Date
22 October 2018
Tencent, operator of popular messaging app WeChat, is building an electronic ID system that can make border crossings between  Hong Kong, Macau and China's southern Guangdong province easier.  Photo: Reuters
Tencent, operator of popular messaging app WeChat, is building an electronic ID system that can make border crossings between Hong Kong, Macau and China's southern Guangdong province easier. Photo: Reuters

Tencent to create WeChat ID system for Greater Bay Area travel

Internet giant Tencent Holdings is working with the Chinese government to build an electronic pass system, involving the WeChat platform, for travelers in the so-called Greater Bay Area.

The plan is aimed at making border crossings smoother between Hong Kong, Macau and China’s southern Guangdong province, which together constitute a region that China aims to promote closer economic and other linkages.

If the plan works out, the WeChat app could replace travel documents for people moving across the border within the Greater Bay region.

Tencent said it is working with Chinese authorities to roll out a biometric data-based e-card scheme for mainland and Hong Kong citizens to link identity documents to their WeChat app and cross the border with simple code and face scans, Reuters reports, citing a company statement.

The e-card ID could one day, if regulators give their nod, find acceptance for other purposes as well, such as hotel check-ins and identity proofs for opening bank accounts.

Jim Lai Zhiming, a Tencent vice president, said the company’s push was partly spurred by Beijing’s plans to further integrate Hong Kong and Macau with southern China.

“We hope the future of the Greater Bay Area is a seamless entity for the residents,” Reuters quoted Lai as saying.

Speaking at a fintech forum co-hosted by Tencent and the Hong Kong Science and Technology Park on Wednesday, Lai also said the initiative will help promote wider mobile payments by Hong Kong citizens.

He noted that as of now, it is difficult for mainland travelers from Hong Kong to use mobile payments in the mainland. One of the reasons for that is people are required to have a bank account in mainland, for which they can only use a mainland telephone number and proof of address to open an account.

Lai hopes the e-card ID via WeChat app can serve the purpose of identity authentication for cross-border travelers.

Huang Ting-ting, head of Tencent’s e-card ID system, said she believes the system can be launched in Greater Bay Area as early as July and August this year. However, the company needs to have further discussions with the regulatory authorities on when it can be used in place of physical identity cards for cross-border travel.

Huang expressed hope that Tencent’s e-card ID system can be involved in the electronic identity (eID) to be launched by Hong Kong government in 2020, which will allow Hong Kong residents to use a single digital identity and authentication to conduct government and commercial transactions online.

Electronic ID is a new function offered late last year by Tencent via its WeChat app, which has evolved from a messaging platform to an all-in-one app that let users order food, hail cars, and pay utility bills through its payment function.

Users can register in the WeChat app by entering their names and ID numbers, then go through facial recognition to get their electronic ID cards, which can be used for identity authentication and business registration.

Partnering with Guangdong authorities, the program has rolled out to citizens in the southern Chinese province in December 2017, and is expected to extend nationwide this year, according to China’s state Xinhua news agency.

Bloomberg notes that the WeChat travel proposal for Greater Bay Area is a follow-up on the idea put forward by Tencent founder and CEO Pony Ma last year during an annual legislative meeting in Beijing. Ma’s suggestion has been written into Chinese government work report.

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BN/RC

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