The Shenzhen Special Economic Zone “control line” was as good as gone back in 2008 and completely removed in 2015 but the State Council approved the Guangdong provincial government’s request not to officially abandon it until Jan 6 this year. The decision, as I understand it, was very likely timed to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the ongoing reform and opening-up drive, for which Shenzhen has been a “test bed”. Officially abolishing the “control line” 40 years after the reform and opening-up started marks a new phase in the deepening of reform — the new era of socialism with Chinese characteristics.
The 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China ushered in this new era in November 2012. After five years of practice and exploration the CPC formulated its systematic guiding thought — Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era — and an action program aimed at two “centenary goals” from now to the middle of the 21st century in three steps. In the next 30 years or so the direction and goal of the Chinese mainland’s comprehensive and deepening reform and opening-up will be realizing the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, also known as the Chinese Dream, and pursuit of a shared future for mankind.
By then we would mark the 70th anniversary of reform and opening-up. The 70 years can be roughly divided into two stages of 35 years each. The first stage, ending with the 18th national congress, was devoted to exploring ways to develop the socialist market economy with Chinese characteristics, mainly focusing on organically connecting with the global economic system led by Western powers and realizing the leap from “standing up” to “becoming moderately prosperous”. In the following 35 years the country will continue comprehensive and deeper reform and opening-up, especially further improving its socialist market economy with Chinese characteristics. The country will also push for global governance system transformation as well as maintaining the international order based on the spirit of the United Nations Charter and UN leadership. The goal for the next stage is a leap from “moderate prosperity” to “a strong country”.
Hong Kong made an outstanding and unique contribution to the country’s reform and opening-up drive in its first 35 years. It was the only “bridge” linking the country and the outside world before the mainland became a World Trade Organization member. After the country joined WTO, Hong Kong has remained the most important bridge and channel for the flow of overseas investment, professionals and management knowhow to the mainland. The city’s experience in running the financial and real-estate markets also left an indelible mark in the design of the mainland’s financial and property market systems.
There is no question that Hong Kong has been richly rewarded for its contribution to the country’s reform and opening-up drive. If the 11th Central Committee of the CPC did not launch the reform and opening-up drive at its third plenary session in December 1978 and established four special economic zones, with three of them in Guangdong alone and the biggest one — Shenzhen — right next to Hong Kong, it is safe to say Hong Kong’s manufacturing industry would not have been able to relocate en masse to Guangdong, especially the neighboring Pearl River Delta region, in the mid-1980s through mid-1990s. Neither could its service industry have expanded so quickly. Since 2003, development of Hong Kong’s securities market has relied overwhelmingly on initial public offerings by mainland companies. And since 2004, its banking industry has shifted its business expansion focus to offshore yuan business.
Today the SAR government and Hong Kong society must answer a serious question: How should Hong Kong maintain its unique role in the country’s comprehensive and deeper reform and opening-up and continue making contributions in return for great rewards in the next 35 years?
First of all, people must understand the country’s reform and opening-up drive in the next 35 years will be different from the previous 35 years, which means Hong Kong must make up for any “shortcomings” sooner rather than later in order not to be left behind.
In the first 35 years of reform and opening-up the country learned a great deal from the global governance system led by the West, including borrowing from the Western market-economy mechanism, in order to connect with the outside world economically. During that period Hong Kong “found its groove” thanks to more than 100 years of experience, particularly since World War II, in building up its capitalist market economy that relied entirely on trade with Western economies.
In the following 35 years the country’s reform and opening-up drive will mainly focus on perfecting its socialist market economy with Chinese characteristics and expanding ties with traditionally non-Western economies, to promote the reform of the West-dominated global governance system. To continue its unique role in this period Hong Kong needs to reposition itself between the mainland and Western countries. To do so it needs to know the traditionally non-Western economies better.
The SAR government, on the other hand, needs to assume the leading role in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Bay Area development. Hong Kong, with its advantages, can do it better than Guangzhou, Shenzhen or Macao, but it must reposition itself and complete a governance system and economic development mechanism upgrade first.
（The author is a senior research fellow of China Everbright Holdings）
(Published on Page 8, China Daily Hong Kong Edition, January 24, 2018)