China to remove outdated Shenzhen Special Economic Zone borders

Updated 2018-01-16 11:21:01

Guangdong Province will be completely tearing down the physical border erected nearly three decades ago to mark off the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone (SEZ) from the rest of the nation, as the city seeks more balanced development on both sides of the line, said instructions issued by China's central government.

The State Council has offered its consent to eradicate the SEZ border, a barbed-wire land border with intermittent inspection points, which runs more than 80 kilometers, marking off the areas designated in 1979 from other districts in the southern hub.

This decision comes under the backdrop of "new circumstances, new missions and new tasks for the SEZ, and to promote integrated development across the zone," said the document published Monday afternoon by the State Council, China's cabinet.

In reality, the functional purposes of this physical line became obsolete starting in July 2010, when parts of the city such as Bao'an and Longgang districts were incorporated into the Shenzhen SEZ, expanding the zone to nearly five times its original size.

The necessity of this physical boundary, which is mostly constructed along the ridges of hills and mountains, has been in question even before their services were nullified in 2010. At the turn of the century, surveys found that tariffs, taxation and other policies were nearly identical on both sides of the physical barrier.

Though this border to the north, also known as the "erguanxian" or "secondary border line" will be torn down, the State Council has emphasized the importance of keeping intact the border line to the south, separating Shenzhen from Hong Kong, expressing the need to maintain controls and enhance infrastructure to safeguard the stability along the Chinese mainland-Hong Kong border.

When and why was the border line set up?

In 1979, China's central government decided to set up Special Economic Zone (Shenzhen SEZ) in Shenzhen, which would enjoy duty free policies for imported raw materials, machines and equipment, as well as living goods. Therefore, a border line between the SEZ and the rest of Shenzhen is needed to define the area inside which special economic policies would be implemented, and to facilitate the management of the SEZ.

The scope of Shenzhen SEZ was determined in 1980, covering an area of over 300 square kilometers. The construction of the border line started in 1982, and was completed and put into use in 1986. Practice has proved that the border line played an important role in maintaining rapid and stable development of the SEZ, and helped alleviate the pressure of southern border between Shenzhen and the neighboring Hong Kong.

However, as the SEZ development expanded and the market opened wider, many have argued that the border hindered the goods and personnel communication between the SEZ and mainland China, which restricted its development.

Therefore, On 1 July 2010, the original SEZ border control was cancelled though the physical barrier has remained. Starting from 2013, some inspection booths have been demolished already.

What does it mean for Shenzhen?

In fact, the border has long been complained by both local people and scholars, as it separated Shenzhen into two unequal parts – the so called "Inside the border" and "Outside the border".

For Shenzhen natives, it's not only a physical barrier, but also a psychological one. Zhu Rongyuan, a Shenzhen-based expert on city planning has discussed its impact on people's mindset, and pointed out that the integration of the whole city is critical to alter the situation.

The State Council has also instructed that Shenzhen should take this opportunity to carry out unified management of city planning and construction, further optimize the urban function layout, improve transportation infrastructure, strengthen environmental protection, improve public services and achieve higher quality of urbanization, so as to set a model for megacity planning and construction management in new times.

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