For 32-year-old Hong Kong-born marketing graduate Peter Yuen who runs a snack delivery start-up in Panyu, a booming district in Guangzhou, the Greater Bay Area plan means opportunity.
But he is an outlier.
According to a new survey released over the weekend by the Hong Kong Guangdong Youth Association, a privately funded foundation focused on promoting cross-border exchanges, more than 70 per cent of the young people in Hong Kong they interviewed held that the city should keep its distance from mainland China.
More than half believed that universities in Hong Kong should not open their door to mainland Chinese students.
The study, which comprised six focus groups with about 200 interviewees in Hong Kong aged between 15 to 64, was conducted late last year after anti-government protests broke out in the city.
It was conducted to “better understand young people’s views on the mainland and the Greater Bay Area”.
While Hong Kong has been embroiled in more than six months of anti-government protests triggered by a now withdrawn extradition bill, cross-border animosity, especially among young people, was often cited as a factor that has fuelled the unrest.
“Almost 60 per cent of those interviewed said the Greater Bay Area plan would bring more harm than good to Hong Kong, and about half said the growing trend of mainlanders coming to Hong Kong for study and work has negative impact,” a report of the study said.
Citing factors such as lack of trust in the mainland’s medical system, information barriers and low recognition of China’s university qualifications, the majority of the young people interviewed rejected the idea of moving to Greater Bay Area for work or study.
“With the protests in Hong Kong, it can be forseen that there will be even fewer young people from Hong Kong who would be willing to participate in the development of the Greater Bay Area,” it said.
The Greater Bay Area plan is a grand vision by Beijing to turn nine Pearl River Delta cities along with Hong Kong and Macau into a regional economic and business hub that can compete with Tokyo or San Francisco’s bay areas.
To achieve that goal, Beijing has removed bureaucratic hurdles for people from Hong Kong and Macau studying, working and living in the area, providing them with favourable treatment in taxes, subsidies, travel and access public services.
Yuen, who graduated from Jinan University in Guangzhou two years ago, was one of those who took the opportunity and set up a small business catering to clients in Panyu’s fast growing business community.
‘The subsidies are helpful and we can enjoy pretty good medical services here,” said Yuen who received 50,000 yuan (US$7,250) as a start-up grant from the Guangdong government.
“Unlike Hong Kong, I can afford to fail here and may even come back a second time if my business cannot make it,” he said, admitting that his delivery business has yet to make a profit.
“The biggest problem is actually about sending my four-year-old boy to school because the international schools here are expensive and state schools require us to have local residency that we don’t,” he added.
While Yuen would continue to press ahead with his business, he lamented that his choice has alienated his friends in Hong Kong.
“My buddies from school in Hong Kong are no longer talking to me since the protests broke out last summer and I can’t tell them how much the mainland has changed,” he said. “They have blacklisted me [on Facebook] and I don’t think they would ever come visit me in China.”
Yang Aiping, a professor who studied Hong Kong and Macau affairs at South China Normal University, agreed that while local graduates like Yuen may me more accepting towards ideas such as the Greater Bay Area plan, most young people in Hong Kong felt estranged about the mainland.
Yang, who has researched about youth issues in Hong Kong, said Beijing would struggle to make the Greater Bay Area idea appealing to young people who are not interested in the mainland in the first place.
Adam Kwok Kai-fai, a founder of Hong Kong Guangdong Youth Association, suggested that the Hong Kong government should take steps to ease the sense of competition between young people from both sides in areas such as education and employment.
These include reducing the quota of mainlanders allowed to relocate to Hong Kong and providing matching job opportunities for Hong Kong and mainland graduates.
It always seems impossible until it is done.