Much is being said in the Chinese press these days to mark the 30th anniversary of the initiative to build coastal "special economic zones" (SEZs). They were among the earliest experiments, planned by Deng Xiaoping, architect of the Chinese reform and opening-up, to connect and to eventually integrate China with the global economy.
Marking the 30th anniversary of a historically important policy is not just a ritual. It is matched, as it should be, by new policies to follow up the change that China has been enacting for some 30 odd years. Leaders are pledging further reform efforts along the course charted 30 years ago, with many of them tailored for the conditions of the interior and western frontier regions.
Local officials and entrepreneurs from the interior and western frontier cities are busy importing business activities from the relatively industrial coastal areas, under the coordination of a central government that is less burdened by old ideologies and more experienced in offering the right incentives - such as those for environmental protection.
Official media are saluting the first-generation builders, many of them already retired, and calling for better conditions for the young workers in the factories in place of the shabby workshops where their parents once worked.
For the pioneering SEZs and other coastal cities, business remains strong, despite the global recession, and social and cultural development are now being vigorously planned and pursued, powered by unprecedented investment and the ambition to expand the local talent pools.
China was at a crossroads in the late 1970s, when many things still needed putting to order after a tumultuous previous decade. The possibility of achieving the modernization of such a large country by relying on the government's efforts alone seemed slim. As one of the many initiatives to accelerate the change, SEZs were created to import international capital and to build internationally competitive industries.
Today, it is clear that the initial goals have been met - the most well-known of all SEZs is Shenzhen, which is now an industrial and trading city of more than 15 million on the site of a former fishing village. But it should not be forgotten that it was not just preferential policies that enabled the SEZs to grow successfully.
There have been ups and downs, since the SEZs are more exposed and more directly connected to the global market. At times, they were sneered at for being a hybrid mode of planning and market, and there has been no shortage of criticism of their many existing, and sometimes truly ugly, inadequacies, along with biased attacks on problems that did not exist.
As it turns out, the ups and downs have only made the SEZs grow more healthily. Nor has there been any attempt to silence the criticism. The SEZs have never been programmed, as some critics once alleged, to develop business without seeking social and civil progress. Their success, though most noticeable in economic terms, is in part also the result of their openness.
Today, the SEZs, among the many things they are promoting in the service sector, have unanimously embarked on bold plans to develop their school systems and cultural industries. There has been no over-reliance on the manufacturing sector, or protection of local companies and large businesses from international competition, or restrictions against migrants.
Such openness has become part of China's SEZ tradition, and it is expected their exemplary role will be emulated by all Chinese cities in their future development.