The Greater Bay Area: One Country, One City, One System

The Chinese construction site never stops

Among the most important macro-political indicators for contemporary geopolitical analysis stand out the Chinese five-year plans. Those are Soviet-style economic plans that every five years the Chinese government publishes along with indicative documents useful to summarize the short- and long-term goals of the Chinese Communist Party and the nation as a whole. While the thirteenth five-year plan of the Soviet Union collapsed with the Warsaw’s pact just a year after its proclamation, the thirteenth five-year plan of China, inaugurated in January 2016 and completed in December 2020, hid among the various objectives a project that certainly did not go unnoticed by the analysts and international observers who were eagerly awaiting its publication.

The goal of the “New National Urbanization” aimed to further increase the strong Chinese urbanization and to achieve this goal various administrative and urban planning reforms were drafted, especially concerning the so-called megacities or city-clusters. Those terms are also used in the old world but, when applied to the Chinese case, those terms reveal projects that, taken individually, concern and affect not millions of people, but tens of millions. Among these clusters, the project of the Greater Bay Area, an infrastructural and urban planning project that affects the most densely populated and productive area in the world, the Pearl River Delta, stood out for the grandeur of the project, for his implementation difficulties and for the political uncertainty that hovered in the air around, especially as regards one of the main cities of the project, the rebel Hong Kong.

The Greater Bay Area

The Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area (Yuègǎng àodà wānqū) aka The Greater Bay Area (GBA) roughly corresponds to the Pearl River Delta Economic Zone, with the addition of the megacities of Zhaoqing and Huizhou and the two special administrative regions (MacaoSAR and HKSAR). In addition to the four cities already mentioned, it therefore includes the manufacturing and demographic hub of Southern China, with the cities of Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Foshan, Dongguan, Zhongshan and Jiangmen.[1]

As of 2019, it has 72.65 million inhabitants, its area is similar to that of Croatia and its GDP corresponds to 12% of the whole of China. If the GBA were an independent state, it would be the 12th world economy.[2] Its expected economic growth by 2030 would put the GBA’s GDP on a par with that of Germany.[3]

Infrastructurally speaking, three of the ten largest container ports in the world are located in the GBA, its air cargo traffic equals that of San Francisco, Tokyo and New York combined, and five international airports are fully operational within its borders (Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Macau , Guangzhou and Zhuhai)[4]. Numerous bridges over the Delta, high-speed lines, integrated public transport and smart-cities plans have already been completed or are under development.[5] The integration of these megacities is initially hoped for within the 13th Chinese five-year plan (December 2016) and is further expanded and confirmed in the Outline Development Plan for the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area (February 2019).

One Country, One City, One System

Knowing more about the area and the projects carried on in the region around Hong Kong, how could we change our perspective about the recent events that shook the former British colony?

The Hong Kong’s security law, unlike the Greater Bay project, is not as one might commonly think a recent law. Although its new proposal and consequent application date back to 2019-2020, its implementation in the Hong Kong legal system was already foreseen in the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984. However vague this implementation was, and however vague the English memory is in this regard, article 23 of the Basic Law (Hong Kong fundamental law) is undoubtedly clear:

The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall enact laws on its own to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the Central People’s Government, or theft of state secrets, to prohibit foreign political organizations or bodies from conducting political activities in the Region, and to prohibit political organizations or bodies of the Region from establishing ties with foreign political organizations or bodies.

Its implementation in 2003 was blocked by mass protests, and its new implementation in 2019 does not appear to have been a necessity for the Communist Party, rather, it has been a political move to test popular sentiment, democratic radicalization and the response of international powers.The Party has undoubtedly succeeded in this move, finally applying this provision thirty-six years old. Nonetheless, to fully understand the future of Hong Kong we cannot look at the last century, but precisely at the aforementioned 13th five-years plan of the People’s Republic of China. The One Country, Two System is certainly a formula that Beijing wants to overcome, but how can the coveted One Country, One System be reached?

It will not be through political violence or security law that the restless Hong Kong will be subdued, rather, it will be through infrastructural integration. The free city of Hong Kong will stop being free when it stops being a city.  When Hong Kong will be the periphery of the largest urban cluster in the world, when bridges and railways will bring goods, workers, migrants and students from Mainland China every day, Hong Kong’s identity will be irremediably compromised. The famous Italian American historian Victoria De Grazia coined a decade ago the concept of Irresistible Empire (De Grazia, 2005) to define the economic and cultural attractiveness of America of the last century. When the Middle Empire will also become irresistible, the infrastructure of the Greater Bay will not only serve to bring Han Chinese to Cantonese Hong Kong but will also help young Hong Kongers to circulate freely and move to Mainland China rather than looking out to America, Europe and the old British motherland.

Matteo Negro


[1] https://www.colliers.com/en-hk/research/colliers-radar-greater-bay-area-a-2030-outlook

[2] https://www.sustainablefinance.hsbc.com/carbon-transition/greater-bay-to-drive-chinas-growth

[3] Ibid.

[4] https://www.arcadis.com/en/asia/our-perspectives/articles/enhancing-connectivity-in-the-greater-bay-area-mirroring-overseas-practices-and-case-studies/

[5] https://www.colliers.com/en-hk/research/colliers-radar-greater-bay-area-a-2030-outlook

Sources

-Basic Law – Chapter 2. Hong Kong government available for consultation in https://www.basiclaw.gov.hk/en/basiclawtext/chapter_2.html

The Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region available for consultation in https://www.elegislation.gov.hk/doc/hk/a406/eng_translation_(a406)_en.pdf

-13th Five-Years Plan for Economic and Social Development of the People’s Republic of China (2016-2020) available for consultation in https://en.ndrc.gov.cn/newsrelease_8232/201612/P020191101481868235378.pdf


-Outline Development Plan for the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area

(18 February 2019) available for consultation in https://www.bayarea.gov.hk/en/outline/plan.html

– https://www.colliers.com/en-hk/research/colliers-radar-greater-bay-area-a-2030-outlook

– https://www.sustainablefinance.hsbc.com/carbon-transition/greater-bay-to-drive-chinas-growth

– https://www.arcadis.com/en/asia/our-perspectives/articles/enhancing-connectivity-in-the-greater-bay-area-mirroring-overseas-practices-and-case-studies/

Victoria de Grazia, Irresistible Empire: America’s Advance Through Twentieth-Century Europe, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2005

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