EYESHENZHEN  /   Opinion

Expanded Qianhai, an answer to regional integration

Writer: Tan Yifan  |  Editor: Jane Chen  |  From: Shenzhen Daily  |  Updated: 2021-09-13

Back in 2012, when I stood on the muddy land of Qianhai with our cameraman, I was not fully convinced by the blueprint that was drawn for it to mainly serve the service industry of Hong Kong. In 2010, the Central Government approved the establishment of the Qianhai Shenzhen-Hong Kong Modern Service Industry Cooperation Zone.

I did not fully understand even after I was assigned to cover its story in 2016 when barely no office workers were seen in Guiwan area (a future finance cluster planned in the area); there were only construction laborers.

Doubts and complaints were sometimes heard from neighboring Hong Kong, about the "slow speed" of Qianhai, where the land reclamation and unified planning and development cost a lot of time, albeit understandably.

Starting in 2018, the landscape of the area was suddenly reshaped, with skyscrapers being erected from one land plot after another; bridges and roads connecting to Bao'an and Nanshan districts were opened – a new community began to take shape.

Despite the increasing number of companies and successful incubation of startups in Qianhai, to some people, its development was not impressive enough.

The Qianhai cooperation zone's limited land space – less than 15 square kilometers – and the cautious opening of some professional services were insufficient to bear its big ambition – becoming the testbed for the nation's strategy of serving the development of Hong Kong and the further reform and opening up in the mainland, and playing a key role in the construction of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area.

Then came a bigger plan, unveiled Sept. 6: Qianhai will expand eightfold to 120.6 square kilometers, nearly as big as Hong Kong's Lantau Island. It will extend both southward and northward along the coastline of west Shenzhen, covering a developed swath of land with a pivotal port, an airport and a newly opened mega convention and exhibition center.

According to the new plan, the Qianhai cooperation zone will be given more autonomy in reform and opening up, allowing deeper cooperation with Hong Kong. Its financial sector and other service sectors will be further opened to Hong Kong, and more rules and practices in the special administrative region, including law practices, will be adopted in Qianhai to meet the commitment stated in the plan – to fully protect the right of investors and create more convenience for Hong Kong and foreign opportunity seekers.

A detailed roadmap is expected to be released soon.

The effort indicates that the Central Government is determined to offer an ideal option for Hong Kong, whose economy has begun to recover but unemployment is still at a record high.

"We will bear in mind the original intention that the zone (Qianhai) must serve Hong Kong and Macao," said Qin Weizhong, mayor of Shenzhen, at a news conference held by the State Council Information Office on Sept. 9.

Qin said the city will marshal full resources of the city to widen Qianhai's opening up and take the cooperation between Shenzhen and Hong Kong to a new level.

According to the plan, in the near future more professionals from Hong Kong, including architects, landscape architects, engineers, surveyors, planners, lawyers and accountants, can directly practice in the expanded Qianhai area. Top international finance, education, science and technology institutions will be invited to set up there, and big international events will be organized.

The aim is not just about the construction of a world-focused new coastal urban center in southern China, it is also about the free flow of talent and other economic development factors. It is also about underpinning the "one country, two systems" practice.

Forty years ago the city of Shenzhen started to rise from a small border town, making full use of its proximity to Hong Kong while pioneering reform. The twin cities have developed on their own tracks with constant cooperation but independently. Now independent development has become less important than integration. To achieve greater success, the two need to walk hand in hand, and the Greater Bay Area needs to develop under one unified plan.

The ultimate goal of the "one country, two systems" policy is to realize a real integration.

As Qianhai has stepped into its second 10 years of development, it has to fully understand its mission. The trial of deeper Shenzhen-Hong Kong cooperation in Qianhai is just a start. It has to offer more replicable practices for the region to fully integrate as a super hub and serve the mainland's high-quality development.

"Qianhai should now have more confidence in carrying out reform and opening up, as the plan made it clear that when obstacles appear it can propose revisions to the Central Government and the latter will respond immediately to help eliminate problems," said Witman Hung Wai-man, principal liaison officer for Hong Kong at the Qianhai Authority, when I interviewed him.

The role between Shenzhen and Hong Kong may shift over time, but the shared goal of the twin cities is still the same: both have to make continuous contributions to the "one country, two systems" policy and positively participate in regional integration.

(The author is head of Shenzhen Daily's Qianhai office.)