Shenzhen – China’s hi-tech capital just over the border from Hong Kong that was the original site for the country’s reform and opening-up experiment 40 years ago – will become a new special economic zone to carry out bolder reforms as a model for other Chinese cities.
Beijing on Sunday unveiled a detailed plan for wide-ranging reforms to be implemented in Shenzhen, including in the legal, financial, medical and social sectors, according to a report by state broadcaster CCTV.
Under the plan, Shenzhen would become a model of “high-quality development, an example of law and order and civilisation, as well as societal satisfaction and sustainability”.
The goals were to make the city a leader in terms of innovation, public service and environmental protection by 2025, the report said.
The plan also aimed to make Shenzhen competitive in the world in terms of comprehensive economic abilities by 2035, and a global “benchmark” for competitiveness, innovation and influence by the middle of the century.
International organisations and big companies would be encouraged to set up branches or headquarters in the city, and it would be allowed to “make flexible changes to laws, regulations and local ordinances according to authorisation and based on Shenzhen’s need for reform and innovation”.
Political change would also be allowed, with the guidance of the ruling Communist Party. According to the report, the plan would “expand people’s orderly political participation under the guidance of the party” while improving the work of the National People’s Congress, China’s legislature.
Special emphasis would also be placed on integrating Hong Kong and Macau into the Greater Bay Area scheme, which aims to link those cities with Shenzhen and eight others in Guangdong in an economic and business hub. That would include promoting connections between Shenzhen’s financial market and those in Hong Kong and Macau, as well as expanding financial regulation and the portfolio of financial products available to trade bonds and foreign exchange.
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The report stressed that a “big data” centre for the Greater Bay Area would be located in Shenzhen.
Hongkongers who lived or worked in Shenzhen would be granted residential status, with new cultural activities launched in Shenzhen in coordination with Hong Kong and Macau, “enriching compatriots in Hong Kong and Macau’s sense of belonging and cohesion”.
The report was released amid unprecedented tension in Hong Kong, with anti-government protests taking place for the eleventh consecutive week. The mass protests, and the violence that has accompanied them, have raised questions over whether Beijing might downgrade Hong Kong’s place in the Greater Bay Area plan.
Guo Wanda, executive vice-president of the Shenzhen-based China Development Institute, said Shenzhen had been exploring reforms in various economic areas.
“For example, in the Qianhai Bay Free Trade Port Zone, it has already explored [reforms in] foreign exchange management and cross-border financing, including financial cooperation between Shenzhen and Hong Kong, so it’s not odd what the report says about having an open economy,” he said.
Guo noted that the report mentioned development of a “legal business environment” that would be considered first-rate internationally, which would require emphasis on building a city based on the rule of law.
When the document was first mooted in late July, analysts told the South China Morning Post that its goals signalled Shenzhen’s rising status in the Greater Bay Area and pointed to a policy shift in Beijing away from Hong Kong and towards mainland cities to drive the region’s development.
With China now locked in a trade war with the United States, Beijing is banking on the hi-tech sector to spur development and cut reliance on imports of key technologies. Amid threats to stop selling microchips to Chinese companies such as ZTE and impose sanctions on Chinese telecoms giant Huawei Technologies, Chinese President Xi Jinping has repeatedly called for industry to innovate and become more self-reliant.
In February, Beijing unveiled its Greater Area Bay blueprint aimed at transforming the 11 cities into a combined economic powerhouse, with Hong Kong, Macau, Shenzhen and Guangzhou identified as the four “pillars” of development.