If Hong Kong can’t become ‘Asia’s Israel’, we all read eagerly in Sunday’s South China Morning Post, our future may rest on a leading role in a/the Greater Bay Area plan.
For those of us who missed it: on occasions in the past, Hong Kong Chief Executives CH Tung and CY Leung believed the city ’s destiny was to become the Israel of Asia. (Geographical pedants might say ‘the other Israel of Asia’.) By Israel, they did not mean Jewish, or democratic, or surrounded by enemies and mayhem, and especially not democratic. They meant innovation and tech.
Somewhere along the way, it dawned on our visionary leaders that Israel’s strengths in innovation/tech are connected with a huge defence budget and large influx of Russian scientists. While in Hong Kong, innovation is only possible if it does not disrupt old industries like the taxi trade, and if it can pay rents so high that even luxury-goods outlets struggle to afford them.
But we have our fallback position: the Greater Bay Area.
This is the latest in a long line of concepts bursting with exciting opportunities for us.
‘Belt and Road’ is the biggest and wonderfulest, being so expansive and complex that no-one has managed to explain what it is. (A worthy think-tank tries to do it in 6,000 words. I would summarize it as ‘Getting Third-World dictatorships to pay you to economically colonize them, while simultaneously utilizing your otherwise ruinous vast industrial overcapacity – the hard way, including trains to Spain’.)
Every belt must have a loop, and Hong Kong comes to the rescue with the one at the Lok Ma Chau toxic-swamp not-a-real-estate project, in partnership with our highly trustworthy friends over the border in Shenzhen. This is apparently about innovation/tech, so it may be abandoned with the rest of the let’s-be-Israel vision.
Other exciting opportunities-packed concepts you may have forgotten about include Qianhai – Shenzhen’s lame attempt to replicate Hong Kong without lifting capital controls, censorship, ‘rule by law’, etc. And there’s the equally hyped-up-and-vanished Shanghai Free Trade Zone (ditto).
And now, south of Beijing, Xi Jinping has decreed that the Xiongan Un-special Backwater Region is to become the Xiongan New Inno-Tech Green Buzz Area, and the local property prices suddenly zoom just like that.
And for Hong Kong – the Can’t Miss!! Greater Bay Zone Hub Area. It seems to be the Pan-Pearl River Delta Cooperation Themed Concept Region resurrected and fine-tuned and turbo-charged, perhaps with a post-Umbrella-era emphasis on ‘integration’. Outgoing Chief Executive CY Leung can’t wait until he leaves office and is already on a three-day study tour, dragging along half his long-suffering ministers and other wretches to inspect a high-speed rail, mega-bridge, exhibition hall, tech company, a free-trade zone we forgot to mention earlier (sorry, Nansha) and all the other fascinating features you would expect of a grandiose hub-zone vision.
The SCMP quotes Guangdong Governor Ma Xingrui as hoping the area will become as competitive as other ‘bay’ concepts ‘such as Los Angeles, New York and Tokyo’. Not sure if Los Angeles really is a ‘bay’ – though it has a few curved beaches. Maybe he was thinking of Walvis, or Baffin, or Hong Kong’s very own Discovery Bay, which we should all note grew into a world-class vibrant throbbing competitive dogs-and-babies hub organically, with no top-down government intervention. Maybe Stalinist planning is not all bad.