Explainer: the GBA’s Science and Technology Corridor

You might have heard about the ‘Innovation Corridor’ linking Guangdong’s tech hubs with Hong Kong. But what is it? Here we explain the basics of ‘One Corridor, Ten Cores, and Multiple Supporting Nodes.’ Forget Zhongguancun in Beijing; this is where ‘China’s Silicon Valley’ is being built.

Shenzhen is often called China’s Palo Alto, the city at the heart of Silicon Valley. The Greater Bay Area is often called China’s Silicon Valley. Yet what many observers do not realize is that there is, in fact, a blueprint for China’s Silicon Valley within the overall masterplan of the Greater Bay Area. It is known by a name that only a bureaucrat could have come up with: the Guangzhou-Dongguan-Shenzhen Science and Technology Innovation Corridor.

Guangzhou, Dongguan and Shenzhen should need no introduction. These three cities are the heart of southern China’s tech industry. The plan that links together their hi-tech capabilities, however, does. For lack of a better name, let’s call it the STIC.

The STIC is a 180 km belt of districts and hi-tech parks that runs down the eastern side of the Bay. It begins at the Guangzhou-Foshan border, passes through central Guangzhou, winds its way down to Nansha, cuts across to Dongguan’s Songshan Lake, and then heads south again to end in Shenzhen, a city literally made up of hi-tech zones.

The innovation corridor is connected by transport arteries: the Guangzhou-Shenzhen Expressway, Guangzhou-Shenzhen coastal highway, Guangzhou-Dongguan-Shenzhen Intercity Rail and Guangzhou-Kowloon Railway. These are expanding and developing at a rapid pace.

Initiated in 2017, the masterplan for this “innovation corridor” is modeled not only upon Silicon Valley, but also on the Boston-Cambridge-New York tech hub on the US east coast, as well as Japan’s Tokyo-Yokohama-Kobe-Tsukuba tech hub. These innovation and economic centers are built on clusters of industries that are concentrated together with universities, research institutions, and a closely following pack of venture capitalists.

The Greater Bay’s innovation plan has some major ambitions for the coming decade.

Source: thePaper.cn

There is no shortage of superstar companies here already. Tencent, Netease, Huawei, ZTE, DJI, OPPO, Vivo – the list goes on. The corridor has a combined annual industrial output of over RMB 1 trillion.

As with many, if not all, Chinese masterplans, numbers are a key component of the overall blueprint. This one is based on a geographic layout referred to in official documents as “One Corridor, Ten Cores and Multiple Nodes.” Let’s break them down.

One Corridor

Taking inspiration from the US west coast’s Highway 101, which runs through the states of California, Oregon and Washington, and the US east coast’s Route 128, the “One Corridor” refers to the 180-kilometer belt running through Guangzhou, Dongguan and Shenzhen. It is quite similar in size to Silicon Valley.

Ten Cores

These are “innovation clusters” along the Corridor, with four each in Guangzhou and Shenzhen, and two in Dongguan. They are:

1. Guangzhou University Town, a high-tech talent innovation and entrepreneurship base and the core platform for scientific and technological cooperation in southern China. Supported by no fewer than 10 university campuses on a gigantic island, it is the region’s core research and development force. It focuses on information technology, new materials and high-ended manufacturing, creative culture, and bioscience.

2. Guangzhou Pazhou Internet Innovation Cluster aims to build up an internet industry headquarters for the region, a destination for global internet investment and a gathering place for international high-end talent.

3. Sino-Singapore Guangzhou Knowledge City, an industrial zone, focuses on bio-medicine, electronic information, new materials and other knowledge-driven industries.

4. Guangzhou Science City aims to become the regional technology and innovation center, led by strategic emerging industries. It targets electronic information, new materials, bio-medicine industry. The city’s goal is to build a startup ecosystem with high concentration of innovation elements.

5. Dongguan Songshan Lake aims to build a global science and technology park and an ecological demonstration town. It focuses on the development of high-end electronic information, robotics, biotechnology, new energy, and modern service industries.

6. Dongguan Binhaiwan New District focuses on modern service industries, marine bio-medicine, intelligent equipment, and information technology industries. The new district is an important node on the Corridor that serves as a pilot zone for the integrated development of the services industry.

7. Shenzhen Airport City aims to develop an international exhibition trade and service industry and build a world class aerotropolis. It focuses on the aerospace industry and intelligent equipment. 

8. Shenzhen High-Tech Zone focuses on new materials, electronic communication, digital audio-visual equipment and biological medicine industry. It aims to build a national-level demonstration zone of intellectual property rights and national high-tech industry standardization exhibition zone.

9. Shenzhen Banxue Technology and Science City develops communications equipment and 5G industry by utilizing the technology spillover and talents spillover effect from leading enterprises like Huawei.

10. Shenzhen International Biological Valley focuses on the bio-medicine and bioscience industries. It integrates biology technology and information technology, aiming to build up a world-leading biotechnology innovation center.

Multiple Supporting Nodes

Theserefer to no fewer than 37 industrial parks scattered along the Corridor. We are not going to list them all here. If you would like that kind of detail, please get in touch.

The challenges

Compared to well-established tech hubs in the US or Japan, the Greater Bay’s STIC still needs to overcome some challenges. Some are fairly obvious and just require time and organic economic growth. Others are more specific to the region and are being addressed by policymakers as a matter of urgency. They include:

  • Education and human resources: Lack of high-quality universities and research institutes, highly technologically innovative companies, high-level talents and sufficient investment for basic research.
  • Coordination: Policies need improvement in investment incentives, administrative approvals, land transfers and the flow of human resources. There is too much overlap between various jurisdictions in these areas. Too-similar industrial structures cause overly competitive product development, deterring the effective growth of industrial value chains.
  • Collaboration: The higher education institutes, research institutions and enterprises have not yet established smooth collaborative efforts in innovation, resulting in ineffective allocation of technological resources and prematurely interrupted commercialization of research results.
  • Capital allocation: The development of the venture capital industry is also immature, needing better integration into the process.
  • Urban planning: Environmental standards vary between urban and rural areas. Messy planning for land usage and inadequate living-working conditions are prevalent.
  • Transport: Highways are still the main commuting option among towns and cities along the Corridor. This is causing bottlenecks. The Guangzhou-Shenzhen Expressway, for example, was designed for 60,000 vehicle trips per day, but on peak days it is hitting 120,000 vehicle trips per day.

Building the infrastructure

Infrastructure is the challenge being addressed with the most gusto. According to the masterplan, the Corridor will “construct a comprehensive transportation network”. Airports are being upgraded and new ones are being built. Hi-speed railways are being laid out at record speeds. Roads are being widened and networks improved. (We have a separate report on this.)

The goal is for everyone within the Greater Bay’s STIC to be “10 minutes to the highway, 45 minutes to each city’s CBD, 60 minutes to the airports (Guangzhou or Shenzhen).” Will this infrastructure boom accelerate the STIC to the point it can seriously challenge the world’s leading tech hubs for pre-eminence? Will the STIC become a magnet for talent and a breeding ground for world-leading innovation? That’s the plan. Stay tuned.

Tell us what you think