The media in mainland China reported that 21 provincial governments had listed the development of 5G business as one of their 2019 priorities. Concurrently, the China State Council announced the Outline Development Plan for the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area on February 18th. I believe the two events happening back-to-back was no coincidence and that they are part of the overall 5G disposition planned by the Central Government.
China is in possession of the most cutting-edge 5G technology and has meticulously devised the “Made in China 2025” plan. It is determined to introduce the technology to the global market and realize its full potential. But the plan touched some nerves, including that of Donald Trump, the President of the United States. Upon taking office, President Trump ordered a series of official measures. The bullying tactics include threatening trade war with China, and heightened scrutiny of Chinese global communication giants such as ZTE Corporations and Huawei. In doing so, President Trump seeks to halt China’s further advancement in 5G technology, stop China from taking over the global communications market and thus contain a threat to the United States’ position as the leader of world economy. Since being obstructed from overseas markets has serious impacts on China’s technological and economic developments, the Central Government is desperately searching for alternative solutions.
As the thriving internet industry attests, the free market is essential to the success of innovation and technology industries. Despite wide ranging risks such as false information, data theft, and infringement on privacy and so on, the internet is now used by people all over the world. No one can entirely break away from technology and its applications, and that includes China. In a world penetrated by the Internet of Things (IoT), the application of 5G technology will generate similar effects to those brought by the internet industry. Tech economists have pointed out that whoever controls 5G will dominate the world economy. Therefore, the purpose for China’s attempt to enter the global 5G market is no different from the United States’ when it promoted the internet two decades ago. The move only indicates that China has a vision for its future economy. But the United States, with its eyes set on the 5G market, has taken measures to obstruct China’s advancement in the area.
Creating domestic demands
Due to the suppression by the United States and its allies, China is forced to curb its expansion in the European and American 5G markets and take on a different approach. In an attempt to avoid over-reliance on the Western markets, China seeks to bolster the internal market by creating domestic demand. I believe that this is a wise move. China has a huge market with heavy demands. This is demonstrated by the fast growing mobile technology industry in the past decade, e.g. mobile commerce applications such as online shopping and mobile payments have proliferated nationwide. On top of that, China’s state-led economic model makes it far easier and more efficient to create a market for 5G technology in the mainland than in other parts of the world. As the market matures, the Western countries will compete to enter into the market. By then it will be hard for them to resist the 5G standard already in use.
The newly released Outline Development Plan for the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area has declared 5G technology as one of the key development domains. The plan is closely connected to the construction of the Greater Bay Area. The Hong Kong SAR Government should actively seek out ways to build on our strengths and work with the Provincial Government of Guangdong to promote the 5G economy.
The governments of Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macao should work together to construct a “Greater Bay Area Smart City Test Base” in the Loop located on the Hong Kong-Shenzhen border. Hong Kong has an edge in urban planning, and can contribute much to a Smart City Showcase Area where IoT technology can be widely deployed in support of a sharing economy and innovative spirit. Another example would be a Smart Medicine Showcase Area, which takes advantage of Hong Kong’s superb medical services and puts advanced technologies such as real-time video consultations into usage. This would further promote the integration of the two places, allowing Hong Kong retirees living in Guangdong to enjoy real-time Hong Kong medical services through 5G technology.
Throughout the years, Hong Kong’s strengths have helped promote China’s development and exploration of global opportunities. There may be hindrance in China’s attempt to reach the global 5G market, but the huge internal demand in the Greater Bay Area, combined with Hong Kong’s unique role as a world city can help China find a way out.
Professor Wong Kam Fai, Associate Dean (External Affairs), Faculty of Engineering, The Chinese University of Hong Kong