HK must take advantage of rail network integration to boost competitiveness

By Wong Tsz Yuen Source:Global Times Published: 2018/9/13 20:53:40

New rail link offers huge opportunities for Hong Kong

Illustration: Xia Qing/GT

September 10 was the first day that tickets for the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XRL) went on sale. There was a long line waiting in the railway station before dawn in Hong Kong, hoping to get the tickets.

For most people in Hong Kong, it takes two hours for a one-way commute from the residential area of Hong Kong Islands to the office area in the New Territories. The Hong Kong section of the new line will start operating on September 23, at which point Hong Kong will have entered the express rail link era.

Inter-city and inter-regional commuting is a daily routine for people living in Hong Kong and Shenzhen. The government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region estimated that 650,000 people commuted between Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland per day in 2016 - a number equivalent to the population of a middle-sized city.

With the new high-speed rail link, traveling from Hong Kong to Shenzhen will only take 14 minutes, and it will take 48 minutes to get to Guangzhou - this means the journey time will be cut by half. The XRL also connects with 44 terminals in the Chinese mainland, and the highly connected Pearl River Delta will be on the fast track for integration. The running of the Hong Kong section will strengthen the connection between Hong Kong and the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area.

Hong Kong has benefited from backing from the mainland and has a certain amount of leeway. It has been playing the role of a "super-connector" for the Chinese mainland. However, in the last decade, some cities in the Chinese mainland have been opening up and catching up quickly. Meanwhile, the connectivity between Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland has suffered from a lack of convenience. So the "super-connector" function has become a bit lackluster.

But Hong Kong is still one of the most important international financial centers, as well as being a trade center and an international hub for shipping transit. Its advantageous location and well developed legal system also help.

The high-speed rail network will help Hong Kong to be better integrated into the bigger picture of national development and will bring new momentum for Hong Kong's economy, banking and culture.

Firstly, the high-speed rail link overlaps with the Guangzhou-Shenzhen Science and Technology Innovation Corridor, offering a great opportunity for Hong Kong to integrate with national developments in technology. Many leading tech companies, including Tencent, Huawei and Beijing Genomics Institute are conveniently located along the high-speed rail line. After the rail link is completed, Hong Kong can join "China's Silicon Valley" and further boost the collaboration and integration of science and technology between Hong Kong and the mainland.

Secondly, the opening of the high-speed rail link will allow for unprecedented connection between Hong Kong and several first-tier cities as well as other urban areas in the Yangtze River Delta and the Pearl River Delta - two of the fastest-growing regions in the mainland.

The rail link will also bring a lot of opportunities for tourism companies, which have already been developing tourist packages based on travel on the new rail network. This will make it easier for Hong Kong travelers to reach not just southern areas in the mainland but more distant regions as well.

Hong Kong's connection with the national high-speed rail network could bring a lot of benefits for the mainland's regional economic development plan and allow Hong Kong to continue its important role in the Belt and Road initiative. If Hong Kong fails to take advantage of these opportunities to improve its competitiveness, its role will become more and more passive.

The author is a senior reporter with Hong Kong Phoenix TV.

Newspaper headline: New rail link offers huge opportunities for Hong Kong

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