(Xinhua/Cheong Kam Ka)

OPINION-Cooperation with Hengqin: A New Chapter for Macau

By Mandy Kuok

Recently, the Master Plan for Construction of the Guangdong-Macao In-Depth Cooperation Zone in Hengqin (the Plan) was officially released by the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and State Council, demanding all regions’ and departments’ serious and full implementation of the Plan in light of actual conditions. As pointed out in the Plan, Hengqin is generously gifted with Guangdong-Macau cooperation and has become a crucial platform that drives the dynamic and diversified development of Macau’s economy. The zone is also positioned as “a new platform to boost Macao’s economic diversification, new space for Macao residents to live and work, new model to enrich the practice of ‘One country, Two Systems,’ and new ground for building up the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area”.

It shows that with the in-depth cooperation zone, the Central Government is planning to use Hengqin as an impetus for expanding space for Macau’s development, by supplementing land resources that have hindered the city’s economic and social development, especially residents’ employment choices and housing problems. It also aims to boost the connectivity of infrastructures, to promote further integration between Macau and the Mainland, as well as to build traditional Chinese medicine, culture and tourism, conventions and exhibitions, modern finance and other signature businesses and industries, in addition to sci-tech research and high-end manufacturing, by exerting Macau’s own advantages. Moreover, it not only targets attracting both domestic and overseas talent, but also encouraging Macau residents to start careers or businesses here in Hengqin. 

We could say that all these plans and goals are designed in response to the development and needs of Macau, while the enforcement details should be subjects to be further discussed, in particular the co-administered area. The Plan advises adopting policies specific to eligible market propositions. It also proposes the principle of jointly planning, building, managing, and sharing, indicating that the cooperation area will be jointly governed by Guangdong and Macau. However, since the two parties apply different legal regimes, which regime will be used as a solution whenever disputes arise in the co-administered area?

In both the previous Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area and the future Hengqin Guangdong-Macao In-Depth Cooperation Zone, legal matters would always be the main issue. Only when the answer on how to balance the judicial status of the three legal systems is clear, and when rights and interests of residents and investors from the three parties are secured, can relevant planning and development be comprehensively promoted. Therefore, the in-depth cooperation zone would indeed bring more room for Macau’s development, but each implementation regulation must be well defined for the avoidance of doubts of investors and residents, as well as to prevent possible disputes in the future. After all, one of the goals of the zone is to offer a new demonstration that enriches the practice of the One Country, Two Systems policy, and to set a model for regional development by manifesting the advantages of Two Systems. If fundamental problems arise during the implementation process, it would also be difficult to achieve related goals.

In addition, the growth prospect of Macau has been taken into account by the Central Government when it was making the plan for the in-depth cooperation zone. But does Macau have qualified conditions to materialise these targets? Despite sufficient reserves, due to the impact of COVID-19, the SAR Government has kept making use of fiscal reserves to support all aspects of society and revitalize the city’s economy for more than a year. However, repeated waves of the epidemic make it a long way to the finish point. Consequently, it is foreseeable that the Government still needs to use reserves as support for a period of time. Under this circumstance, it is necessary to be more cautious about investment in the in-depth cooperation zone.

Besides financial support, Macau has rich experience in tourism and MICE, as well as the advantages of being a free port, all of which can be fully utilized in the cooperation zone. However, talent is one of the most critical aspects to the zone’s development. Macau’s lack of talent has limited the development of various aspects of the city for a long time, while related policy is far from refined. Even the Government has the intention to adjust, but no specific plans have been put forward. An admission scheme for talent and professionals has been adopted, in addition to tightening relevant conditions, but the approval process has even stagnated. As a result, business investment is difficult to develop due to talent issues. So how can Macau make the best use of advantages of the cooperation zone as a measure to promote Macau’s economic diversification? Careful consideration and negotiation by the governments of Guangdong and Macau are necessary, thereby bringing benefits to Macau from the care and policies of the country and creating a bright future for Macau.

*Business Intelligence (商訊) Editor-in-Chief