June 6, 2018 / 1:00 PM / 17 days ago

Tencent eyes WeChat to banish travel papers for trips between Hong Kong and China

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Tencent Holdings is working with China’s authorities for its popular WeChat app to replace travel documents on border crossings between Hong Kong and China, the technology giant said on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: WeChat mascots are displayed inside Tencent office at TIT Creativity Industry Zone in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, China May 9, 2017. REUTERS/Bobby Yip/File Photo

Tencent demonstrated its proposed “Scan-WeChat-to-cross-border” procedure at the border checkpoint, which could make the mobile app even more powerful and eventually render it unnecessary for Chinese citizens to carry travel documents.

The messenger-to-payment WeChat app now has more than 1 billion users, most of them in mainland China.

Although the government of Hong Kong, a former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997, gave no immediate response on whether it might consider the proposal, its leader Carrie Lam participated in a WeChat scanner demonstration.

Tencent said it was working with Chinese authorities to roll out the 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.

In a statement, the firm said the system was the latest technology for digital identity solutions approved by China’s Ministry of Public Security, and encrypted algorithms would prevent any leaks or tampering.

With the E-card scheme, it added, Tencent hoped residents of China’s “Greater Bay Area”, encompassing Hong Kong, Macau and southern Guangdong province, would be the first to experience “one mobile, seamless travel” before it is rolled out elsewhere.

But Tencent did not say how far its talks with Chinese authorities had progressed, nor give a timeline.

It runs a pilot scheme for Guangdong residents to integrate official documents such as national identity cards, driving licenses and travel documents with WeChat accounts, allowing 142 government tasks to be performed in the app, from paying traffic fines to setting up appointments for marriages and divorces.

Jim Lai, a Tencent vice president, said the push was partly spurred by nationally sanctioned plans to further integrate Hong Kong and Macau with southern China in the Greater Bay Area.

“We hope the future of the Greater Bay Area is a seamless entity for the residents,” Lai said.

There was no immediate response from Hong Kong’s Security Bureau and Immigration Department on whether it might consider such a system or if the government had privacy concerns.

Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” arrangement guarantees it a high degree of autonomy not enjoyed in mainland China, including independent judicial power and law enforcement.

The border between Hong Kong and China is one of the world’s busiest, with more than 230 million travelers crossing land checkpoints in 2016, government data shows.

People now cross the border with passports and chip-embedded travel cards swiped through fingerprint and facial scans to pass through unmanned electric channels.

“The vision of the scheme is ... allowing people to move freely between Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau with just a mobile phone in the future,” Lai added.

Reporting by Sijia Jiang and Holly Chik; Writing by James Pomfret; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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