Victor Fung: Mining the Pearl River Delta

No link in Greater China is more important than the umbilical cord that joins Hong Kong to the Pearl River Delta. And no one has done more to strengthen this connection than Victor Fung. His family's company, Li & Fung, one of Asia's leading trading houses, spurred development of the Delta by encouraging Hong Kong clothing producers to relocate across the border. And as chairman of the influential Hong Kong Trade Development Council from 1991 through 2000, Fung nurtured strong ties on both sides of the border.

Now, the former Harvard Business School professor is helping to knit Hong Kong and the Delta together in other ways. As chairman of Airport Authority of Hong Kong, Fung, 57, has fostered newfound cooperation among airports in Hong Kong and four cities in Guangdong province--Macao, Guangzhou, Zhuhai, and Shenzhen. The goal: to get the five airports, all within a 50-kilometer radius, to work together on everything from freight handling to security. The result, he hopes, will be less duplication of effort, less congestion, and better safety. "We might fight for passengers among ourselves, but let's sell the entire region," Fung suggests. "Let's create a bigger pie."

Fung is starting with cargo service. Already, contractors based at Hong Kong's airport pick up freight, mostly by ferry, from 22 cities around the Delta; they deliver the goods to a dock located on the airport grounds. Fung hopes to do the same thing with passengers soon, giving Hong Kong an advantage over its Delta rivals in attracting lucrative international travelers. And the Airport Authority is keen to develop a tight relationship with the closest airport--30 km to the north, in Shenzhen--perhaps by taking an ownership stake.

Victor Fung
Fung is involved in smoothing and extending other transportation links, too. He wants to ease traffic jams at Shenzhen--one of the world's busiest border points--and boost commerce by making it easier for goods to move through the region. Fung also enthusiastically backs a proposed 29-km bridge that would link Hong Kong with Zhuhai and Macao, on the western side of the Delta. And he's pushing for roads from there into less-developed Guangxi Province and beyond. Beijing's focus on developing that region creates "a huge opportunity for Hong Kong to take [products from] southwest China to the sea," says Fung.

The Pearl River Delta is already China's--and the world's--light-manufacturing workshop. But to build on that strength, says Fung, the snarls that still complicate commerce in the region need to be untangled.

By Mark L. Clifford in Hong Kong

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.