Jason Jia-Xi Wu, April 2021
This paper seeks to explain the logic of Chinese regional planning pertaining to the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area (粤港澳大湾区 , hereafter GBA) and the challenges it entails for spatial development. Three questions guide the inquiry of this research: First, what are the institutional underpinnings of the GBA initiative, and how is the path dependency of regional integration in the Pearl River Delta (PRD) unique compared to that in China’s other coastal macroregions? Second, how does Beijing’s changing strategy toward Hong Kong inform the costs and limits of the GBA initiative, and what are their policy implications for the future development of the PRD? Third, why is regional planning uniquely favored by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) central leadership, and what does this tell us about the changing policy parameters that govern center-local relations in China?
This paper argues that the GBA initiative is an overly ambitious plan with very few policy instruments and little regulatory flexibility. It contends that the tensions between the GBA’s intended goals and the means of policy implementation are jointly resulted by three factors:
- Beijing’s emerging inclination toward using regional planning as an instrument to police center-local relations and cement its national security interests rather than using it as a mere instrument of economic governance.
- The declining room for policy experimentation at the local level, which reduces the state’s responsiveness to local demands and capacity to learn from mistakes.
- The historical and strategic importance of the Pearl River Delta to the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which causes Beijing to prioritize the political interests of PRD integration much more than its pursuit for regional development in China’s other macroregions.
These changes are reflective of a broader paradigm shift in Beijing’s regional developmental strategies, under the climate of power centralization in the Xi Jinping era (2012–present). Finally, this paper demonstrates that such changes in the CCP’s regional planning in relation to the GBA initiative will engender both the decline of adaptive governance and premature deindustrialization.