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June 10th, 2011:

HK needs to coordinate with PRD region airports

10 June 2011 04-Jul-11

The nine cities in the Pearl River Delta (PRD) region are undergoing a process of integration or
metropolitanization under the active intervention of all levels of government. Originally it was
planned that economic integration of the PRD cities would essentially be achieved in 2020.
Guangdong province’s 12th Five-year Plan approved in March this year moved forward the
target date for regional economic integration to 2015.
This may have been encouraged by the smooth progress of the merger of Guangzhou and
Foshan, which has been regarded as the first example of economic integration in the region with
a demonstrative effect on other inter-city integration processes. If the target is accomplished, by
2015 we should see the rudimentary form of a regional metropolis centering on Guangzhou.
As planned, the PRD regional network of railways – inter-provincial high speed, inter-city fast
speed, and local subways (400 kilometers of railway lines in total in Guangzhou, Shenzhen,
Foshan and Dongguan) will also be completed and in operation by 2015. Thus there will not
just be institutional changes, but also socio-physical changes in time-space compression. The
Guangzhou-centric region will be a one-hour socio-economic zone for a resident population of
40-50 million.
But so far PRD economic integration has not been incorporated in Hong Kong. Through the
cooperation framework agreement signed between the two governments of Hong Kong and
Guangdong, however, there is a platform for integrative cooperation. This will be more
important for Hong Kong than Guangdong as the PRD will be much larger than Hong Kong
with a per capita GDP by 2015 of more than $20,000 (in Guangzhou and Shenzhen at least) and
has an economic dynamism that is envied by most countries in the world.
Given the scale and economic dynamism of the PRD, the importance of Hong Kong to the
region has declined substantially and the whole region could do without Hong Kong. But Hong
Kong cannot survive without the PRD. It needs it for water, food, daily necessities, corporations
for IPOs, and money for shares in the stock market, properties in the real estate market and
goods in the consumer market.
And the Guangzhou-centric PRD could do without the Hong Kong international airport. The
Guangzhou airport is rapidly expanding its international destinations and it has many flights to
emerging markets that Hong Kong does not have. Everyone now knows very well that emerging
markets represent the future. The advanced economies appear to be going into a general decline
because of deindustrialization and ageing population. The Hong Kong International Airport’s
overconcentration in flights to the advanced economies would prove to be a mistaken or too
short-sighted strategy.
If we take the PRD as being akin to Greater London, then the Guangzhou airport could be
compared with Heathrow Airport and Shenzhen could well be Gatwick Airport if its trend of
adding international flights continues. If Greater London can support five airports, the PRD
should be able to do so as well in the coming years as they continue to develop. In such a
scenario, Hong Kong airport may be incorporated into the regional system to take over the role
of Shenzhen and take on a supportive role to Guangzhou’s airport, which is planned to have five
We all know that air space over the PRD is rather limited. By adding new runways without a
correspondent increase in the use of air space would not result in any significant increase in
flights. The existing five airports in the region (or seven if the two smaller ones in Foshan and
Huizhou are added into the mix) with a total number of operating runways at eight (with the
ninth now under construction in Guangzhou) have already caused congestion and delays.
Without coordination the three major cities in the region – Guangzhou, Hong Kong and
Shenzhen – are each going their own way to build in the coming years an additional two
runways for Guangzhou, and one each for Hong Kong and Shenzhen. The problem of
congestion would multiply and all airports would suffer.
If Hong Kong is not included in the regional system, the third runway in Hong Kong may not be
given priority over the other runways in Guangzhou and Shenzhen. Hong Kong also does not
have a priority in the allocation of air space time. The only viable option for Hong Kong is
therefore its incorporation into the regional system and to ask for better coordination among the
five airports.
I believe that if Hong Kong is willing, the central and provincial governments will welcome
Hong Kong airport to serve as the Gatwick for Guangzhou. At the same time, the Shenzhen
airport could very well serve as the second airport of Hong Kong. There will still be a need for a
third runway at Hong Kong airport, but it should be the next runway to be constructed in the
region with the full blessing of the central and provincial governments to ensure that it is placed
ahead of Guangzhou and Shenzhen. Hong Kong needs to cooperate with Guangzhou and see
itself as part of the greater PRD metropolis, not as a competitor to the emerging PRD