Aiming for higher things

Shenzhen set to climb the ranks after the arrival of former moon boss?

Ma Xingrui w

Shenzhen’s Ma Xingrui

Shortly before sending the lunar rover Jade Rabbit to the moon in December 2013, the commander-in-chief of the expedition was redeployed to Guangdong.

The transfer of Ma Xingrui, an aerospace scientist from Beijing, to his new role as Guangdong’s deputy Party chief was unanticipated. At the time it was suggested that the 56 year-old was tasked with tightening the central government’s grip in the province. After just two months in office, Ma led a direct attack on two of Guangdong’s murkier vested interests: the sex trade (see WiC226 for the crackdown on the sin city of Dongguan) and the druglords (see WiC221 for the raids in the ‘meth capital’ of Boshe). But it wasn’t until this month that the latest objective in Ma’s redeployment was revealed, with the news that he will also become the Party boss of Shenzhen.

Observers say that the appointment is significant because it implies that the city is going to get enhanced status on the national stage. Ma is one of the 205 Central Committee apparatchiks that votes for the members that sit on the ruling Politburo, making him the highest ranking Shenzhen boss in the city’s history. Before this, only Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin and Chongqing – the four cities with municipality status in China – were headed by members from the Central Committee. (Ren Xuefeng, the Party chief of Guangzhou, is only a backup member of the Central Committee.)

“It underlines the elevated role of Shenzhen,” Hong Kong’s i-Cable Television reports, citing an official from the Chinese Academy of Social Science. “It is possible that Shenzhen will become the fifth directly-controlled municipality later this year.”

Higher status for Shenzhen could bring more supportive policies from Beijing. “Shenzhen would communicate with the central government more directly. As such it can better understand, and carry out, the country’s strategic blueprint,” Guo Wanda, vice president of the Shenzhen-based think tank China Development Institute, told local media.

Could the move prove to be a winner’s curse for Ma? Three Party chiefs from Beijing, Shanghai and Chongqing have been ousted since 1998 (the latest case being Bo Xilai). According to Luo Tianhao, an outspoken researcher with the state asset manager Sasac, Shenzhen might not gain from the extra attention either. Avoiding a more direct relationship with the central government hasn’t done the city obvious harm. By contrast, it seems to have benefited, becoming home to some of China’s most competitive private sector firms, such as Tencent.

“The administrative model of the directly-controlled municipalities is outdated,” Luo suggests, believing instead that China should set up 10 “special cities” and encourage them to develop as megalopolis via their surrounding hinterlands.

An article published on the WeChat platform of the People’s Daily says that it will be difficult for Shenzhen to establish itself on a par with bigger rivals like Chongqing, simply because it isn’t large enough. (The population of Chongqing municipality is 30 million, three times that of Shenzhen.) “It is impossible, at least for the near future, for Shenzhen to become a directly-controlled municipality,” it concludes. “There is no need to over-read Ma’s latest appointment.”

Nevertheless, the newspaper says that for Shenzhen to grow further, it will need to absorb nearby cities such as Dongguan and Huizhou. That would fit with the central government’s master blueprint to create more integrated regional economies, like the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei hub, and Time Weekly agrees that a supersized hub in the Pearl River Delta is inevitable.

Or could Shenzhen be combined with Hong Kong into a super special economic zone spanning the border between Guangdong and the special administrative territory to the south? However, if Hong Kong’s mini constitution, the Basic Law, is properly observed, that looks unlikely before 2047.

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