City leaders prepare for their vision
Foo Choy Peng
While China is often seen as a gerontocracy, Shanghai's leaders are a relatively youthful bunch.
The majority of the nation's leaders are mostly in their late 60s or early 70s; none of the city's big guns are significantly over 60 years of age.
Shanghai party chief Huang Ju , for example, is 58 and mayor Xu Kuangdi is 59. The deputy mayors are aged between 50 and 56.
The politicians' relative youth is in keeping with a city known more for its dynamism and receptiveness to change than its historical and cultural legacy.
To foreigners who tend to associate Chinese politics with ageing politicians, Shanghai's faces represent a new breed of leaders as interested in the Internet as in party ideology.
Indeed, if quality of leadership is a barometer of success, the Shanghainese could probably face the future with confidence.
The credentials of its leaders are impressive: all have received tertiary education, with some graduating from the country's top universities.
Mr Huang, Shanghai's most powerful man, and vice-mayors Hua Jianmin and Jiang Yiren studied at Qinghua University, China's equivalent of Cambridge University.
Incidentally, economic czar Zhu Rongji is also a Qinghua graduate.
Mayor Xu came from Beijing Institute's department of metallurgy and vice-mayor Zhao Qizheng graduated from the Chinese University of Science and Technology.
China analysts rate Shanghai's leaders among the best educated in the country.
In a world where economic competitiveness will be increasingly decided by information technology, having leaders who grasp this notion is a big advantage in government.
Indeed, Shanghai has signed a series of deals with computer giant Microsoft to develop an information network on a scale unheard of in a Chinese city.
For a city determined to regain its status as a premier international financial hub, nothing is as important as leaders with a vision and the ability to translate that vision into reality.
The city's leaders have asked the technocrats to work out a strategic plan for taking Shanghai into the age of high finance by 2010.
There is even a vision of Shanghai by 2020.
This is unusual as Chinese leaders do not stay in office beyond two terms.
To ensure continuity in implementing its plans, the leaders have begun hunting for potential political stars and putting them through their paces.
Shanghai watchers believe the local government is more than capable of displaying the foresight and long-term planning needed to realise its goal.
If there is anything threatening to derail the city's determination to become a big financial player at home and abroad, it will not be for lack of vision and leadership.