THE PLANNING of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area is now in full swing. However, government officials and various social sectors in the three regions have diverse opinions on how to smoothen the flow of people, goods and capital, and there is not a consensus yet. Wang Rong, Chairman of Guangdong People's Political Consultative Conference, thinks that a "coordination mechanism" has to be established at the national level to handle problems that may come up in the course of the plan's implementation. The construction of the Greater Bay Area is a national policy and is advantageous to Hong Kong's long-term development. However, it is not easy to bring about the integration of the Greater Bay Area while maintaining the boundaries of "one country, two systems". How to resolve these differences will be a major challenge for the central government as well as for Hong Kong.
Over the past ten-odd years, when discussing the integration of Hong Kong with the mainland, Hong Kong people have usually focused on economic collaboration such as Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA), or problems such as the pros and cons of the mainland's Individual Visit Scheme. However, these issues cannot be compared with the integration of the Greater Bay Area in terms of depth, scale and complexity. The concern of the central government in promoting the integration of the Greater Bay Area is not immediate economic growth but economic transformation and upgrading. For Hong Kong people, the deep integration of the Greater Bay Area may mean significant changes to the economy and their lifestyles. Anyone who thinks that the construction of the Greater Bay Area is only a matter of strengthening the connectivity between infrastructures to facilitate the movement of people and capital between Hong Kong and the mainland and that it will be a quantitative change rather than a qualitative change will be underestimating the profound impact this national policy will have on Hong Kong.
Whether it be Guangdong, Hong Kong or Macao, every region has its own calculations regarding the construction of the Greater Bay Area. It is therefore not easy for the three regions to coordinate their efforts. In addition, both Hong Kong and Macao practise "one country, two systems". Given the huge difference between the systems of Hong Kong and Macao and that of the mainland, integration is inherently far more difficult. Wang Rong thinks that the leaders of the national government should take the lead to establish a coordination mechanism involving related national ministries and the governments of the three regions. The coordination body will coordinate the construction plan of the Greater Bay Area and handle problems that come up in the course of implementing the plan.
The construction of the Greater Bay Area falls outside the purview of the HKSAR. Such being the case, Article 22 of the Basic Law, which states that the central government ministries should not intervene in the affairs of the SAR, does not apply to the initiative in theory. However, if the central government coordinates the integration of the Greater Bay Area directly, it will inevitably have to make decisions on some long-term policies and development plans of Hong Kong. Hong Kong people may worry that the boundaries of "one country, two systems" will become blurred.
The integration of the Greater Bay Area is a two-way process. For Guangdong to open its door to Hong Kong, it is necessary for Hong Kong to widen its door significantly. The difficulty in bringing about the deep integration of the Greater Bay Area while maintaining the boundaries of "one country, two systems" is like "having me in you while maintaining the difference between me and you". If the central government and the SAR government want to have the cake and eat it, they must adopt a cautious and measured approach. Otherwise political conflicts can arise easily. If the leaders of the national government take the lead to establish the coordination mechanism, it will undoubtedly be highly beneficial to achieving the integration of the Greater Bay Area. However, to put Hong Kong people's mind at rest, the central government should also take into account the policy of "one country, two systems" and the uniqueness of Hong Kong when making any decision.