Six months of unrest in Hong Kong have done nothing to enhance the welcome mat for global talent to the Greater Bay Area (GBA) development project.
But it has not harmed the appeal of the Yangtze River Delta (YRD) region centred on Shanghai, always a showcase for the next stage of China’s reform and opening up. And the region is soon to open the door wider.
At the same time as Beijing unveiled a blueprint for economic integration of Shanghai with Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Anhui provinces, the State Council approved plans to slash the red tape confronting foreigners seeking work visas and residency to attract more talent to major Chinese cities. It is just one necessary step towards easier access to doing business in China.
The Yangtze blueprint for integrated development, unveiled just months after the release of the GBA plan for southern China, is seen as a push by Beijing to drive economic expansion through regional groups to counter slowing growth and strengthen the resilience of the economy against external shocks such as the trade war with the United States.
Indeed, President Xi Jinping, a former Communist Party chief of Shanghai and Zhejiang, has said the plan will become a national policy on a par with the Belt & Road Initiative
Whereas the GBA plan aims to turn Hong Kong, Shenzhen and neighbouring cities into a global tech, innovation and financial hub, prompting comparisons with Silicon Valley, the YRD plan envisages a future built on finance, technology and advanced manufacturing.
It, therefore, needs to attract a continuous flow of more global talent to sustain its growth. In this respect Hong Kong, until recently at least, had an edge as China’s best attraction for top talent.
The GBA and YRD plans have been the twin engines driving China forward. A country of China’s size needs more than one geographical engine to drive sustainable national growth. So the new plan is timely and necessary.
With development goals up to 2025 and visions until 2035, it signals a further opening up through a lower threshold for market access across a range of sectors including cars, and wider access to the banking sector for foreign investment.
The YRD accounts for a quarter of the nation’s gross domestic product and a third of foreign trade and investment, making it a centrepiece of economic transformation, but at the huge environmental cost of serious water, soil and industrial pollution.
Unlike Beijing’s five-year plans, regional blueprints do not include mandatory policy goals, only medium- and long-term strategic directions. This puts the responsibility on provincial and local authorities to flesh out details.
It is a chance for them to make some amends for sins of the past by keeping environmental impacts and safeguards front and centre of development planning.