The top legislature began deliberations on Tuesday on a draft decision on whether to grant the Macao Special Administrative Region the right to use Hengqin Port in Zhuhai.
If passed, the port — located in southern Guangdong province off Macao's southwestern border — will be able to take advantage of one-off immigration and customs clearance with people only required to undergo one border check while traversing checkpoints in both Macao and Zhuhai.
The new arrangement will largely boost the connectivity among Macao and other cities in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, optimize the city's transportation planning and grant more resources to land-scarce Macao, according to experts.
The draft decision is among bills submitted to the bimonthly session of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress for review.
Hengqin Port connects neighboring Zhuhai with Lotus Port in Macao. The draft decision proposes moving Lotus Port's immigration, quarantine and customs check facilities to Hengqin Port to simplify operations.
The draft addresses the range of the proposed extended area and notes that the Macao SAR will possess the right to utilize Macao's port zone at Hengqin and extended areas on lease until 2049.
The lease can at that time be extended with approval from the NPC Standing Committee.
The potential change came after a proposal in August 2018, which was later approved in principle by the State Council.
The current condition at the ports can no longer meet the needs of rapid personnel exchanges and trade backed by the Bay Area development, said Deng Zhonghua, deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council, who explained the draft decision to the session.
To complete the move, jurisdictional authorization must be implemented, Deng said.
Tourism, the city's key industry, will also benefit. Jason Ni, executive director of research, planning and strategy for Wynn Macau and Wynn Palace, said the new port, with greater capacity and better boundary-crossing efficiency, could help attract more visitors to Macao through Hengqin and drive development of Macao's leisure and entertainment industry.
He said hotels could be built in the future on Hengqin Island for visitors to Macao, increasing overall tourism capacity and facilitating the transformation and optimism of the city's flagship industry.
Bay Area push
The merged Hengqin Port will facilitate more convenient exchanges between Zhuhai and Macao and accelerate development of the Bay Area under its one-off immigration and customs clearance policy, said a senior official from the Directorate of Policy Studies and Regional Development Services under the Macao SAR government. He requested anonymity.
Noting that the development plan for the Bay Area attaches great importance to expediting infrastructural connectivity, the official said the upgraded port could promote exchanges between Macao, Zhuhai and other cities in Guangdong by boosting travel, investment, trade and business cooperation.
According to the Zhuhai government, the new port is capable of handling 80 million passenger trips and some 2.65 million vehicle trips a year.
Kou Kun-pang, president of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport in Macao, said the new Hengqin Port could alleviate traffic pressure in north Macao and facilitate the city's logistics and tourism development.
The old Hengqin Port has been open since the Macao SAR's return to the motherland in 1999, while the usage rate is relatively low comparing to Gongbei Port, which is the busiest land port connecting Zhuhai, Kou said.
As the new port will designate areas to be under Macao's jurisdiction, Kou said it will allow the SAR government to customize land resources reserved for logistics and passenger distribution in the port.
Kou added it will help attract goods and people from Guangdong to southern Macao and facilitate development of relevant industries.
Moreover, saying that the port will reserve land for Macao to construct extension of its light rail network to Hengqin, Kou added that it could help connect the SAR with railways on the Chinese mainland, and accelerate the city's integration with the Bay Area.