Political observer and academic Sonny Lo presented a seminar last week at the Rui Cunha Foundation, at the invitation of the Macau Association of Portuguese and English Press.
During the presentation, Lo explained his perspective on the “City Cluster Plan”, or “Greater Bay Area” of Guangdong Province, in response to Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s endorsement of the proposal at the annual session of the National People’s Congress.
The plan seeks to transform the Pearl River estuary into a cluster of cities under a strategic plan for integrated development, playing to the relative strengths of the individual cities there today.
Lo said that the plan ultimately represents “deeper economic integration” between Macau, Hong Kong, Guangzhou and the nearby border cities such as Shenzhen and Zhuhai, and suggested that such economic integration was not only inevitable, but would one day include Taiwan.
He argued that the idea initially surfaced as early as 1996 in Shenzhen, but the notion of close economic integration with the mainland was not well-received in Hong Kong. Now, the Chinese premier has revisited the economic objective, in the hope of expediting the process, “which has implications for Hong Kong, Macau, Guangdong and Taiwan between now and 2047 and 2049 for Hong Kong and Macau respectively.”
Lo is the president of the Hong Kong Political Science Association and holds positions at several universities in the Asia-Pacific region. He is a political scientist who specializes in the fields of cross-border crime, policing and politics of the greater China area.
The veteran Hong Kong observer assured guests that, despite this economic and municipality integration, both SARs would need to retain their “uniqueness” – specifying that Hong Kong should stay a financial center and Macau should continue to develop as a tourism hub, though he recommended that Macau diversify away from its reliance on gaming revenues.
He also mentioned the differences between the two SARs, in terms of the relative strength of their localism movements and attitudes toward the mainland. In particular, So referenced the political activism rife in Hong Kong.
“Beijing and the Hong Kong government could not have anticipated that closer economic integration would bring about social conflicts and political tensions, such as the rise of localism,” he said. “In a sense, localism in Hong Kong is an ideology resistant to mainlandization and deeper economic integration.”
“The mainland has said that it wants Hong Kong people to focus less on politics and more on economic development. The reality is that Hong Kong has already been politicized because of internal politics, including pro-democracy movements and political fragment forces. So, politics in Hong Kong are beyond its [Beijing’s] control, and there are still many people [there] resisting this economic integration,” he added.
On the other hand, Macau has seen less resistance to mainland influence, which according to Lo is because of a “stronger Chinese identity and a weaker sense of localism.”
However, “political reform in Hong Kong and Macau will have to be more realistic,” he warned. “[That means] more consultation, more harmony and [fewer] political arguments in Hong Kong… This is and will be difficult given the very divided society in Hong Kong.”
The academic also offered some comments about the future of Macau, Hong Kong and Taiwan under Beijing’s “One Country, Two Systems” policy. While he said it was impossible to know whether the policy would be scrapped by the mid-
21st century, he promised that the integration of the greater China area would be expedited in the years ahead.
“Economic integration will be far more profound and [at a pace] much faster than before. Hong Kong and Macau [leading up to 2047 and 2049 respectively] will be in positions ready to be integrated further into the mainland – the new economic region of southern China with Guangdong as the locomotive,” he said.
Meanwhile, “Taiwan’s integration is only a matter of time. Despite the current frosty relationship between Beijing and Taipei, the deeper economic integration of Taiwan into the southern region of China will be a matter of time.”