It’s been already two years since the Chinese government established Shanghai’s SEZ –Special Economic Zone–, a 29-sq-km enclave where international trade restrictions would be eased. The project was then presented as a new Shenzhen, a city converted into a Special Economic Zone in 1979 which was supposed to show China’s compromise with economic reforms and free trade –just like Shanghai’s SEZ now. 35 years have passed since the “Shenzhen experiment,” but no place in the People’s Republic of China has enjoyed the benefits of Shenzhen’s reforms. Would be Shanghai the answer?
Shenzhen may have been an economic success and its residents certainly enjoy the advantages of Hong Kong’s proximity: they do not need to apply for a visa permit in order to enter the ex-British colony, as the rest of their fellow citizens do. But whoever has lived in Shenzhen is aware of the fact that it is identical to any other place in China: you have the same censorship, and you have the same pollution, and you have the same bad habits resulting from nationalist indoctrination and serious lack of education. Tourist often joke about this: once your bus stops at the border between Hong Kong and Shenzhen and everyone gets off, you start to hear the Mephistofelian orchestra of spitting and pallet cleaning that welcomes you back to China.
Shenzhen was stood up by the post-Tian’anmen elite, who favored politically important urban centers like Shanghai or Beijing over the rural economy favorable to entrepreneurship advocated by Deng Xiaoping, Zhao Ziyang, Wan Li, or Tian Jiyun in the 1980s. And Shanghai’s new SEZ seems to be following Shenzhen’s economicsteps:
“the most visible change inside the zone is cheap, directly imported seafood. Waiting in lines that are often 100 meters long, customers snap up frozen Mozambique lobsters, Chilean king crabs and Vietnamese tiger prawns, which are usually sold out within an hour after opening”.
This is as ironic as it can ever get: Shenzhen has moved from a fishing village to an important economic center for China, whereas Shanghai has stop being the latter to become a seller of the former. Chinese economy works in mysterious ways.
If anyone out there still believes this is one of those slow and steady steps towards economic liberalization, maybe he should take a more critical look: Shanghai’s SEZ is as free as any other place in China –not at all. Yes, bureaucracy has been reduced, companies can be registered faster, and rules on company fund transfers have been liberalized, but who gets all these freedoms? The average worker, student, or Nobel Peace Prize rotting himself in a dark prison hole? Or just the State-sponsored tycoons who send their children to Harvard? Do not expect real freedom: freedom of worship, freedom of speech, freedom of press, or anything like that. And do not even think about bringing any of these to the average Chinese worker –not even economic freedom.
Just know that Chinese economy, like any other socialist economy, does not and will not work. This is why the CCP elites who want to preserve their wealth at the expense of the misery and suffering of the rest of their fellow citizens will keep creating economic paradises to sustain themselves as long as they live –because in the long run they know they are all dead.
They will continue this path, and they will embellish it with words such as “freedom” and “reforms” and “democracy” to avoid inner and outer criticism. George Orwell got it almost right –he just missed the country and the year.