As if Tencent’s WeChat wasn’t already an integral part of consumer life and the tourism industry in China, a new Tencent proposal aims to make the app even more important for Chinese travelers. Tencent and the Chinese government want to make certain key travel documents, namely Exit-Entry Permit for Travelling to and from Hong Kong and Macau, directly linked to an individuals WeChat account to streamline travel between the mainland and Hong Kong and Macau by creating a digital pass system. Currently, Chinese citizens sill need to apply for a permit enter the Special Administrative Regions (S.A.R.) of Hong Kong and Macau that functions similarly to a passport. This proposal would link this document, along with other necessary documents, to a user’s WeChat account through a mini-program on the WeChat platform, a sort of app within an app.
Tencent wants Chinese citizens to be able to use a WeChat account linked to their official travel documents to enter Hong Kong and Macau
WeChat has already been working on plans to give WeChat a function much like the Chinese Resident Identity Cards, which are necessary for Chinese citizens to check in to hotels and open bank accounts, among other things. The WeChat electronic ID, which is still being tested in a pilot program in Guangdong, could be used in lieu of a physical ID for official functions.
Hong Kong and Macau remain the two biggest overseas destinations for Chinese tourists, despite the fact that they are still legally administrative regions of China. Being able to use WeChat instead of physical travel documents could undoubtedly ease the physical entry process into Hong Kong or Macau.
However, it’s doesn’t seem that the new electronic WeChat permit, which Tencent is working on with Chinese authorities, will allow Chinese travelers to forgo the need to apply for a physical entry/exit permit for traveling to either Hong Kong or Macau or apply for exit endorsements, which function like a visa to enter Hong Kong or Macau with the permit.
This new Tencent project is part of a great effort by Chinese authorities to create a “Greater Bay Area,” by promoting the integration the major metropolitan areas of the Pearl River Delta: Hong Kong, Macau, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Foshan, Zhongshan, Zhaoqing, Dongguan, Huizhou, and Jiangmen.
The Chinese government wants to both make the Pearl River Delta a more important, global economic hub, but also further integrate Hong Kong and Macau with the mainland
The goal is to create a leading economic hub. Of course, a secondary goal of this is to further integrate Hong Kong and Macau economically and socially with the Chinese Mainland and play down the political and legal separations. Previously, the Exit-Entry Permit was nearly identical to a passport, now the permit is in the form of a credit card-sized ID, and soon Chinese citizens could simply use their smartphone instead.
Along with the new pass system, Chinese authorities have constructed the massive 31-mile (50 km) Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge that stretches over and under the waters that separate Macau/Zhuhai and Hong Kong. The bridge is scheduled to open in July.
For at least some Chinese travelers, the new bridge project will make Hong Kong and Macau more accessible than ever before. The physical access for millions of Chinese citizens to enter these destinations will be improved, particularly for Chinese citizens living to the west of Hong Kong across the bay in the metropolitan areas of Zhongshan and Zhuhai. For those cities, the bridge will provide direct driving access to Hong Kong. For Chinese citizens living in Shenzhen and Dongguan, the bridge will have little impact on their ability to reach Macau, as they will still need to get endorsements to pass through Hong Kong to reach Macau via the bridge. Driving around the entirety of the bay will likely still be easier.
As for the pass system, it isn’t clear if the new electronic pass system will make it easier for Chinese citizens to enter Hong Kong and Macau. Authorities in Hong Kong and Macau still maintain a large degree of autonomy over the requirements for Chinese citizens and foreign nationals within the framework of the “One Country, Two Systems” policy and the new electronic pass system would not ease requirements for Chinese citizens to enter Hong Kong or Macau.
If the new WeChat, digital pass system will affect the current process for applying for permission to enter Hong Kong and Macau is unknown
Moreover, the new system will likely not change the fact that Chinese citizens still need to apply for exit endorsements in person at an office of the Exit and Entry Administration. Of course, being able to tie both an Entry-Exit Permit and an endorsement to one’s WeChat account may at least make the process of crossing the border less of a hassle.
The Tencent-Chinese government partnership has larger implications that extend outside of the context of the Greater Bay Area project. Tencent isn’t the only company working on a similar electronic ID system. Tencent rival Alibaba is also working on making Alipay a digital substitute for the Resident Identity Card. This card, as previously noted, is needed to open bank accounts, obtain driver’s licenses, book hotel rooms, etc. Much like Tencent’s plan for a WeChat linked exit-entry permit, Alibaba hopes its Alipay ID system will be rolled out and allow users to fully replace a physical ID card with their digital ID. Both of these projects underscore how integral both Alibaba and Tencent are in the lives of consumers, but also their close ties with Chinese authorities.