【明報專訊】LAST WEEK the central government proposed two reform plans for Hong Kong's and Macao's integration into the Greater Bay Area. In these plans, Qianhai and Hengqin will be set aside from Shenzhen and Zhuhai respectively as the points of connection with Hong Kong and Macao. What these two sets of plans have in common is that some new directions for industry development for Hong Kong and Macao are proposed, alongside tax reduction policies. The difference is that Hengqin will be jointly managed by Guangdong and Macao, with Macao playing a dominant role in effect in the so-called co-management.
Hong Kong and Macao lack geographical space for further development. The latest reform plans have measures targeted at this issue. Qianhai is described as a special zone in a special zone. It is already a pilot zone for reform in the financial industry. Since becoming a free trade zone in 2015, it has become even more powerful with the goal of becoming China's Manhattan. Today, 335 Fortune 500 companies in the world have set up businesses here, and there are 11,500 registered companies from Hong Kong. The expansion announced this time will see its space increasing from about 15 square kilometres to 120 square kilometres. John Lee, the Chief Secretary for Administration, has said that the plan will create broader space for Hong Kong's development.
The Hengqin Cooperation Zone will also see drastic expansion. Macao has an area of merely 34 square kilometres. Hengqin, which will be under the co-management of Macao, has an area of 106 square kilometres. Macao residents who move to Hengqin in the future can enjoy the same benefits as those in Macao. Enterprises established in Hengqin can hire workers who live in Zhuhai, who will not be required to go through customs. After 3 years, the Macao government can have a share in tax income from Hengqin. The arrangements can be said to benefit both the government and the people.
The substantial increase in industries and geographical space will bring unlimited possibilities to the economic development of Hong Kong and Macao. In order to attract more industries to settle in Qianhai and Hengqin, the central government will also provide preferential tax policies to attract talents. There will be better financial support for Hengqin in particular, as Macao enterprises that settle in the key industries of Hengqin will receive subsidies. The total amount will be equivalent to the tax revenue of the central government in Hengqin, meaning that the central government's tax revenue from Hengqin can all be used to subsidise companies that have come to invest in the region.
To promote Hong Kong's and Macao's integration into the overall national development is to give full play to the strengths of Hong Kong and Macao so that they can fulfil the tasks demanded by the country. It is also a fulfilment of the national need for Hong Kong and Macao to diversify their industries so as to achieve further economic development and promote prosperity and stability. Now that Hengqin has been placed under the co-management of Macao, a new model of local governance will be tested, which is also exactly what the country needs.
Hengqin's co-management is a major piece of reform of unprecedented scale. It will be an important add-on to the practice of one country, two systems if it succeeds. As Hong Kong has missed such an opportunity, the SAR government should rush to play catch-up. It should send observers to Hengqin to study the reform measures so as to prepare itself for similar reforms proposed by the central government in the future. To be ready for reform, not only must Hong Kong use its strengths in industrial diversification and economic development, but it must also have achievements in other areas.
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