Academics from a top Chinese research institute have proposed upgrading Shenzhen and three other cities to centrally administered municipalities, similar to top-tier metropolises such as Beijing and Shanghai.
In an article published in the July issue of the journal Bulletin of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the authors said that adjustments to administrative divisions should be made as the country continued its urbanisation and economic push.
"We should support Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei development, Greater Bay Area development, Yangtze River Delta and other strategic schemes," wrote the two academics from the Key Laboratory of Regional Sustainable Development Modelling at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
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Specific suggestions include designating Shenzhen, the eastern cities of Qingdao and Dalian, and Kashgar in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region as centrally administered municipalities. The article also proposed expanding administrative rights for cities including Chengdu, Wuhan and Nanjing.
"Repetitive construction and ferocious competition between different administrative regions commonly exist, and adjustment of these relations will directly impact competition, allocation and cooperation in these areas," the article said.
Setting up municipalities and flattening the management structure would improve administrative efficiency and resource allocation, it argued.
At present, Shenzhen had a lower administrative status and was under the purview of Guangdong province, said Hu Gang, director of the Urban Research Institute of South China, a Guangzhou think tank.
"If Shenzhen became a municipality, it would gain greater policy support and more resources, such as budget directly from the central government, as well as investment projects," he said.
An elevation of the city's status would also give Shenzhen a boost in the Greater Bay Area development plan, because it would be seen as having a leading role with similar clout to that of Guangzhou, Hong Kong and Macau.
If Shenzhen did become a centrally administered municipality, its leader would have the same rank as the Communist Party secretary of Guangdong and be more senior than the Guangzhou party chief.
The development plan is aimed at turning nine mainland Pearl River Delta cities, together with Hong Kong and Macau, into a vibrant and thriving technology and manufacturing hub that can rival Silicon Valley and Tokyo Bay.
China has four centrally administered municipalities: capital city Beijing, the eastern economic hub of Shanghai, Tianjin in the northeast, and Chongqing in the southwest.
Besides the four centrally administered municipalities, China controls 22 provinces, five autonomous regions including Xinjiang and Tibet, and the two special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau.
The administrative framework, formed in the 1960s when China was a predominantly agricultural society, needs adjustment to meet the needs of changing times, according to Hu.
"The development of Chinese cities has always been linked with administrative resources," he said.
However, such a policy change may not be implemented swiftly. Since news of the proposal emerged, Wang Kaiyong, one of the authors, has clarified to the Southern Metropolis News on Tuesday that "the article is purely academic research, just [our] opinion, and it is not national policy or established on the basis of existing policy".
The idea of Shenzhen getting such a boost surfaces every few years, and has been a hot topic of discussion among grass-roots organisations and individuals. Beijing-based independent political economist Hu Xingdou has been writing publicly since 2007 about the case for upgrading Shenzhen's status to at least a "junior municipality".
"When Chongqing became a centrally administered municipality [in 1997], and when Hainan became a province [in 1988], they had roused high tides of development," he wrote.
Such adjustment would enhance innovation development, improve administrative efficiency through the decentralisation of power, and help speed up economic development, he has argued.
In 2015, a report by the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences that called for readjustment of the administrative regions also suggested upgrading Shenzhen, Qingdao and Dalian to centrally administered municipalities, to be managed directly through the State Council, China's cabinet.
There is already no shortage of development schemes and projects that could bolster Shenzhen's growth. Besides the Greater Bay Area scheme, the city has also benefited from the completion of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, high-speed trains linking the city with China's massive railway network, and dozens of infrastructure, education and scientific research projects.
The latest addition is a 474.1 billion yuan (US$67.9 billion) investment plan to improve intercity rail connections by building 775km (480 miles) of intercity railway links and five transport hubs in the Greater Bay Area region.
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