On Monday, Beijing revealed a blueprint for a metropolitan area that would integrate Hong Kong, Macao and nine cities in mainland China into a huge economic powerhouse.
The project, named "Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area", is set to cover an area of 56,000 square km with a total population of roughly 70 million, more than that of the United Kingdom, according to state-run Xinhua News Agency.
"As one of the most open and economically vibrant regions in China, the Greater Bay Area plays a significant strategic role in the overall development of the country," reads the road map.
It calls on the 11 cities to step up their cooperation in the Belt and Road Initiative, innovations and technology as well as boost infrastructural connectivity and ecological conservation.
By 2035, the Bay Area is expected to become an innovation-driven driven cluster formed around the four core cities of Guangzhou and Shenzhen, in addition to Hong Kong, the world's biggest offshore Yuan centre, and Macao, the formerly Portuguese-run port city best known as a local gambling haven.
These plans have triggered concerns among lawmakers in Hong Kong, which has enjoyed a high degree of autonomy from Beijing.
As reported by the South China Morning Post, Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu, who leads the pro-democracy Civic Party, said the drafting process lacked transparency. "Hongkongers, who will be most affected, have never been consulted," he was quoted as saying.
His comments were echoed by Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai, who claimed that the Hong Kong government has not been protective enough and that the Greater Bay Area project would benefit Hong Kong's neighbours more than the city itself.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said, in response, that her government had helped draft the plan and thanked Beijing "for placing importance on the views of the Hong Kong government".
"The development of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area is not only a new attempt to break new ground in the country's pursuit of opening up on all fronts in a new era, but also a further step in taking forward the implementation of 'one country, two systems'," a government spokesman said.
China has already stepped up its efforts towards erasing barriers with the city. Last October, Xi Jinping opened the world's longest sea bridge, which links Hong Kong and Macau to the mainland city of Zhuhai. The mega-bridge, which reportedly cost $18 billion, enabled smoother travel between the cities for cargo and passenger vehicles.
In September, Hong Kong was linked with mainland China's 25,000-kilometre high-speed rail network with the launch of the Hong Kong section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link.
It comes at a time when China is entangled in a full-blown trade war with the United States, which has escalated from tariff disputes to accusations of espionage by Chinese tech companies.
According to the Singapore-based Straits Times, Ayesha Lau, KPMG China's Managing Partner for Hong Kong, noted that Beijing has great hopes for the Bay Area plan, given that the ongoing trade war "really highlights the risk of China being isolated in the world".
"China needs more engines for economic growth. It can no longer rely on exports. It must generate more internal demand."