Xi's trip to Shenzhen shows China's plan to unify region

City on Hong Kong's doorstep to become socialist pilot zone, with region set to be global tech hub

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam yesterday cancelled a policy speech she was scheduled to deliver tomorrow, saying she would travel to Beijing to brief Communist Party chiefs first.

BEIJING • Chinese President Xi Jinping is set to visit Shenzhen this week to shore up plans to make southern China a global technology hub, prompting Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam to delay an annual economic policy address.

Mr Xi is scheduled to deliver an address tomorrow and meet the leaders of Hong Kong and Macau, the official Xinhua News Agency said yesterday.

The trip is intended to mark the 40th anniversary of the special economic zone that transformed Shenzhen from a sleepy fishing village into a bustling metropolis of more than 13 million people and home to multinational companies including Huawei and Tencent.

Mrs Lam cancelled the policy speech scheduled for tomorrow to attend the festivities, and said in a briefing yesterday that she now aimed to deliver it by late November after travelling to Beijing to brief Communist Party officials on her plans. She denied that she was "waiting for directions" from Beijing before giving the speech, saying instead that the central government wants to "facilitate those policy measures" to help the economy.

"The best way forward is for the Chief Executive to go to Beijing and personally explain why these measures are important for Hong Kong," Mrs Lam said. "This is a very good opportunity that no Chief Executive would forgo."

Mrs Lam's decision shows just how much policymakers in Beijing are calling the shots in Hong Kong. Mr Xi's government earlier this year imposed a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong that gave Beijing the power to intervene in the legal system for the first time, prompting the United States to sanction officials for undermining the territory's autonomy promised when Britain handed it over to China in 1997.

Chinese shares listed in Hong Kong saw their biggest gain since early July on optimism that Mr Xi could unveil plans to further open the nation's economy to foreign investment, with the Hang Seng China Enterprises Index climbing 2.7 per cent at the close.

The gauge has underperformed its mainland peers this year, falling 12 per cent versus an 18 per cent rally for the CSI 300 Index of key stocks listed in Shanghai and Shenzhen. Xiaomi rose 8.4 per cent to lead gains on the measure of offshore China stocks yesterday, while China Unicom Hong Kong and China Telecom rose at least 5.5 per cent.

The Communist Party intends to build Shenzhen, a stone's throw from Hong Kong across the mainland border, into a "socialist pilot zone with Chinese characteristics" over the next five years, Xinhua reported on Sunday, publishing an outline of the plan.

China will push forward cooperation between Shenzhen and Hong Kong to a "higher level" to strengthen the key role in the Greater Bay Area, said Xinhua. It did not give more details. Shenzhen will host a trial on the digital yuan and push forward with international cooperation, it added.

Plans for the Greater Bay Area call for better integrating Shenzhen, the surrounding province of Guangdong and the former colonies of Hong Kong and Macau. The ambitious effort faces new challenges amid trade and security disputes with the US, anxiety over the new security law in Hong Kong and travel restrictions prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.

The report suggests a prominent role for the Greater Bay Area in China's next five-year development, which is expected to be approved by lawmakers next year. Top party leaders are scheduled to convene on Oct 26 to discuss an outline for the five-year plan.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 13, 2020, with the headline Xi's trip to Shenzhen shows China's plan to unify region. Subscribe