The Greater Bay Area: Introduction

Map: bayarea.gov.hk

The long-awaited Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area (GBA) masterplan was released on February 18, 2019. As had been expected, the 59-page English translation reads like a broadly ambitious guide to how the region is expected to develop over the coming years, leaving more specific implementation details to be fleshed out by local authorities, albeit under the guidance of the central government.

Although short of detailed prescriptions, the document provides a glimpse into how quickly the region is likely to change in the coming years: by 2035, nine Guangdong cities plus the Hong Kong Kong and Macau SARs (“9+2”) should be the world’s leading “bay area”. This would involve roughly doubling the region’s GDP over the next 15 years, thereby surpassing Greater Tokyo, Greater New York and Greater San Francisco.

All of this was envisaged before two socio-politico-economic tsunamis hit the region in 2019 and 2020, which are still reverberating in 2021: the Covid-19 outbreak, and the imposition of a National Security Law in Hong Kong.

While Guangdong has rebounded remarkably from the Covid-19 outbreak – by the far the fastest of the world’s Top 10 economies – Hong Kong and Macau have not yet (at time of writing this). It is, therefore, hard to make predictions about how fast the GBA will reach and surpass its rivals in the US and Japan. Here is a quick look at how these regions compared five years ago, the last time they were properly measured in an apples-to-apples way:

Far-reaching reforms on the way

The plan has clearly been designed to encourage substantial economic reforms to be launched in the GBA. It was unveiled shortly before the National People’s Congress passed a revised version of the Foreign Investment Law on March 15, 2019, which set in motion far-reaching changes in the country’s regulatory environment. Taken together, these will likely have a major impact on foreign investors in the GBA, which has long been the country’s biggest magnet for foreign investment.

The choice of Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau for China’s latest experiment with “Opening and Reform” should come as no surprise. Despite the fact that Beijing and Shanghai are better-known to most Western observers, the GBA has always led the way for economic reform in China. Guangdong is China’s richest, most developed, most open and internationally connected province. Moreover, the GBA includes two SARs that have internationally accepted legal systems and fully convertible currencies.

Here is a comparison of the GBA with China’s two other leading economic clusters:

It is not just because of Hong Kong being in the mix that the GBA has such a high percentage-capita GDP number. Shenzhen is the mainland’s richest city, and Guangzhou is close behind. Foshan and Dongguan, while smaller, have been growing faster in recent years, while Zhongshan and Zhuhai have been attracting investment into high-tech industries that have been pushing their growth rates above national averages, too. Jiangmen, Zhaoqing and Huizhou, the more rural of the nine, are meanwhile playing fast catch-up with futuristic industries and renewable-energy prioritization. Macau’s story of the past two decades is well known for the investments of the US casino giants and the prolific growth that those investments have spurred.

Here are the basic statistics of the nine cities inside Guangdong:

There is one important masterplan-within-a-masterplan worth understanding. It is the one the sets out the GBA’s ambitions to overtake Silicon Valley. Read more about it here:

Explainer: the GBA’s Science and technology Corridor

Here is another: the masterplan for so-called “Science cities”, which will drive basic research in the GBA:

Science Cities rise in the GBA

And finally, if you need help comprehending what all these “zones” are about, here is a primer:

Understanding the Zones

Most of the content on this website, you will find, is devoted to stories from Guangzhou and Shenzhen. That is because of their sheer size. They are two of the country’s four “Tier 1” cities (together with Beijing and Shanghai) for a reason. We also, however, have introductory features on the seven other cities that make up Guangdong’s part of the GBA:

Dongguan

Foshan

Zhongshan

Zhuhai

Zhaoqing

Jiangmen

Huizhou

And these three special zones:

Qianhai (Shenzhen)

Nansha (Guangzhou)

Hengqin (Zhuhai)