Easy cross-border crossing between Hong Kong and Shenzhen fuels simmering economy

Irish entrepreneur Liam Casey is a big fan of Shenzhen, feeling it has the right blend of logistics and a growing sense of innovation

Many commuters make the daily trip between the People’s Republic of China into Hong Kong

Many commuters make the daily trip between the People’s Republic of China into Hong Kong


Crossing the border from Shenzhen into Hong Kong is no longer an exercise in gauging contrasts between the highly developed economy and the fast emerging. Although stark differences remain, the experience is incredibly smooth these days, especially as the economy of southern China’s Guangdong province simmers.

Many commuters make the daily trip between the People’s Republic into Hong Kong, which as a special administrative region (SAR) of China retains a high degree of autonomy. For Hong Kong residents it’s a matter of using a fingerprint sensor, and even for foreign visitors the process is smooth.

The story of Shenzhen’s transformation from a fishing village of 30,000 people across the border from Hong Kong into a “special economic zone” and capitalist guinea pig in 1980 into a booming city of 18 million with the fourth-largest GDP in China is well known.

But this story is ongoing, and every time you go to Shenzhen there is some new development to report. Coming across by car, usually a company-owned people carrier with dual Hong Kong and Guangdong plates, there is a system where the doors open and the border official looks in from his office, takes the filled out form, and waves you through. By foot, at the Luohu crossing, the process is a bit more complicated but not much. There are fast-moving queues once you disembark from the Hong Kong suburban train that brings you to the border.

Hustlers and money changers

Once you come out the other side, the border area and the local train station are full of hustlers and money changers and electrical-goods shops, but it is a lot less ramshackle than it used to be, and within five minutes walk you are in the clean, efficient Shenzhen metro station or in the recently refurbished Shangri-La hotel.

Shenzhen is home to Irish entrepreneur Liam Casey, whom Wired UK recently described as “the man who made geography history” because of his global approach to innovation and manufacturing. Casey employs more than 4,000 people in Shenzhen alone, and while many of the headlines about his company, PCH International, lately have focused on Highway 1, the San Francisco-based start-up incubator, he has numerous factories here making products for Apple and Beats by Dre, among scores of other brands. Casey is a big fan of Shenzhen, feeling it has the right blend of logistics and a growing sense of innovation.

Some of the grimmer headlines of Shenzhen’s success story refuse to go away – Foxconn, the giant factory in the city which employs hundreds of thousands here, had reports of another suicide last week, reviving memories of the worst days at the plant.

But other headlines are more positive. The Shenzhen government has just issued a new rule to increase the number of public toilets for women, for example, setting the ratio of men’s toilets to women’s toilets at one to two or one to three, improving quality of life.

And Shenzhen has always led the field when it comes to innovation. The Shenzhen-based ICT company Huawei shipped a total of 64.21 million devices in the first six months of this year, of which smartphones accounted for 34.27 million units, a year-on-year increase of 62 per cent. This growth was predicated on the successful launch of several flagship premium smartphones such as the Huawei Mate 2 4G and Ascend P7.

Last week, Webank, which is controlled by a group that includes internet conglomerate Tencent, won permission from China’s banking regulatory commission to open a private bank in Shenzhen’s Qianhai special economic zone. It’s the latest move in Beijing’s effort to shake up lending, and the new entity will specialise in serving consumers and small firms.

It will have three billion yuan (€360 million) in registered capital. Webank will hold a 30 per cent stake in the bank and two other Shenzhen companies – an air purification firm and an investment firm – will hold 20 per cent each.

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