OPINION – The Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area: A More Open and Global City Cluster

The construction of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Bay Area (dubbed as the Greater Bay Area – GBA) is a strategic initiative in China to promote a new pattern of full openness in the New Era.

Zhang Guangnan

 Professor and Director, Guangzhou, Hong Kong and Macau Regional Development Institute, Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau Development Academy,

Sun Yat-sen University


As one of the most dynamic and open regions in China, the GBA plays an important and strategic role in the national development landscape and in demonstrating China’s openness to the world. To this end, the level of open development in the GBA should be continuously promoted, based on the actual and clear direction of development in the Bay Area.

1. The Great = Massiveness

The GBA has risen from regional, inter-city cooperation to larger, national, strategic, and cooperative development, with many “massive” features, to promote “massive” development in the GAB. First, it has high specifications and massive scope. The GBA is a national strategy, and General Secretary Xi Jinping and the Communist Party Central Committee attach great importance to it. In the 1990s, from the Pearl River Delta (PRD), Greater PRD, Pan PRD, PRD Area to the Greater Bay Area, it became a key location of national level strategy. Along with the “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI), it became a crucial pillar of the overall national development strategy. These concepts form the area’s “massiveness”. Second, it has massive amount of indicators and high values. Compared to the world’s advanced bay areas, the GBA is massive in landscape, population size, number of ports and airports, patents, etc., building momentum to its economy and openness to the international market. Third, the range and size of its hubs are also massive. The GBA is a bay area city cluster with a “tripolar multi-centre” dynamic, which is underpinned by three poles: “Hong Kong-Shenzhen”, “Guangzhou-Foshan” and “Macau-Zhuhai”, playing a pivotal role.

To fully realize the advantages the regional integration, it is important to bring together the “soft connectivity” in terms of governance mechanisms and the facilities’ “hard connectivity” to help create dynamic and international core competitiveness for a world-class city cluster.

2. The Bay

The GBA project embodies key concepts such as BRI, marine economy or industrial upgrading, among others. It has great potential and covers more places. First, “The Bay” is an important player involved in the B&R Initiative. The GBA is the starting point of BRI in southern China, a place traditionally strong in manufacturing industry. It brings together many innovative enterprises, R&D and innovation capabilities, and high and new industrial clusters are mushrooming at a fast pace. While taking root in the GBA, “The Bay”  strengthens connectivity to countries along the BRI and promotes international scientific and technological innovation, talent development, business and trade in services, cross-border finance and other cooperative developments. Second, “The Bay” is an important platform to drive industrial transformation and upgrading. The GBA should actively develop into an international industrial innovation centre, create a demonstration area of in-depth cooperation between the mainland, Hong Kong and Macau, build a new platform for international cooperation and development, accelerate the construction of major innovation vectors, build a diversified, internationalized and cross-regional science and technology innovation financing system, promote the transformation and upgrading of the area’s industries, upgrade to mid-to-high end manufacturing and promote open development. Third, “The Bay” is an important starting point for developing marine economy, which is highly outward looking with open, international, global characteristics. The GBA has access to international high-end technology, talent, management and supply chains. As a result, the potential for cooperation is enormous in the governance of marine eco-environment, ocean development, protection and monitoring of the ocean environment. There is a vast space for cooperation that can be carried out through an open marine economy system.

3. The Area = The Region

The GBA elevates the cooperation between cities to the level of synergy and promotion of the entire region. It strengthens the “regional” power. First, the “zone” is the area of coordination. It lies in the high-level coordination mechanism, which promotes the resolution of issues involving multiple departments, and promotes the implementation of more institutional results. It lies in breaking the division of administrative regions, from the past “City A, City B, City C”, and then build “City A+B+ C”; this is to grasp the unique advantages of “one country, two systems, and three customs zones”, and through innovative systems and mechanisms, to promote the formation of huge synergies in cities within the GBA, and to promote a regionally coordinated development model; and enhance the interconnection of infrastructure. Major transportation infrastructure such as the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge have strengthened connectivity, exerted their effectiveness, and promoted a free flow of technology, personnel, and capital. Second, the “region” has abundant resources. The GBA has obvious geographical advantages and rich and diverse resources. It has a good resource foundation for building an international technological innovation centre, a top-grade international business environment, and a high-quality living circle that is suitable for living, working and traveling. For example, Guangzhou can develop an international economic and trade centre and a geometric centre for advanced manufacturing by leveraging its unique advantages as a business capital of the millennium, releasing the charm of openness and creating a siphon effect on international high-end factor resources. Furthermore, the door to the “region” is wide open. The GBA has created a miracle of representing 12.4% of the country’s GDP with only 0.6% of the country’s land. The area has great potential for appreciation. For example, it has not only a port economy structure based on Guangzhou Port, Yantian Port and Hong Kong Port, among others, but also the industrial economy of the PRD manufacturing base, the service economy of the liberalization of service trade in Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau, and the innovation economy. The GBA will be a new source for establishing a new open economic system in line with international standards.