Fears of More Mainland Control Over Hong Kong, Macao Through New Digital Plan

Beijing's “Digital Bay Area” emphasizes the “deep integration of social governance.”Beijing’s promotion of the “Digital Bay Area” to unify identity verification for Hong Kong and Macao residents with mainland China has sparked widespread concern.The Guangdong provincial authorities issued a three-year action plan on Nov. 21 for building the “Digital Bay Area.” The plan states that administrative services across Guangdong, Hong Kong, and Macao will be integrated before 2025.The integration will enable mutual recognition of identity and electronic signatures for residents of these three regions, aiming to establish seamless connectivity in systems, data, and credentials across the Greater Bay Area.The plan also proposes the creation of a “Hong Kong-Macao Data Special Zone,” where residents of Hong Kong and Macao can electronically process various applications using their mainland travel permit. Additionally, the plan includes provisions for establishing offshore data centers and offering cross-border data services among the three regions.The new plan, which emphasizes the “deep integration of social governance,” effectively means unified management of population movement and security between these three regions, according to Chen Daoyin, an independent Chinese political analyst.He views this as a move driven by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)'s stability maintenance efforts, which would require the consolidation of the existing systems and comprehensive surveillance, potentially involving the transfer of Hong Kong residents' personal files and data to mainland China.Related Stories“One crucial aspect of governance integration is the early detection and control of factors that could impact stability,” he told Radio Free Asia.“They will treat Hong Kong and Macao residents the same as mainland residents. To achieve this, they need to access your basic data as an individual. Through digitized management of ID cards, your biometric information is stored in the public security’s population database, just like mainland residents.“They also aim to control your social relationship networks and more, advancing step by step. For Hong Kong and Macao, especially Hong Kong, [this is] to prevent the possibility of a second anti-extradition protest movement.”Independent commentator and columnist Cai Shenkun provided an economic perspective on the new policy, pointing to the fact that Hong Kong and Macao residents previously enjoyed preferential treatment beyond ordinary Chinese nationals.“Since the reform and opening-up, foreign investment attracted by the mainland is mainly from Hong Kong, which accounted for as much as 70 percent of the total,” he wrote in a Nov. 22 post on X, formerly Twitter.“In 2019, mainland China set a historic record in utilizing foreign capital, with Hong Kong capital representing 70.9 percent. In 2018, mainland China attracted $128.46 billion in foreign investment, with Hong Kong capital reaching $96.01 billion, accounting for 71.13 percent. This underscores that becoming a global financial center is not an achievement that can be replaced overnight or designated to a single city other than Hong Kong.Mr. Cai argued that it was precisely due to Hong Kong's unique status that [former CCP leader] Deng Xiaoping promised to maintain its political system unchanged for 50 years.“With the full implementation of the National Security Law in Hong Kong and the rapid ‘mainlandization’ of Hong Kong and Macao, they no longer possess any institutional advantages compared to cities like Guangzhou and Shenzhen.“The unified identity verification for residents of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area effectively brings Hong Kong and Macao compatriots under Guangdong’s jurisdiction, bringing an end to the special treatment they once enjoyed.”

Fears of More Mainland Control Over Hong Kong, Macao Through New Digital Plan

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Beijing's “Digital Bay Area” emphasizes the “deep integration of social governance.”

Beijing’s promotion of the “Digital Bay Area” to unify identity verification for Hong Kong and Macao residents with mainland China has sparked widespread concern.

The Guangdong provincial authorities issued a three-year action plan on Nov. 21 for building the “Digital Bay Area.” The plan states that administrative services across Guangdong, Hong Kong, and Macao will be integrated before 2025.

The integration will enable mutual recognition of identity and electronic signatures for residents of these three regions, aiming to establish seamless connectivity in systems, data, and credentials across the Greater Bay Area.

The plan also proposes the creation of a “Hong Kong-Macao Data Special Zone,” where residents of Hong Kong and Macao can electronically process various applications using their mainland travel permit. Additionally, the plan includes provisions for establishing offshore data centers and offering cross-border data services among the three regions.

The new plan, which emphasizes the “deep integration of social governance,” effectively means unified management of population movement and security between these three regions, according to Chen Daoyin, an independent Chinese political analyst.

He views this as a move driven by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)'s stability maintenance efforts, which would require the consolidation of the existing systems and comprehensive surveillance, potentially involving the transfer of Hong Kong residents' personal files and data to mainland China.

“One crucial aspect of governance integration is the early detection and control of factors that could impact stability,” he told Radio Free Asia.

“They will treat Hong Kong and Macao residents the same as mainland residents. To achieve this, they need to access your basic data as an individual. Through digitized management of ID cards, your biometric information is stored in the public security’s population database, just like mainland residents.

“They also aim to control your social relationship networks and more, advancing step by step. For Hong Kong and Macao, especially Hong Kong, [this is] to prevent the possibility of a second anti-extradition protest movement.”

Independent commentator and columnist Cai Shenkun provided an economic perspective on the new policy, pointing to the fact that Hong Kong and Macao residents previously enjoyed preferential treatment beyond ordinary Chinese nationals.

“Since the reform and opening-up, foreign investment attracted by the mainland is mainly from Hong Kong, which accounted for as much as 70 percent of the total,” he wrote in a Nov. 22 post on X, formerly Twitter.

“In 2019, mainland China set a historic record in utilizing foreign capital, with Hong Kong capital representing 70.9 percent. In 2018, mainland China attracted $128.46 billion in foreign investment, with Hong Kong capital reaching $96.01 billion, accounting for 71.13 percent. This underscores that becoming a global financial center is not an achievement that can be replaced overnight or designated to a single city other than Hong Kong.

Mr. Cai argued that it was precisely due to Hong Kong's unique status that [former CCP leader] Deng Xiaoping promised to maintain its political system unchanged for 50 years.

“With the full implementation of the National Security Law in Hong Kong and the rapid ‘mainlandization’ of Hong Kong and Macao, they no longer possess any institutional advantages compared to cities like Guangzhou and Shenzhen.

“The unified identity verification for residents of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area effectively brings Hong Kong and Macao compatriots under Guangdong’s jurisdiction, bringing an end to the special treatment they once enjoyed.”