Mainland cities in the Greater Bay Area are going all out to draw Hong Kong youth to build their careers further north, but more incentives are needed to deepen integration between the mainland and the SAR. Zhang Tianyuan reports from Hong Kong.

The future and welfare of Hong Kong youth were uppermost in President Xi Jinping’s mind when he spoke on July 1 at the swearing-in of the sixth-term government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

The president’s message in his address — the highlight of his inspection tour of the HKSAR to mark the 25th anniversary of its establishment — rang out loud and clear: Hong Kong must help its young people overcome the problems they are facing in their studies, jobs, starting a business or putting a roof over their heads.

The Greater Bay Area plan offers an alternative for young Hong Kong people’s upward mobility, especially those aiming to build careers in the technology and innovation sector.

Johnny Ng Kit-chong, Hong Kong Legislative Council member

It wasn’t the first time Xi has shown care and concern for Hong Kong’s younger generation. Two years ago, he urged them to move to the nine Guangdong cities of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area to “study, work and live on the mainland” at a ceremony marking Shenzhen’s 40th anniversary as one of the country’s first special economic zones.

The president’s call came on the heels of the central and local governments’ unveiling of more than 230 official files on key national projects in the Greater Bay Area, calling for greater interaction between young people on the Chinese mainland, in Hong Kong and Macao. The words “Hong Kong and Macao young people” appeared in the documents more than 2,800 times. 

The Outline Development Plan for the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area in 2019 paints a rosy picture for people striving to enrich their lives as the 11-city cluster enacts favorable policies and offers financial support for those seeking to live and start businesses there. It’s the icing on the cake, along with lucrative opportunities up for grabs in the cluster’s technology and innovation sector. “We must guide young people in becoming more aware of the trends in China and the world, and help them cultivate a sense of national pride and enhance understanding of their status as masters of the country,” Xi told Hong Kong residents in his speech on July 1. 

The Greater Bay Area, geared to be a global technology powerhouse to rival Silicon Valley, embraces nine mainland cities in Guangdong province — Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Foshan, Huizhou, Dongguan, Zhongshan, Jiangmen and Zhaoqing — plus the Hong Kong and Macao special administrative regions. Official data showed the Greater Bay Area’s total population reached 86 million last year, with the 11 cities’ GDP hitting 12.6 trillion yuan ($1.8 trillion), a rise of almost 24 percent, compared with 2017. The metropolitan cluster recorded per capita GDP of nearly $22,585 in 2021, according to global statistical database Statista. 

Young people who have worked or settled in the Greater Bay Area’s mainland cities have leveraged the benefits of the nation’s integration policies, as well as their professional networks, giving themselves a better roll of the dice. The contention is that the mainland cities of the Greater Bay Area offer another option for Hong Kong youth to maximize the chances of succeeding in their lives and careers despite red tape that might hinder communication among people on both sides.

Johnny Ng Kit-chong, Hong Kong Legislative Council member. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Harnessing support

“When you look at the Qianhai Shenzhen-Hong Kong Modern Service Industry Cooperation Zone on the digital map, you would have found nothing a few years ago, except sparse buildings. Now, modern skyscrapers, parks and roads have sprung up at a stunning speed,” said a Hong Kong worker at the Shenzhen office of artificial intelligence giant SenseTime.

The changes over the years are beyond recognition, said the development engineer, surnamed Ng. “I would love to explore a new life on the mainland after being in Hong Kong for so many years.” The 25-year-old studied computer vision at a mainland university after graduating from a Hong Kong high school. He recalled that competition for the job at SenseTime lessened after the company’s Shenzhen office offered an employment quota for Hong Kong and Macao residents. His financial burden also eased after the Shenzhen government offered him low-rent housing.

The HKSAR government should organize more trips to and exchanges with the mainland for Hong Kong students. This will help them grasp a comprehensive understanding of the mainland before graduation.

Victor Kwok Hoi-kit, head of education and youth research at Our Hong Kong Foundation

In June, the Shenzhen Qianhai authority said 400 low-rent homes would be offered to Hong Kong professionals working full time in the cooperation zone, and Hong Kong residents, aged between 18 and 45, can apply for 800 full-time jobs being created by Tencent Holdings, Deloitte, SenseTime and other companies based in the zone. 

With the joint efforts of the HKSAR and the nine mainland municipal governments in the Greater Bay Area in providing subsidies for transportation, housing, payments and guaranteed loans, the number of Hong Kong people aged from 15 to 44 who usually stay in Guangdong province had risen to 128,100 by the middle of last year — up 22 percent from mid-2019 — according to Hong Kong’s Census and Statistics Department.

Zeta San Ni-sze, who’s in her 30s, opened a branch of her enterprise, Brainstorm InnoComms, in Guangzhou in 2020. She saw a new market on the mainland when the central government teed up new prices for solar photovoltaic power to promote renewable energy adoption in 2018. 

The Hong Kong-based company has about 50 employees at its Guangzhou office, providing energy-saving solutions through data analysis of power use, storage and off-grid zero-carbon products, including those for garbage stations and bus stations. 

The Guangzhou branch of Brainstorm InnoComms was incubated at the Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macao (International) Youth Entrepreneurship Hub, an incubator in Guangzhou’s Nansha district to accelerate tech startups growth with talent and research support from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology’s Fok Ying Tung Research Institute in the district. The startup is confident in developing green equipment on the mainland, as Hive Box, the mainland’s major provider of smart lockers, has applied one of its zero-carbon products in a pilot program — lockers made with photovoltaic materials from San’s team. 

“We believe the youth entrepreneurship hub can drive our company’s growth in the sustainable industry,” said San. The hub had attracted nearly 25 startups from Hong Kong and Macao as of July.

San and Ng have one thing in common — both have an education background in the HKSAR and on the mainland since childhood. “It’s about understanding,” said Victor Kwok Hoi-kit, head of education and youth research at a think tank in the SAR, Our Hong Kong Foundation. “If people don’t understand or have the wrong perception of a place, they might not even think of going there to start a career.”    

A recent survey conducted by the foundation found that Hong Kong people who have gained experience across the border at an early stage are more inclined to settle down in the mainland cities of the Greater Bay Area. Kwok said that not every Hong Kong youngster is suited to building a career on the mainland. That would depend on their expertise and the industry they work in. However, they should learn what the Greater Bay Area is about and the opportunities available.

Kwok said Hong Kong has had a sound reputation in financial services, insurance and the rule of law for decades, but the city’s industries have been excessively uniform. This leaves the younger generation with few options for choosing their careers, he added. “The HKSAR government should organize more trips to and exchanges with the mainland for Hong Kong students. This will help them grasp a comprehensive understanding of the mainland before graduation,” he said.

So far, the HKSAR government has rolled out at least eight programs to encourage local youth to go northward. These include the Funding Scheme for Youth Internship in the Mainland, the Greater Bay Area Youth Employment Scheme, the Funding Scheme for Youth Entrepreneurship in the GBA, and the Funding Scheme for Experiential Programs at Innovation and Entrepreneurial Bases in the GBA. 

Victor Kwok Hoi-kit, head of education and youth research at Our Hong Kong Foundation. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Room for improvement

Sky Tang Man-chun, who founded augmented reality company ConceptFound Group, has joined the Greater Bay Area Youth Employment Scheme, in which the company is granted a monthly allowance of HK$10,000 for each new Hong Kong graduate it employs, and who is willing to work in the mainland cities of the Greater Bay Area for at least six months under an 18-month contract. 

Tang’s enterprise has offered five posts to Hong Kong youth as it expanded from Hong Kong to Zhuhai and Dongguan, two of the nine mainland cities in the Greater Bay Area, three years ago. But a key concern is that cross-border travel restrictions have forced Hong Kong residents to stay in the SAR. Taking up jobs on the mainland would mean having to negotiate constantly changing COVID-19 policies and find accommodation on their own after undergoing quarantine. “I’m also worried that most of them have neither the experience nor the network on the mainland to take up those positions,” said Tang.

Those who choose to work on the mainland still have to handle onerous administrative tasks. “Their contracts are signed in Hong Kong, meaning they’re only entitled to Hong Kong holidays,” explained Tang. The length and dates of holidays on the mainland and Hong Kong are different. So, it’s hard for Hong Kong workers to follow the same schedules as their mainland colleagues.  

“Bank accounts are also separate. We deposit salaries into their Hong Kong bank accounts (as the contracts are signed in the SAR) but they need to have mainland bank accounts to withdraw the money for spending as they now live on the mainland,” said Tang.

Tang’s Dongguan office, with 15 employees, is located at the Songshan Lake Science and Technology Industrial Park. The company gets a one-off subsidy of 100,000 yuan, a tax concession for the first one-million-yuan investment, a 60-percent rental reduction for its first two years in operation, and a full waiver for the third year.

About 2,000 jobs are up for grabs under the Greater Bay Area Youth Employment Scheme, with about 700 of them in the innovation and technology sector. Each employee will be paid no less than HK$18,000 per month. So far, some 1,100 Hong Kong graduates have been hired. 

To get more young people to join the HKSAR government’s funding programs for mainland jobs, Johnny Ng Kit-chong, former chairman of the Hong Kong United Youth Association, urged the authorities on both sides to cooperate in providing temporary accommodation for those heading north with the travel curbs still in place. “Hotels are expensive. I hope ‘talent homes’ at below market rentals can be offered to graduates.”

He said the mainland authorities should provide more details on how they plan to implement the Nansha and Qianhai development plans. Specific guidance should be given on how Hong Kong entrepreneurs can apply for subsidies and how long it would take for applications to be approved.

Johnny Ng, who represents the Election Committee constituency in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, said he believes the Greater Bay Area plan offers an alternative for young Hong Kong people’s upward mobility, especially those aiming to build careers in the inno-tech sector. “The HKSAR government should greatly promote the Greater Bay Area to deepen their understanding of the region’s opportunities.”

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