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Tencent's Ma offers vision of 'Bay Area' of China

Hong Kong's resistance seen as hurdle

Tencent Chairman Pony Ma Huateng at a news conference on Friday. (Photo by Akira Kodaka)

BEIJING -- Pony Ma Huateng, chairman of Chinese internet giant Tencent Holdings, said on Friday that he envisions the creation of a large technology hub linking innovation, manufacturing and finance across three distinct areas of the country's south.

Ma said a cross-border supervisory body would be needed to develop innovative technology across the three currently independent administrative regions: Guangdong Province, Hong Kong and Macau.

"Hong Kong is well-placed in the finance and services sectors, Shenzhen [in Guangdong Province] in innovative technology, and the Pearl River Delta in manufacturing high-end, intelligent products," explained Ma, who compared the proposed hub to existing ones in Los Angeles, New York and Tokyo. He said the three "Bay Areas" contributed 3.43%, 8.36% and 33% of the gross domestic product of their respective countries.

The Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, expected to be completed by the end of this year, provides an impetus to greater integration among the three regions in the proposed hub, said Ma.

But Hong Kong's resistance to closer ties with the mainland could be a bottleneck to the grand vision, Ma suggested. "The collaborative dynamics between Shenzhen and the Pearl River Delta are pretty strong ... but that with Hong Kong is rather weak," said Ma, when asked about what is undercutting the project.

"I hope Hong Kong could adopt a more liberal attitude toward the development," said Ma, who felt that the city has become less welcoming to foreign professionals in the past few years, and that the existing border-control system was cumbersome to a lot of his staff traveling between Hong Kong and Shenzhen often.

The proposal was one of the seven that he made to the Chinese government ahead of the general assembly of the National People's Congress set to kick off Sunday. Ma is a deputy in the largely rubber-stamp legislature. The National People's Congress, and the government's advisory body, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, hold parallel meetings every March.

'Great firewall of China'

Tencent operates China's largest social media network. Though a dominant player in the mainland's mobile market, the company has been struggling to establish a foothold in Hong Kong and Taiwan as a late market entrant.

Its instant-messaging application QQ has been widely suspected of aiding in censorship and surveillance by the Chinese authorities against netizens.

"The QQ application, owned by the firm Tencent, allows the authorities to monitor in detail exchanges between internet users by seeking certain keywords and expressions. The author of each message can be identified by his or her user number. The QQ application is effectively a giant Trojan horse," said Reporters without Borders.

Ma said the "great firewall of China" is likely to remain in place in the near future. "The pace of internet development is fast, while regulations tend to lag behind," said Ma. "Complete absence of supervision is an impossibility."

Ma said his company works closely with China's Ministry of Public Security to protect the personal information of users as internet crime rises.

Meanwhile, the company has been mired in a lawsuit launched by Chinese technology company Gmedia in the mainland and Hong Kong over its use of two-dimensional code and logo technology in products such as WeChat and Weixin.

Gmedia claimed that the technology was its design and Tencent had infringed on its intellectual property rights. It also criticized Tencent for invalidating Gmedia's patent.

"In December 2016, the Patent Re-examination Board of the [State Intellectual Property Office] handed down a decision invalidating Gmedia Beijing's PRC Patent just 14 working days after the oral hearing," said Gmedia, seeking "an injunction and damages."

"We pay attention to intellectual property, which is our profession," said Ma, in response to Gmedia's allegations.

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