Analysis by Leanda Lee*
An earlier analysis (Jan 11) of the benefits of the Greater Bay Area in The Times’ GBA Views focused on the region as being “poised to play a crucial role in China’s economic future and its integration into the global economy” through “plans to enhance connectivity, foster innovation, and strengthen international partnerships.” One of the purposes as stated in the 2017 GBA Development Framework is to leverage the integrated advantages of Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau.
Macau and Hong Kong have long been integrated into – indeed at various points in history they have been critical to the smooth functioning of – a prosperous global economy. The characteristics of these cities, such as the depth of understanding within society of the formal institutions and infrastructure and the soft skills and human networks, are critical to successful international partnerships. Most of this knowledge is now deeply embedded into legislation and systems of finance, logistics and communication and is internalised into the thinking of both professionals and society as a whole. Internationalism was part of the DNA of Hong Kong, and the romance of Macau.
Within a much-truncated timeframe since the re-opening of the Chinese economy in 1978, Guangdong Province has developed its own integrated systems of global exchange with socialist characteristics.
The Framework Agreement acknowledges the unique contributions that each party brings to the GBA: Guangdong as the driver of economic reform, growth and opening up through innovation and high-tech manufacturing solutions; Hong Kong to strengthen its position as an international finance, trade and logistics centre, and an international dispute resolution centre for APAC; and Macau, to move beyond reliance on visitors from China and develop as a global leisure and recreation centre and to realise those long-promised economic and trade outcomes as a platform for trade between China and Portuguese-speaking countries.
Transferring the three sets of internalised knowledge and ways of being and then integrating them into harmonized infrastructures and systems as required of a connected, innovative and globalised GBA will not be easy. The task will be made more complex by the need to maintain systemic cohesion with the rest of Guangdong outside the GBA. It will remain to be seen whether and where there may be reluctance, and which push and pull factors will prevail in the transition: the international characteristics of the free-market economies of Hong Kong and Macau or that of more centralised control and big government.
The navigation of these conundrums will be determined mainly by policy and possibly by emergent strategy honed through some trial and error. Knowledge transfer and the subsequent implementation of financial, logistics, regulatory, security, quality standards, communications technology, among other systems to bring these regions together successfully will be left to actors in the field – people. Knowledge transfer, systems’ change and cultural shift are all human capital and time intensive endeavours but critical to the GBA vision.
Since the sealing of the agreement back in 2017, we have been able to visualise what integration might look like as we have watched the skyline change over Hengqin; been presented with incentives for Macau businesses to invest in the 4 industries of Sci-tech research and high-tech manufacturing, Chinese Traditional Medicine, Finance, MICE and culture; provided with easier access between Hengqin and Macau for vehicular and people traffic and seen secondments of Macau bureaucrats to departments across the Lotus Bridge.
In terms of knowledge transfer and integration, it is this latter initiative, that of human interaction and face-to-face learning in situ, that promises the swiftest and most profound mode of change and cross-pollination. To achieve this requires an enthusiasm for bi-directional knowledge transfer: fail at this micro, human level and the broader plan will lose momentum.
A hugely important psycho-social element of successful knowledge transfer is a shared vision. A shared vision embodies collective goals and a human aspiration to integrate and combine resources. Shared vision is also a cognitive element of social capital which unifies people, causing them to come together and become like-minded. That affiliation between individuals facilitates a sharing of personal resources and knowledge. This is the individual-level mechanism which is critical to GBA integration.
Here in Macau, the symbols of integration have been years in the planning such as the completion of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge, shared border transfer facilities, the University of Macau being relocated to a bonded area of Hengqin, the now common plying of mainland coast guard vessels along the Macau waterline: There are many more. The subtle and not-so-subtle insertion into a community of such elements familiarises a population with symbols of change and helps the community visualise what integration may look like. A shared vision is transferred both imperceptibly through such methods and overtly through grand policy announcements. Both are critical to laying the groundwork to ensure a willingness by people to share embedded and internalised knowledge, their resources, networks, and skills to leverage each region’s unique assets for the integrated vision of the GBA.
*Contributing Editor, Scholar, and partner at IGamiX, Management & Consulting Ltd