• Fri
  • Dec 19, 2014
  • Updated: 6:42pm
Mr. Shangkong
PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 July, 2013, 2:02am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 September, 2013, 8:06am

Shanghai's free-trade zone puts Hong Kong's future in the spotlight

Hong Kong needs to assess what strengths can help maintain its financial hub status, as the rival mainland city bids to usurp it with its latest deal


George Chen is the Financial Editor and Mr. Shangkong Columnist at the South China Morning Post. George has covered China's political and economic changes since 2002. George is the author of two books -- This is Hong Kong I Know (2014) and Foreign Banks in China (2011). George has been named a 2014 Yale World Fellow. More about George: www.mrshangkong.com

Will the new Shanghai free-trade zone be a game changer?

This question popped up in my mind when I read the breaking news on Wednesday evening about Beijing’s landmark approval to set up a free-trade zone in Shanghai.

To my surprise, when I looked for related reports the following day, the news about Shanghai’s latest victory in winning policy support from the central government had not made it to the front pages of any major Chinese-language newspapers in Hong Kong.

“Is Hong Kong too self-confident or too self-centred?” I asked my colleagues.

For Shanghai, things moved quickly after Premier Li Keqiang visited the Pudong New Area and trade and port facilities in the city in late March. By the end of June, Li had made his decision, and on July 3, state broadcaster CCTV said the State Council had issued an announcement after a meeting chaired by Li that the free-trade zone in Shanghai would be a snapshot of an “upgraded Chinese economy”.

Shanghai’s ambitions to become the nation’s economic engine, leapfrogging Hong Kong as the dominant financial hub in the region, are already an open secret. Shanghai mayor Yang Xiong said after the announcement that the city’s future hinged on the free-trade zone, which could give it a leg up over rivals.

Rivals? Who? Yang did not name any.

To be more realistic, the new free-trade deal for Shanghai, which the cabinet wants to be run on a trial basis in the first phase and then see if such a special zone model can be expanded or copied to other mainland cities, would not immediately threaten Hong Kong’s leading position as one of the world’s most important financial centre cities and also one of the busiest ports.

But in the long run, the Hong Kong government must ask itself what competitive strengths and advantages are unique to the city; and whether these can be kept for the next decade or two. If not, then how can Hong Kong stay competitive, rather than becoming just another mainland city, lagging behind top-tier cities like Shanghai.

The central government is keen to use the free-trade zone in Shanghai as a testing ground for more financial liberalisation, as it supports the city’s ambition to grow into one of the world’s three most important financial centres – on a par with New York and London – by 2020.

Qianhai, just an hour’s drive from Hong Kong, has already been picked by Beijing to explore the possibilities of full convertibility of the yuan, which the government wants to turn into a global currency. Purely from an economic perspective, the time left for Hong Kong to rethink its future is obviously quite limited.

On Wednesday evening, before the news about Shanghai came out, I was watching television at home. I saw Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor talking again about budget issues for the West Kowloon arts project.

Time is money, and we spend way too much time just talking about things like West Kowloon when other cities are already taking action and know with crystal clarity what they want to achieve.


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Having a free trade zone alone will not be enough for Shanghai to overtake Hk. As long as the government system remains the same, there is nothing for Hong Kong to worry about. The rule of law is the strongest deterrent for global financial companies to conduct their businesses in China. Not to mention poor living conditions (pollution, substandard food safety, poor public health system).
Dob't forget the absolute free flow of information which is key to any financial market. If information is restricted or limited, an international financial market will never take hold. Yes, everything matters to investors..everything.
My god that 1 Million expats living and working there must be a illussion.
BTW you are really funny when does the "rule of law" and global financial companies ever in the same stand? GFC hates or never respect the rule of law. Did you just woke up from a coma and missed the 2008 financial crisis?
Rule of law in Hong Kong is outdated. It is hijacked MOSTLY by the privileged and powerful mixed with incidental otherwise. It has been taken me a few days after I agreed with a writer here that rule of law is an outdated concept which I invite readers for a better alternative that I strike upon that rule of law is valid. Conditionally. The rules must be based on a set of agreed value. It is the protection of that set of values that law must be made and comply or punished when it is broken. I question if Hong Kong’s laws are related with a set of common values. Perhaps Hong Kong would too to draft up a constitution like US and China to which to govern all laws. Hong Kong’s common law is without a constitution to check against. Common law has its history originated from a class system society. Rule of law in Hong Kong is overstated in its RELEVANCY for a fairer society. We must ask more what law that rule of law is being obeyed and so much trumpeted.
I shall rest my case from my exhausted brain for further inquiry on a refreshing idea that rule of law is an outdated concept. In Hong Kong it is really so.
Common law using precedents as a guide I hope is still satisfactory in ruling never tried cases that beyond just murder or negligence committed even by the poor. I think the statement that rule of law is an outdated concept which I agree is most refreshing. Rule of law has been hijacked by the rich and privileged and politicians in Hong Kong in serving their respective need. I still hope someone can come up with a better and more useful means and way to have laws serving all. There might be more a possible chance a better concept would come from anyone other than the law sector which is a bit too protected for too long by the rule of law concept. Citing about case number is not thinking outside the box. But I am still an architect finding rule of law is an outdated concept refreshing.
In order to satisfy you, any news reported of an outcome of a court ruling, case number should be cited. Furthermore, law discussion should be restricted to legal sector only. I am afraid you have an air of arrogance that pretty shutting seemingly your mind up to protect your territory? For my argument, I don’t even care what you do for a living. I will pour some cold water on my head to cool off a bit if I were you?
Shanghai will never replace Hong Kong as a financial hub without freedom of the press. Can you get a copy of the SCMP or Wall Street Journal in Shanghai? Not to mention the non convetability of the Yuan. The Chinese still do not understand what makes the world tick.
No, your shallowness. It adds another not-so-free trade zone to hundreds already in China and is by definition an admission that Shanghai is failing to compete with HK on the same terms.
Most HK people are too complacent still talking about rule of law, a very outdated concept. Yes china is lacking rule of law. So what? Vc are putting billions there n virtually zero in HK, the money do the talking mr. Hong Kong !
I spend half time in Hk n USA, what I see Hk is so much behind in technology vs US. I'm a retired tech executive, so I know what is tech. Hk is so much behind...and Hk government process is too slow too, here I can pull a building permit in a day or two. Hk is too expensive n out as we are aging fast and expensive. Please ask yourself how many new Local IPO in Hk for company made in HK of decent size in the past 10 years? Very little. What does it tell u mr. hK?
You look very handsome George




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