China’s President Xi Jinping praised the tech-hub city of Shenzhen in a landmark speech on Wednesday, leaving some puzzling over the future of nearby Hong Kong, as China’s traditional global foothold.
Xi said Shenzhen, often dubbed China’s Silicon Valley and home to tech giants Huawei and Tencent, was making “historic leaps” and “achieving miracles.”
He also announced that the area would be given more leeway to pursue opening-up reforms and become a “model city for a strong socialist country.”
Once a small fishing village adjacent to Hong Kong, Shenzhen is now home to about 13 million and was transformed in 1980 by veteran Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, after he designated it a “Special Economic Zone,” carving out capitalist privileges in the staunchly communist country.
Retracing Deng’s footprints 40 years later during his own southern tour this week, Xi announced Shenzhen would again become a testing ground for foreign investment and talent, and a symbol of China’s place as a global economic power, he said.
His speech follows a five-year plan for the city published on Sunday, to ease regulations including land reforms, encouraging foreign workers and reducing red-tape in sectors such as bio-tech and telecoms. The city will also pilot China’s first digital currency.
Analysts see the focus on Shenzhen, which now has a GDP higher than Hong Kong’s, as a signpost to how China intends to manage its dizzying economic growth — with strict political dominance, while nearby economic powerhouse Hong Kong becomes less relevant.
“The strategy is to submerge the Westernized Hong Kong with more powerful Chinese rule,” said Kent Deng, professor of Chinese economic history at London’s LSE University.
“Xi will not give the West an inch. He sees Hong Kong as a threat to his rule over China. The Shenzhen model is political zero tolerance and