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Guangdong-Macao Cooperation Bears Fruitful Results

2021-05-20 12:18:00 Source:China Today Author:CHEN XUHOU
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A small frontier island thick with banana groves has been transformed into a modern new city featuring skyscrapers and a beautiful environment after 12 years of development. The Hengqin New Area of Zhuhai City, Guangdong Province, was built on the back of promoting the diversified development of neighboring Macao’s economy and facilitating the life and employment of Macao residents.

A flyover project along East Huandao Road in the Hengqin New Area of Zhuhai City, Guangdong Province. Photo courtesy of Zhuhai Da Heng Win Company Limited

Macao Residents Living in Hengqin

During school days, a group of children regularly arrive at Hengqin Port in the morning, line up for inspection at the checkpoint and prepare to enter Macao. In the afternoon, after school lets out, they return home to Hengqin the same way they came.

The children, who are all Macao residents but live with their parents in Hengqin, are part of a cross-border schooling group. By the end of February this year, the Hengqin police station had issued 5,770 local residence permits to Macao residents, and Macao residents had purchased 11,204 pieces of property of various types in Hengqin, whose floorage totaled 830,000 square meters.

The Macao New Neighborhood, the first comprehensive housing project on the Chinese mainland especially created for Macao residents, is under construction. It is expected to provide 4,000 housing units and meet the demand of more than 10,000 Macao residents. According to Li Tengdong, deputy director of the Macao Affairs Bureau of Hengqin New District, residential buildings are to be completed simultaneously with supporting facilities, such as schools and hospitals, to meet the needs of residents. The neighborhood is a price-fixed housing project exclusively designated for Macao residents living in Hengqin. Services at supporting facilities, such as schools, clinics, community centers, and elderly care centers, will be provided by specialist agencies in Macao designated by the Macao Special Administrative Region Government.

An increasing number of Macao residents are showing interest in Hengqin. By the end of last year, more than 1,000 Macao residents had used the basic medical insurance in Hengqin. During the same year, the hospitals in Hengqin provided a total of 58,000 person-times of medical services for Macao residents.

“In view of a total population of less than 700,000 in Macao, the figure [of 58,000] is not small. It also shows that Hengqin’s health care facilities have gained recognition from Macao residents,” said Li Tengdong.

Founded in 1983, Macao Community Association is a non-profit organization with about 40,000 members and 6,000 volunteers. In November 2019, Hengqin Comprehensive Service Center under Guangdong Office of the Macao Community Association was officially inaugurated. It has provided more than 20,000 person-times of services to residents in Hengqin and Macao.

The policy that allows Macao automobiles to enter Hengqin multiple times with a temporary pass has been well received since it was introduced in December 2016. The number of quotas for such passes has been raised to 10,000 from 5,000 as of March 15, 2021. The application requirements have also been eased. Macao residents aged 18 or above, as well as official vehicles, are able to apply for a pass. Hengqin originally intended to issue 300 passes every month, but it soon received more than 7,000 applications.

The process of port clearance, which previously restricted the flow of people between the two places, is also more efficient.

After moving the Lotus Checkpoint of Macao to the new Hengqin Checkpoint on August 18, 2020, the new passenger inspection area of Hengqin Port was officially opened, adopting a more efficient customs clearance process.

“In the past, there were checkpoints on both sides, and people took a shuttle bus to commute between them. It took about half an hour to go through customs,” said Gao Yin, an officer at the Hengqin checkpoint. Gao added that now the border checks are required only once, which takes an average of 10 to 20 seconds for each passenger. In early April this year, despite the impact of COVID-19, the flow of people at Hengqin Port was still quite large, with about 20,000 person-times per day.

Hengqin New Area of Zhuhai Special Economic Zone, Guangdong Province.

Island Development

Hengqin Island, the largest island in Zhuhai City, is located 187 meters from Macao at its closest point. It has an abundance of advantages because of its geographic position, but in times gone by, it lagged far behind in development because it was far removed from the city center.

The past 12 years have witnessed rapid development of the island. President Xi Jinping has visited Hengqin four times and given important instructions on its development and construction, the promotion of diversified economic development of Macao and the maintenance of long-term prosperity, and stability of Hong Kong and Macao. “Hengqin New Area was built to facilitate the diversified development of Macao’s industries. With the inherent advantages of cooperation between Guangdong and Macao, efforts should be made to achieve more vigorous economic growth of Macao by strengthening policy support, enriching cooperation practice, expanding cooperation in scale, and developing emerging industries,” said Xi on his fourth visit on October 22, 2018.

As a national strategy, developing Hengqin is another manifestation of the desire for in-depth cooperation between Guangdong and Macao.

Xiao Shihui, general manager of Zhuhai Da Heng Qin Company Limited, has personal feelings about the rapid development. His company built most of the municipal roads and supporting infrastructure in Hengqin New Area.

Xiao once served as a civil servant in Guangzhou. In 2011, he participated in the construction of the Guangzhou Asian Games City project. When people from Zhuhai came to inspect Guangzhou, he was responsible for receiving them and he did extensive networking with these contacts. Later, leaders of Zhuhai invited him to work in Hengqin, and believing the area had a bright future, Xiao gave up his civil service job for a new career in Hengqin.

When he first arrived there in 2011, Hengqin was a “desert island” with only one bumpy road. Xiao, who majored in civil engineering, has long been engaged in large-scale construction projects. He rolled up his sleeves and decided to be a pioneer of the area’s infrastructure.

By 2021, Da Heng Qin has undertaken a total of 312 construction projects with a total investment of about RMB 124.9 billion, including 219 completed projects and 93 projects under construction. Among the many large-scale engineering projects that Xiao participated in, the one that impressed him most was the East Huandao Road Interchange Project. The project included two bridges, three roads, an 850-meter-long pipeline, and an underground space, with a total investment of RMB 1.376 billion.

Xiao sold his apartment in Guangzhou and chose to settle in Hengqin. “Hengqin has made a qualitative leap, as it has grown from a border island full of banana forests and green fields, with inconvenient transportation and sparsely populated areas, to a city with a forest of tall buildings and a well-developed road network. Hengqin is no longer a bare island, but a modern city. The achievements of its development in urban construction, ecological preservation and public services are clear for all to see,” he said.

Boosting Macao’s Economy

Hengqin New Area has made remarkable achievements in its development. In 2020, its cumulative GDP reached RMB 172.235 billion, an increase of 297.6 percent compared with that of the 12th Five-Year Plan period. Its GDP per square kilometer is 1.8 times that of Zhuhai.

In terms of industrial development, Hengqin New Area is committed to promoting diversified development of Macao’s economy and coordinated development with Macao by focusing on the six major industries of hi-tech, modern finance, healthcare, cultural tourism and exhibition, cross-border commerce, and professional services.

According to the data provided by the Macao Affairs Bureau, as of the end of February this year, there were 3,830 Macao-funded enterprises in Hengqin. Thirty-three plots of land in Hengqin were approved for Macao-related projects, covering an area of about 4.62 square kilometers, accounting for about 30 percent of its total leased land.

The development and construction of the five-square-kilometer Guangdong-Macao Cooperation Industrial Park has proceeded in an orderly manner, with 25 projects being offered for land with an investment of RMB 79.27 billion and 24 projects under construction. By the end of January 2020, the industrial park had received 133 project applications. After review by the joint evaluation committee of Macao and Hengqin, 17 priority projects have been approved.

In April 2019, the State Council officially approved the Hengqin International Leisure Tourism Island Construction Plan. The Ministry of Finance supported the inclusion of the tourism industry in the catalog for the preferential 15 percent corporate income tax rate. Currently, Hengqin Island receives more than 15 million visitors a year. Chen Bo, marketing director of Zhuhai Da Heng Qin Pan-Tourism Development Co., Ltd., revealed that during the Spring Festival holiday of 2021, Sumlodo Camping Town, a cultural and tourism project invested and built by the company, was very popular. It has seen a significant increase in revenue since 2018. He believed that tourism in Hengqin contributed to generating local agglomeration economies. There will be no shortage of tourists once the brand’s image has been established. The Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area alone would provide 50 million tourists a year.

The Hengqin New Area should, within the framework of “one country, two systems,” further promote in-depth cooperation between Guangdong and Macao by giving priority to Macao’s development, and supporting the appropriately diversified development of Macao’s economy.

Many innovative measures have been taken by the Hengqin New Area to solve institutional problems. For example, efforts have been made to implement tax-related preferential policies. The first income distribution of the Guangdong-Macao Cooperation and Development Fund has been exempt from tax of RMB 40 million, which is the first case in China to enjoy exemption treatment under this policy. There are also preferential policies on individual income tax in the Greater Bay Area and people from Hong Kong and Macao are encouraged to find jobs and start businesses in Hengqin. In 2020, a total of 101 applications for subsidies for overseas high-end talent and other skilled personnel in short supply were accepted, with the total amount of RMB 113 million. Cross-border taxation services and commercial registration services have been extended to Macao so that local residents can handle business remotely.

Hengqin also pioneered cross-border working. In view of the office space shortage, high rental costs, and difficulties in recruiting employees from the Chinese mainland for Macao, the Interim Measures to Encourage Macao Companies to Set up Offices in Hengqin New Area, released in March 2019, proposed that Macao enterprises, other than those in the gambling industry and those industries explicitly prohibited by the Chinese mainland’s laws, could conduct cross-border business in Hengqin simply by filing with local authorities, instead of registering for commercial and tax affairs. Services like rent subsidies and cross-border commuter lines are also provided. Innovative solutions can also be adopted to solve problems such as employees’ social security payment and their children’s schooling. At present, 220 enterprises from Hong Kong and Macao that have rented offices in the Hengqin New Area, with their floorage reaching 48,000 square meters.

The CPC Zhuhai Municipal Committee proposed to leverage the strengths of institutional innovation in the Hengqin Free Trade Pilot Zone and the Guangdong-Macao Deep Cooperation Zone. In addition, it is necessary for these zones to take the lead in promoting the convergence of rules and the “soft connectivity” of systems and mechanisms among Guangdong, Hong Kong, and Macao, being at the forefront of advancing high-level institutional opening up and forming a new pattern of opening up in an all-round way.

According to the Zhuhai Hengqin New Area Management Committee, by 2025, the GDP of Hengqin and its surrounding areas will reach RMB 150 to 180 billion, the population will exceed 200,000, the number of Macao residents living and working in Hengqin will increase to between 30,000 and 50,000, and the number of Macao-invested enterprises registered and operating in Hengqin will rise to about 15,000.


CHEN XUHOU is a reporter of The Paper.

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