It is fanciful, to put it mildly, to expect that the special administrative region government has the ability to implement the Lantau Tomorrow Vision and the Northern Metropolis (NM) simultaneously without stretching our financial resources and engineering human capital to the breaking point.
In the long term, the excellent infrastructural foundation laid down by the NM, together with its R&D facilities, could act as an indispensable springboard to allow Hong Kong to integrate deeply with Shenzhen and the entire Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area. For long-term national and local interests, Hong Kong needs as much economic integration with the GBA and as little dangerous distraction from competing white elephants as possible.
The Lantau Tomorrow Vision, announced in the 2018 Policy Address by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, aims at providing some land over the longer term for the city’s continuing development. It covers various projects, including artificial islands in the central waters, and developments along North Lantau and the western coastal areas of Tuen Mun, which include the River Trade Terminal and Lung Kwu Tan. It also entails a strategic transport network connecting the various development areas. But there is no mention of any integration plan with the GBA.
In spite of the financial assurance made by the HKSAR government, critics remain skeptical as to whether the huge reclamation projects near Kau Yi Chau and other related projects will become an albatross around the neck of Hong Kong. The HKSAR government anticipates that the artificial islands near Kau Yi Chau could provide about 1,000 hectares of new land that could accommodate 150,000 to 260,000 housing units. The artificial islands will be developed into a third core business district, which can promote Hong Kong’s long-term economic development. In late April, John Lee Ka-chiu, now the chief executive-elect, said the Lantau Tomorrow Vision will move forward.
The NM is considered more significant and beneficial than the Lantau Tomorrow Vision because the economic strategy of the NM can promote coordinated development with Shenzhen and facilitate Hong Kong’s economic restructuring by aligning with national development. Furthermore, it does not take too much imagination to envision a win-win scenario in which a demarcated special zone within the fully developed NM will undergo administrative surgery and merge with Luohu district of Shenzhen to form a Shenzhen-HK deep cooperation zone. With a separate legal system and flexible immigration control stipulated in national legislation, the deep cooperation zone can be called a “special zone within the special administrative region” (SZWSAR). We strongly support the establishment of the SZWSAR because it is a heaven-sent opportunity to speed up Hong Kong’s economic integration into the GBA.
According to a famous mastermind of the Hengqin Guangdong-Macao In-Depth Cooperation Zone, the leadership team in the In-Depth Cooperation Zone should be similar to that of professional managers in large enterprises. They cannot only think about problems and make decisions from the narrow perspectives of Macao or Guangdong province, but they must stand from the perspective of Hengqin. Everything must be based on the future development of Hengqin. We should draw inspiration from the Hengqin plan and build a co-administrative zone with Shenzhen, which is a rising star of inno-tech development in South China. According to a blueprint released by President Xi Jinping in 2020, Shenzhen will become a core engine of the GBA.
The huge investment in infrastructure, together with an ambitious plan to build IT and R&D facilities in the NM, will lay a good foundation for the future development of the SZWSAR. The key upon which the NM is planned is the five new train routes that together will link Hong Kong’s central area to Shenzhen. In future, Hong Kong and Shenzhen can make joint efforts to attract overseas talent and foreign direct investment to come to the SZWSAR.
In Hong Kong, the Technology Start-up Support Scheme for Universities should be enlarged. The HKSAR government may also consider expanding the Innovation and Technology Venture Fund to provide more support for green technology. According to a joint report issued by PwC and the China Development Research Foundation in early 2022, Hong Kong and Shenzhen can collaborate in six sectors — fintech, biotech, AI, electric vehicles, renewable energy, and low-carbon technology. It’s hoped that the future SZWSAR will play a pioneering role in promoting Hong Kong-Shenzhen cooperation in these six sectors.
Lacking details, the proposed SZWSAR is floated at this early stage mainly for the purpose of brainstorming new ideas for promoting deeper and faster integration between Hong Kong and the GBA. Led by Junius Ho Kwan-yiu and experts from different sectors, a Working Group on the Development of the New Territories has been formed to conduct research on the feasibility of establishing an SZWSAR to complement the development strategy of the NM. More details can be found in the forthcoming report. It’s hoped that the report of this working group can attract valuable feedback and spark more constructive debates on this topic.
The ultimate aim is to enlarge the SZWSAR and turn it into an economic powerhouse in the GBA. From a practical perspective, the SZWSAR seems to be the best entry point for an economically vibrant special zone within the NM of the SAR to integrate into the advanced economy of Shenzhen. The door to integration with the GBA is wide open because Hong Kong can rely on the SZWSAR as an indispensable springboard to achieve deeper integration. The future of Hong Kong lies in the GBA.
Junius Ho Kwan-yiu is a Legislative Council member and a solicitor. Kacee Ting Wong is a barrister, part-time researcher of Shenzhen University Hong Kong and the Macao Basic Law Research Center, and co-founder of the Together We Can and Hong Kong Coalition.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
HONG KONG NEWS