New HE and technology park for ‘disputed territory’
Shenzhen and Hong Kong in early January agreed to jointly set up the technology park in the so-called ‘Lok Ma Chau Loop’ – a part of Hong Kong which has lain vacant for several decades, in part due to uncertainty over its territorial status.
In 1997, China straightened the Shenzhen River which forms the border, pushing the frontier northwards. The 87 acre loop area that was previously in China became accessible only from Hong Kong and was deemed to be part of Hong Kong territory.
However, Shenzhen in China’s Southern Guangdong province reportedly insisted for many years that if Hong Kong wanted to develop the land – almost a decade ago a higher education hub to attract international branch campuses was mooted in Hong Kong – it would have to pay rent to the city of Shenzhen.
According to the plan drawn up by both sides and announced in Hong Kong on 3 January, agreement was reached by both sides for higher education and cultural innovation facilities to be built “to support the development of high technology and innovation”.
Shenzhen authorities additionally said this month the park would attract “scientific research bases, the world’s top universities, research institutes and enterprises”.
“The world’s top universities would be invited to set up branches,” the official Shenzhen Daily said.
While officially in Hong Kong, the new park is also part of Shenzhen’s plan to become an important higher education and research centre within China.
A Shenzhen government document quoted by China’s official Xinhua news agency in October 2016 said the border city was intending to become a centre of higher education in the next decade, with colleges and universities to be increased to 20 by 2025 – doubling the current number of institutions and increasing the number of full-time students in Shenzhen to 200,000.
Major Hong Kong universities including the University of Hong Kong or HKU, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology or HKUST, and the Chinese University of Hong Kong or CUHK have said they are keen to collaborate with Chinese institutions within the park. HKUST already has a research institute in Shenzhen.
Both Hong Kong and China are pursuing plans to support technology and innovation to drive their economies, while also collaborating more closely in research.
Fanny Law, chairperson of the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation, which will set up a subsidiary company with board members from both Hong Kong and China to build and operate the new park, said: "An innovation and technology ecosystem is taking shape in Hong Kong. The number of innovation and technology companies is on the increase, creating a strong demand for research and development space and offices.”
She added that the area “is about four times the current size of the [existing] Hong Kong science park. It will provide land for the long-term development of innovation and technology, thereby enhancing Hong Kong's attraction to the mainland, overseas technology enterprises and research institutions."
HKU has said it would facilitate joint research with China. CUHK said the area would combine Hong Kong’s world-class research capability and Shenzhen’s emerging predominance within China in the area of high technology. CUHK already operates a Sino-foreign university campus in Shenzhen in collaboration with Shenzhen University.
Shenzhen already has a science and technology park which includes research centres set up by a large number of foreign universities. The city also hosts the headquarters of Chinese technology giants Huawei and Tencent.
In 2011 China’s National People’s Congress approved an agreement between Guangdong province and Hong Kong to cooperate across the border as a ‘world-class economic region’.
However, border control issues have still to be worked out, with academics in Hong Kong noting that this was played down in a speech by Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying earlier this month announcing the joint endeavour.
Leung said: "The establishment of the Hong Kong-Shenzhen Innovation and Technology Park has at the same time resolved the land-use issue of the Loop arising from the Shenzhen River draining works back in 1997."
Hong Kong’s Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, who signed the agreement in January with Shenzhen Vice-mayor Ai Xuefeng, said the agreement recognised Hong Kong’s ownership of the loop since 1997. She suggested the Hong Kong government might have to provide identity documents “to authorised parties to allow Chinese citizens who work in the new area to enter Hong Kong”.
Critics in Hong Kong’s legislative council have questioned the need for Shenzhen to be involved in the park which clearly falls within Hong Kong’s borders and whose development will be predominantly funded by Hong Kong. The funding of the project is expected to come before the legislature in March or April.
According to Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post newspaper, it could face obstacles in seeking funding approval from legislators if the Hong Kong government does not better explain how the development will benefit Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong government has already paid for extensive environmental and engineering studies on the site that was used to dump mud dredged from the Shenzhen River contaminated by toxic metals and other hazardous materials.
Planning and surveying sector legislator Edward Yiu said Hong Kong had earlier envisioned a ‘university town’ at the site, with the focus on higher education institutions, and said he wanted to know from the Hong Kong authorities why that specific objective had been changed without consultation.