Hong Kong’s first major bore-fest of the year takes place next week. The ‘symposium’ on the Greater Bay Area will include Chief Executive Carrie Lam, leaders from all your favourite fun Pearl River Delta cities, and senior planning types from the national development and reform commission.
Although Beijing announced the Greater Bay Area Themed Integration Hub-Zone Vision several years ago, no-one really has a clue what it is. The timing suggests that merging uppity Hong Kong into its hinterland – symbolically, psychologically or concretely – was the main driver (thus allusions to San Francisco and Tokyo that look like clunky attempts at hipness).
Beyond that, it seems like a classic case of Chinese Communist Party doing-things-backwards, like ‘Belt and Road’: the vanity-fueled top man announces a grand-sounding but nebulous strategy; shoe-shiners bow down and worship the idea; underlings then scrabble around to find policies and projects that fit the vision; and finally everyone watches to see what the outcomes are – and praises or buries them accordingly.
After much talk of a Bay Area blueprint over the last year, the central government is finally about to release an ‘outline development plan’. But word is that it will simply be more vague slogan-waffle, so the assembled officials at next Thursday’s gathering will just be ‘exploring opportunities’ – raving rapturously at the wondrousness of the Greater Bay Area Win-Win Partnership Powerhouse Concept to a public that is still none the wiser. The NPC/CPPCC ‘two meetings’ in March are also supposed to focus on the ‘Big Bay Region’. (A ho-hum theory: Beijing doesn’t want to alarm Trump.)
One apparent theme, last repeated in China Daily, is something about ‘avoiding vicious competition’ among the different jurisdictions in the region by allocating specific roles to individual cities. This approach is a big turn-on for the central-planning types up north, but would be resisted by the dozen or so local governments in the area, and of course it challenges Hong Kong’s traditional free-market principles.
It might be nothing. But given Xi Jinping’s autarkic leanings and the growing potential for weaker relations between China and the West – deglobalization, etc – Beijing might seriously think this is the region to experiment with a new tech-finance Chinese-characteristics dirigiste economic model. For what it’s worth, he’s very proud of his dad’s role in Deng Xiaoping’s gamble on transforming the paddy fields between Guangzhou and Hong Kong into the dazzling (allegedly) space-age metropolis that is Shenzhen.