Editor’s note: The grand Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area plan will be a wellspring of activity in South China, and Macao can play a significant role in the area, officials, business leaders and scholars said at the “Greater Bay Area: Building a Mega Powerhouse” forum in Macao on Dec 11. The forum is the latest among a series of Vision China events since it was launched in January 2018. The events, which serve as a bridge for communication between China and the rest of the world, feature well-known Chinese and overseas opinion leaders discussing Chinese topics of international significance.
‘Great expectations’ for Macao’s role
Macao is poised to play a major role and contribute its strengths to the development of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, Irene Lau Kuan-va, president of Macao Trade and Investment Promotion Institute, told Vision China.
The outline development plan for the Greater Bay Area was released by the central government in February. It described the area as a “powerhouse”, with Macao as its “core engine” driving regional development, Lau said in Macao on Dec 11.
This demonstrated the trust the central government had placed in Macao, as well as the great expectations for the special administrative region’s future. Both the Macao government and its people were confident that taking part in the development of the Greater Bay Area would bring opportunities for future development, Lau said.
Being one of the core cities, Macao aimed at developing itself into a world-class tourism and leisure center, she said. It would also serve as a commercial and trade cooperation service platform between China and Portuguese-speaking countries to promote economic development and enhance international markets.
Lau said the goal was to develop a “base for exchange and cooperation where Chinese culture is the mainstream and diverse cultures coexist”.
She said the development of the Greater Bay Area as an innovation and technology corridor and big data center would also be pursued.
The Macao Trade and Investment Promotion Institute has been tasked by the Macao government to promote external trade, attract investment, nurture the development of the convention and exhibition industry and drive economic cooperation between China and Portuguese-speaking countries.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China and the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Macao SAR.
Lau said that over the past two decades, Macao has achieved rapid economic growth.
Macao has maintained its status as a free port and separate customs territory with a transparent, nondiscriminatory and open economy, adding up to a business-friendly environment, Lau said. These achievements have been acknowledged internationally.
The development of the Greater Bay Area is expected to foster the development of the regional economy, promote integration and cooperation, and enhance China’s competitiveness in the global market, she added.
Bay Area in vanguard of China’s rise
The Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area is in the vanguard of China’s global economic rise, said John Ross, senior fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China.
Technological development in the region stimulated the integrated development of the entire Bay Area, which also contributed to the development of the world economy, Ross said in a speech at Vision China in Macao on Dec 11. Ross is a former director of economic and business policy for the mayor of London.
From an economic perspective, Ross said, it is significant to look at the fundamentals of the Bay Area and its long-term strategic development.
“There are no other centers of development of high technology in the world, which match either the California one or the Bay Area,” Ross said, adding that China is beginning to move ahead of the US in some technology fields. Technological development can determine many other features of the entire region, he said, including skilled workers, changing infrastructure needs, and the high influx of visitors.
“These features define the Greater Bay Area as one of the most important economic centers in the world,” Ross said.
The Bay Area is working hard on developing itself into an international innovation and technology hub.
It consists of nine cities in Guangdong province and the two special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macao, with the region’s GDP accounting for about 12 percent of the national GDP.
In terms of the Greater Bay Area, San Francisco area and the extremely high technological development you mentioned, how do you see long-term progress? Do you see competition or cooperation between the two in the long term?
This is really going be decided by the US government, isn’t it? American high-technology companies want to cooperate with China. They have started R&D inside China and they have employed a large number of Chinese researchers and so on. They want to cooperate because, frankly, they would like to ‘steal’ some ideas from China. But China has also taken some ideas from the United States.
Business magnate sees bright future for region
Young people can find opportunities in multiple sectors in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, as the area’s potential will continue to grow stronger, said prominent Hong Kong businessman Allan Zeman.
Zeman, founder of Hong Kong nightlife district Lan Kwai Fong, made the comment at the Vision China forum in Macao on Dec 11.
He urged youngsters to look at things with different eyes and see things other people do not see. As a successful businessman, Zeman said, he always looks at things as “not what they are, but what they could be”.
Through this perspective, he said the bay area shows tremendous promise. Last year, the gross domestic product in the area reached US$1.5 trillion and it had 70 million residents. By 2030, it is likely to have 80 million people and the GDP could grow to US$3.5 trillion.
Seeing the vision of China, Zeman came across the world from Montreal to Asia decades ago. He has been living in Hong Kong and Macao for 48 years, and his best known link to Macao is through his role as nonexecutive chairman of Wynn Macau, a subsidiary of US-based hotel and casino firm Wynn Resorts.
Zeman had his first office on the Chinese mainland 35 years ago. In recent years, he said he has watched changes take place, which are “mind-boggling”.
“So when this vision for the Bay Area came along, I’m supposed to be this visionary entrepreneur again,” he said. “And every business person around the world wants to become part of it.”
Zeman noted that Hong Kong, Macao, Shenzhen and Guangzhou are four economic pillars in the area. He believes every city has its own uniqueness and they can work together as a family but still be competitive.
Do you think young people understand the development plan of the Greater Bay Area, and how can they be encouraged to get more involved in it?
People are very slow to react. But there are a few people who can see the future (at an early stage) and want to explore the Greater Bay Area. And once they are there, they will start to develop unicorns (high-value startup companies). They are held up as examples and start a whole wave of young people going to the Greater Bay Area. Then a whole new business society develops.
‘China model’ provides advantages
The Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, a plan to create a globally competitive cluster of cities in the Pearl River Delta, stands as a living embodiment of foresight embedded in the unique “China model” and offers the next growth engine for the world’s second-largest economy, Zhang Weiwei, director of China Institute at Fudan University, told a Vision China event in Macao on Dec 11.
Zhang, a theorist of the China model of political and economic development, said the initiative reinforces the theme of regional integration with a synergistic effect. It brings a harmonious combination of local competition and overall cooperation. It is also a vivid example of pragmatic experimentalism and creates “a new point of growth” for such a large and fast-changing country.
These are winning formulas in a China model that have produced a miracle of development, Zhang noted.
The influential Chinese scholar said the China model theory has gained traction in recent years.
In the political domain, China has created a model that can be summarized as “selection and election”. Selection is largely based on meritocracy, and Zhang firmly believes this model is superior to the Western model of relying on popular elections.
Economically, its “socialist market economy” is essentially a mixed economy: mixing the visible hand with the invisible hand, state planning with market forces.
Socially, the China model is about highly positive interactions between society and the state.
The uniqueness of the China model should be understood in the context of China as a “civilizational state” — a marriage of “nation-state” and “civilization-state” — that has developed from hundreds of states amalgamating into one over thousands of years.
Zhang said that with a large population and territory, a long history and rich culture, the Chinese state has been ruled by a “unified Confucian ruling entity”.
As China makes efforts to turn this complex vision of the Greater Bay Area into reality, what role do you think this mega initiative plays in terms of China’s broad story to the outside world?
It can tell a lot about what I call the “China model”. China, as I said, is a civilizational state (a marriage of the “nation-state” and “civilization-state”).
So you have to look at China in terms of regions. I can divide China into three parts: the coastal part, which is already R&D-driven — if you look at their GDP, the R&D ratio is already higher than the OECD average; the middle part, including Chengdu, Wuhan and Chongqing, which is mostly R&D and investment-driven; and the Western part, which is more or less resource driven. They complement and help each other. That’s the secret of China’s success.
Within the three parts, you have multicity clusters: Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai and this Greater Bay Area. It’s full of diversity. Each has its advantages.
Ho hails collaborative ventures
Prominent Macao businesswoman Pansy Ho Chiu-king offered a piece of advice on becoming a trailblazer during the development of the Pearl River Delta — be collaborative, forward-looking and persevere.
The group executive chairman and managing director of Shun Tak Holdings started to visualize a decade ago how the cities within the Pearl River Delta could better connect, long before the plan of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area was flagged.
Working for the development of the region for 25 years, Ho said she had practical experience gained through different economic cycles. Her first insight was understanding that collaboration was more important than competition.
“We all wanted one common objective — how to create (business) so that this region can come together,” Ho said at a Vision China forum.
Her company was involved in one of the first joint ventures between a Macao SAR-based company and a State-owned enterprise.
Together, Ho and her partner opened up new routes to connect the cities of the Pearl River Delta. She said it was the first time the notion of creating an aggregated region came to fruition.
Similar projects followed, such as air and sea links based on the tried-and-true model of the joint ferry service. Ho then set her sights on the arts. She believes Macao needs to include more arts and cultural events into regional development to avoid becoming stuck in a “traditional business model.”
For the Bay Area, what are some of the ways that the efficiency of the flow of people, goods and capital can be improved?
It will be a bit complicated in terms of making sure everybody will be absolutely at ease with how this can all be worked out.
But … I believe now that we are going into what we call AI technology, a lot of technological advancement is probably going to be crucial to help us get past some of these obstacles.
Right now, I think we haven’t had the capability of visualizing how this will work, but we need to be more open-minded. It is really about asking yourself whether you welcome and champion it. If every one of us is working together and making sure this will move forward, it will definitely be an easier task than we imagine it might be.