Hong Kong is never alone. Although some Hong Kong residents have a strong sense of local identity, the fact is that the growth of Hong Kong is not a local issue. The key element is the Hong Kong-Guangdong relationship, which is often neglected by the younger generation.
Hong Kong-Guangdong cooperation is a continuous process that has lasted for decades. As the two places are closely linked geographically and culturally, economic and social interactions are highly active. With the economic and social development, the bonds among governments, private organizations and people are becoming increasingly strong. This provides a favorable environment for cooperation between Hong Kong and Guangdong.
Hong Kong-Guangdong cooperation can be generally divided into three stages. The first started from the 1980s when Hong Kong's economic transformation coincided with the reform and opening-up of Guangdong. Due to increasing rents and labor costs, Hong Kong manufacturers moved their production lines to Guangdong cities, while the sales and trading section remained in Hong Kong. This created a unique model of division of labor among the manufacturing sector named "front shop, back factory", in which Hong Kong played the role of the shop, while the mainland cities played the role of the factory.
Cooperation between HKSAR and Guangdong needs to spread further
The second stage featured the launch of official cooperation and communication mechanisms. In 1998, a critical platform, the Hong Kong-Guangdong Cooperation Joint Conference, was set up, with support of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council. The formal mechanism contributed to the more profound and closer economic cooperation by opening the mainland market to Hong Kong's service industries. The joint conference evolved and was upgraded in 2003, and in the same year, the Mainland and Hong Kong Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA) was signed. The considerable achievements of Hong Kong-Guangdong cooperation contributed to the city's economic recovery and prosperity after the 2003 SARS crisis.
The in-depth cooperation between the Hong Kong and Guangdong governments did remove a lot of barriers to the flow of factors of production. Under the principle of "one country, two systems", the "two systems" plays a unique role in this cooperation. To enhance the advantage of the "two systems", Hong Kong and Guangdong explored the possibility of innovative projects by building the Pilot Cooperation Platform. Three strategic pilot zones were created, namely Qianhai, Hengqin and Nansha districts. Hong Kong was deeply involved in the planning of these zones which resulted in lists of favorable policies and measures, such as taxation and housing, which benefit Hong Kong residents. The cooperation reflected the mutual understanding and trust between the two places.
The third stage is the development of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area as a national strategy. The core concepts of the Bay Area were first raised in Planning Study on the Co-ordinated Development of the Greater Pearl River Delta Townships in October 2009, which was carried out under the framework of the Hong Kong-Guangdong Cooperation Joint Conference and participated by the Hong Kong, Guangdong and Macao governments. In 2017, the Bay Area Consensus was brought into the country's Government Work Report and promoted as a national strategy. The story of the plan revealed that the joint force of Hong Kong and Guangdong could raise their status from a regional to a national level.
The most significant achievement of Guangdong-Hong Kong cooperation is to demonstrate a successful paradigm for Hong Kong to cooperate with other mainland regions. It is a bottom-up model to build up a cooperation mechanism based on the natural bonding of local communities. Both the Hong Kong and Guangdong governments set a clear objective to achieve regional synergy and policy coherence via the regional development planning. With the common ground, both sides are willing and able to coordinate, and even make concessions on issues involving short-term economic interests and administrative limitation.
In the past decades, enhancing the cooperation mechanism between Hong Kong and Guangdong created a valuable experience for the practice of the "one country, two systems" principle as well as for regional cooperation. Coming to the new era of pursuing the Chinese Dream, we should recall the lyrics of John Lennon's Imagine, "You may say I'm a dreamer. But I'm not the only one." But Hong Kong is not a solo-player. The next chapter of Hong Kong-Guangdong cooperation should involve even more of us.
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