fbpx

GBA FAQs

Understanding the GBA

It is the name given to a group of 11 cities surrounding the mouth of the Pearl River in southern China. They comprise the two Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau, situated at the western and eastern sides of the “bay”, respectively, plus the nine cities of Guangdong province in between: Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Dongguan, Foshan, Zhongshan, Huizhou, Jiangmen, Zhuhai, Zhaoqing

The GBA is much larger than Tokyo, New York and San Francisco in terms of land and population. Its economy will overtake Tokyo soon. But it is well behind on a per-capita basis. Read our primer, which has a table comparing their basic stats. The GBA's economy, at US$1.6trn in 2018, was roughly on par with Korea. By the end of its current masterplan in 2035, it is expected to be larger than Germany's.

Here is a table showing how these regions compare at the moment.


The GBA is way ahead, and lengthening its lead in recent years. The two other regions are actually major aggregates of several provinces and cities. Here is a table showing how they stack up:

Because the GBA is an economic region rather than an administrative one, it is managed by consensus among the leaders of the three jurisdictions of Hong Kong, Macau and Guangdong province.

No single person “runs” the GBA. This is because of the “one country, two systems” principle underlying how Hong Kong and Macau are governed.

However, there is a Leading Small Group within the Central Government that oversees GBA coordination work. This group is headed by a senior member of the Politburo Standing Committee. At time of writing, this was Vice Premier Han Zheng.

At some stage, a Steering Committee is expected to be appointed by leaders from the three jurisdictions to conduct day-to-day coordinating work. It had not yet been announced at time of writing.

 

Inside the Zones

They are all different. New Areas seem to have the most leeway in setting new policies designed to experiment with further Reform and Opening. Special Economic Zones (Shenzhen and Zhuhai, for instance), Economic & Technological Development Zones, Hi-tech Zones, and Free Trade Zones are the most common. Some jurisdictions, such as Nansha, can be many such zones at the same time. Read our feature on them here, or read the rest of the FAQs in this category.

A State-Level New Area is an urban area that has been given an “administrative readjustment” by the central government. They exist at a provincial (Guangdong) and prefectural (Dongguan) level as well. They get preferential policies and privileges granted directly by the State Council. A New Area is geographically smaller, usually a designated district in a city. Through the establishment of a New Area, the central government is signaling that it wants to drive the economic development of that particular area, alter its development trend and ultimately create a rippling economic impact.

China currently has 19 state-level New Areas. In the Greater Bay Area, Guangzhou’s Nansha and Zhuhai’s Hengqin are New Areas. (Shenzhen’s Qianhai is different, which will be explained.) Others around the country include Shanghai’s Pudong New Area. Xiong’an in Hebei province is the newest, established in 2017.

This is the name given to the original experimental jurisdictions. Shenzhen and Zhuhai were two of the earliest, because they were opposite the two SARs. Now they are all over the country. Besides these, there are also Pilot Zones for Comprehensive Reforms 综合改革试验区. They are similar, but more focused on particular issues, such as coordinated development between urban and rural, or how to strike a balance between environmental protection and economic development.

These are zones that are set up to follow particular industrial development trends in the context of regional development. They became favored in the late 1980s and the early 1990s, when the government tried to group companies into industrial clusters. Enterprises in the development zones are granted preferential policies for land usage or tax deductions. 

 

China has a total of 219 state-level economic and technological development zones. Jiangsu province leads with 26, followed by 21 in Zhejiang and 15 in Shandong. Guangdong has six, located in Zhanjiang, Guangzhou, Nansha, Daya Bay (Huizhou), Zengcheng (Guangzhou) and Zhuhai. 

The hi-tech industry has always had plenty of government support. The Ministry of Science and Technology is highly involved in the development of these zones. It often provides detailed guidelines on which hi-tech zone should focus on which sector.

Each of the nine mainland GBA cities has a state-level Hi-Tech Zone. The one in Shenzhen’s Nanshan district is ranked second only to Beijing’s Zhongguancun among China’s 157 state-level Hi-Tech Zones. Shenzhen’s is supposed to be focused on four industries, namely electronic information, bioengineering, new materials and opto-mechatronics. As you can guess, that first category is quite wide-ranging. Isn’t it, Tencent?

Guangzhou is no slouch, either. Its Hi-Tech Zone in east of the city was established in 1991, and currently ranks ninth nationally. It consists of Guangzhou Science City, Guangzhou Tianhe Software Park, Huanghuagang Technology Park, Non-Governmental High-tech Park and Nansha IT Technology Park.

Dongguan’s Songshan Lake Hi-Tech Zone is seen as an up-and-coming star. It focuses on high-end electronic information, biopharmaceuticals, robotics, new energy and modern service industries. Foshan’s Hi-Tech Zone specializes in automobile vehicle and component manufacturing, high-end equipment manufacturing, new materials, smart home appliances, life sciences and optoelectronic technology.

These are much larger. Guangdong is a Free Trade Zone, for instance. It’s not what one might think its name means, however. Regulations related to tariffs, approvals and management are flexible – not free.

Currently 12 of China’s provinces are designated Free Trade Zones, including Shanghai, Guangdong, Tianjin, Fujian, Liaoning, Zhejiang, Henan, Hubei, Chongqing, Sichuan, Shanxi, and Hainan. 

However, it’s not the whole province that implements this flexibility. Guangdong’s zone actually only includes three districts. Can you guess what they are? That’s right: Guangzhou’s Nansha, Shenzhen’s Qianhai, and Zhuhai’s Hengqin. 

It is an area of 18.04 sq km in western Shenzhen, near the original port of Shekou, which is now largely an entertainment district. The area’s official name is Qianhai Shenzhen-Hong Kong Modern Service Industry Cooperation Zone.

The establishment of Qianhai in 2009 was a decision made by Beijing with a strategic consideration. It was designed as an experimental zone for free trade, a pilot area for close cooperation between the mainland and Hong Kong, and a gateway for the Belt and Road Initiative.

Specifically, the area has four goals according to its website:

  • An innovation area for modern service industry sectors
  • A cluster area for the development of modern services
  • A pilot area for close cooperation between the mainland and Hong Kong
  • A leading area for industry upgrades in the Pearl River Delta

Read our detailed feature.

The Yuehai sub-district is a 20 square kilometer area in south west Shenzhen’s Nanshan district. Established in 1991, Yuehai is at the core of the Nanshan district and the only area connected with all the other seven sub-districts while still facing the Shenzhen Bay. It is this location that made Yuehai the heart of the city’s tech economy.

Yuehai has grown from an intertidal zone to a concentrated cluster of hi-tech industries, high education institutions and R&D centers. It was at here many of now renowned companies such as Huawei, ZTE and Tencent started out. The area has also incubated a number of listed companies including laser machine manufacturer Han's Laser, medical device company Mindray, IT service management company Das Intellitech, software company Kingdee, and electronics manufacturer Huaqiang.

The area is in fact home to about 10,000 companies, among which 1714 were middle to large scale enterprises and about 1000 are National High-tech Enterprises. Among the 148 listed companies incubated in Nanshan, 83 are from the Yuehai sub-district. Moreover, 9 out of the 14 unicorn companies in Shenzhen are located in Yuehai.

Read our feature.

Taxed enough already?

Shenzhen has announced they are going to, with no launch date yet. The other nine GBA cities inside Guangdong have not yet rolled out details since the Finance Ministry cleared them to do so on March 14.

Two special economic zones, Shenzhen’s Qianhai and Zhuhai’s Hengqin, are already offering it. But they have different criteria. Qianhai is for foreigners and overseas Chinese, including those in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. Hengqin is only for permanent residents of Hong Kong and Macau.

That depends. Do you meet the following?

Basic criteria:

  • Foreign passport holder;
  • Permanent resident of Hong Kong, Macau or Taiwan;
  • Hong Kong resident through Admission Schemes for Talent, Professionals and Entrepreneurs;
  • Mainland citizens residing permanently in Hong Kong or Macau;
  • Overseas Chinese who have obtained permanent overseas residency;
  • Overseas-educated Chinese returnees who have obtained permanent overseas residency.

Additional criteria (before submitting an application):

  • Must be working in a Qianhai-registered enterprise or organization, or be an independent business owner in Qianhai;
  • Must be a registered income-tax payer in Qianhai;
  • Must have continuously worked in Qianhai for 90 days during the application year;

After all that, however, don’t give up. The Qianhai authorities have fairly broad discretion. They can also determine someone is a talent if:

“Overseas high-end talent recognized by the state, the provincial government or the city of Shenzhen; mid-level or above management or technical talents in Qianhai-registered enterprises.”

In other words, there is hope in Qianhai for the next wanna-be Jack Ma.

Qianhai, the special economic zone in Shenzhen, has a program that offers income-tax subsidies for qualified “talents”. It follows (roughly) the below table:

Monthly Salary in RMB

HK income tax (effective tax rate)

Mainland income tax (effective tax rate)

Taxation difference to be subsidized

50,000

11%

18%

7%

80,000

13%

24%

11%

100,000

14%

28%

14%

120,000

15%

30%

15%

150,000

15%

33%

18%

 

Note: This is just a rough guide. It does not take into consideration deductibles other than basic annual allowances. Talk to an accountant before making a decision.

However, the actual amount depends on your personal-tax assessment. Only if you are liable for a tax bill above RMB300,000 (annually), after all deductibles, will you be able to apply for the income-tax subsidy. Figure it out, or call an accountant. Once you have done that, decide if you qualify as a talent in Qianhai.

That depends. Do you meet the following?

Basic criteria: 

  • Permanent resident of Hong Kong, Macau or Taiwan; 

Additional criteria (before submitting an application):

  • Must be working in a Hengqin-registered enterprise or organization, or be an independent business owner in Hengqin;
  • Must be a registered income-tax payer in Hengqin;
  • Must have continuously worked in Hengqin for 90 days during the application year;

After all that, however, don’t give up. The Hengqin authorities have fairly broad discretion. They can also determine someone is a talent if: 

“Overseas high-end talent recognized by the state, the provincial government or the city of Shenzhen; mid-level or above management or technical talents in Hengqin-registered enterprises.” 

In other words, there is hope in Hengqin for the next wanna-be Jack Ma.

Hengqin, the special economic zone in Zhuhai, has a program that offers income-tax subsidies for qualified “talents”. It follows (roughly) the below table:

Monthly Salary in RMB

HK income tax (effective tax rate)

Mainland income tax (effective tax rate)

Taxation difference to be subsidized

50,000

11%

18%

7%

80,000

13%

24%

11%

100,000

14%

28%

14%

120,000

15%

30%

15%

150,000

15%

33%

18%


Note: This is just a rough guide. It does not take into consideration deductibles other than basic annual allowances. Talk to an accountant before making a decision.

However, the actual amount depends on your personal-tax assessment. Only if you are liable for a tax bill above RMB300,000 (annually), after all deductibles, will you be able to apply for the income-tax subsidy. Figure it out, or call an accountant. Once you have done that, decide if you qualify as a talent in Hengqin.

Hong Kong-Macao-Zhuhai Bridge

The HZMB is a 55-km bridge running from the northeastern side of Lantau (next to the Hong Kong International Airport) to an artificial island off the northeastern coast of Macau and Zhuhai. It is the world’s longest sea crossing. It does not have a railway, but can be crossed using public buses and private cars with special permits. Read our explainer feature here.

It depends on how you travel, and where you are starting from:

  • Shuttle buses and cross-boundary buses take approximately 35 minutes to cross between immigration checkpoints on either side of the bridge. 
  • Getting to and from these immigration checkpoints can take longer than one might think – they are both quite far from the CBD areas of each city.
  • Bus passengers need to get out and walk when they reach the immigration checkpoints, which are housed in large buildings and require some time to get through, depending on queues. ID card holders can get through within 10 minutes at a brisk walking pace. Passport holders may face longer queues, depending on the time of day and traffic volumes. 
  • Private cars pass through a separate checkpoint outside the buildings which offers the convenience of allowing passengers to stay inside the car.

You can apply for two kinds of permits:

  • Macao Park and Ride Scheme: for Hong Kong license holders who wish to visit Macau. You can only go as far as the large car park on the Macau side of the bridge. From there you must take public transport into Macau. It takes a long process to get this permit. Read our feature on it here. It doesn’t work in the other direction, i.e. from Macau to HK.
  • Cross-Boundary License Holders: If you have a dual-plate permit already, you just need to apply to have the Closed Road Permit include the HZMB. If you want to apply for the rare license, try here.

There are 7-seater minivans running on it that are licensed as limousines. They are expensive. Ask us for referrals.

You can get across using two types of buses:

  • HZMBus, which is a shuttle bus running between the two immigration checkpoints on either side of the bridge. Just take a public bus to the bridge's immigration building on either side, pass through the checkpoint, and the bus is waiting outside for you. They fill up and go quickly. You cannot book a seat.
  • Cross-boundary buses, which run between points on either side of the bridge, i.e. HK-Macau or HK-Zhuhai. These have their own websites and tickets can be booked online. Onebus seems the most proactive and efficient.    

  1. Follow the Zhuhai Public Information (珠海公交巴士)WeChat account, select Hong Kong Express (香港直通车) online ticketing. Once the transaction is made, you will receive a SMS notification.
  2.  Search for HZMB Express (港珠澳大桥直通车网) in mini program, go to the “Reserve a ticket” page, fill in the information and buy tickets for one way or return.
  3.  The combined ticketing scheme allows you to choose your final destination at Tsim Sha Tsui’s Harbour City, Shanghai Street in Prince Edward, Times Square in Causeway Bay, Elements in Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong Disneyland, Shun Tak Center in Sheung Wan, Hong Kong Ocean Park, Luk Yeung Sun Chuen in Tsuen Wan, New Town Plaza in Shatin, East Point City in Tseung Kwan O.
  4. Get on a bus in Zhuhai. You can take No. 3, 12, 23, 25 or L1 buses to the Zhuhai port of the HZMB. Go to the No. 3 counter, show your ticketing number and get your tickets to your final destination.
  5. Pass through immigration, find your bus, and head to Hong Kong.

 

Trainspotting in the GBA

There are three types of trains running through and within the various Greater Bay Area cities. They are often collectively referred to as “bullet trains”, but they are different:

The High-Speed Railways – also known as Express Rail Lines – run over longer distances and have fewer stops along their routes. They go at more than 250 km/h and as high as 360 k/h. One example is the Hong Kong-Shenzhen-Guangzhou HSR that runs between Kowloon West and Guangzhou South, with stops at Futian, Shenzhen North, Gongming, Humen, and Qingsheng (Nansha). Check the schedules, because some trains don’t stop at any of these stations and take only 46 minutes. Others stop at each station.

The Intercity Railway Lines are somewhere between a Metro and an HSR. They go at 160 km/h and have more stops than an HSR. Zhuhai-Guangzhou is one such line. Another is being built between Shenzhen and Guangzhou, passing through Dongguan.

The Metros are usually underground and are built for city commuting. But they cross over with the Intercity and HSR at key stations, and so sometimes they are useful for longer-distance travellers as a last-stage solution. For instance, the Guangzhou Metro connects to the HSR at Guangzhou South and takes passengers north towards the city center.

Google is hopeless at trying to figure out train journeys. Use gaode.com (in Chinese) or trip.com to book tickets if you know the difference between various stations at the city you are visiting. We will be adding more FAQs that explain them.

Currently, you can take the High Speed Train between Guangzhou South (GZS) and Kowloon West, or the Kowloon-Canton Through Train (KTT) between Hunghom and Guangzhou East.

Speed favors HSR: The fastest non-stop trains take only 46 minutes to GZS. But GZS is an hour away from the city’s main Tianhe CBD by metro, so check where your meetings or hotel are located.

Convenience favors KTT: The train takes at least two hours, but it arrives at Guangzhou East, in the middle of the Tianhe CBD.

Coming soon: The Guangzhou South Station will soon (October) be connected by high-speed trains to Guangzhou East. When that happens, the HSR from Kowloon West becomes a no-brainer and the old KTT trains from Hunghom will likely wither away.

Read our detailed guide to taking the High-Speed Railway.

The Guangzhou-Zhuhai Intercity Railway Line currently terminates at Zhuhai Station, which is right next to the Gongbei border crossing to Macau. In November, however, the line will be extended out to Hengqin Island, which faces Macau’s Cotai district, where the Venetian, Galaxy and all the other big resorts are located.

The new station is humongous, built to handle 80 million passengers a year. There is another stop beyond that station on the line opening in December, which is the Chimelong Ocean Kingdom station. The line’s second phase will be built until 2026, when it will extend all the way out to the Zhuhai Airport.

Only-in-China Terminology

“Talents” is a word that needs to be updated in the Oxford and Cambridge English dictionaries to reflect the rise of China. In standard English, a person can have one particular talent. – i.e., good at playing chess – or they can have “many talents”. In Chinese English, a person can be a “talent” and a city can be in the business of “attracting talents” by, for instance, providing them with subsidized housing.

We tried and failed to translate the term into “professionals” or “skilled workers”. Neither are wholly appropriate. Professionals are people who are trained in a profession, i.e., doctors, lawyers, journalists, etc. Skilled workers are people who can use their hands well. Entrepreneurs are failed English teachers like Alibaba Founder Jack Ma. They are all welcome in the Greater Bay Area (especially Ma).

There are no fixed criteria for how a city or a development zone decides someone may be classified as a “talent”. There are common criteria among them – postgraduate degree-holders in the sciences are usually a shoo-in – but not always, as administrators have discretion.

Moreover, don’t assume that an “overseas talent” means a foreigner. Chinese living in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan may be the ones referred to. 

Having said that, if you have a fancy-sounding degree, or a great idea for an app, or a natural gift for making things go boom in labs, and you hear about cities offering special tax rates and cheap housing to “talents”, you may as well send in your CV. You never know.

A New Energy Vehicle is one that runs on new types of technology, rather than the combustible engine powered by fossil fuels. China doesn’t just call them electric vehicles, which is what most are,. Why? We assume it's because the government wants to seem tech-agnostic and allow producers of rarer technologies, such as hydrogen fuel cells, to share the limelight with companies like Tesla and Nio.

Got an FAQ to share? Please do!