administrative deterritorialization: where is qianhai located?

I was flitting about the internet and discovered that as of May 19, 2020 the portal for the Qianhai Cooperation Zone had moved [from Shenzhen] to the management platform of the Guangdong Provincial Government, which means that the administrative unification of the Greater Bay Area proceeds and that much of what happens in Qianhai will now have to be approved in Guangzhou. The political ordering is clear on the Chinese site. The official name on the platform is: 广东自由贸易试验区深圳前海蛇口片区前海深港现代服务业合作区, which translates as: Guangdong Free Trade Pilot Zone Shenzhen Qianhai Shekou Zone, Qianhai Shen Kong Modern Service Cooperation Zone. The order of the place names tells us that Guangdong Province is the ultimate authority over Qianhai, and that Qianhai and Shekou are both under Shenzhen. Hong Kong only appears in abbreviated form as part of the cooperation zone in the second part of the name.

What might this mean for Shenzhen and Hong Kong? Thoughts du jour:

In the early days of reform and opening, before the Shenzhen government was fully in place (and yes it took about thirty years for that to happen), administrative deterritorialization worked in favor of ordinary citizens. Mountains high, emperor far away 山高皇帝远 as one used to say. Master plans and policy had to be approved in Beijing and so while that was happening, unofficial, greyish activities shaped urbanization and many ordinary residents developed businesses and built up neighborhoods. Urban villages and the once rowdy layouts of Dongmen, Huaqiangbei and Bagualing were the vibrant result of that absence of direct oversight. However, as the city’s administrative capacity strengthened, so did its compulsion to remake neighborhoods in its own image, razing urban villages and renovating older sites to upgrade the city. Suddenly, deterritorialization worked in favor of government administrators, making the city itself the agent of urbanization, while residents and their neighborhoods became the object of that process.

Something similar is at work in Qianhai. The geographic position of Qianhai makes it the gateway between Guangzhou and the South China Sea, while its administrative position has moved north. Qianhai, it would seem, is in Shenzhen but not of it. There was already a spatial disconnect when Qianhai and Shekou fell more firmly under the direction of Futian. However, now the Guangdong Provincial Government is the ultimate authority over Qianhai Shekou. The Guangdong Free Trade Zone Authority will presumably make decisions that are best for its version of Guangdong because that is what it is designed to do. Given Shenzhen’s urban renewal track record, I’m not hopeful that the province will do a better job than the city when making decisions based on what may or may not be viable on the ground and in coastal waters. We’ve known for a while that the point of the Cooperation Zone is to displace many economic functions from Hong Kong to Shenzhen. Now the mechanisms of that transfer are increasingly public and we have a sense of how displacements and extraction will be managed.

2 thoughts on “administrative deterritorialization: where is qianhai located?

    • In this case, it means that a power struggle has concluded. For ordinary people, living in either Qianhai or Shekou it will be even more difficult to shape what happens in these spaces. Moreover, urban planning in these spaces will now be with respect to what Guangdong province needs, rather than what is actually viable on the ground.

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