The development of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area will be a real-life experience rather than a conceptual plan in the near future. The idea of “one-hour living circle”, consisting of Hong Kong and neighboring cities in the Guangdong province, has been floated for more than a decade. But it remains a mirage until the emergence of the Bay Area plan. Now, the key infrastructure is almost ready; we can move forward to work on improving the one-hour living circle.
The free and easy flow of people is key to creating such a living circle. Transportation infrastructure is especially vital to the integration of a region with nearly 70 million people. Two large-scale cross-boundary infrastructure projects — the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge and the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link — were successively completed last year. The immediate effect of the opening of these two mega facilities is that the distance between Hong Kong and other cities in the Bay Area is much shortened and transportation time is significantly reduced. The good news is that the Liantang /Heung Yuen Wai Boundary Control Point and the Shenzhen-Zhongshan Corridor project will join the regional transportation network in the coming future. It is expected that the Bay Area will soon be made a genuine one-hour living circle.
The hardware is ready; the software needs to follow quickly. Firstly, the operation of the cross-boundary infrastructure facilities should be improved further. For instance, the Hong Kong section of the Express Rail Link should be more “regionalized” to better serve commuters across the Bay Area. To be specific, the ticket system should be made more user-friendly, and the railway arrangement should be as flexible and convenient as the MTR service in Hong Kong. Moreover, customs clearance at various boundary crossings should be streamlined and license applications for cross-boundary vehicles should be more flexible to facilitate cross- boundary transportation.
One of the possible strategies is to introduce Hong Kong’s social services into the mainland side of the Bay Area ... The SAR government can provide incentives and support measures for Hong Kong service providers to set up branches on the mainland side of the Bay Area
There are arguments that the Bay Area enjoys some advantages over other bay areas in the world because it involves two political and economic systems and three customs regions. However, every coin has two sides. The different systems also imply an inconsistency of social and economic life between the two special administrative regions and the nine mainland cities. These obstacles lead to a situation wherein most of the people flows are travelers rather than residents. In this sense, it is not appropriate to say that a “living circle” is established.
Citizenship is a crucial issue in building a real living circle. Due to historical reasons, Hong Kong and Macao people hold a special status when they are studying, working or living on the mainland; this has created an issue of entitlement for a long time. The introduction of Regulations for Application of Residence Permit for Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan Residents last year did help to settle the “citizen treatment” issue of Hong Kong and Macao residents in the Bay Area. However, the root of the problem lies with service providers.
Medical care, elderly care and education are the three key areas of social services that need to be strengthened. If Hong Kong people are not confident in the social services provided in mainland cities, it will be hard for them to choose to live in those cities. One of the possible strategies to change the situation is to introduce Hong Kong’s social services into the mainland side of the Bay Area. The idea is similar to introducing Hong Kong professional services, like financial and accounting, to the free trade zones in mainland cities years ago. The SAR government can provide incentives and support measures for Hong Kong service providers to set up branches on the mainland side of the Bay Area. This practice will have two derived benefits. One is to relieve the burden on Hong Kong’s domestic market; the other one is to improve service standards in the mainland cities.
All of the aforementioned recommendations cannot move forward without an effective coordination mechanism. Undoubtedly, governments in different regions would have diverse opinions on how to facilitate cross-boundary flows of people, especially when the issue has something to do with institutional arrangements. Consensus is expected to be hard to achieve. However, “You don’t get harmony when everyone sings the same note.”
One favorable condition is that the construction of the Bay Area is a national policy and therefore beneficial to all member cities. With the central government playing the role of a conductor, it is likely that partner cities can find common ground in order to serve collective interests.
The author is research officer with the One Country Two Systems Research Institute.
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