Leaders steer Shenzhen to look to S’pore

The Shenzhen skyline as seen from the Hong Kong side of the border. Mayor Wang Rong has pushed for a makeover of the city, repainting buildings and re-fashioning rooftops like Singapore’s estate upgrading programmes. — ST PHOTO: GOH SUI NOI

City’s mayor and Guangdong party chief are fans of the Republic and believe there is much to learn from S’pore

BEIJING – Goodbye Hong Kong, hello Singapore.

After years of looking across the Pearl River for inspiration, Shenzhen now prefers to cast its eyes further south. The major Chinese metropolis has been actively learning from Singapore since 2009, picking up as much as it could from the Republic’s success story.

It started with economic restructuring, extended to sanitation and green efforts, and may now even move into laws on social behaviour.

Shenzhen’s legislature announced earlier this week that it is planning to introduce regulations that will stiffen punishments for bad social behaviour.

The undesirable traits to be stamped out include littering, vandalism and unauthorised use of public areas.

The proposed penalties are community services, reduced credit rating, and even personal apologies in the media.

‘The new forms of punishment are based on the experience of Singapore,’ legislature member Dai Guangyu told the People’s Daily.

Such official pronouncements would not surprise those who have been tracking Shenzhen’s development in recent years.

After a change in leadership in 2009, the Guangdong city, which pioneered China’s market reforms, began to look to Singapore.

Mayor Xu Zongheng, who had pushed Shenzhen to learn from Hong Kong, was sacked for corruption.

He was replaced by Mr Wang Rong, who was the Communist Party leader in Suzhou, where Singapore had a long presence with the flagship Suzhou Industrial Park.

Within the first week of his new appointment, Mr Wang urged Shenzhen to ‘learn from Singapore, challenge Singapore and surpass Singapore’.

Months later, he pushed for a makeover of the city, repainting buildings and re-fashioning rooftops like Singapore’s estate upgrading programmes.

He urged city officials to learn from Singapore’s sanitation and garbage management experiences.

The authorities also explained the switch from Hong Kong to Singapore.

‘Hong Kong is the efficiency expert, but Singapore is a unique garden city, and nobody would be better than Singapore for environmental improvement,’ the city’s urban management bureau spokesman Hu Zhenhua was quoted as saying.

It helps that Mr Wang’s boss is also a fan of Singapore.

Guangdong provincial party chief Wang Yang, a member of the Communist Party’s elite Politburo, had repeatedly visited Singapore and hailed it as a model.

He does not share Mr Wang Rong’s surname in Chinese and they are not related.

Mr Wang Yang has been keen to upgrade Guangdong’s low-tech industries, a transformation which he called teng long huan niao, which means ’empty the bird cage for new birds’.

He believed Singapore offered the best example of the way forward for Guangdong.

His advice: ‘Singapore has been independent since 1965. Its economy today is still more vibrant than the economy in Guangdong. So if you don’t know how to restructure the economy, go and learn from Singapore.’

Professor Sun Jingfeng from Henan Normal University, who has published a book on the People’s Action Party, believes the ‘two Wangs’ have been instrumental in Guangdong’s push to learn from Singapore.

‘They both share a strong desire to learn and surpass Singapore. And with the combination of the pair, Shenzhen’s learning from Singapore has obtained top-level protection,’ he said.

By Peh Shing Huei, China Bureau Chief
shpeh@sph.com.sg
Published on Jul 27, 2012, StraitsTimes

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