23 February 2019
Shenzhen's government made a speedy U-turn in restricting car purchases, but did it consider other options to fight traffic congestion? Photo: Bloomberg
Shenzhen's government made a speedy U-turn in restricting car purchases, but did it consider other options to fight traffic congestion? Photo: Bloomberg

Quick decisions without consultation may not be the best

China’s economy has grown impressively in the past three decades.

Many have attributed that achievement to the edge a country under an autocratic system enjoys in developing its economy and improving livelihoods.

One of the advantages is said to be the speed with which decisions can be made.

Some who hold this belief cite the example of the high efficiency with which roads and bridges are built on the mainland and compare that with the protests in Hong Kong against government efforts to set aside land to build flats.

Two separate news items about traffic congestion vividly reflect the differences between Hong Kong and the mainland.

Shenzhen abruptly rolled out a limit on car purchases last week.

Rumors had been circulating early last year that Shenzhen would follow the lead of Shanghai and Beijing in imposing restrictions on car purchases. However, at the Guangdong People’s Congress in January last year, Shenzhen Mayor Xu Qin pledged the city would not introduce such curbs.

But the local government made a U-turn, announcing the restriction at 5:40 p.m. on Dec. 29, to take effect almost immediately.

The next day, Hong Kong’s Transport Advisory Committee released a report on road traffic congestion based on an eight-month study last year.

The report outlined 12 measures to tackle congestion.

These separate developments show a significant difference in the pace of policy implementation between the mainland and Hong Kong.

Both governments are determined to fix traffic congestion and air pollution, but the speed with which they make decisions is as different as night and day.

However, quick decisions may not necessarily lead to good results.

To ensure fast implementation, authorities on the mainland often give no hint in advance of a decision.

Sometimes government officials fail to honor their promises, and the so-called “Chinese speed” is achieved at the expense of the government’s credibility.

In the Shenzhen case, armed police even had to be mobilized to shut down car dealerships and stop people from rushing to buy new cars.

Sometimes, the government may have ignored other possible options without taking sufficient time for a thorough study.

For example, did the Shenzhen government study the option of electronic toll collection during rush hours downtown to mitigate traffic congestion?

A World Bank study showed it takes 10 times more time to set up a company in the mainland than in Hong Kong.

Figures for the growth of gross domestic product may not always reflect systemic differences like these.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan. 6.

Translation by Julie Zhu.

– Contact us at [email protected]


Assistant Professor at the Department of Economics, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

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