BY Fran Wang (AFP) BEIJING — President Hu Jintao hailed the southern export hub of Shenzhen as a “miracle” Monday as China marked 30 years of reforms in the city that provided the blueprint for the country’s economic rebirth. “The Shenzhen Special Economic Zone created a miracle in the world’s history of industrialisation, urbanisation and modernisation and has contributed significantly to China’s opening up and reform,” Hu said on a visit to the southern city, which borders Hong Kong. “The central government will, as always, support the brave exploration of the special economic zone as well as its role of testing and carrying out reforms ahead of others,” state-run Xinhua news agency quoted him as saying. Once a sleepy fishing village, Shenzhen is widely viewed as the cradle of China’s dramatic transformation into a world economic and trade juggernaut. In August 1980, it became the first area in China to be designated as a special economic zone that could accept foreign investment, under reforms pioneered by late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping. It offered lower taxes and less red tape to attract the overseas investors whose factories — staffed by China’s abundant cheap labour — set the mould for the country’s explosive manufacturing-based economic growth. Shenzhen’s location next to Hong Kong gave investors access to the deep pockets of the international financial hub and easy access to the former British colony’s port. Several other special economic zones followed, in the nearby cities of Zhuhai and Shantou in Guangdong province, the port of Xiamen in the southeastern province of Fujian and the southern island of Hainan. The reforms touched off an annual economic growth rate of 25.8 percent over the past 30 years in Shenzhen, compared with about 9.8 percent for the entire country, according to government figures. The population has ballooned to nearly nine million people, most of them members of China’s huge army of migrant workers, according to official data. Authorities expanded the area of the zone about five-fold to just under 2,000 square kilometres (770 square miles) this year, nearly the size of Luxembourg. Located in the Pearl River Delta, the heartland of China’s export-oriented economy, Shenzhen boasts one of the highest minimum wages in China at 1,100 yuan (160 dollars) per month, compared with just 600 yuan in the poor central province of Henan. It is home to a number of high-tech firms, including Taiwanese IT giant Foxconn, which employs more than 400,000 people in the city where it makes products for Apple, Panasonic and other top brands. Shenzhen, however, is often pointed to as a symbol of some of the social problems attending the Chinese economic model. Foxconn has come under heavy criticism over working conditions at its factories after 13 Chinese employees committed suicide this year at the company’s plants and an affiliate, including 10 in Shenzhen. State media reports have also decried the city’s thriving prostitution and other ills, while a corruption scandal toppled its mayor Xu Zongheng last year. But Hu took the occasion Monday to reiterate the government’s commitment to stay the course. He said China must “continue to push forward the grand course of opening up and reform, and the socialist modernisation.” Wang Rong, the Communist Party chief of Shenzhen, told a rally that the city would continue to act as a trail-blazer for the nation, and would build itself into a “modern and international” metropolis, Xinhua reported. Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved.