Hong Kong’s leader has said she does not mind that Shenzhen has surpassed its GDP, adding that rather than seeing the neighbouring tech hub as a competitor, she hopes Beijing will allow the two cities to work together to jump-start local post-pandemic recovery.
Speaking ahead of President Xi Jinping’s planned visit to the southern Chinese city on Wednesday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor told a mainland broadcaster that Hong Kong had contributed to, and benefited from, Shenzhen’s rise over the past four decades, and the two cities need not compete against each other in the future.
“Hong Kong allows a free flow of capital and currency exchange; we also have an internationally compatible legal system …This can match Shenzhen’s innovative capacities and advanced manufacturing sector,” she said.
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“So I think while competition among corporations and professionals will be healthy and inevitable, the cities may not be directly competing against each other.”
Lam’s interview with Shenzhen Satellite Television was broadcast late Monday night, hours after she travelled to the mainland city. She is set to join Xi at a ceremony on Wednesday morning celebrating Shenzhen’s 40th anniversary as a special economic zone.
The chief executive had originally been scheduled to deliver her annual policy address that morning, but on Monday she broke with decades of convention by abruptly postponing it until the end of next month, citing the need to travel to Beijing to secure more measures for reviving Hong Kong’s coronavirus-battered economy.
Ip Kwok-him, an adviser on Lam’s de facto cabinet, the Executive Council, said on Tuesday that the decision to postpone the policy address was “sudden and strange”.
[Postponing] was definitely not ideal ... But the Hong Kong government has high expectations that the talks in Beijing will make the policy address more substantive
Executive Council adviser Ip Kwok-him
“It was definitely not ideal ... But the Hong Kong government has high expectations that the talks in Beijing will make the policy address more substantive,” he said.
Lam will be joined in Shenzhen by six senior Hong Kong officials: the city’s finance, justice, security, technology and mainland affairs ministers, as well as the director of the Chief Executive’s Office.
Sources said the group was tested before leaving Hong Kong on Monday afternoon, and again upon arrival in Shenzhen. They checked into the Intercontinental Hotel and will stay there until Wednesday morning.
Tung Chee-hwa and Leung Chun-ying, both vice-chairmen of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and former Hong Kong chief executives, as well as the presidents of the University of Hong Kong, Chinese University and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, would also attend the ceremony in Shenzhen on Wednesday, sources added.
Under a new five-year plan, issued by the Communist Party and State Council on Sunday, Shenzhen was granted autonomy to make decisions on a wide range of local policies with the aim of becoming a “core engine in the development of the Greater Bay Area”, as well as “a model city that can represent a modernised and vibrant socialist country”.
The high hopes heaped on Shenzhen stand in contrast with the mainland authorities’ recent approach to Hong Kong, which was rocked by months of anti-government protests last year. Beijing’s response to the unrest has been to impose a sweeping national security law on the city outlawing acts of subversion, secession, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces.
On the economic front, Shenzhen surpassed Hong Kong for the first time in 2018, and last year, its gross domestic product was 2.69 trillion yuan (US$400 billion), some 8 per cent higher than Hong Kong’s HK$2.87 trillion (US$370 billion).
The central government’s reform plan has also presented Shenzhen with a lead role in “internationalising” the yuan and opening up the country’s financial sector, a move that could step on Hong Kong’s toes as a long-standing finance hub.
Asked if she was worried that Hong Kong could be replaced by Shenzhen, Lam said she believed the central government wanted the two cities to work with – not against – each other.
“I don’t mind people saying ‘Shenzhen’s GDP has surpassed you’, because their population and land [area] are bigger than us,” she said.
“In the future, I really hope that the central government will continue to let Shenzhen try out some breakthrough and innovative policies, so that Hong Kong-Shenzhen cooperation can be taken to a brand new level.”
As of last year, Shenzhen, which has a land area of about 2,000 sq km, had a population of about 13 million. Hong Kong, meanwhile, has about 7.5 million people living on 1,100 sq km of land.
Lam noted that Hong Kong and Shenzhen remained the core cities under Beijing’s Greater Bay Area plan, which aims at turning the two, and nine other neighbouring cities, into a technological and financial powerhouse. While Shenzhen has been a leader in tech innovation, she pointed out, Hong Kong remains highly internationalised.
Hong Kong and Shenzhen authorities have also been working on turning a 87-hectare site at the Lok Ma Chau Loop border area into an Innovation and Technology Park, with many research institutions and tech companies around the world showing interest in the project, according to Lam.
“They can see that under the pandemic, our country is the only place that enjoys such good growth,” she said.
According to a Hong Kong government paper recently submitted to the district councils, the first phase of the project is expected to be completed by 2027, with the park focusing on six research areas, including medical technology, big data and artificial intelligence, and robotics. The entire park is set to boast floor space of about 1.2 million sq m – three times the size of Hong Kong’s Science Park in Pak Shek Kok.
Looking forward, Lam said Beijing’s support and cross-border integration would be crucial for Hong Kong’s economic revival.
“To be frank, integration with the mainland is crucial to Hong Kong’s economic revival. It would be more likely that our economy can be rebooted if we can, under the central government’s policy support, revive people’s [cross-border] exchange and commercial activities,” she said.
“I am confident that through our cooperation with Shenzhen, [we can achieve] our next target of becoming an international technological innovation centre,” she added.
Additional reporting by Gary Cheung