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An historical perspective of Hong Kong, Shenzhen and the special zones in China Low, Robert


The Special Economic Zones (SEZs) are an important part of China's latest economic development strategy in its long history and drive for modernization. In many ways, they are as much a product of China's past as they are a product of the post-Mao Open Door Policy and economic reforms, and a precursor of things to come in China. Specially designated zones for trade and contact with foreigners have existed in China since the Tang dynasty when China conducted a frontier trade with its neighbours. The Canton system and the treaty ports were subsequent versions of special zones in China. Although the treaty ports were abolished by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) after 1949, Hong Kong and Macau continued to exist and flourish as special zones in China, albeit under foreign control, as the treaty ports were. In order to understand the reason(s) for the existence of the SEZs in China today, it is necessary to see them in the historical context of special zones in China as well as in the context of the post-Mao economic reforms. Since the Third Plenum in 1978, the main trend of the reforms has been towards increasing liberalization and decentralization of trade and other economic activities. These developments constitute a sharp departure from the radical leftist policies which have dominated politics and economics in China for three decades. However, despite the promise of economic growth and development throught the Open Door Policy and the other post-Mao changes, they also raise some new political, ideological and economic problems for China. The political and economic stakes riding on the success or failure of the economic reforms and the SEZs are enormous. What happens to the SEZs, and the Shenzhen SEZ in particular, would have profound implications for the post-Mao reforms, the Open Door Policy, the stability and prosperity of Hong Kong after July 1, 1997, the Chinese leadership, modernization and even socialism in China. The purpose of this study is to discuss the SEZs within the greater historical context of special zones in China, the post-Mao reforms, and to discuss the economic relationship between the Shenzhen SEZ, China's most successful SEZ, and Hong Kong, the most active investor in Shenzhen and China. The political and ideological dimensions of the SEZs and Hong Kong's relationship with Shenzhen will also be briefly discussed in this study.

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