City Beat

As Hong Kong endlessly bickers over political reform, hi-tech Shenzhen forges ahead

Rise and rise of our once-backward neighbour as a hi-tech hub should be ringing alarm bells

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 June, 2015, 12:50am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 March, 2016, 12:58pm

When the pan-democrats went to Shenzhen last Sunday to meet Beijing officials - only for both sides to confirm they were still poles apart on the city's 2017 political reform - many lawmakers, as well as Hongkongers, were unaware that another important meeting had started in the neighbouring city - the annual session of the Shenzhen Municipal People's Congress.

The two meetings were not related, but that does not mean Hong Kong could simply ignore it. The session set the city's economic growth target at 8.5 per cent, higher than the nation's 7 per cent average. It also reconfirmed Shenzhen's position as a hi-tech hub and innovation leader.

Mayor Xu Qin revealed in his government work report that six emerging industries - biotechnology, internet, new energy, new materials, information technology, and creative industries - together contributed more than 35 per cent to the city's GDP last year, the highest hi-tech proportion of any mainland city. Xu added that more than 100 billion yuan (HK$126 billion) would be put into Shenzhen's R&D in the run-up to 2020.

This was special given that the city got a new party chief, Ma Xingrui, a few months ago. The appointment of Ma, a scientist and top aerospace engineer, was widely seen as a sign of Beijing's backing of Shenzhen to be a hi-tech hub in southern China. It was therefore significant to note that though, as usual, Xu touched on Shenzhen-Hong Kong cooperation, it was not a major part of the report.

It is vital for Hong Kong to escape the infighting and keep its spirit of innovation

It is too early to say if Hong Kong -Shenzhen cooperation is no longer the priority for the new leadership in Shenzhen. But with the government's electoral reform proposal almost certain to be vetoed, political rows are likely to haunt Hong Kong for years to come, while across the Shenzhen river, this once-backward town that used to rely heavily on investments from Hong Kong has found a new position and is now talking about how to attract more hi-tech talent.

The fact that Shenzhen has decided to be one of the country's hi-tech hubs is in fact not such big news as it has been promoting this goal for years. The pressing issue is: does this ring alarm bells in Hong Kong?

Another new development - which has not attracted much attention in Hong Kong besides being used as a guide for market tips by some analysts - is the State Council's recent announcement of a 10-year "Made in China 2025" strategy. This is regarded as China's effort to embrace the fourth industrial revolution, or what some call Industry 4.0. It aims to upgrade China's image as the "world factory" to a modern manufacturer with quality products and own brands using smart technology.

For Hong Kong, the message is clear: it's like sailing against the current - not advancing means dropping back. Hong Kong of course cannot compete with Shenzhen, not to say the mainland in terms of economic scale, but it is vital for Hong Kong to escape the endless political infighting and keep its spirit of innovation.

Ironically, a turning point could be the day when the 2017 universal suffrage plan is voted down; at least that seems to be the hope of the government. After the Shenzhen meeting, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said his administration must focus on livelihood issues and economic development after the vote.

But is that again wishful thinking by Leung and his team? A test case could be the government's third attempt to get Legco's green light to fund the new innovation and technology bureau.

Agree with it or not, Hong Kong will lose if the universal suffrage package is blocked next week. Can it afford to lose again in competing with Shenzhen?