Internet firm Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s founder and chief executive on Monday is seeking better integration between mainland and Hong Kong, as he proposed to introduce an electronic ID system that will simplify mobile payment processes.
Tecent CEO Ma Huateng stated that citizens in the Greater Bay Area, including Hong Kong, Macau, as well as the southern Guangdong province should be able to link several sets of travel permits with their mobile phones to pay and cross the border easily.
The plan came after the Chinese government stated on Friday that Beijing is progressing with a plan for more mainland economic integration with Hong Kong and Macau. A proposal to develop the Greater Bay Area is pending approval.
Residents in Hong Kong and Macau currently have to connect their IDs to a bank account across the border before they could pay via Tencent’s WeChat Pay.
Linking IDs would help Chinese authorities monitor payments for a huge number of citizens, given China’s wariness over capital flight and cross-border money flows.
If the plan moves forward, it would allow the Shenzhen-based conglomerate gather information for its own business, including its credit-scoring system Tencent Credit, which is based on social networks, spending, and bike rentals.
It would also aid in narrowing the One-country, Two-systems gap, which is quickly disappearing into history.
Ma has called on the integration of the Greater Bay Area, saying that it could resemble the San Francisco Bay Area tech hub in the US if travelling gets easier.
The Tencent CEO had proposed in June that Hong Kong and the Chinese immigration and customs officials could share locations, but the plan was criticized, as it goes against the One-country, Two-systems rule.
Ma said the plan was still very complicated and they have to make it work with customs systems, but from a technological perspective, they can do it.
Another possible benefit of the proposal would be Tencent having more stickiness for WeChat, while China will get simpler means of keeping tabs on people in both political systems.
Over the years, WeChat has evolved from just being a messaging app to becoming an all-in-one platform for social networking, mobile payments, car-hailing, food delivery, and more.
The company is currently working on a trial system that would allow the app to store an electronic version of the national ID card, which will eventually be approved for transactions without requiring the physical card.
WeChat, marketed as Weixin in China, has recorded 1 billion monthly active users in February, as the Lunar New Year brought in more users.
The numbers were up by about 2 percent from 980 million in the third quarter of 2017.
Ma said that more than 688 million WeChat users sent or received digital versions of the hongbao during the Lunar New Year, raising the app’s users to 800 million.
Tencent had a market capitalization of $525 billion on Monday noon, surpassing social media giant Facebook Inc.’s valuation of $514 billion on Friday.
Shares of Tencent were down by 2.9 percent to HK$425.90.
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