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Symposium looks back on 40 years of Special Economic Zones

Author  :  WU YONG     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2020-09-29

GUANGZHOU—At a recent symposium, experts looked back on the four decades since the establishment of China’s special economic zones (SEZs) and also looked to their way forward.

The Guangdong Academy of Social Sciences released the book Four Decades of Industrialization in China’s Special Economic Zones at the symposium. This book interprets the road to sustained high growth in China’s SEZs from the perspective of industrialization. It also puts forward a theory of deepening industrialization by transitioning from China’s dependence on comparative advantages to competitive advantages, with reference to the practice of industrialization in SEZs under an open economy.

Xiang Xiaomei, a research fellow at the Guangdong Academy of Social Sciences, explained the industrialization trajectory of China’s SEZs over the past 40 years. At the initial stage, industrialization was dependent on comparative advantages, featuring processing with supplied materials, assembly with supplied parts, processing with supplied samples and compensation trade. The highly open SEZs have facilitated the alignment of China’s abundant labor resources with international industrial capital, propelling the rapid development of industrialization and pushing the SEZs on a rapid growth track.

As industrialization deepens, the SEZs have also taken on new characteristics, including a high per capita GDP, a high proportion of industry in the national economy, a high proportion of high-tech industries in the industrial sector, and a strong capacity to influence and drive their surrounding areas, Xiang continued. For example, Shenzhen, China’s first SEZ, has seen industrial upgrades almost every decade, creating an industrial structure dominated by high-tech industries and modern service industries. Innovation and technological progress are the main forces driving Shenzhen’s deepened industrialization, making the city an important hub in the global innovation network.

The key to the success of China’s special economic zones is to attract foreign investment and optimize the industrial structure, noted Tao Yitao, a professor from Shenzhen University. Making full use of special policies to attract foreign capital helped address capital constraints in the initial stage of industrial development. In the transition period, advantages in high-tech industry fueled the transition from “assembled in China” to “made in China,” thus continuously injecting vitality from innovation into the modernization of industry and the formation of high-end manufacturing.

Supported by the manufacturing industry, China’s SEZs have established hub-based competitive advantages in the fields of application innovation and the industrialization of scientific and technological achievements. In Xiang’s view, however, this is only an intermediate stage in the development of China’s SEZs, not the end. In light of the opportunities and challenges brought by accelerated adjustment of the international political and economic structure in the post-pandemic era, China’s SEZs should strive to make up for their shortcomings in basic innovation and original innovation capabilities.

In addition, Xiang suggested maintaining an economic structure dominated by the real economy and manufacturing industry while deepening industrialization through technological innovation and industrial upgrading. It is important to maintain a logical ratio of manufacturing and service industries in the national economy, avoid the degeneration from a real economy to a fictitious economy, and promote the high-quality development of manufacturing.

It is also important to accelerate the construction of metropolitan areas and urban agglomerations centered around SEZs, continuously expanding their economic reach and accelerating the construction of a high-quality regional economic layout. Moreover, Xiang suggested further cultivating a culture of innovation in the country’s SEZs and maintaining strategic determination and entrepreneurial passion.

Editor: Yu Hui

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