Mainland tourists visit Hong Kong's West Kowloon Station on Sept 23 when the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Link opened, offering direct services to 44 destinations on the Chinese mainland and integrating Hong Kong into the nation's vast high-speed rail network. [WU XIAOCHU/XINHUA]
Entrepreneurs and policymakers are drawing inspiration from plans to make the region the world's leading city cluster. Shadow Li reports from Hong Kong.
This is where the buzz keeps going, where sunlight is filtered through fresh windows. For Hong Kong entrepreneur Kwok Wai-keung, 28, who runs a startup in Qianhai, Shenzhen, Guangdong province, the most important thing is the people.
The open lounge at the Qianhai hub provides a platform for talent from across the world and is part of a master plan to transform the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area into the world's leading city cluster.
The young entrepreneur has learned much from casual conversations with like-minded young people from the Chinese mainland, Taiwan, the United States and Singapore.
The lounge, with its mini-kitchen in the corner, is where Kwok has traded ideas, discovered new insights and found experts to help in the process of discovering that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
Through his informal chats, Kwok found the missing link he needed to complete his manufacturing chain; a factory that would assemble his company's prime product - "smart suitcases".
Initially, Kwok tried to start his company, R-Guardian, in Hong Kong but it never really took off, despite what he believed to be a good business idea - suitcases fitted with a Bluetooth chip that could be operated via a cellphone. The case has anti-theft features, is trackable via GPS, and can be weighed and locked via a phone app.
Kwok refused to give up, so he moved to Shenzhen, a booming businesses center in the Bay Area.
He deployed his e-commerce team in Dongguan, Guangdong, whose manufacturing strengths once earned the city the nickname "The factory of the world". Now, Dongguan is being transformed into an eco-friendly city that strives to improve residents' quality of life.
R-Guardian's warehouse and raw material suppliers are located in nearby Huizhou. The city, once known for its beautiful scenery and leisurely lifestyle, has emerged as a major support base for high-tech ventures in the Bay Area.
Kwok Wai-keung (standing) addresses other young entrepreneurs at the Qianhai Shenzhen-Hong Kong Youth Innovation and Entrepreneur Hub, dubbed the "Dream Factory", in Qianhai, Shenzhen, Guangdong province. [Photo provided to China Daily]
High tech innovation
Kwok's story provides a cameo of the central government's plan to help the Bay Area become the world's most important city cluster and a rival to California's Silicon Valley.
The plan envisions the Bay Area attaining its major development goals by 2035, but even before then, it is expected to match Silicon Valley's level of creativity and productivity in high-technology and innovation.
The Bay Area sprawls across 56,000 square kilometers. The cluster embraces nine cities in Guangdong: Guangzhou; Shenzhen; Zhuhai; Foshan; Huizhou; Zhaoqing; Dongguan; Jiangmen; and Zhongshan, along with the Hong Kong and Macao special administrative regions.
The blueprint for the Bay Area, released on Feb 18, shone the spotlight on regional integration that will bring new economic impetus and create opportunities for millions of people in one of China's most vibrant and open business regions.
Its immense potential has been the focus of discussions between legislators and political advisers at the ongoing two sessions - the annual meetings of the 13th National People's Congress, the top legislative body, and the 13th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the top political advisory body.
NPC deputies and CPPCC National Committee members said they drew inspiration from the central government's blueprint for the Bay Area.
Pauline Ngan Po-ling, managing director of Mainland Headwear Holdings in Hong Kong and an NPC deputy, said that having read all 50 pages of the outline, she saw golden opportunities.
Her company is Guangdong's largest manufacturer of headwear, and she plans to convert a factory, which covers 67 square kilometers, into an incubation base for startups from Hong Kong and Macao.
She said she was inspired by the blueprint, which encourages the establishment of incubation facilities for tech startups from Hong Kong and Macao in the nine Guangdong cities.
The document also promotes assistance for higher education establishments and research and development institutes in Hong Kong and Macao to apply and commercialize advanced technological achievements.
Ngan will site the incubator in Shenzhen's Buji district, where her factory once employed 5,000 people.
In 2013, rising costs brought the company to the brink of bankruptcy, so Ngan decided to move the labor-intensive manufacturing process to Bangladesh, taking advantage of policy support offered by the central government under the Belt and Road Initiative. It proved to be a shrewd decision.
Now, about 1,000 workers remain in the Shenzhen factory. The 60-year-old businesswoman said that in three to five years, the area's development will accelerate and young people will be the main drivers of the changes.
Excellent scientific research capabilities underpin the Bay Area's pursuit of an innovation-driven growth model, and policy support has been increased to encourage cross-border collaboration.
In May last year, national-level funding was made available to scientists in Hong Kong and Macao. The central government has indicated further measures, such as opening up key research projects and research equipment for scientists from the two SARs.
It will also allow biosamples to be shipped across the border for research purposes.
Neuroscientist Nancy Ip Yuk-yu, who leads the State Key Laboratory of Molecular Neuroscience at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, said although more detailed measures have yet to emerge, the new arrangement for biosamples will have a significant impact.
For example, the NPC deputy said she believes collaboration involving a vast database of clinical samples from the mainland will lead to world-class scientific breakthroughs.
"Hong Kong scientists find the Greater Bay Area blueprint inspiring. We are glad to see that Hong Kong, which enjoys a lot of favorable policies, is one of the key cities in the area," she said.
Ip, who is also vice-president for research and graduate studies at HKUST, said the university's Guangzhou campus, which is expected to be completed in two years, will become a strong link in scientific collaboration in the Bay Area and a major platform to commercialize scientific achievements made by Hong Kong scientists.
Kwok (front row) celebrates his birthday with his team and neighbors in the open lounge of a hostel that provides a platform for young talent in Qianhai. [Photo provided to China Daily]
While investment from Hong Kong and Macao has given impetus to Bay Area development, further integration will require synergy of the 11 cities' distinct advantages.
Li Xi, secretary of the Communist Party of China Guangdong Provincial Committee, told the Guangdong delegation to the two sessions that innovation and technology will be key to turning the Bay Area into the world's most competitive city cluster. He also prioritized the development of an innovation corridor linking Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Hong Kong and Macao, with their distinctive advantages.
Speaking in Beijing, Dominic Sio Chi-wai, an NPC deputy from Macao, said people in the city have reached a consensus on its role in the Bay Area - to give full play to Macao's strengths and become a world-class tourism and leisure center, and a platform for strengthened ties between China and Portuguese-speaking countries.
"My focus for the Bay Area will be on how the blueprint's detailed policies will be implemented," he said.
Li Qingquan, president of Shenzhen University and an NPC deputy from the city, focused on ways to foster the complementary educational strengths of Bay Area cities.
He said Hong Kong has the best higher education resources in the Bay Area, followed by Guangzhou, and then cities such as Zhuhai and Shenzhen. He suggested that Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macao should create a joint university, under the "one country, two systems" principle, to consolidate their strengths.
He also proposed establishing campuses for the university in three strategic locations: the Lok Ma Chau Loop border area between Shenzhen and Hong Kong; Zhuhai's Hengqin district, which is next to Macao; and Guangzhou's Nansha district.
Kwok's company, R-Guardian, offers an example of cross-boundary collaboration and the use of the distinct abilities and competitive strengths of the different member cities in the Bay Area.
In 2016, Kwok joined the Qianhai Shenzhen-Hong Kong Youth Innovation and Entrepreneur Hub, dubbed the "Dream Factory". R-Guardian received orders worth 10 million yuan ($1.5 million) for its Bluetooth-equipped smart suitcases, so Kwok established a base in Shenzhen for production and research and development. However, branding and marketing work is still done in Hong Kong.
Kwok is looking to expand his market beyond the Bay Area, with a particular focus on the mainland, where 50 percent of the company's orders originate. He has partnerships with about half of the mainland's 15 biggest luggage manufacturers.
The growing ease with which entrepreneurs from Hong Kong and Macao can operate businesses on the mainland is the result of a raft of policies and incentives designed to encourage the cities' residents to work, live and study on the other side of the border.
More assistance is in the offing. On March 4, Vice-Premier Han Zheng revealed that about 30 new initiatives will be rolled out in the near future, aimed at breaking institutional barriers and facilitating smooth flows of talent, logistics and capital.
Tam Yiu-chung, Hong Kong's sole member of the Standing Committee of the 13th National People's Congress, has called for more policies related to employment, housing, healthcare and banking services to make life easier for people from Hong Kong and Macao who live on the mainland.
Speaking on the sidelines of the two sessions, NPC deputy Pony Ma Huateng, founder of tech giant Tencent, proposed building a development bank and university in the Bay Area to attract capital for the innovation and technology industries, and nurture high-end talent.
Kwok, whose future is intertwined with the Bay Area, sees its development as a springboard to the vast market and unlimited opportunities of the outside world.
He Shusi and Chai Hua in Beijing contributed to this story.