It is Chinese, which is not surprising, and its capital city is Shenzhen, a town with 13 million inhabitants which was just a fishermen village at the end of Mao era. Kilometers of skyscrapers-lined avenues can be viewed whose architects have competed in imagination and boldness. Compared to that, La Defense district looks like a simple block, even if it is one of the most important business centers in Europe. It is there that everything has started. Deng Xiaoping had chosen it, near Hong Kong, to create one of its “special economic zones”. A particular legislation protected foreign investments and gave to enterprises a large management freedom. His project went unnoticed during a long period in Western countries and especially in France. It consisted to rely, in order to transform Chinese economy, on the business leaders who had flown their country after the 1949 revolution. They took refuge in Hong Kong, in Singapore and in some neighboring countries like Malaysia and Thailand, where they had played very quickly an important role in the local business communities. After a few years, the major American and Japanese industrial companies and at a smaller extent, some Europeans, set up in the region.
Thirty years later, China had become the second largest economy in the world. A great bronze statue pays a tribute to the visionary Chinese leader, at the top of a hill in the Mount Linhua Park in Shenzhen. Deng Xiaoping is standing, smiling, determined and…walking, straight ahead, his look fixed toward the future. Xi Zhongxun, the father of current president Xi Jinping, was among his aides and Deng Xiaoping had made him responsible for the implementation of the Shenzhen project. At the eve of the Forty Years of reforms commemorations, in December, his son has tried to attribute to his father a more important role. This idea has been quickly abandoned but it reveals the historical importance of what happened in Southern China at that time. And both Deng Xiaoping and Xi Jinping father would be proud of the achievements.
Shenzhen has not only attracted foreign investments. The city has been the birthplace of many major actors in the new technologies, in communication as in new web applications. Huawei, the telecom giant and Tencent, the Chinese equivalent of Facebook have located there their headquarters and they employ dozens of thousand of persons in their research centers. BYD, the pioneer in China of electric cars and of batteries production has located there its main activity centers. To welcome this new population, the city has not only built homes. It has been able to put in place in a record time, an efficient public transportation system which reduces the daily travels by car. Air is much less irrespirable than in Beijing or in Shanghai, but for another reason. Very soon, the Guangdong province had made the nuclear choice, at the beginning, under the influence of Hong Kong power companies.
Anyway, it is, and that is regrettable, one of the very few sectors where French industry is present in the region. Framatome and EDF, with their Chinese partners started to build two reactors, in Daya Bay, in the beginning of the Nineties and, after that, four others in Ling Ao. The two sites are located a few kilometers away from Shenzhen which doesn’t suffer from the emissions of coal-fired power plants as other major Chinese cities. On the other side of the Pearls River delta, closer to Canton, in Taishan, two EPR have been built. The first one has been connected to the electricity network last summer and the second one should be connected next year, before the start of Flamanville, the French one. To the difference of France, China did not interrupt its nuclear program and enterprises didn’t lose their technical capacities to manage and to achieve such projects. The exemplary cooperation between EDF, Areva, as it was its name at that time, and their Chinese partner has made easier the resolution of the unavoidable problems which occur in such complex projects. During his visit in the area, the Prime Minister Edouard Philippe would have been well-advised to celebrate this success. He did not, maybe because he was scared by Nicolas Hulot wrath. It is true that it was before this one resignation. So Guangdong province has made the nuclear choice and 40% of Chinese nuclear power plants, in construction or in operation in China, are located there.
Energy and the new technologies are only one of the aspects of this “New California” dynamism. Two major infrastructure projects have just come to their achievement. Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Canton are now linked by a high-speed train line. It is not the gain made on the duration of the trip offered by the new line which is important but the fact that this region is now connected to the whole China high-speed network. In the same time a huge bridge offers now the possibility to link Macao and Hong Kong. When it was put into service, that generated traffic jams. Authorities had not forecast such a success. The objective is to obtain a better integration between the three main activity centers located around the Pearls River. Hong Kong remains the major financial platform, even if Shenzhen has ambitions in this domain. Macao will be devoted to tourism and to cultural activities with its casinos and its Film festival which is gaining a growing success, years after years.The importance of the film industry and of the production of video games in China is so high that it is not surprising. At last, Shenzhen and its neighboring cities like Dongguan, are establishing themselves as key locations for the development of industry in the area.
So, this province is at the forefront of the evolution of the China growth model. To the difference of Central and especially Northern provinces, which will have to close their coal mines and to restructure their heavy industries, Guangdong dynamism is guaranteed and would allow to compensate the downward pressure on China growth observed for some years. It is also favored by its geographic position. It is one of the starting and arrival points of the “New Silk Roads” renamed “Belt and Road Initiative”. Canton and Hong Kong harbors will benefit from the traffic increase. The Chinese authorities bet, when they launched this policy was based on the idea that the support offered to the development of neighboring countries will create new clients for the country industry. The car sector gives a good example. China has exported in 2017 near 1 million cars. More than half of them went to the countries targeted in the BRI. They have been exported from Guangdong harbors.
These results are impressive and everything allows us to think that they are just at their beginning. But they leave us with a bitter impression. If we exclude the building of nuclear plants, French companies have not been able to anticipate the major economic transformation of that area with a population of almost 50 million, whose average age is one of the lowest in China and which will take advantage of the reduction of the birth limitations. All the conditions are put together to have an acceleration of household consumption. It is not too late, for French enterprises, to understand it. But, it would be necessary that our economic and political leaders climb Mount Linhua and realize what can happen when we are really “En Marche…”.