Hong Kong will still set the pace for Shenzhen’s future direction, the metropolis’ communist party boss said on Saturday, as he welcomed Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and her 160-strong delegation who were en route to Beijing to mark the 40th anniversary of economic reforms and opening up.
Returning the compliment, Lam said Hong Kong and its neighbouring city enjoyed a uniquely close relationship. “Hong Kong and Shenzhen are neighbours, we are loving brothers,” she said.
Some 60,000 Hong Kong firms are based in Shenzhen, she noted, making the city one of the biggest investors there. Shenzhen party secretary Wang Weizhong thanked Hong Kong for being instrumental in its development over the past four decades.
“Hong Kong is still Shenzhen’s role model, it is still the goalpost of our development,” Wang said.
“We will not forget, that one of the central government’s important considerations of setting up the Shenzhen special economic zone, is the unique advantages of Shenzhen being a neighbour of Hong Kong’s.”
Shenzhen has a special place in the story of opening up. When China opened its doors to capitalism and foreign investment in 1979, late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping chose Shenzhen, a fishing town in the Pearl River Delta near Hong Kong, as the first special economic zone.
Before departing for the city on Saturday morning, Lam said the rise of Shenzhen was Hong Kong’s biggest contribution to China’s economic reforms.
“Over the past 40 years, Shenzhen has been transformed from a small fishing village to an economically important city today – I believe Hong Kong’s participation was indispensable,” she said.
It was fitting that Lam’s visit to Beijing began in Shenzhen, as she and her entourage, many of whom had played a part in the southern city’s development, spent the day there touring iconic sites, and visiting an exhibition charting Shenzhen’s rise.
Apart from the city’s top officials, the delegation included prominent businessmen and politicians such as toy tycoon Lam Leung-tim, 94, Peter Woo Kwong-ching, former chairman of Wharf Holdings, Bank of East Asia chairman David Li Kwok-po, and Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai, former member of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee.
Lam Leung-tim was later introduced to Wang as the oldest member of the delegation, as he proudly
showed off the yellow rubber duck toy his company Forward Winsome Industries is known for.
Also among the delegates was Dennis Lam Shun-chiu, an ophthalmologist known for his philanthropic work on the mainland. In 2004, he founded Project Vision, which aims to provide eye healthcare to rural China.
The chief executive told Wang the average age of the delegates was 66.
The delegation began its tour with a stop at an exhibition on the transformation of the mainland city from a fishing town, to China’s innovation and technology hub that is also home to 12 million people.
The group then met Wang over lunch, before visiting another exhibition, and an iconic site related to reforms at Qianhai, Shenzhen’s new business and financial district.
They then set off for the capital, and are due to attend a seminar on Sunday with Beijing officials on how Hong Kong can further contribute to China’s development.
On Monday morning, the group is expected to meet state leaders. No official statement has been made yet, but these leaders could either be President Xi Jinping, or Vice-Premier Han Zheng.
Former chief executives Tung Chee-hwa and Leung Chun-ying are also expected to join the tour later as vice-chairmen of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the nation’s top political advisory body.
Separately, before leaving for Shenzhen, Lam once again dismissed speculation that Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung was to be replaced.
“There is no such thing – this delegation is purely to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the country’s reform and opening up,” she said.
Lam also said she will not have one-to-one meetings with state leaders on this trip. Cheung was not in the delegation.