China's Xi promises changes to promote tech center Shenzhen

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In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks during an event to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone in Shenzhen in southern China's Guangdong Province, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. President Xi Jinping promised Wednesday new steps to back development of China's biggest tech center, Shenzhen, amid a feud with Washington that has disrupted access to U.S. technology and is fueling ambitions to create Chinese providers. (Zhang Ling/Xinhua via AP)

BEIJING – President Xi Jinping on Wednesday promised new steps to promote development of China's biggest tech center, Shenzhen, amid a feud with Washington that has disrupted access to U.S. technology and is fueling ambitions to create Chinese suppliers.

In a speech marking the 40th anniversary of the former fishing village adjacent to Hong Kong being declared the first area for the ruling Communist Party to allow free enterprise, Xi promised to ease regulations to encourage new industries.

Xi called for “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” and “optimizing and upgrading production,” alluding to ambitions to become a global competitor in fields from telecoms and bio-tech to electric cars and renewable energy.

Companies in Shenzhen including Huawei Technologies Ltd., a maker of smartphones and switching equipment that is China's first global tech brand, play a key role in those plans. That has made them targets of U.S. complaints they might be security threats or erode American industrial dominance.

The party leadership is issuing more than 60 policy changes or new guidelines, Xi said in the speech in Shenzhen to an audience of businesspeople and officials. He gave no details but said Shenzhen would have “more autonomy in important areas.”

The audience, all of whom wore masks, included Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei and Zhong Nanshan, a prominent scientist who in January became the first to publicly confirm human-to-human transmission of the coronavirus.

Shenzhen is symbolically important in Chinese politics as part of a 1992 tour by retired supreme leader Deng Xiaoping. He called on the leadership to revive his “reform and opening up” strategy following the political chill that set in after the 1989 crackdown on the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests.

Then-President Jiang Zemin eventually sided with Deng and committed to market-oriented changes that helped to ignite decades of explosive economic growth.