Each time I fly over the Lok Ma Chau border crossing enroute from Hong Kong to inland cities in mainland China, I can not but marvel at the contrast between the two sides of the border along the Shenzhen River. On the left hand (Hong Kong) side, it is an expanse of sleepy green fields. On the right hand (Shenzhen) side, it is another expanse of ever-growing high rises. One would be excused for thinking that the two sides have been mistakenly switched.
To some extent, this image is deceptive. Development in the border area on the Hong Kong side has been forbidden mainly for security reasons. But development on the Shenzhen side has been heightened because of its proximity to Hong Kong.
Nevertheless, the contrast is impressive and telling. Thirty years ago there were nothing but farming in Shenzhen, with a population of 30,000. It was also a highly restricted area for security reasons. Many people, including one of my cousins, used Shenzhen as a staging area to escape to Hong Kong.
Today Shenzhen is a thriving metropolis with 14 million inhabitants. It has its own problems. But people are no longer compelled to brave shark-infested waters because they are starving; there are so many opportunities that people from all over China flock to Shenzhen to find work; the streets are wide and tidy; the shops are full of goods and people. It is a demonstration of the tremendous impact of government policies. The policies do not even have to be perfect (it is an impossibility); they just have to be relatively rational.