From HK Free Press, a look at the Greater Bay Area. It quotes promoters of GBA who aren’t sure what it is they’re backing, and skeptics who don’t really know what it is that won’t work. The reader is none the wiser. This in itself is the story.
Like Belt and Road, GBA is a vague concept – a label mostly applied to existing economic trends or infrastructure projects, and pushed by shoe-shiners as visionary waffle abounding in ‘opportunities’.
Officially, it is a grand national-level strategic plan for the region around Hong Kong to become a tech/finance/blah-blah ‘powerhouse’ hub-zone. There is probably potential for rationalizing and consolidating functions in the metropolitan area. But no-one is talking about merging the various cities (even just on the Mainland side) or creating a bigger single administrative entity. All we see are small-scale tax and other measures supposedly to help Hongkongers who move over the border to reside or work.
Essentially GBA is a (geographically illiterate) relaunch of the ‘Mainland/Pearl River Delta integration’ buzzword from the 2000s. From Beijing’s point of view, the need to make Hong Kong psychologically and symbolically less separate in terms of identity is now more urgent. Rolling the city into the GBA – a trendy hip-sounding brand a la San Francisco or Tokyo – is a semi-sophisticated attempt to do that. “We are now all Bay Area citizens.”
But historically, Hong Kong’s sole business/economic role has been as a location where you can do things you cannot do on the Mainland. The city’s whole purpose and competitive edge arise from its stark institutional differences from the hinterland.
That’s why international business types say rule of law and a free flow of information are key to Hong Kong’s success. Yet to Beijing, these features threaten national (that is, CCP) security. All the CCP values about Hong Kong is the free flow of capital, so Mainland enterprises and elites can convert their assets into hard currency. The rest can wither.
At most, GBA will be a slogan to try to justify, or distract attention from, the ongoing erosion of Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms. The underlying process will not be about integration so much as conformity.
On a more amusing note – a nice pithy turn of phrase…