(Xinhua/Mao Siqian)

OPINION-Shenzhen as a new economic locomotive: implications for Macau and Hong Kong

Judging from Shenzhen’s socialist reform plan from 2020 to 2025 and President’s Xi Jinping’s delineation of the role of Shenzhen in China’s economic development, the special economic zone is designated as an economic locomotive not only playing a role model for the entire People’s Republic of China (PRC), but also leading Macau and Hong Kong in the deeper socio-economic integration of the Greater Bay Area (GBA).

The socialist reform plan published by the Central Office of the Chinese Communist Party and the State Council repositions Shenzhen as the economic locomotive in the PRC and GBA in several key aspects.

First, Shenzhen is portrayed as a “core engine” in “the construction of the GBA and the establishment of urban cities in the process of socialist modernization” of the PRC, which is becoming a “great power.”

Second, marketization is to be deepened and accelerated in Shenzhen, where innovative enterprises in the stock market are to be experimented, the People’s Bank digital currencies will be promoted, a digital privacy system is to be established, and where a government database for the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau platform will be shared.

Third, Shenzhen is expected to play a leading role in spearheading innovation in terms of technology transfer, the cultivation and importation of talents, and the provision of government subsidies to support technologically innovative projects and patents. A government-business partnership in developing enterprises innovation and high-tech talents will be strengthened.

Fourth, the role of Qianhai in deepening Shenzhen’s socialist reforms will be utilized further by opening its door to more investment, by promoting innovative products, and by strengthening the legal mechanisms in delivering better international law services and resolving business disputes that involve foreign investors.

Fifth, Shenzhen is required to build up its innovative public healthcare system, to improve cross-border public health services, and to consolidate its responses to public health crises.

In short, the plan sets out a five-year blueprint for Shenzhen to achieve the aforesaid objectives, using 2022 as a mid-point for all aspects to promote deeper and faster reforms. The main idea is to make Shenzhen as “a high quality and a new developmental high ground,” with radiative impacts on entire China.

President Xi Jinping, during his visit to celebrate the 40thanniversary of Shenzhen, delivered an important speech on October 14, outlining several points that have significant implications for both Macau and Hong Kong’s developmental strategies.

First, emphasizing that Shenzhen achieved “an economic miracle” within 40 years, President Xi also remarked that the Shenzhen experiences are characterized by the CCP leadership, the perfection of the Chinese socialist system, the persistence in openness, the momentum of innovation, the importance of the people-centred focus in improving livelihood issues, the significance of the rule by law, the need for ecological sustainability, the “accurate implementation” of the “one country, two systems,” and the radiative consequences on other parts of mainland China. 

Second, President Xi stressed the importance of nurturing talents who can and will propel Shenzhen’s economic development and innovation.

Third, he pinpointed the specific areas that need forceful development and innovation: monetary and financial industry, research, design, accountancy, law, and conventions and exhibitions. Talents in all these areas embrace not only local people but also international ones.

Fourth, Shenzhen has to “liberate its thinking” and be given more “autonomy” in new experiments so that the city will play a crucial role in stimulating “internal circulation” and linking “inner” with “outer circulation.” Shenzhen must increase its economic competitiveness, monitor its governing capacity, and control its risks in a better way.

Fifth, Shenzhen deepens the GBA construction by consolidating resources coordination and cooperation with Macau and Hong Kong, attracting more young people to study, work and live in the mainland. Young people in Macau and Hong Kong are promoted to interact with mainland counterparts fully, “strengthening their centrifugal tendency toward the motherland.”

Sixth, while party officials and cadres in Shenzhen have to undergo reforms and education, cadres and the masses will have to receive “strengthened education in thinking and faith,” and their “socialist core values will have to be nurtured and implemented.” Hence, education will be the key to “direct the cadres especially the youth” to “firmly believe in self-confidence in the path, theory, system and culture of Chinese socialism.” Citizens in the Shenzhen special economic zone will have “social, occupational, family, and individual conduct morals,” thereby promoting “high quality development of the cultural enterprise.”

The Shenzhen socialist reform plan and President Xi’s speech have significant implications for the development of Macau and Hong Kong in several dimensions.

First, the principle of “one country, two systems” must be “accurately implemented,” meaning that both special administrative regions’ policy addresses and developmental strategies will need to conform with the national plan and objectives. As such, it is absolutely understandable why the Hong Kong government decided to delay the announcement of its policy address, which is now expected to make Hong Kong’s developmental plan mapping with Shenzhen’s role as an economic locomotive in the GBA in the coming five years. By implication, the policy address of the Macau government will have to consider the Shenzhen’s socialist reform plan.

Second, the development of talents will and should be the priority of both Macau and Hong Kong. Education in the two special administrative regions, ranging from primary to secondary, from tertiary to university levels, will have to at least develop the innovative and creative ability of students, to reform the curricular in such a way that they will have to better understand the historical and socio-economic development of both the mainland and GBA.

Young people will be encouraged to pursue their studies and develop their careers in the mainland. Tertiary institutions, especially universities, in Macau and Hong Kong may have to strengthen partnership and exchanges with their mainland counterparts. Of course, it will be mainly an individual choice for the young people in Macau and Hong Kong to study, work and live in the mainland, but they should be ideally be educated in a more comprehensive manner so that they will understand the PRC much deeper than ever before. The China study programs in the universities of both Macau and Hong Kong should ideally be reformed and consolidated so that talent exchanges between the mainland and the two places will be enhanced, and that the young people in Macau and Hong Kong will understand their motherland in a deeper way.

Third, innovation and technology are the key areas that remain to be weak in both Macau and Hong Kong’s education system. The education bureaucracies in both places must reform the education system in such a way as to unleash the potentiality of all young people in developing their creativity. Traditionally, Hong Kong’s education curricular were and are biased in favour of science subjects without paying close attention on the arts, and by implication the spiritual and moral aspects of students. Hence, the education bureaucracy in Hong Kong and Macau may have to reflect on their current curricular and see how their education system should be injected with more “spiritual” and “moral” elements so that the scientific innovative potential of young students will be really unleashed and nurtured comprehensively. 

Fourth, it is crystal clear that Macau and Hong Kong, after some 20 years of their transition from colonial governance to post-colonial rule, are now entering the second transition period, which demand their governmental, societal and individual adaptations to the rise of Shenzhen economically and technologically. If Shenzhen’s economic competitiveness plays a key role in leading the development of the entire PRC, then Macau should ideally no longer rely heavily on the gaming industry but it should inject more resources and capital into the whole education system so that better talents will be cultivated. Hong Kong will have to invest more in both private and public education systems without governmental biases against private universities. The model of governmental funding to support education, both public and private, will have to be revisited self-critically so that the competitiveness of both Hong Kong and Macau will be enhanced. 

Fifth, different occupational sectors in Macau and Hong Kong must catch up with their knowledge of both China and the GBA, fostering linkages with their counterparts in the GBA to prevent themselves from losing their competitive edge. The role of the governments of Macau and Hong Kong will have to act as intermediaries between these occupational sectors and their counterparts in the mainland. Otherwise, occupational sectors in Macau and Hong Kong will fail to miss the vast business opportunities amid Shenzhen’s rapid reforms.

In short, Shenzhen is undoubtedly going to replace Hong Kong and Macau to be the most important locomotive propelling China’s economic modernization and deepening its socialist reforms. As such, Macau and Hong Kong cannot and should not rest on their laurels, retaining old thinking in education. The nurturing of talents and the promotion of innovative potential and capability are on the top priority of the education agenda of both Macau and Hong Kong. The second transition in the watershed year of 2020 demands that Macau and Hong Kong have to reflect harder than ever before, consider new reforms more drastically, and inject really far more capital and resources in the development of talents and technological innovation in the increasingly outdated education systems.