Beijing official calls on Hong Kong universities to play a more active role in Greater Bay Area development

·4-min read

A Beijing official has called on Hong Kong universities to play a bigger role in the growth of the Greater Bay Area, which he describes as “indispensable to national development”.

Jiang Jianxiang, of the central government’s liaison office in Hong Kong, acknowledged the contribution of the city’s universities to the country over the years, but said on Thursday their main task was shifting from helping mainland Chinese counterparts improve education standards to working in partnership with them to push forward development on a national level.

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“In the past, when our country came up with important development, it would mention Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou,” Jiang, the director-general of the office’s department of educational, scientific and technological affairs, told a university forum.

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“But many may have noticed that this view has changed in the past year or so .... with Shanghai, Beijing and the Greater Bay Area being mentioned.”

The bay area is Beijing’s ambitious plan to turn Hong Kong, Macau and nine other southern Chinese cities into an economic and innovation powerhouse.

Jiang Jianxiang, director of education and technology at Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong. Photo: Winson Wong
Jiang Jianxiang, director of education and technology at Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong. Photo: Winson Wong

Speaking at the Forum on Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area Developments held by Chinese University on its Sha Tin campus, Jiang said the economic integration plan was a great opportunity for the region, which he described as indispensable to national development.

“As such, our universities in Hong Kong should step up their role in joint building. To jointly build what? The Greater Bay Area,” he said.

In a pre-recorded message, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said the Guangdong provincial government had dedicated 370 million yuan (US$57.8 million) over the years for city universities to establish a presence there. “Half of the funds came from Shenzhen aimed at developing the Greater Bay Area,” she said.

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Chinese University was the first to break into the mainland in 2006, and most major universities in Hong Kong have since either established physical campuses and research centres there or collaborated in some other form with their counterparts over the border.

As part of the push toward deeper integration with the mainland, Lam unveiled a series of initiatives earlier this month in her policy address to bring Hong Kong’s development in line with Beijing’s Greater Bay Area plan and its 14th five-year blueprint. The latter marked the city as a key innovation hub for the country.

The initiatives include turning swathes of northern Hong Kong near the mainland border into a metropolis focusing on innovation and technology.

Among them, San Tin, in the northwest of the city, will be transformed into a “technopole” to become what Lam described as the “Silicon Valley” of Hong Kong. A similar technological transformation will be delivered for Lau Fau Shan, a rural area best known for its seafood dishes.

The city’s existing Science and Technology Park in Sha Tin will be expanded and equipped with a new train station, part of a wider railway development expected to facilitate greater exchanges between businesses in Hong Kong and the mainland.

Across the border, Shenzhen is already known for its tech and innovation industry, most notably as the base of tech giant Tencent and drone maker DJI.

Chinese University president Rocky Tuan. Photo: Winson Wong
Chinese University president Rocky Tuan. Photo: Winson Wong

Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) president Rocky Tuan Sung-chi on Thursday echoed some of the policies set out in Lam’s development blueprint. He said his five-year plan was to establish the university as a centre for facilitating and enhancing research both overseas and domestically.

“We hope to continue to play our role as a hub and, with our excellent academic quality and vast research capabilities, work wholeheartedly with administrative and education authorities on the mainland to introduce positive competition and enhance the Greater Bay Area’s position in the world for research and innovation,” he said.

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Economic professor Lawrence Lau Juen-yee, a former CUHK vice-chancellor, said he had witnessed first-hand the development of the university’s Shenzhen campus, which he helped to deliver.

He said the number of graduate researchers on the mainland campus was approaching that of the Hong Kong campus, although the figure for undergraduate students was lagging behind.

Various mainland authorities have also signed a total of seven memorandums – with Chinese University, the Science and Technology Park and the Cyberport innovation hub in Pok Fu Lam – to step up collaboration on talent development, green initiatives and materials acquisition.

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