Hu's message in Shenzhen: keep up the good work

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 September, 2010, 12:00am

A lot of media attention was focused on President Hu Jintao's recent visit to mark the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone. Many expected Hu to announce plans to turn the boom town into an experimental city that would spearhead political reform.

Hopes were high that Beijing would give the green light to develop the city into a special political region, or announce new development policies for Qianhai - a Shenzhen district to be turned into a modern service industry base and one of the key development zones for Guangdong and Hong Kong.

Unfortunately, most people were disappointed. Hu didn't focus on political reform, and only briefly touched on some principle issues such as demanding that the SEZ 'expand democratic socialism, speed up the setting up of socialist law for the nation, and allow a mechanism for democratic elections and policies'. The Shenzhen special economic zone is undeniably an economic miracle and has contributed significantly to the country's opening up and reform. It has enjoyed an average annual growth rate of 26.4 per cent, and its gross domestic product has shot up from less than HK$200 million to HK$870 billion over the years. Despite its outstanding achievements, the harsh reality is that this type of development model is not sustainable.

Against this backdrop, we can understand why Hu emphasised the importance of Shenzhen continuing to speed up the pace of change of its development and deepen its reform efforts. To position itself as a strategic centre, Shenzhen must adhere to independent creativity, develop innovative manufacturing and hi-tech service industries, advance the tax and financial systems, improve its investment structure, create a system to reform income distribution and develop a green economy.

To successfully transform Shenzhen's development structure, Beijing has pledged full support for the Qianhai project by encouraging co-operation between Hong Kong and Shenzhen. Central leaders hope this will set a good precedent for the future economic development in the Pearl River Delta region and the entire nation.

Before the anniversary ceremony in Shenzhen, the chairman of Cheung Kong (Holdings), Li Ka-shing, was given a high-profile reception by Hu. This inevitably drew a lot of media attention and negative comments, with some saying Beijing has elevated Li to such a high status that he can now do whatever he wants.

These comments are not only politically incorrect; they send the wrong signals and give an impression that our government would give preferential treatment to Li and his business empire, thus intensifying people's hatred of the rich.

Let's initially disregard the political message behind the meeting and simply look at Li's achievements as an international entrepreneur and his contributions to the country.

There is no denying that he is more than qualified to be granted an audience with the president. Furthermore, we shouldn't forget Li's colossal investments and contributions to the strategic development of Shenzhen and the Pearl River Delta region.

Clearly, Beijing wants to reassure local businesspeople that it attaches great importance to our city. And when it comes to representing the Hong Kong business community, no one compares to Li.

Hu has always tried to distance himself from the rich and powerful in Hong Kong. Whenever he visits the city, unlike his predecessor, he chooses not to stay at one of Li's hotels. This shows that the president's unusual move to meet Li in Shenzhen was a practical gesture to thank him for being an important participant in the economic construction of Shenzhen. He hopes Li will continue to use his influence to foster co-operation between Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Guangzhou, and help preserve Hong Kong's prosperity and stability for the sake of the nation's reform and modernisation.

Meanwhile, in order to resolve our deep-rooted social conflicts, we need to correct the lopsided economic structure under which the powerful property developers are calling the shots.

From a political and social standpoint, Hong Kong is undergoing massive changes. No doubt our business sector, especially the private developers, has political clout in the Election Committee, which chooses the chief executive. They need to change with the times to help advance the city's political development.

Like the expression, 'Is the glass half empty or half full?', the answer depends on one's perspective: it reflects the difference between optimism and pessimism. The same applies to how we view the meeting between Hu and Li.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator