quick and efficient flows of science and technology innovation factors across borders as well as regulatory alignment. Channels for providing funding for scientific research to Hong Kong and Macao from the central government and Guangdong Province are already open, making national key R&D programs such as stem cell and transformation research and nanotechnology open to applicants from the two special administrative regions. The Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao joint funding program for science and technology innovation is also steadily being implemented, and Hong Kong and Macao scientific research institutions and personnel now have access to major scientific and technological infrastructure and large-scale scientific research equipment in the mainland. The National Super-computing Center in Guangzhou has established network connections with Hong Kong and Macao, serving nearly 200 users. The import and export procedures for cross-boundary use of scientific research products have been simplified, with scientific research equipment from Hong Kong and Macao exempt from product certification. In addition, 24-hour customs appointments are available for large-scale scientific research equipment, with immediate clearance and on-site inspections, helping to accelerate customs clearance. A preferential income tax policy has also been implemented in the GBA to attract high-end overseas talent and badly-needed personnel.

II. Strengthening facilities and mechanisms for market integration 

President Xi has emphasized the need to promote regulatory alignment between Guangdong, Hong Kong, and Macao, accelerate the construction of intercity railways in the GBA, and promote quick and efficient flows of goods, personnel, and other necessary items to improve market integration. The regulatory environment of the GBA encompasses the "One Country, Two Systems" policy as well as three customs areas and three legal systems. On the one hand, this provides the opportunity to draw upon their respective strengths to achieve complementary and coordinated development, but on the other hand, it presents objective institutional obstacles and problems. The Outline Plan proposed deepening cooperation between Guangdong, Hong Kong, and Macao to optimize the investment and business environments of the nine cities in the Pearl River Delta and enhance market integration in the GBA. In recent years, the GBA Leading Group Office has worked with relevant departments and the Guangdong, Hong Kong, and Macao governments to simultaneously develop the "hardware" of infrastructure and the "software" of regulations and mechanisms, in order to form interconnected facilities and regulations, promote efficient and convenient flows of factors of production, and accelerate market integration in the GBA.

Increasing infrastructure inter-connectivity 

Infrastructure supports economic and social development, and is necessary for conveniently transporting workers, reducing logistics costs, increasing efficiency, and optimizing the layout of industries. Guangdong, Hong Kong, and Macao are continuously expanding their infrastructure cooperation, including transportation infrastructure, to enhance the convenience of traveling within and beyond the GBA through the creation of a world-class integrated transportation hub. In terms of ground transportation, the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge and the Nansha Bridge are now open to traffic, and the Shenzhen-Zhongshan Bridge is under construction. All of these have made the east and west banks of the Pearl River Estuary more accessible to each other. The Hong Kong section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link has officially opened to passengers, linking Hong Kong to China's national high-speed rail network. Construction has started on other major projects, including the Ganzhou-Shenzhen and Guangzhou-Shanwei high-speed railways, and the GBA rail transit network is nearing completion. In terms of aviation, work is underway on third runways at both Hong Kong International Airport and Shenzhen Airport, the third phase expansion of Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport, and the renovation and expansion of Zhuhai Airport, while preparations for the renovation and expansion of Macao Airport are ongoing, consolidating the GBA's cluster of world-class airports. In terms of port facilities, the cargo inspection channel at Liantang-Heung Yuen Wai Port and the passenger inspection channel at Hengqin Port have officially opened. The construction of the Guangdong-Macao New Corridor (Qingmao Port) has been completed, and customs clearance facilities in Guangdong, Hong Kong, and Macao have all been improved.

Deepening convergence of regulations and mechanisms 

Joining up regulations and mechanisms is a basic requirement for allowing efficient and convenient flows of factors of production and encouraging market integration, and it is the most pressing issue that has been communicated by various sectors of society in the GBA. Guangdong, Hong Kong, and Macao are all interested in finding commonality between their institutional rules in order to converge and accommodate various market mechanisms. To assist personnel flows, the Zhuhai-Macao border point at the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge and the Hengqin Port passenger inspection area have implemented a "joint boundary" system of customs clearance, whereas, Hong Kong West Kowloon Station employs a juxtaposed control system, all of which has improved customs clearance within the GBA. To facilitate flows of goods, the mainland and Hong Kong have implemented the "cross-boundary single lock" system within the GBA, and the same model is being extended to Macao, further simplifying customs clearance procedures. In the area of qualifications, the GBA already recognizes or is facilitating the recognition of Hong Kong and Macao professional qualifications in the key fields of construction engineering, medical care, education, law, accounting, and tourism.

Reaching a new level of opening to the outside world

The GBA has all the traits of an export-oriented economy with discernible international advantages, making it an important gateway for China's foreign trade. It has the foundations, conditions, and capacity, not to mention the responsibility, to lead the promotion and creation of the new "dual circulation" development dynamic (prioritizing domestic consumption—"internal circulation"—while remaining open to international trade and investment—"external circulation"). In terms of opening up financial services and other service industries, cross-boundary cash pooling of domestic and foreign currencies has been implemented, the Cross-boundary Wealth Management Connect Pilot Scheme is being accelerated, preparations to set up GBA insurance service centers are progressing, and cross-boundary auto insurance within the GBA for policies bought in Guangdong, Hong Kong, or Macao is being trialed. Agreements have also been signed with Hong Kong and Macao to support their full participation in the construction of the BRI and to expand the Guangdong 21st Century Maritime Silk Road International Expo into the China (Guangdong) Maritime Silk Road Expo. The "Greater Bay Area" China-Europe Express freight train operating out of Shenzhen has also gone into service.

III. Deepening cooperation to improve people's living standards in the GBA 

Politics reflects the will of the people, which itself is determined by people's standard of living. Improving people's standard of living and wellbeing are fundamental to developing the GBA, and it is the key to winning over the people of Hong Kong and Macao. We currently face challenges to maintaining people's standard of living in Guangdong, Hong Kong, and Macao, which need to be resolved in the ongoing development of the GBA. The Outline Plan stated that the GBA should expand cooperation in fields including education, culture, tourism, and social security to jointly create high-quality public services and a superior living, working, and traveling environment. In recent years, the GBA Leading Group Office has worked with various bodies as well as the governments of Guangdong, Hong Kong, and Macao to help residents develop the GBA, with the focus on areas of particular concern to people in Hong Kong and Macao. This has promoted in-depth cooperation between Guangdong, Hong Kong, and Macao and ensured that the people of the GBA lead happier, more satisfying, and more secure lives.

Developing a thriving and business-friendly Greater Bay Area

Employment has the biggest impact on people's standard of living. Throughout the development of the GBA, employment and entrepreneurship have been given special attention, with policies and measures continuously improved to help Hong Kong and Macao residents find employment and set up businesses in the mainland. To this end, the need for employment permits for Hong Kong and Macao residents to work in the mainland has been removed, and Guangdong has started enrolling Hong Kong and Macao residents who work or are seeking work in the province in its basic public employment and entrepreneurship services. Public institutions in the GBA now allow Hong Kong and Macao residents to apply for jobs, with an initial batch of more than 10,000 jobs offered, subject to passing the necessary examinations. Guangdong Province has also built 12 innovation and entrepreneurship bases for young people from Hong Kong and Macao, and Hong Kong and Macao entrepreneurs are eligible for funding under local entrepreneurship subsidy policies. As of the end of 2020, the innovation and entrepreneurship bases had incubated 698 projects involving Hong Kong and Macao residents, creating more than 8,800 jobs and attracting more than 1,000 young people from Hong Kong and Macao.


A panorama view of the construction underway in Hengqin, Zhuhai, May 1, 2020. The CPC Central Committee and the State Council view the place as an important vehicle for spurring appropriate diversification in Macao's economic development. Xi Jinping has delivered several important speeches on the development of Hengqin through cooperation between Guangdong and Macao, stressing that this initiative must be carried out effectively in order to make room and generate new momentum for Macao's long-term development. PHOTO BY CNS REPORTER HUANG JIANHUA

Creating a harmonious and livable Greater Bay Area

Creating a convenient living environment is important for attracting Hong Kong and Macao residents to the mainland, so the governments of Guangdong, Hong Kong, and Macao are working on regulatory convergence in the areas of housing, education, medical care, and social security. To help Hong Kong and Macao residents buy houses in other areas within the GBA, documentation requirements have been eased and Hong Kong and Macao banks can be used to complete purchases. Policies have been implemented to allow the children of Hong Kong and Macao residents to access pre-school education, compulsory education, and take high school and college entrance exams, and progress is being made in setting up cooperative study programs involving Hong Kong and Macao colleges in the mainland. Procedures for Hong Kong and Macao residents to access medical services in other areas within the GBA are also being optimized, and 48 medical institutions funded by Hong Kong and Macao have opened in the mainland. Restrictions on accessing medicines and medical devices in Hong Kong and Macao have been relaxed further, and qualified medical institutions in the GBA can now use drugs and medical devices marketed in Hong Kong and Macao. Finally, Hong Kong and Macao residents can join social insurance policies in the mainland, and links between the social security systems of the mainland, Hong Kong, and Macao are steadily being created.

IV. Promoting cooperation platforms and integrated development

The construction of the GBA depends closely on the overall work of the state in each of the sub-regions and the implementation of relevant laws and regulations. The more progress that is made, the greater the difficulties and challenges that are encountered, with many dilemmas and quandaries to be dealt with along the way. Building major cooperation platforms in a targeted manner, intensifying the reform and innovation of systems and mechanisms, and accumulating experience in key areas and links are positive and stable choices for coordinating development, innovation, and risk management, creating examples for others to follow and driving deeper cooperation between Guangdong, Hong Kong, and Macao.

The Outline Plan required the accelerated construction of major cooperation platforms, such as the economic development zones at Qianhai in Shenzhen, Hengqin in Zhuhai, Nansha in Guangzhou, and the Lok Ma Chau Loop, in order to exploit their experimental and demonstrative roles in driving reforms to a deeper level, expanding opening up, promoting cooperation, creating new development horizons for Hong Kong and Macao, promoting shared public services, and driving comprehensive cooperation between Guangdong, Hong Kong, and Macao. In recent years, The GBA Leading Group Office has worked with relevant central departments and the governments of Guangdong, Hong Kong, and Macao to accelerate the construction of major cooperation platforms and promote complementary development and competitive advantages within the GBA.

Constructing the Guangdong-Macao Intensive Cooperation Zone in Hengqin

The CPC Central Committee and the State Council are keen to use Hengqin to promote the appropriate diversification of Macao's economic development. President Xi has visited Hengqin four times and given speeches on the importance of the Guangdong-Macao cooperation zone, in which he has emphasized the need to make a success of cooperative development between Zhuhai and Macao in Hengqin in order to boost Macao's longterm development. The GBA Leading Group Office is closely focused on this priority of promoting appropriately diversified economic development in Macao, which it considers the immutable aim of the work in Hengqin. A grand plan for the Intensive Cooperation Zone in Hengqin has been formulated, which clarified the overall requirements, main tasks, and supporting measures for the further development and opening of Hengqin, and related policies and measures are being introduced as quickly as possible. The University of Macao and the Macao University of Science and Technology have established the Industry-Education-Research Demonstration Base in Hengqin. A policy has been implemented to allow certain Macao registered vehicles to enter and exit Hengqin, with the quota increased to 10,000. The construction of the Macao New Neighborhood project for Macao residents has been launched, and supporting education, medical care, and legal services have been added.

Advancing reform and opening up in Qianhai

The Qianhai Shenzhen-Hong Kong Modern Service Industry Cooperation Zone has been constructed to support Hong Kong's economic and social development, enhance cooperation between Guangdong, Hong Kong, and Macao, and create a new pattern of opening up. The GBA Leading Group Office is using the service industry, an industry in which Hong Kong holds a competitive advantage, to promote in-depth cooperation between Hong Kong and Shenzhen, along with the rest of Guangdong. The intention is to build Qianhai into a foothold for expanding Hong Kong's development space and furthering the mainland's reform and opening up. We have formulated plans and arrangements for reform and opening up in Qianhai and expanded the zone's scope. Qianhai is taking the lead in areas such as facilitating trade and investment as well as financial opening up and innovation, with a number of achievements having been replicated in Shenzhen, the GBA, and across China.

In addition, construction of both the Shenzhen-Hong Kong Cooperation Zone for Technology and Innovation at the Lok Ma Chau Loop and the Guangdong-Hong Kong Intensive Cooperation Park in Nansha is progressing steadily. In the Shenzhen part of the former, the regeneration of the Huanggang Port area and upgrading of the Futian Free Trade Zone are progressing apace, more than 20 scientific research projects led by five Hong Kong universities are being implemented, and a raft of scientific and technological innovation policies are being piloted. In the Hong Kong part of the cooperation zone, preparatory work on infrastructure and preliminary operations is advancing. At Nansha, the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (Guangzhou) and the Pearl Science Park of the Chinese Academy of Sciences are being constructed, and more than 3,870 Hong Kong and Macao enterprises and a number of Hong Kong and Macao youth entrepreneurship projects have been attracted to the park.

The 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-2025) is the first five years of the new journey to build a modern socialist country, during which China will enter a new stage of development and encounter profound and complex changes in its development environment. The world is undergoing major changes unseen in a century, which the global novel coronavirus pandemic has accelerated. There is a backlash to economic globalization, protectionism and unilateralism are prevalent, and the world has entered a period of turbulent transformation. China, meanwhile, is in a critical period for realizing the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. Our economy has shifted from the stage of high-speed growth to the stage of high-quality development, creating a new "dual circulation" development dynamic. Moreover, China's economy is at a key juncture in transforming its mode of development, optimizing its economic structure, and switching to new drivers of growth, but there are still many weaknesses to overcome if we are to achieve high-quality development. Within this context, to promote GBA, we must continue to be guided by Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era and fully implement the "One Country, Two Systems" policy, under which the people of Hong Kong administer Hong Kong and the people of Macao administer Macao, with a high degree of autonomy for both regions. We must continue to administer Hong Kong and Macao in accordance with law, maintain constitutional order in the two special administrative regions, as ordained by the Constitution and the Basic Law, and fully utilize the unique advantages of Hong Kong and Macao as well as the pioneering excellence of Guangdong in reform and opening up and the leading role of Shenzhen as a pacesetter in developing Chinese socialism. We must focus on enhancing technological innovation, increasing market integration, improving people's wellbeing, strengthening exchanges, and promoting major cooperation platforms between Guangdong, Hong Kong, and Macao, in order to better integrate Hong Kong and Macao in China's overall national development and expand and strengthen drivers of high-quality development. 

He Lifeng is Vice Chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, Minister and Secretary of CPC Leadership Group of the National Development and Reform Commission, and Director of the Office of the Leading Group for the Development of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area.

(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 11, 2021)