The Greater Bay Area: a new kind of megalopolis

The Global Institute For Tomorrow launched a new programme this year titled the 2019 Greater Bay Area Young Leaders Programme, targeted to talent in the Pearl River Delta region. The “Greater Bay Area” has been a constant reference in both China and Hong Kong’s plans for the region.

However, those based outside of South China may have little idea of what the “Greater Bay Area” is referring to — and what it represents for the 66 million people that live around the Pearl River Delta.

What is the Greater Bay Area?


The Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, also known as the “Greater Bay Area”, is the designation given to the urban areas surrounding the Pearl River Delta. The region is perhaps China’s wealthiest and most-developed region as the first area of China to be opened to outside investment as the country opened to the rest of the world in the Eighties and Nineties.

Decades of growth and investment have transformed the region’s economy. No longer just focused on cheap manufacturing, the region is now the home of China’s exploding technology sector and a hub for high-end manufacturing. The urban economies in the Greater Bay Area now cover approximately 1.5 trillion USD, equivalent to the economies of Australia, Russia or South Korea.

Urbanisation in developed countries has led to the rise of urban agglomerations, sometimes called “megalopolises”: networks of cities connected by high-quality infrastructure. The Taiheiyō Belt in Japan stretches from Tokyo to Osaka, while the Northeastern Corridor in the United States stretches from Boston through New York to Washington DC. The Boston-Washington corridor also reveals how cities can end up specialising in certain sectors: Boston in academia, R&D and technology; New York in media and finance; and Washington DC in public and quasi-public sector work.

However, few urban regions show the level of economic diversity as the Pearl River Delta. The Greater Bay Area includes the following cities:

  • Hong Kong: A special administrative region and former British colony that is a global financial centre with a respected legal system, world-class institutions and a business-friendly regulatory framework.
  • Shenzhen: A Special Economic Zone that is now a major Chinese financial and technological hub, and the home to major Chinese multinationals like ZTE, Huawei, Tencent, Vanke, and Ping An.
  • Macao: A Special Administrative Region and former Portuguese colony that is a global tourist destination and a potential link with the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking world.
  • Guangzhou: The provincial capital and China’s third-most important city after Beijing and Shanghai.
  • Dongguan: A major manufacturing centre for electronics, communications and high-end technology, and a large recipient of foreign direct investment.
  • Zhuhai: A Special Economic Zone that is now one of China’s most popular tourist destinations and its most liveable city.

This diversity in economic focus and level of development means that cities in the GBA can specialise in different functions. For example, Hong Kong’s strengths in the financial and legal sectors would preserve its role as a safe gateway for Chinese firms trying to go global and for global firms trying to enter China. Shenzhen would provide a strong eco-system for tech start-ups. Macao and Zhuhai would attract tourist revenue from both China and the wider world. This may lead to a more integrated economy than other urban areas, as cities can specialise and reinforce each other, rather than compete for the same business.

The Greater Bay Area was first mentioned in the 13th Five-Year Plan for Economic and Social Development, released in 2016. The term was then developed further between the city governments, culminating in the “Framework Agreement on Deepening Guangdong - Hong Kong - Macao Cooperation in the Development of the Bay Area” signed in Hong Kong in July 2017. Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced the establishment of a high-level Steering Committee for the Greater Bay Area in October 2018.


At the moment, the most high-profile development in the Greater Bay Area (though initiated long before the GBA was conceived of) is the Hong Kong-Macao-Zhuhai Bridge, which on its opening in October 2018 was the longest sea-crossing on the planet.

Beijing plans to release their formal plans for the Greater Bay Area in the coming days. But several policy areas have already been highlighted by organisations in Hong Kong:

  • Innovation and technology
  • Financial Services
  • Transportation and Logistics
  • CEPA and Professional Services
  • International Legal and Dispute Resolution Services
  • Clearance Facilitation
  • Medical Services
  • Education
  • Arts, Culture and Creative Industries
  • Tourism
  • Sustainable Development
  • Youth Development

Our Greater Bay Area Young Leaders Programme was facilitated in partnership with the Global Acceleration Academy, powered by the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation. Participants were tasked with creating a new model of innovation that can highlight new social opportunities in the region: issues that can be solved through cooperation between major companies and developing start-ups.

The GBA YLP was an exciting opportunity to define a new framework in this quickly-developing region of the world. If you’re interested to find out more about the GBA YLP, please read the programme output here or please get in touch with Steven Yuen, Programme Manager for the GBA YLP, at


Rich discussion and debate, breakthrough business thinking and practical implementation beyond the programme. Content is original, thought-provoking and practical.

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