China Ink

Worth a celebration?

Hu Jintao travelled to Shenzhen this week to celebrate 30 years since the formation of the city’s Special Economic Zone.

Ahead of the rest?

It was a time for celebration in the Chinese press, which quoted liberally from a speech given by Hu Jintao at the anniversary celebrations on Monday. China’s president waxed lyrical about the “miracle” city at the forefront of the economy’s ‘opening-up’. What Shenzhen has achieved in 30 years took other countries 300, Xinhua proclaimed.

The State Council has decreed it “a city of global clout” (somewhat more impressive than Shenzhen’s previous title as “the central city in southern China”).

The Western media fell back on tried-and-tested material, talking up Shenzhen’s journey from “tiny fishing village” to bustling metropolis. But in Hong Kong, newspapers were more focused on the contribution of the territory’s richest man, Li Ka-shing, one of the first Hong Kong entrepreneurs to invest in Shenzhen. Li was the only business figure to get a formal audience with Hu at the celebrations, the press noted. A rare honour, said Hong Kong’s Standard newspaper, as Hu normally keeps a public distance from tycoons.

Will Shenzhen stay ahead?

It still accounts for a seventh of Chinese exports, and Wang Rong, Shenzhen’s Party secretary, told the Global Times that the city would continue to thrive as China’s “first mover”.

But Shen Dingli, a columnist at china.org.cn, was less complimentary. He thought the Shenzhen model (as a manufacturing hub) remained largely an outsourcing centre dominated by American and Taiwanese firms. Shenzhen’s most famous employer Foxconn “contributes hardly anything to domestic technological innovation,” Shen griped.

Not if new rules on minimum wages come into effect, the Japan Times thought. It reported that the changes in regulations could trigger wage increases of more than 70%, leading the Japan External Trade Organisation to file a petition with local authorities to reconsider the plan.

But there didn’t seem to be much sympathy locally. “If you (a foreign enterprise) cannot afford higher wages, then get out (of China),” one Guangdong provincial official remarked to the newspaper.

And some coverage got a bit political?

More than usual, yes. Even loyalists like the Global Times have reported on the debate on Shenzhen’s future and the need for political reform.

This follows comments from Chinese premier Wen Jiabao last month, that “without the guarantee provided by political system reforms, the results of economic reform will be lost, and the goal of modernisation cannot be achieved.”

That stirred up the newspaper editors, with New Century Weekly the most outspoken in claiming that China’s political system is “increasingly at odds with its economy”. But the Guangming Daily and China Youth Daily begged to differ, printing commentaries querying the wisdom of political reform, although Wen himself wasn’t named.

Russell Leigh Moses, writing in the Wall Street Journal, did wonder if Wen had gone a little “off-message” with his comments. China analysts said it was unusual for Wen – as prime minister – to talk about political reform. Such ideological statements are the preserve of the president (also the Communist Party General Secretary), i.e. Hu Jintao. The Asia Sentinel, a keen reader of the political tea leaves, said it might indicate tensions within the senior leadership between the pro-reform and conservative camps. Or it might point to the fact that ahead of the 2012 handover of power, Wen wants to cement his legacy as a ‘reformer’.

The Western media fell back on tried-and-tested material, talking up Shenzhen’s journey from “tiny fishing village” to bustling metropolis. But in Hong Kong, newspapers were more focused on the contribution of the territory’s richest man, Li Ka-shing, one of the first Hong Kong entrepreneurs to invest in Shenzhen. Li was the only business figure to get a formal audience with Hu at the celebrations, the press noted. A rare honour, said Hong Kong’s Standard newspaper, as Hu normally keeps a public distance from tycoons.
Not if new rules on minimum wages come into effect, the Japan Times thought. It reported that the changes in regulations could trigger wage increases of more than 70%, leading the Japan External Trade Organisation to file a petition with local authorities to reconsider the plan.
But there didn’t seem to be much sympathy locally. “If you (a foreign enterprise) cannot afford higher wages, then get out (of China),” one Guangdong provincial official remarked to the newspaper.
Russell Leigh Moses, writing in the Wall Street Journal, did wonder if Wen had gone a little “off-message” with his comments. China analysts said it was unuusal for Wen – as prime minister – to talk about political reform. Such ideological statements are the preserve of the president (also the Communist Party General Secretary), i.e. Hu Jintao. The Asia Sentinel, a keen reader of the political tea leaves, said it might indicate tensions within the senior leadership between the pro-reform and conservative camps. Or it might point to the fact that ahead of the 2012 handover of power, Wen wants to cement his legacy as a ‘reformer’


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