Guangdong speeds up GBA plan

Amid reports that a senior Politburo official is running a Hong Kong crisis taskforce in Shenzhen, the release today of an accelerated plan for GBA integration by the provincial government should come as no surprise. The standard response to any crisis of government legitimacy in China – since at least 1976 – is to throw out a bunch of carrots while wielding a big stick. Guangdong’s announcement today that it is accelerating the GBA’s integration looks to be trained on one priority: creating new growth opportunities for Hong Kong people and businesses. (The stick is still sitting patiently in its Tamar barracks.)

This being China, the newly updated plan looks largely indistinguishable from the old. But read between the lines, and it’s the intention that matters. The “three-year action plan” for the development of the Greater Bay Area includes 100 measures and nine key tasks. Its end-goal is actually next year, i.e. it started in 2017, before the GBA masterplan was even unveiled. Still, it makes for interesting reading in how it seems to be prioritizing and pushing harder on rolling out the welcome mat for international talent and investment. 

All language is couched in the correct terminology, of course. In talking about the construction of an international science and technology innovation hub, the plan proposes 14 specific measures including the establishment of a comprehensive national science center, joint laboratories with Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau, and the construction of a “science and technology innovation corridor” that connects Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Hong Kong.

Where a greater sense of urgency comes through is in sections related to the accelerated flow of capital and “talents”. Guangdong will: 1) Introduce specific policies and measures to support Hong Kong and Macau institutions of higher learning and scientific research institutions to participate in the province-funded science and technology plans; 2) Establish a basic research fund open to Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macao enterprises; 3) Open provincial research facilities to participants from Hong Kong and Macau; 4) Establish trial zones for foreign “innovative talents” to enjoy the same treatment as Chinese nationals in building scientific and technological enterprises; 5) Obtain national approval for the usage of medical data and blood samples required for Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau scientific cross-border research cooperation projects in selected universities, research institutions and laboratories.

By 2020, i.e., six months from now, the GBA will have 200 R&D institutions, with the region’s total R&D budget accounting for 2.8% of the GDP. There will be 2.6 patents per 10,000.

The provincial government has also proposed 10 measures to facilitate innovation, including nurturing strategic emerging industries, building advanced manufacturing industry clusters, and building an international financial hub together with Hong Kong and Macao. By 2020, 60% of the region’s economy will be in services. 

The plan also set specific targets and measures for livelihood issues including infrastructure, environmental protection, education and medical care.

Among them, there are a total of 22 measures focusing on building a quality living and business circle. For example: 1) Support Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and other Hong Kong and Macao universities to open new campuses in Guangdong; 2) Establish a GBA university; 3) Take the lead in implementing a better talent retention policy; 4) Trial a new employment-based migration policy in the region; 5) Develop tax incentives for overseas (including Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan) talents; 6) Build Hong Kong and Macau youth innovation and entrepreneurship bases; 7) Relax restrictions on the use of Hong Kong and Macau drug and medical devices.

Transport upgrades are a key component of the plan. By 2020, annual passenger throughput of airports in the GBA will reach 140 million, while the annual container throughput in ports will reach 62 million TEU. By 2020, the area will have 2,400 kilometers of rail transit and 5,000 kilometers of expressway mileage.

The environment is giving a top priority, too. By 2020: 1) Black and odorous water bodies in the urban areas of the GBA will be eliminated; 2) Prefecture-level cities (the big nine) will reach 90% of days with good air quality, and the annual average of PM2.5 concentrations will not be more than 34 micrograms per cubic meter; 3) Sewage treatment rate will be 95%; 4) Forest coverage will be 52%.

Foreign investors are clearly going to be given a high priority. The plan says Guangdong will focus on accelerating a “new kind of opening up and cooperation.” This will involve: 1) 

Deepening reform of the business environment by building the Guangdong Free Trade Zone with “high standards”; 2) Fully liberalizing (i.e., equalizing) the business landscape for Hong Kong and Macau individuals; 3) Promoting the expansion of mutual recognition of professional qualifications; and 4) Actively participating in international economic cooperation and other initiatives. More specifically: By 2020, the time needed for filing foreign investment outside the negative list will be reduced to less than one working day, and the time needed for starting a business will be controlled within four working days.

The three star zones get renewed attention: Shenzhen’s Qianhai, Guangzhou’s Nansha and Zhuhai’s Hengqin.

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