China took an historic step Sunday in opening up its economic and financial system to the world by inaugurating the new free trade zone in Shanghai, an experimental area designed to increase its clout in the international economy.

Shanghai, which is already China's financial and commercial capital and has the world's busiest trade port, will now have a zone where it will be able to experience - technically outside the country's borders - what happens when it allows the free exchange of the yuan with other currencies or allows bank interest rates to be subject to market forces.

After a ceremony attended by China's trade minister, Gao Hucheng, along with the secretary-general of the Chinese Communist Party in Shanghai, Han Zheng, the new zone began to operate as such according to special rules and regulations different from those in the rest of the country and which will prevail at least until 2016.

An initial group of 25 Chinese and foreign companies on Sunday morning received official permission to establish themselves in the new zone.

This "mini-Hong Kong" on the outskirts of Shanghai, as the Hong Kong press has labeled it, will be the first zone of this type on China's mainland and it will compete with other similar Asian zones such as the one in the former British colony, South Korea's Busan zone and Singapore.

Its creation - announced by surprise in July, approved in August and launched Sunday after a mere three months - can only be explained by the fact that it is being established using preexisting logistical facilities and because the Chinese government determined it to be a necessity, although it faced strong internal opposition.

Primer Ministro Li Keqiang seems to want to use the Shanghai zone to show how his economic plan can save China from a forced landing after three decades of rapid and continuous economic growth. EFE