Published 12 May 2020
The study of Special Economic Zones (SEZ) matters as they are widely used across developing and developed economies. SEZ have received different designations and exist in many types, functions, and sizes. This paper argues that since the creation of SEZ, they have been functioning as a mechanism of de-bordering and structural advancement in the People's Republic of China (hereafter referred as China), between economies with different structures and economic performances. The SEZ modern concept appeared around the 1950s in industrial countries, as with the case of the Shannon Airport in Clare (Republic of Ireland). In China, the first SEZ appeared in Shenzhen (Shenzhen Special Economic Zone) as a consequence of the "opening-up" policies in 1979. According to the SEZ economic performance data, not all were successfully established, because the factors affecting their development are hard to disentangle from other forces, such as policies, regulations, management, and the international market context. Nevertheless, since 2013—in the context of the Belt and Road Initiative, and especially after the year of 2019, when the structural plan for the Greater Bay Area was unveiled—the SEZ are transforming themselves into "specially designed gateways" of a larger network of linkages between trade and economic agents. In this vein of thought, the authors seek to answer the following question: To what extent did Special Economic Zones contribute to the construction of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) along its geographical space? Furthermore, they argue in favor of an existing positive correlation between the creation of SEZ and their role as instruments for policy innovation, as apparatuses to deliver structural trade and economic change, and as tools for social and environmental sustainability. This paper presents a methodological theoretical-inductive and constructivist perspective, combining qualitative, quantitative, and non-participated observation, and builds on authors' previous paper publications. This paper is organized in six sections: (1) Introduction; (2) How shall we understand the concept of SEZ?; (3) How did SEZ develop in China?; (4)Which are the common elements of a transformative SEZ?; (5) How SEZ play a role in the construction of the BRI?; (6) Conclusion.
This paper will be part of the upcoming TDM Special Issue on "The Interaction Between International Investment Law and Special Economic Zones (SEZs)". More information here www.transnational-dispute-management.com/news.asp?key=1771