TENCENT Holdings Ltd. Chairman Ma Huateng called on the Chinese government to introduce an ID system that would link multiple sets of travel documents with a mobile phone as part of a plan to boost regional trade between Hong Kong and the mainland.
China’s second-richest man said new technology systems and laws could let Hong Kong residents make electronic payments and cross the border more easily. Ma was speaking at a news conference in Beijing before the country’s legislative council convenes in the capital to set the year’s agenda. He was joined by fellow tech billionaires, such as Baidu Inc. founder Robin Li, who expressed a willingness to list their companies’ shares in China.
“It’s still very complicated and we’d need to make it work with the customs systems but from a technology point of view we can do it,” Ma said. “We have been talking to the chief executive in Hong Kong for quite some time about a number of these issues, including the electronic ID.”
Tencent, whose company is best known for the social-media phenomenon WeChat, is headquartered in Shenzhen, just over the border from Hong Kong. While championing greater technology innovation and prosperity, the plan is also a lightning rod in Hong Kong, a self-governing city that’s becoming increasingly wary of political meddling from Beijing.
Ma has advocated the integration of the prosperous Pearl River Delta region, saying Hong Kong, Macau and Guangdong province can be more like the multi-city San Francisco Bay Area technology hub in the US if it gets easier to move around. Hong Kong and Macau have retained their own immigration policies since the British and Portuguese handovers in 1997 and 1999, respectively, and have busy border crossings with the mainland.
Ma suggested last June that Hong Kong and Chinese immigration and customs officials could share locations. Critics responded by saying the idea violated the “ one-country, two-systems” framework.
The billionaire said some Hong Kong citizens fear an excessive flood of talent from mainland China, while other difficulties include standardizing tax benefits. He said a worker-swap system, where, for example, companies could only hire a tech worker if a local tech worker went abroad, could mitigate those concerns. He also proposes tax benefits to attract high-end talent to companies in two Pearl River Delta areas—Qianhai and Hengqin.
“It’s a little bit difficult to solve these problems for the time being,” he said. “If we were to look at tax incentives, questions would be asked: ‘Why do only Guangdong people get this, why not others?’”
“And if migration from abroad increases too much, will that pressure the job market in Hong Kong? We’re thinking about these issues.”
Ma also proposed policies to enhance security for online financial services. Companies should work more closely with regulators to crack down on illegal activities, he said last Saturday.
He also advocated mechanisms that would protect underage people on the Internet and use games to teach important life lessons. Tencent has been criticized by state media for encouraging gaming addiction.
Speaking on the sidelines of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, Baidu’s Li and Sogou Inc. CEO Wang Xiaochuan said they wanted to pursue Chinese listings. Beijing officials are said to be anxious to have the country’s largest corporations—particularly in tech—publicly traded on mainland exchanges. A number of major companies are expected to float this year, including Xiaomi Corp. and Tencent’s music division.
“We’ve always had a dream to be listed back in China,” Li said. “As soon as we can list we will.”