A new masterplan to lift the profile of Shenzhen has been seen as a sign that Beijing is losing faith in Hong Kong, which has been rocked by protests condemning China.

The main thrust of a policy paper released on Sunday by the Communist Party’s Central Commission and State Council is to turn Shenzhen into a paragon of socialism with Chinese characteristics as well as a megalopolis that matches up to the needs and requirements of China as a global superpower.

Specifically, the voluminous document notes that Shenzhen must surge to the fore among urban centers worldwide by 2025, in particular on key fronts including innovation, research and development as well as high-quality development.

It also contains a slew of policy initiatives to create the ground for Shenzhen to build on the lofty ambitions assigned by Beijing, with an emphasis on promoting the city’s financial and innovation sectors, holding mega-events and international conventions as well as attracting overseas tertiary institutions and organizations to establish footholds in the city, among other things.

Skyscrapers in Shenzhen’s Futian CBD. The city now boosts an annual GDP larger than that of Hong Kong. Photo: Asia Times

Shenzhen further elevated

The policy comes roughly half a year after Beijing gazetted a blueprint in February to amalgamate the two former European enclaves of Hong Kong and Macau with Shenzhen and Guangzhou to form a “Greater Bay Area.”

In that document, Hong Kong was accorded a multitude of roles as well as policies in its favor to further cement its stature as a pre-eminent hub in finance, trade, aviation, innovation and legal and professional services in the Asia-Pacific region.

Beijing’s “role-assigning” for Hong Kong was somehow at the expense of Shenzhen’s potential as the latter also aspired to give its neighbor a run for its money, but its positioning and functions were largely limited to being a national economic and innovation center.

Now Beijing’s latest imperative to elevate Shenzhen to a world scale to shape up to be a full-fledged global city is seen by some observers as both an adjustment to the Great Bay Area plan and a tacit warning to Hong Kong.

A protester waves a black flag in front of Govt Headquarters in Hong Kong on July 21. Photo: AFP Forum via NurPhoto/ Vernon Yuen

Some in the former British colony have shown open revolt against Beijing as protests and social unrest rumble on. More than 10 weeks of mass demonstrations that have often descended into skirmishes and running battles between radicals and the police have led to the firing of tear gas and rubber bullets. The events have not only roiled the local market, but also strained Hong Kong’s ties with Beijing.

In their op-eds chastising the protests triggered by a now-shelved China extradition bill, Beijing mouthpieces the People’s Daily and Global Times have warned that it will be Hong Kong’s own continuity as a financial and business hub that is at stake if the turmoil continues. It said mainland cities have been charging ahead as they cast aside political infighting and focus on serving the country.

The headquarters compound of tech giant Tencent in Shenzhen. Photo: Asia Times

The prevailing sentiment is that, when Shenzhen strives to make the best showing in the new round of regional rivalry, Hong Kong looks like a spoiled child, who is recalcitrant and has lost its mettle due to its feeling of entitlement.

Beijing’s new move has again fueled talk of doubling down on Shenzhen and Guangzhou – a bourgeoning commerce and manufacturing center – to supplant the unruly Hong Kong in the long run. Although Beijing has noted that nurturing the two mainland cities would also be conducive to the “one country, two systems” that is in place in Hong Kong.

Shenzhen already surpassed Hong Kong in annual economic output in 2018, booking a gross domestic product of 2.42 trillion yuan (US$343.35 billion), compared with Hong Kong’s 2.4 trillion yuan.

In the first half of 2019 the city that is home to Tencent, Huawei, DJI, BYD and Vanke has further widened its lead with robust growth of 7.4%, while Hong Kong was floundering on the edge of recession, as real GDP expanded by a mere 0.5% over a year earlier.

While Hong Kong’s economy was already bogged down by a protracted trade war, the spate of violence has added further woe.

However, Beijing’s plans for Shenzhen may still take time to translate into tangible, implementable measures and in the meantime, international firms and organizations, already getting wary of China’s elusive, unpredictable political and legal environment, are unlikely to be wooed by a policy paper to ditch Hong Kong and venture north of the border.

Read more: Mega-bridge empty as HK stays aloof from Xi’s plan

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