Driving to mainland China from Hong Kong could be about to get a lot cheaper and easier for the city’s residents.
A new proposal for a one-off permit allowing Hongkongers to take their cars on short trips into Guangdong province is being considered by authorities across the border.
Ip Kwok-him, a Hong Kong deputy to the National People’s Congress, unveiled the details of the proposal on Thursday, days after he revealed that Beijing was considering giving Hongkongers better access to services across the country.
Ip said local drivers without mainland licence plates could apply for the permit online, and move around Guangdong for a short period of time by crossing the border through designated ports.
The number of mainland licence plates available to Hongkongers is strictly controlled, as such the cost of obtaining one has long been prohibitive for many. In the past the licences have been sold for upwards of one million yuan (HK$1.1 million) on the black market.
Speaking on a radio show, Ip said the plan would make it easier for Hongkongers with business interests on the mainland to take trips across the border, stimulate tourism by encouraging “self-driving tours” of the province, and boost the economy of the “Greater Bay Area”.
“This is the kind of concept that will gradually break through the connection barriers [between Hong Kong and the mainland] and bring better convenience,” he said.
However, Ip said the permits would only work one way, because Hong Kong could not cope with a large influx of cars from the mainland.
Ip’s comments came ahead of the scheduled opening of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge later this year.
Last month, mainland Chinese media reported that officials in Guangdong had been looking into the chance of allowing private cars from the city and Macau to enter the mainland via the bridge.
There was mixed reaction from city residents.
Liberal Party lawmaker Frankie Yick Chi-ming, who represents the transport sector, noted the fact that mainland authorities were studying the scheme, one he welcomed because it would benefit local businessmen.
“It is not easy to get a mainland licence plate,” he said.
He expects the permit to not be expensive, and said it would be meaningless to charge drivers a high price.
Paco Wu, who owns an innovative technology firm and works across the border two or three days a week, said the scheme would save him time and money.
At the moment, the 45-year-old has to rent a car after passing through border control.
“At least, I don’t need to buy a plate that allows me to travel in both Hong Kong and China,” he said. “That would cost a few hundred thousand dollars.”
The entrepreneur said he did not see there being any problems for Hongkongers driving on the mainland, despite the fact that traffic moves in the opposite direction.
“There are some differences, but once you get used to it there should be no problem,” he said.
Henry Lee Cheuk-hei, a 23-year-old who works for a local start-up, however, was less convinced and said safety concerns would stop him from taking self-driving tours across the border.
With people on the mainland driving on the right-hand side of the road, as opposed to on the left-hand side as they do in Hong Kong, he said he would stick to public transport.
“The driving attitude [of the two places] is pretty different,” he said.
Civic Party lawmaker Jeremy Tam Man-ho also expressed concerns over safety, and questioned how authorities would deal with local drivers who broke traffic laws on the other side of the border.
“How would they chase that person?” he asked.
During his radio interview Ip also revealed new details on the proposal to upgrade the home return permit for Hongkongers. The upgrade will make the permits more compatible with various digital systems on the mainland, while giving holders faster and more convenient access to public and private services.
The executive councillor said the move would allow those eligible to get a bank mortgage to buy property, provide transport discounts for the elderly and make it easier to apply for a mainland diving licence.
However, Hongkongers will not be forced to apply for the new card, and existing Hong Kong ID cards would remain in place.
“If you say, ‘I will not apply’, this is your right,” he said.
Ip suggested the arrangement could boost Hong Kong people’s sense of national identity and “this kind of integration is a general trend”, adding that identity verification in smart cities commonly relied on digital platforms.
Earlier this month, Beijing announced that Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan citizens could start applying for a residence permit from next month to enjoy access to 18 public services and facilities across the border.
Residence permit holders will be entitled to employment, as well as participation in social insurance and housing fund schemes. They will also get access to public services such as free education, basic medical care and legal aid.