Shenzhen’s success overshadows China’s different particular financial zones

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Shenzhen's success overshadows China's other special economic zones


HONG KONG — China’s southern metropolis of Shenzhen got here below the highlight this previous week because it celebrated its fortieth anniversary as the primary of 4 particular financial zones within the nation, an event that was marked with an deal with by President Xi Jinping.

Shenzhen’s financial success is actually spectacular, nevertheless it additionally raises a query concerning the opposite particular financial zones: Zhuhai, Shantou and Xiamen. Given the preferential standing granted to Shenzhen, which borders Hong Kong, the hole between it and the opposite three might proceed to widen within the coming years.

“This can be a miracle within the historical past of worldwide improvement, created by the Chinese language individuals,” Xi stated of Shenzhen’s improvement from a fishing village to a world-class tech hub in his speech on Wednesday.

The numbers underscore the town’s achievements. In 1979, the 12 months earlier than the 4 cities, all positioned in southeast China, have been designated particular financial zones, Shenzhen’s gross home product stood at 196.38 million yuan, or $85.4 million on the trade fee then. That was the bottom among the many zones — a couple of fifth that of Shantou and a 3rd of Xiamen.

However over the subsequent 40 years, as much as 2019, Shenzhen’s financial system has grown 13,711 instances and ranks solely behind Shanghai and Beijing amongst mainland cities. It far outpaces the opposite three zones, particularly Shantou, whose financial system is now only a tenth of Shenzhen’s.


Chinese language paramount chief Deng Xiaoping visits Shenzhen in January 1992. He’s credited with championing China’s particular financial zones 4 many years in the past.

  © AFP/Jiji

As Xi expounded throughout his roughly 50-minute-long deal with, one of many important components to Shenzhen’s success has been funding from overseas. This was particularly essential through the early years of its transformation, when China lacked ample capital resulting from a collection of self-inflicted political and financial wounds because the Chinese language Communist Occasion took management in 1949.

Shenzhen has obtained almost $300 billion in overseas direct funding and greater than 90,000 overseas enterprises have been established because the reform interval began within the late Seventies, based on information launched by native authorities in September and reported by state-owned Xinhua Information Company. These overseas firms characterize solely about 2% of all firms within the metropolis, however they contribute roughly 20% of its GDP, are accountable for 40% of imports and exports, and pay nearly 30% of the town’s taxes.

Nearly all of funding from outdoors of mainland China comes from Hong Kong. A authorities report in August confirmed that 56% of all registered overseas enterprises in Shenzhen on the finish of 2018 — the latest figures accessible — have been from Hong Kong.

That’s what paramount chief Deng Xiaoping meant 4 many years in the past: to create a brand new zone instantly north of the then-British colony to draw funding from foreigners and abroad Chinese language.

“When doing our [economic] building now, we have to add one other path, permitting cash and expertise from foreigners, whereas additionally permitting abroad Chinese language to come back house to open factories,” Deng stated in January 1979, a month after the reform and opening coverage was adopted.

For Hong Kong, which had been thriving as a producing hub, it was a newly opened frontier and a spot to relocate factories to reap the benefits of decrease labor prices and profit from different coverage incentives. The same cause served as a motive for opening a inventory trade in Shenzhen: foreign-currency denominated B-shares within the metropolis are quoted in Hong Kong {dollars}.

By tapping a wide range of assets from Hong Kong over time, Shenzhen has been capable of accumulate ample capital and experience for its native companies. Plenty of outstanding mainland firms, together with Tencent Holdings, Huawei Applied sciences, BYD and Ping An Insurance coverage Group, began out in Shenzhen and now function highly effective engines for the town’s development.

Conversely, the opposite three particular financial zones do not need a world monetary hub like Hong Kong as a neighbor. Zhuhai borders Macao, the casino-reliant former Portuguese colony. And whereas Xiamen sits on the Taiwan Strait reverse the self-ruled island, its mainland investments are extra geographically diversified.

Shantou, which lacks an adjoining worldwide gateway, has relied on abroad Chinese language with roots within the area for help, which is considered one of three explanation why the town in Guangdong province was really useful as a particular financial zone, based on Wu Nansheng, a former secretary of the Guangdong Province Communist Occasion, who died in 2018 on the age of 95.

In line with official data, when talking at a convention in Guangzhou in March 1980, Wu stated Shantou and the adjoining area of Chaozhou had “the most important variety of abroad Chinese language, about one-third of the full, and a variety of them are influential individuals there, and we might mobilize them to come back again and make investments.”

Shantou at the moment had roughly $100 million in annual earnings in arduous forex by way of overseas commerce, which Wu cited as another excuse to recommend the town as a particular financial zone. Shantou is a world port, which opened to the world within the 1860s below compelled treaties with Western nations.

Some abroad Chinese language with connections to Shantou did certainly make investments, together with Dhanin Chearavanont, the senior chairman of Thailand’s Charoen Pokphand Group, the food-to-retail conglomerate. CP, which operates as Chia Tai in China, was the primary overseas firm to ascertain a three way partnership — with Continental Grain of the U.S. — in Shenzhen, which was registered in 1981 and holds the company certificates serial quantity “0001.”


Shantou has been an financial success — its gross home product has grown by 285 instances over the previous 40 years — nevertheless it pales as compared with Shenzhen.

  © Xinhua/Kyodo

Dhanin, a Thai citizen who spent a part of his childhood in Shantou, his ancestral house, was additionally the primary overseas investor in Shantou, the place he constructed a carpet manufacturing unit. The three way partnership with Continental Grain additionally branched out to Shantou later.

“The scenario was bleak, however whereas others may need been discouraged from making a foray into the world, I noticed it as a possibility,” he wrote for Nikkei in 2016 of his determination to enter China within the early levels of its reforms.

Provided that Dhanin didn’t see a lot room for his enterprise in developed economies, such because the U.S. and Japan, China — having been devastated by the Cultural Revolution — represented a possibility. “There was nothing there, so you could possibly develop one thing from the bottom up,” he wrote. “I instantly made the choice to take a position.”

However now that Chia Tai has operations overlaying most of China, with greater than 600 firms, Shantou is simply part of its company empire, whereas its headquarters are in Beijing.

Li Ka-shing is one other instance of a businessperson with a neighborhood connection to Shantou. The Hong Kong tycoon has invested closely in schooling, particularly in establishing Shantou College in 1981. The college is below the management of the Chinese language Training Ministry and the Guangdong provincial authorities, however the Li Ka Shing Basis, arrange in 1980, has supported the college with amassed contributions exceeding 10 billion Hong Kong {dollars} ($1.29 billion). The inspiration has spent roughly half of its whole funding on the college.

“Thirty-eight years in the past, the place we are actually was as soon as a swamp, many mocked me that that is however a idiot’s dream,” Li Ka-shing advised the graduating class in 2018 — the final graduation ceremony he attended because the college’s honorary chairman. “I imagine then, as I imagine now, that solely by way of schooling can we fulfill the promise we hope for the long run.”

However neither Li nor his eldest son, Victor Li, who inherited the chairmanship of his father’s flagship conglomerates — CK Hutchison Holdings and CK Asset Holdings — and his father’s place on the college, have made any notable enterprise investments in Shantou.

Shantou might additional lag Shenzhen provided that it isn’t a part of the Larger Bay Space, a mission to combine Hong Kong and Macao with Shenzhen and eight different cities in Guangdong to develop a mega-metropolis with financial may to rival Silicon Valley. Zhuhai is a part of that grand design, however Shantou is just not.

Xi once more endorsed the Larger Bay Space initiative on Wednesday, declaring the plan because the “important nationwide improvement technique” during which Shenzhen serves as an “essential engine.”

The enterprise neighborhood has heard the decision. For instance, Customary Chartered just lately appointed Anthony Lin, a former CEO of its Taiwan operations, to imagine the newly created function of CEO for the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Larger Bay Space.

To additional help the initiative, Beijing introduced this previous week a collection of measures for Shenzhen to steer further reforms. These embrace experimental insurance policies on agricultural land, state-owned enterprises, digital forex and the issuance of depository receipts to entice overseas firms to checklist on its inventory trade.

“The collection of insurance policies to encourage expertise innovation, entice overseas and home skills, and speed up monetary openness will even assist construct Shenzhen not solely as a world expertise heart but in addition a world monetary heart, amid the chance of U.S.-China expertise and monetary decoupling,” Liu Ligang, chief China economist at Citigroup, wrote in a report on Monday.

Shantou, in fact, has additionally been successful — its GDP has grown by 285 instances over the previous 40 years — nevertheless it pales as compared with Shenzhen. On his journey to the southern area this previous week, Xi made Shantou his first cease — an indication of its significance. However it’s nonetheless not as important as Shenzhen, the place he wound up his journey.

That serves as a reminder of Wu’s third cause for recommending Shantou as a particular financial zone: “Shantou is in japanese Guangdong, within the nook,” he stated. “If by any likelihood it doesn’t work out nicely, and even fails, the impression wouldn’t be that massive.”

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