Competition in the Pearl River Delta
The west is trying to catch up with the east
In 1980, China set up four Special Economic Zones (SEZs), with Shenzhen, Zhuhai and Shantou in Guangdong province and Xiamen in Fujian province.
Due to its favourable geographical position, the eastern part of the Pearl River Delta (PRD), especially cities such as Shenzhen and Dongguan, has grown significantly. On the other hand, the west bank of the PRD has fallen behind.
In 2000, for example, Shenzhen had per capita GDP of RMB 39,739, compared with Zhuhai's RMB 26,600. (See map for more economic statistics of the region.)
With Gordon Wu's recent bridge proposal, the contrast between the east and west, particularly between the cities of Shenzhen and Zhuhai, again comes into focus.
Shenzhen is the nearest city to Hong Kong in the PRD and it has developed into a prosperous city from a previous small town and her performance has been the best among the three SEZs in Guangdong. In the past two decades, many Hong Kong manufacturers moved their base to Shenzhen because of its lower manufacturing costs. It has become an industrialized area, with tourism also developing at a fast pace.
On the west bank of the PRD, cities such as Zhuhai have not developed so rapidly as their eastern counterparts. Adjacent to Macao, Zhuhai did not attract as much industrial investments from Hong Kong as Shenzhen. As a result, tourism became the emphasis of its economic development.
The financial crisis in 1997 was a slap to the economy of most Asian countries. Hong Kong's economy remains sluggish and the retail industry is suffering greatly. Many Hong Kong people choose to buy cheaper goods in Shenzhen instead of spending money locally. Although Zhuhai is also a nice place to spend holidays and go shopping, Shenzhen is far more competitive due to its proximity and direct land transport from Hong Kong.
The proposed bridge will provide Zhuhai a direct link with Hong Kong and will thus significantly increase its competitiveness and business opportunities. The other cities in the western part of the PRD will also stand to benefit. A new route means an opportunity for the western cities to catch up with their eastern counterparts.
The property market in Zhuhai is expected to benefit from the bridge as travelling time between Hong Kong and Zhuhai will be shortened. In fact, when the idea was introduced more than a decade ago, both Hong Kong and Zhuhai expected to see a vigorous property market in Zhuhai. It is one reason to explain the enthusiasm of the former Zhuhai Mayor Liang Guangda who advocated building a bridge via Lingding islands to connect the city to Hong Kong.
However, the proposed bridge is impossible without the support of Guangdong and Beijing. The Guangdong provincial government has commissioned feasibility studies with reports due at the end of the year. And up till now, the Central Government remains noncommittal to the proposal. (See politics for details.)