Today marks the 30th anniversary of the creation of China's first Special Economic Zone in the southern coastal city of Shenzhen (Guangdong province). In a previous post, Sino-Gist discussed the theoretical implications behind the SEZ programme, and how it fits in with China's continued stated socialist aims. The subject of the SEZs is worth revisiting, as Chinese media has been adorned with stories to commemorate the 30th anniversary landmark, with the People's Daily running a front-page editorial on the successes of this aspect of China's economic 'opening up'.
In Shenzhen itself, a special rally is being held in which Hu Jintao is scheduled to give an address. Adding to this the visit to the region by Premier Wen Jiabao over the weekend, it is obvious that the Chinese Communist Party is trying to exploit as much political capital from the the SEZ success story as is possible. It was Deng Xiaoping who first conceived the idea, and since 1980 the 5 selected areas have been transformed into hives of industrial activity, such that Shenzhen is now the second biggest port in China after Shanghai, handling over 100 million tons of cargo in the first half of 2010 (an increase of around 22% on 2009 levels). In addition, Guangdong province as a whole, where three of the SEZs are located (Shenzhen, Zhuhai and Shantou), now produces 25% of China's total exports.
The editorial in the People's Daily makes interesting reading. Not surprisingly, the first paragraph is quick to point out that the CCP's Central Committee and the State Council have taken the lead in the development of the SEZs over the last three decades. The newspaper then goes on to describe the policy as a “miracle” in the history of industrialisation across the world. While the growth of areas like Shenzhen is certainly impressive, this cannot be regarded as a miracle in the 'stepping outside the boundaries of impossibility' sense. Rather, what should be emphasised is that the SEZ policy has worked thus far because the has Party borrowed from conventional economic theory rather than strictly adhering to Marxist principles. The success has been based on making areas like Shenzhen open to investment from abroad, which has come in the form of billions of dollars.
In the eyes of the editorial, the Special Economic Zones testify to the fact that the idea of 'socialism with Chinese characteristics' (a term coined by Deng Xiaoping) is the only way for China to continue to advance economically in the future. Hu Jintao's idea of 'scientific development' also receives a nod as the most appropriate policy to build a better Chinese society. Clearly, the CCP (through the People's Daily's coverage) is vindicating its own rule of China in a time where it can no longer benefit from the ideological and historical pedigree of its key leaders. Whereas in the eras of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping the involvement of key Communists in the wars against the Japanese and Chiang Kai-shek was a source of great strength to the Party, the generation of leaders under Hu Jintao have all grown up in the People's Republic. As a result, the Party must look for every opportunity to prove the correctness of its post-Mao policies and demonstrate to Chinese society that it is still relevant in the 21st century. As further generations of leaders come and go, and the time when the CCP was truly a revolutionary organisation becomes more and more a distant memory, the Party will have to work increasingly hard to justify its own position at the apex of Chinese politics. Indeed, there may come a time when it can no longer do this.