On the eve of their 39th anniversary (officially) as China’s first special economic zones, both Shenzhen and Zhuhai have launched concerted efforts to portray themselves as “international” cities. These are noble efforts, and the slick videos they have produced are well worth watching.
Shenzhen’s 7.42-minute video, entitled “Shenzhen is ready for you” focuses on its innovation strengths. It includes appearances by numerous bosses of the city’s leading companies – Huawei, DJI, Tencent, Royole, BYD and others.
Zhuhai’s three-minute video tells the story of the city from the perspective of a foreigner, to “help international audiences understand and love the coastal city,” according to its director, Xing Chuan. The foreign narrator, camera in hand, sets out on a journey to explore the old and new of Zhuhai.
Zhuhai has at the same time released a new blue logo, which incorporates elements of old and new: the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge (HZMB), and, if you look carefully, the city’s long-standing iconic statue, Fisher Girl (珠海渔女). Waters and mountains, of course, blend in.
Readers who remember Shenzhen’s 40th anniversary celebrations from last year (2018), might be forgiven some puzzlement, however: how can this be the 39th? The answer is in the word “official”. Shenzhen was established as a city in 1978. Zhuhai and Shenzhen together were only formally rubber-stamped as Special Economic Zones in 1980, once all the rules and regulations had been decided. Their unofficial birthday as SEZs was actually yesterday, August 26, 1979. That was when they, together with Shantou (Guangdong) and Xiamen (Fijian), were approved by the NPC.
Looking back on the past four decades, the two southernmost SEZ’s fortunes since their founding could not have been more different. Shenzhen, bordering Hong Kong, went from a farming village to a city of 13 million people and now has the Greater Bay Area’s biggest economy (although Hong Kong is still well ahead in per-capita GDP). Zhuhai, bordering Macau, has gone from a fishing village to a city of around 3 million people that brags the world’s king of home appliances (Gree). And even though Zhuhai is much smaller, its numbers need to be considered in context: GDP has risen from RMB209 million in 1979 to RMB291.5 billion in 2018.
Both cities are keen to project themselves as exemplars of internationalization. Shenzhen was last week tasked by the central government to become a “global model city with distinguished competitiveness, innovation capability and influence” by mid-century. Zhuhai’s ambitions are not to be underestimated, either, as the city’s investment levels are rocketing, especially in Hengqin, where it is building the “Orlando of the East”, opposite Macau’s Cotai Strip. We have plenty of stories in our archives about both cities. The most interesting about Shenzhen is its new mission. The most interesting about Zhuhai is the 11 major redevelopment projects under way there.