Hong Kong lawmakers on a five-city tour of mainland China called on the government back home to cut red tape and embrace new technologies, after visiting Shenzhen and Dongguan and praising examples of innovation there.
The group, comprising 23 pro-establishment and nine pan-democrat lawmakers, is the largest delegation of legislators to visit the mainland since April 2014. Then, 50 of them – including 10 pan-democrats – went to Shanghai.
On Friday, accompanied by four ministers, they began a three-day tour to learn more about Beijing’s “Greater Bay Area” project, which aims to forge an economic powerhouse across Hong Kong, Macau and nine cities in Guangdong province.
The Bay Area stretches over 56,600 square kilometres, covers 11 economies that were worth US$1.36 trillion in 2016, and has an estimated population of 66.71 million.
The delegation started out in Shenzhen and went to the police department’s Intelligent Traffic Command Centre, tech giant Huawei’s Shenzhen headquarters and WeBank, the first online-only bank and money lender on the mainland.
New People’s Party chairwoman Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said she realised Shenzhen had been using more advanced technology than Hong Kong in urban traffic management.
“Technology has helped the police to monitor the city’s traffic and deploy officers more efficiently … but [to do the same] in Hong Kong would involve lots of procedures,” she said.
The delegation also visited the Songshan Lake technology park in Dongguan, which aims to be China’s answer to the Silicon Valley.
After the visit, Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai said the Hong Kong government needs to remove red tape so start-ups would be more willing to take risks.
“If Hong Kong is to remain competitive in the region, and develop innovation and technology as the new drivers of the economy, it needs to be more inclusive and open-minded,” said Wu, who chairs the Legislative Council’s panel on commerce and industry.
Shenzhen deputy mayor Ai Xuefeng said Shenzhen was keen to work more closely with Hong Kong in areas such as innovation and technology.
“Shenzhen has made some achievements in innovation, but we could do better through working with Hong Kong … as the city possesses a lot of strengths that mainland cities don’t have,” the official said.
On Saturday, the group will visit Zhongshan and Foshan and on Sunday, Guangzhou.
Pan-democrats who are on the trip were praised by pro-establishment politicians, as the city’s political opposition is usually at odds with Beijing and wary of its push for cross-border integration.
Lawmakers like Wu, Civic Party leader Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu and Charles Mok of the Professionals Guild responded to say they were only doing their job, and their participation did not mean they were in full agreement with Beijing.
Lam Cheuk-ting of the Democratic Party said it was a lawmaker’s responsibility to know more about Guangdong province, because of Hong Kong’s close relationship with it. He was keen to learn more about its latest economic development, infrastructure and town planning efforts, he said.
Legal sector lawmaker Dennis Kwok, of the Civic Party, said he wanted to “find out more, learn more and help Hong Kong think about the future”.
Mok, who represents Hong Kong’s IT sector in Legco, said: “I hope to better understand the business models of tech companies in the Greater Bay Area.”
He added he was also interested in how Guangdong province used smart city technologies in urban management, as it would help Hong Kong see how to tackle obstacles in using these technologies.