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.

Here is a quick look at how these regions compare at the moment (2017 data):

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:

We will be writing introductory features on each of these cities in the coming weeks. Keep an eye on our Features section for more.