Guangdong in bay area connectivity pledge amid ‘new normal’ of Hongkongers heading north

Officials in Guangdong province have pledged to boost connectivity and strategic industries within the Greater Bay Area as they pointed to “a new normal” of increased northbound travel by Hong Kong residents.

Zhang Hu, Guangdong Communist Party Standing Committee member and executive vice-governor, said on Tuesday that the bay area’s economic prowess had steadily grown over the past five years as cooperation with Hong Kong and Macau deepened.

“The potential and momentum for high-quality development have been released, thus demonstrating the institutional advantage and liveliness of the ‘one country, two systems’ arrangement,” Zhang said, referring to the principle under which Hong Kong and Macau are governed.

He described the bay area – Beijing’s ambitious plan to transform Hong Kong, Macau and nine Guangdong cities into an integrated hi-tech, economic powerhouse by 2035 – as an “important political mission at the top of provincial priorities”.

Zhang also said that in the first five months this year, more than 10 million passengers had passed through the Zhuhai port of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge.
Executive vice-governor Zhang Hu. Photo: Eugene Lee

“Hongkongers heading north has become a hot trend. In 2023, Hong Kong residents made around 53 million trips to mainland China. This has become a new normal,” he told a briefing as part of a seven-day “Opportunities in the Greater Bay Area” media tour.

Zhang said the total economic output of the bay area had increased from 10.8 trillion yuan in 2018 to more than 14 trillion yuan last year. It amounted to one-ninth of the country’s total economic output while the area took up less than 0.6 per cent of its land.

He revealed that the provincial government would focus on boosting the development of 5G technology, integrated circuits, nanotechnology and biomedicine in the area as its four major industries. It would also expand into emerging industries, from life sciences to materials, to introduce new economic momentum to the area.

Besides fostering new industries in the envisioned tech hub, Guangdong authorities would also work on improving connectivity between mainland cities, Hong Kong and Macau, from transport infrastructure to professional recognition.

The vice-governor said 3,950 professionals from Hong Kong and Macau had gained qualifications recognised on the mainland. Among them were 420 lawyers from Hong Kong and Macau who had passed the Greater Bay Area legal professional exam.

As part of the media tour, Lionel Ni Ming-shuan, president of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology’s Guangzhou branch, said at its Nansha campus that the institution would look to boost exchange opportunities for students on both sides of the border.

“We hope our students in Hong Kong can come to our Guangzhou campus for exchange for a while to experience special opportunities on the mainland, as well as our laboratories,” Ni said.

He added the voluntary scheme would be reciprocal for students in Guangzhou, with participating students from both campuses able to take courses from both institutions.

Having obtained approval from the provincial education authorities in 2022, the Guangdong branch began admitting undergraduates last year, with 140 students from across the mainland, Hong Kong, Macau and overseas admitted in its first cohort.

Ni said the institution hoped to admit up to 1,000 undergraduates annually, with 500 to be admitted next year. The university aimed to admit 300 mainland undergraduates and at least 30 Hong Kong, Macau and overseas students this year, he said.

While the two campuses would maintain close communication for academic exchange and research, Ni said, the Nansha campus would distinguish itself from its Hong Kong counterpart with its interdisciplinary focus, which he added would be difficult to achieve in the original campus due to established teaching practices.


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