Most people in Hong Kong have their ancestral roots in the Guangdong Province with strong links at the village and kinship levels. We also share a common dialect, the unique Cantonese dialect, which is not spoken anywhere else in China. Such close cultural proximity and historical affiliations between Hong Kong and Guangdong provide an affectionate and powerful impetus to the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Bay Area (the ’Great Bay Area’) initiative (’Initiative’).
The Great Bay Area consists of nine cities in the Guangdong Province including Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Huizhou, Dongguan, Foshan, Zhuhai, Jiangmen, Zhaoqing and Zhongshan, in addition to two special administrative regions, Hong Kong and Macao.
To fully uitilise the huge potential of these cities, the visionary plan of consolidating the distinctive strengths that each city has and facilitating their complementarity for each other surfaced in as early as 2008. The State Council adopted “The Framework on Development and Reform Planning for the Pearl River Delta Region (2008-2020)” in 2008. The Framework advocated close co-operation, integration and common development of the cities in the Pearl River Delta Region with Hong Kong and Macao aiming to build the most dynamic and internationally competitive city cluster in the Asia- Pacific Region.
Since then, the liberalisation measures opening up the Mainland market to Hong Kong are usually first implemented on a pilot basis in the Guangdong Province. For instance, the relaxation of the restrictions on Mainland law firms that can form associations with Hong Kong law firms in the Mainland under Supplement VI to CEPA were first applied to Mainland law firms in the Guangdong Province in 2009.
2010 witnessed a new phase of Hong Kong-Guangdong cooperation. The Framework Agreement on Hong Kong-Guangdong Cooperation was signed in April 2010. Having monitored the development closely, the Law Society conducted a study to evaluate the role of the Hong Kong legal profession in the development of the Pearl River Delta Region. In April 2011, we published a Report titled “Study on the Prospects of Development of Legal Practice by Hong Kong Law Firms in the Pearl River Delta Region”.
The vision of an integration of the cities in the Pearl River Delta Region gradually developed into the concept of the Great Bay Area, referencing to the development of the San Francisco Bay and the Tokyo Bay. In the 13th Five Year Plan for the Economic and Social Development of China announced in 2016, special mention was given to the Great Bay Area. The Initiative has been elevated to a national strategy encouraging Hong Kong to play an important role in promoting cooperation in the Greater Pearl River Delta Region and advance the development of the Great Bay Area and major trans-provincial cooperation platforms.
The Framework Agreement on Deepening Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Cooperation in the Development of the Bay Area signed among the Hong Kong Government, the Macao Government, the National Development and Reform Commission and the Guangdong Provincial Government on 1 July 2017 signified another milestone in the joint development of the Great Bay Area. It set out clearly the objectives and key areas of co-operation among the various parties.
The cooperation in the legal service sector in the Great Bay Area was manifest in the increasing collaboration between Hong Kong and Mainland law firms in the Guangdong Province. As of November 2017, 11 associations in the form of partnership between Mainland and Hong Kong law firms had been approved with 7 in Shenzhen, 2 in Guangzhou and 2 in Zhuhai. 12 barristers and 2 solicitors were retained as legal consultants by Mainland law firms in the Guangdong Province.
Further, the Law Society is discussing with the Guangdong Lawyers Association to establish a joint meeting system for lawyers associations in the Bay Area to coordinate efforts in promoting and expanding the legal service sector and to conduct regular exchanges on issues of common interest pertaining to the development within the Great Bay Area. The Law Society is also planning visits to the other cities in the Great Bay Area. The coming visit to Guangzhou, Foshan and Zhaoqing is tentatively planned for May.
The frequent collaboration between Hong Kong lawyers and Mainland lawyers is not only confined to professionally related matters. To foster deeper mutual understanding between lawyers in the Mainland, Hong Kong and Macao jurisdictions with the Great Bay Area, the Law Society has also been creating opportunities for interaction in various social and recreational activities. The Law Society takes turn with the Guangdong Lawyers Association and the Macao Bar Association to organise the Annual Sports Meet for lawyers in the three jurisdictions. During the Law Society’s annual Cross Straits Four Regions Young Lawyers Forum, we will also organise social events including reception and visits for participants from Hong Kong, Macao and the Mainland to connect with each other socially.
The clear direction set by the national strategy in relation to the development of the Great Bay Area has driven rapid economic growth. Without going into detailed economic data, a simple comparison between the data collated in the Law Society’s Report on the Pearl River Delta Region in 2011 and the current statistics is telling. Within a span of 7 years, the number of lawyers in the cities in the Pearl River Delta Region or the Great Bay Area has nearly doubled or even tripled: Guangzhou (+79 %), Shenzhen (+100 %), Foshan (+130 %), Donguan (+100 %), Zhuhai (+88 %), Zhongshan (+174 %). The increase in economic activities in the Region has created a huge demand for legal services and the number of lawyers has been growing at an annual rate of as high as 25% to meet the demand.
Further, within roughly the same period, the number of Mainland lawyers registered as foreign lawyers and the number of Mainland law firms in Hong Kong have also increased substantially by 72% and 160% respectively. The Mainland has replaced the US as the top jurisdiction among foreign law firms in Hong Kong.
As the Initiative progresses, it is expected that more liberalisation measures will be introduced to enhance the integration and complementarity of the strengths of each city in the Great Bay Area. The Law Society will continue to work closely with the relevant Mainland and Hong Kong authorities as well as the legal professional bodies to advance the appropriate measures for the benefit of our profession.