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Tencent to launch e-pass in Greater Bay Area in support of national plan

Shenzhen sits in the middle of the Greater Bay Area. Photo: VCG

Internet giant Tencent will soon launch a digital pass system to facilitate travel, mobile payment and personnel exchange in the Greater Bay Area, which the Chinese government wants to build into an integrated economic and business hub that links Hong Kong, Macau and some cities of Guangdong province.

The digital pass system, better known as the e-card identification system, is a part of Tencent's electronic identity solutions and the latest example of the company's efforts in "digitalizing China" with Internet technologies.

The e-card identification system would be launched in the Greater Bay Area in July at the earliest, allowing citizens in Hong Kong, Macau and Guangdong province to cross the border in a convenient way, Huang Tingting, head of Tencent's e-card identification system, said last week on the sidelines of a financial and technological forum co-hosted by Tencent and the Hong Kong Science and Technology Park.

Helped by the e-card identification system which is tied to the WeChat app, users can cross the border within the Greater Bay Area by simply scanning the code of a WeChat mini program and their faces at checkpoints without having to submit paper documents.

Currently in China, travelers between the mainland, Hong Kong and Macau are required to carry special travel documents even though the former British colony and the former Portuguese colony returned to the motherland in 1997 and 1999 respectively.

Tencent is in talks with the government for a permission to integrate the mainland permanent identification card, the exit-entry permit for travelling to and from Hong Kong and Macau and the permit allowing Hong Kong permanent residents to re-enter the mainland into an all-in-one virtual identification system, which is expected to be used for hotel registration, ticketing, express delivery and mobile payment in the Greater Bay Area.

The Shenzhen, Guangdong province-based company is also making preparations for the bid for a Hong Kong government project, which will allow Hong Kong residents to use a single electronic identification card to complete government and commercial transactions online by 2020.

In terms of information security, all of the user information on the e-card will be stored in the cryptographic computer system of China's Ministry of Public Security, preventing privacy breaches, said Tencent.

The upcoming launch of the e-card identification system comes after Tencent, in partnership with the Guangzhou government, started the trial operation of an electronic identification card system on the WeChat platform in December last year.

After registering on the WeChat app by inputting names and identification numbers and then scanning their faces, users can obtain an electronic identification card, which is endorsed by the Ministry of Public Security and other government agencies. The move by Tencent was hailed at the time as a milestone in digitalizing and simplifying people's daily lives.

Support to national plan

Lai Zhiming, vice president of Tencent, was quoted by domestic media as saying that the company's enthusiasm for putting into practice the e-card identification system is fueled by China's national plan to build a bay area compared to the New York and San Francisco Bay Areas as well as the Tokyo Bay Area.

Tencent hopes that the Greater Bay Area will become a "seamless entity" in the future for residents, said Lai.

The Chinese government has placed high priority on the construction of the Greater Bay Area, which brings the cities of Hong Kong, Macau, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Foshan, Zhongshan, Dongguan, Huizhou, Jiangmen and Zhaoqing under a coordinated development region, saying that the region will serve as a testing ground for the technological, economic, talent and tourist cooperation between the mainland, Hong Kong and Macau.

The connectivity of transportation infrastructure like the high-speed rail connecting Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Shenzhen will provide more opportunities for the e-card identification system to be accepted by more residents in the Greater Bay Area.

Recently, Hong Kong unveiled a three-year plan to introduce scientific and technological talents from the mainland, with a privilege of obtaining entry and work permits within two weeks, shorter than the average four weeks.

If the e-card identification system is approved, the red tape of entry permit and work visa applications is likely to be abandoned, making border crossings by talents smoother.

Petty niggling

On Tencent's part, the launch of the e-card identification system in the Greater Bay Area would contribute to the wider use of its mobile payment service WeChat Pay in Hong Kong, where it is losing ground to Alipay, a similar mobile payment app operated by Alibaba Group's financial unit Ant Financial.

Speaking at the financial and technological forum, Lai admitted it, saying that once the e-card identification system is popularized in Hong Kong, Tencent’s mobile payment service would become more acceptable among Hong Kong residents, who are inclined to complete online payments through near-field communication machines.

During a recent group interview in Hong Kong, Chen Qiru, deputy general manager of Tencent's payment platform and financial application line, said that WeChat Pay is finding it difficult to crack the code in Hong Kong due to the lack of active users of the WeChat app and the challenge from Alipay, whose popularity is based on Alibaba's powerful online shopping marketplace.

Last year, Ant Financial, the operator of Alipay, established a joint venture company with tycoon Li Ka-shing's CK Hutchison Holdings to operate its mobile payment app in Hong Kong. The partnership allows Alipay to expand its influence in Hong Kong by offering services through companies under CK Hutchison Holdings, which operates ports, retail, infrastructure and telecommunications businesses globally.

Nevertheless, Chen said that Tencent would seek opportunities to work with more retailers, companies and institutions in Hong Kong for the adoption of WeChat Pay in the second half of this year.

And the e-card identification system might help in that effort.


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