Shenzhen drive and vision lead the way for Hong Kong
Removal of checkpoints that once separated the special economic zone, now aiming to become China’s Silicon Valley, from the rest of the country reflects the pace of wider development
Shenzhen is a microcosm of China’s success story. Its economy has grown 10,000-fold in the 40 years since the nation’s economic opening to the world. Last year it became the biggest economy in Guangdong province and it is tipped to soon eclipse Hong Kong. The symbolic removal of its border as a special economic zone marks a new stage in its development that our city has to acknowledge and step up to or risk falling behind.
The iron fence and checkpoints that once separated Shenzhen from the rest of the country have long gone and their scrapping was made official by the State Council on Monday. They had restricted the movement of people and goods in and out of a zone that had special tax concessions to attract foreign investors.
The model was Hong Kong; our city’s entrepreneurs played an instrumental role in the evolution of Shenzhen from a fishing village of a few thousand people to the metropolis of 12 million that it has become. With the narrowing of the gap in development with the rest of Guangdong province, restricting migration and urbanisation through artificial barriers no longer made sense.
Late leader Deng Xiaoping came up with the idea for the four special economic zones, but Shenzhen was by far the most successful. The removal of the barriers is in line with the creation by Beijing last year of the “Greater Bay Area”, the integration of nine Guangdong cities and Hong Kong and Macau into an economic and business hub.
Hong Kong is still trying to define its role in the strategy, although as China’s most international city, there are numerous development opportunities. Shenzhen can be the inspiration, just as Hong Kong was when it drove its northern neighbour to greater achievement.
The preferential treatment Shenzhen received as a special economic zone gradually lost its meaning as China developed and more such regions were created. Competition and the gradual removal of benefits required a new growth strategy. Shenzhen officials hit on the idea of the city becoming China’s Silicon Valley, a centre of technological research, innovation and development.
Those who scorned the suggestion when it was made a decade and a half ago could not have been more surprised; the city spectacularly reinvented itself and is now a hotbed of private economic growth and home to tech giants such as Tencent, Huawei and ZTE.
The achievement has been the result of determination and will; since 2013, Shenzhen has been devoting more than 4 per cent of GDP to research and development. Incentives including tax, housing and funding are drawing global tech and science talents, with the goal of becoming the world’s innovation centre. Hong Kong needs that drive and vision as it seeks to integrate with the Greater Bay Area.