China Announces Border 'Cooperation' Zone in Macau, Eyes High-End Chip Development

The ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has unveiled plans for a semi-conductor research and development base jointly administered by authorities in the southern province of Guangdong and the formerly Portuguese city of Macau, paving the way for a blurring of the border between the two jurisdictions.

The process will start with the establishment of a “cooperation zone” on the Macau side of Hengqin Island, to be jointly administered by Guangdong and Macau, with a CCP, police, state security police and government presence.

The aim of the zone is to fast-track semiconductor chip designs and other high-tech research and development projects including new energy, big data, artificial intelligence and biomedical industries.

In a plan for a new industrial and residential development at Hengqin, an island south of Guangdong’s Zhuhai city, just over the bridge from Macau, the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO) said greater cooperation was needed with Macau to build homes for its residents and integrate the city’s economy with that of Zhuhai and environs.

Hengqin is currently a divided island, with part of its territory leased to Macau and part still administered by Guangdong.

The Hengqin campus of the University of Macau and the Macau jurisdiction of Hengqin port are managed by the Macau Special Administrative Region government authorized by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress.

They are currently subject to Macau regulation and governance, and are separated from the mainland Chinese side by physical fences.

“By the 25th anniversary of Macau’s return to the motherland in 2024, Guangdong and Macau will have discussed, jointly built, managed, and shared systems and mechanisms to run [Hengqin] smoothly,” the HKMAO statement said.

Border disappearing

It said some Macau residents already have jobs on the Guangdong side of the fence, and there are already signs of economic integration.

“By the 30th anniversary of Macao’s return to the motherland in 2029, the cooperation zone and Macao’s economy will be highly coordinated and its regulatory regime deeply integrated,” the HKMAO said.

The plan would also support the extension of Macau’s light rail service into the Zhuhai urban rail network and nationwide rail services, it said.

Macau journalist Choi Chi Chio said it was unclear how much of the funding for the new project will come from Macau.

“Part of Hengqin is under the jurisdiction of Macau, the so-called first line, where Macau’s civil and commercial regulation holds sway,” Choi told RFA. “It’s a disguised way to weaken the differences between Hengqin and Macau.”

“This distinction will disappear at some point in the future, as will the border, and the cultural differences will disappear too,” he said. “It’s not just about whether Macau has to contribute funding; it’s about assimilation.”

Joseph Cheng, former politics lecturer at Hong Kong’s City University, said a similar scheme is being rolled out on the border between Hong Kong and mainland China, near Shenzhen.

“There are two directors of [the Hengqin] cooperation zone; the governor of Guandong and the Macau chief executive,” Cheng said. “This has never happened before.”

“But don’t forget that the Hengqin cooperation zone is run by the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area Construction Leading Group,” he said. “If this model is applied to areas of Hong Kong like Qianhai, then it will erode the roles of Hong Kong and Macau in the name of Greater Bay Area integration.”

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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