On February 18, 2019, the State Council of China promulgated the “Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area Development Outline,” which plans to use the four central cities of Hong Kong, Macao, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen as the core engines of regional development to drive the development of the surrounding areas. The plan was personally planned, deployed, and promoted by Chinese national leader Xi Jinping.
Chinese-language media outlet Duowei News published an article saying that the deep integration of Hong Kong and Macao with the mainland will give Taiwan (ROC) a demonstration effect. This gives the plan a new political connotation: providing inspiration for Taiwan’s future adoption of the “One Country, Two Systems” model for the reunification of the two sides. Beijing has proposed to Taiwan a plan for “peaceful reunification” across the strait through economic integration.
According to Chinese official media, the Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macao Greater Bay Area consists of nine cities and two districts, with an area of about 56,000 square kilometers and a population of about 70 million. In addition to Hong Kong and Macau, the Greater Bay Area also covers urban agglomerations including Guangdong, Shenzhen, Foshan, Dongguan, Huizhou, Zhongshan, Zhuhai, Jiangmen, and Zhaoqing. The total economic volume of the Greater Bay Area was about 10 trillion yuan (roughly $1.5 trillion) in 2017, which would make it the 10th largest economy in the world, surpassing Russia and South Korea. The goal of the Greater Bay Area is to become the world’s fourth largest bay area in 2035, catching up with New York, San Francisco, and Tokyo.
Some analysts believe that Hong Kong’s gradual integration with the mainland through the planning of the Greater Bay Area can help maintain its advantages as an international finance, shipping, trade, and international aviation hub. These cities can also share the infrastructure provided by the central government through the Greater Bay Area, such as housing, transportation, energy security, smart city networks, ecological construction, and so on. In the future Belt and Road framework, they can maintain and strengthen the potential of their economic development.
Beijing announced through the media that the planning of the Greater Bay Area provides a new way to integrate Hong Kong — and by extension, solve the “Taiwan reunification problem.” Hong Kong was reunited with China in 1997 under the “One Country, Two Systems” framework, and Beijing has offered the same model for Taiwan to eventually join the mainland.
The biggest expectation for the Greater Bay Area is a breakthrough in integrating the diverse systems. At present, Guangdong, Hong Kong, and Macao are divided into three customs zones, and three currencies. These cities also have many differences in economic, social, and judicial systems. Through the construction of a quality living circle, for example, Hong Kong and Macao residents can more easily find employment, buy a house, seek medical care, and go to school in Guangdong. Beijing hopes this will help the people in Hong Kong and Macao to identify more strongly with the mainland. Once Hong Kong and Macao are deeply integrated, it will have a demonstration effect on Taiwan. With the institutional integration of the Greater Bay Area, and the attraction of this huge economic belt, it may be the key to solving the “cross-strait reunification.”
The Greater Bay Area model is also seen as a new paradigm of “One Country, Two Systems” in China’s new era. It is a transition from an early stage of reform focusing on the “two systems” to a period of integration and development focusing on “one country,” – a transition from separation to integration. For the Chinese Communist Party, the goal of the “two systems” is to serve “one country”; the “two systems” are not a long-term solution. Taking the Greater Bay Area as a symbol, Hong Kong’s “One Country, Two Systems” practice has officially bid farewell to a negative and separate relationship with the mainland and entered a new cycle of integrated development. As a long-term blueprint for urban planning, the Greater Bay Area aims to enable Hong Kong people to share the economic dividends brought about by China’s continued expansion of opening up and deepening reforms, and to make people more willing to gradually move from the “two systems” to the “one country” political path.
In the view of the CCP, under the gradual integration of “One Country, Two Systems”, Taiwan may also be included in a new plan of urban agglomeration in the future, such as the “Fujian-Xiamen-Taiwan Special Zone” plan. Beijing believes that under the future technological progress and the restructuring of global economy, Taiwan is likely to be gradually marginalized. If Taiwan is included in the “Fujian-Xiamen-Taiwan Special Zone” plan, then it may help alleviate doubts among Taiwanese about the mainland’s intentions.
However, the planning of the Greater Bay Area has faced backlash from Hong Kong people. Critics argue that this plan locks in the future direction of Hong Kong’s development, and thus makes Hong Kong “planned by Beijing.” Hong Kong is worried that it will lose its uniqueness in the development of the Greater Bay Area and its autonomy within the framework of “One Country, Two Systems.” In other words, in the long run, the role of Hong Kong will be dwarfed. According to a poll conducted by the Chinese University of Hong Kong last year, over 45 percent of respondents believe that the advantages to Hong Kong from the the Greater Bay Area will be counterbalanced by equal losses. Another 12 percent believe there will be a net loss.
Meanwhile, Taiwan will not accept the CCP’s well-planned blueprint for unification. Chen Ming-tong, the chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), made it clear that Taiwan will never accept “One Country, Two Systems,” and that only democracy is the best solution for cross-strait relations. President Tsai Ing-wen has also said that Taiwan will never accept any agreement that undermines its sovereignty and democracy.
On the other hand, Kuomintang (KMT) Chairman Wu Den-Yih said that if the KMT wins the election, it will seek a peace agreement with Beijing. However, even if the KMT wins the general election in 2020 and initiates a peace process with the mainland, the party cannot accept the plan of Taiwan serving “one country” under Beijing.
Under the slogan of “the people’s livelihood is the biggest politics,” China uses economic integration and co-optation to promote its “One-Country, Two-System” plan in Hong Kong and Macao, all with an eventual eye toward Taiwan. The CCP seeks to win over the hearts and minds of Taiwanese by allowing Taiwan to share the dividends of the mainland’s development. However, the Greater Bay Area model will not achieve any results in the implementation of “One Country, Two Systems” in Taiwan. The core idea of taking the people’s livelihood as a breakthrough point will have an impact and increase the pressure on Taiwan in terms of economic competition. But in terms of ideology and politics, the plan faces steep opposition in Taiwan. Moreover, it’s still an open question as to whether the planning of the Greater Bay Area in the future will benefit Hong Kong and Macao people. Needless to say, Taiwanese who currently enjoy democracy and freedom will not readily accept Beijing’s “one country” plan, despite the economic incentives.
Dr. Tao Peng is an editorial writer and a senior columnist for World Journal in New York. He obtained his doctorate in political science and sociology at the University of Münster (WWU-Münster) in Germany.