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Shenzhen pulls back from experimental Qianhai development

Posted: 06/29/2011 9:32 am

An artists rendering of the new Qianhai Economic Zone

The 15-square kilometre Qianhai area in Shenzhen was supposed to be an experiment just as important as Shenzhen’s original experiment as China’s lone foray into the world of capitalism. This time, the experiment was to be political: Qianhai is an economic zone ithat was set to have its own tax policies, legal system, and anti-corruption body like Hong Kong’s ICAC.

Perhaps we should’ve known that, as exciting as this would be for the PRD (and China as a whole), it was just too much of a leap for China’s Communist Party. So while plans for Qianhai to be developed as an economic zone will continue, it will no longer be such a daring political experiment.

The South China Morning Post quoted the Southern Metropolis News as saying the U-turn had been made because “Qianhai is still at the beginning stage of attracting investment and construction. Its management shouldn’t take too many responsibilities besides economic development,” according to Zhou Rongsheng, the deputy director of the Shenzhen People’s Congress’ legal committee.

Also from the SCMP (behind a paywall):

Mainland media reported that people wre disappointed that the regulation no longer included many experimental measures aimed at blazing a trail for democratisation and fighting widespread corruption. The proposal for a Hong Kong-style graft buster and ombudsman was changed to a joint supervisory team involving the Communist Party’s disciplinary watchdog, prosecutors, police and auditors.

Qianhai, along with Nansha in Guangzhou and Hengqin in Zhuhai, was written into China’s 12th five-year plan for 2011-15 as a testing ground of strategic importance. Before the U-turn, it was set to have its own laws, regulations and tax regime by the end of the year.

I was in Qianhai a few weeks ago, and it remains a dusty outpost with a few new highrise apartments. It’s a long way from becoming, as was the original plan, “the Manhattan of the Pearl River Delta”. Instead of being on the cutting edge of political and economic experimentation in China, Qianhai will likely be destined to be “just another” economic zone, like all of the others that dot the country.

Qianhai will no doubt be successful as an economic zone, but it could have been so much more.



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