Xi smiles at Shenzhen while snubbing Hong Kong

Domestic News

On the 40th anniversary of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone, Chinese leader Xi Jinping praised the city as a model for its economic achievements and adherence “to the Party’s leadership.”

shenzhen hong kong xi jinping
Illustration by Derek Zheng

Today in the southern Chinese metropolis of Shenzhen, a “grand gathering” marking the 40th anniversary of that city’s Special Economic Zone (SEZ) was held. The basic significance of the event can be summed up by the attendance of just three key figures:

  • Chinese leader Xí Jìnpíng 习近平, who gave a speech on the importance of Shenzhen to China’s future development.
  • Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng (林鄭月娥 Lín Zhèng Yuè’é), who had postponed a policy address to attend, and dutifully clapped along as Xi called for young people in the “Greater Bay Area,” which includes both Shenzhen and Hong Kong, to have a strengthened “sense of belonging to the motherland.”
  • Huawei founder Rén Zhèngfēi 任正非, whose Shenzhen-based company has borne the brunt of foreign attacks, and remains critical to the development of 5G technologies in China.

The core message of Xi, who is, of course, also the “core” of the Communist Party: China must be self-reliant and resilient to foreign interference, in both its economy and society.

What did Xi say?

Xi’s major speech can be read in full in Chinese, but an official English translation is not yet available. Highlights can be read via Xinhua and the China Daily. Those highlights mentioned aspects of the economic development plan recently laid out for the city, but were heavy on politics:

  • “Xi identified the valuable experience of Shenzhen and other SEZs, including adhering to the Party’s leadership, [and] upholding and improving the system of socialism with Chinese characteristics.”
  • “Xi also called on Shenzhen to build itself into a pilot zone for socialism with Chinese characteristics, [and to] set an example for cities of a modern socialist country.”
  • “Xi asked Shenzhen to take active moves to further promote the construction of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area,” including instilling the region’s young residents with a “sense of belonging to the motherland.”

In Xi’s full remarks, he emphasized that today’s Shenzhen is “full of vitality” (生机勃勃 shēngjībóbó), and reiterated that the city is the “leading model example” (先行示范 xiānxíng shìfàn) of a successful economic zone.

  • “Xi’s vision of Shenzhen as a base for China’s rising technological prowess carries extra resonance because his father, Xí Zhòngxūn 习仲勋, was an official who helped to establish the region as a scrappy boomtown,” the New York Times writes. “Xi mentioned his father indirectly in his speech, citing him only as an unnamed provincial leader.”

The praise for Shenzhen, in particular its adherence “to the Party’s leadership,” is a clear snub at neighboring Hong Kong, which in Beijing’s eyes was wrecked by protesters, and only recently saved from “savage unrest” by a national security law.

Put another way, as Quartz wrote yesterday, Shenzhen represents Xi Jinping’s ideal financial hub. After all, the year before the 2019 pro-democracy protests, Shenzhen’s economic output had surpassed that of Hong Kong.

The rise of the “great banner of Xi Jinping Thought”

Another important political event happened shortly after Xi’s speech: Lǐ Xī 李希, the Party Secretary of Guangdong Province, where Shenzhen is located, talked about the need for “raising high the great banner of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era.” The China Media Project reports:

This is in fact the first time since the onset of the Covid-19 epidemic in January this year that a member of the Politburo, the elite 25 officials who oversee the CCP, has aggrandized Xi (this is what the “raising high” in this case accomplishes) in his presence with reference to his banner term. And even before January, the use of this phrase was exceptionally rare.

Communist Party leaders are now preparing for a meeting, officially known as a plenum, from October 26 to October 29. With the economy on the road to recovery, is Xi gearing up to consolidate even more power in a post-coronavirus era?