As Beijing's preferred candidates take over key positions in the Guangdong provincial government, Shenzhen officials reacted to the tightened leash with a hearty welcome . . . with coded reservations.
Asked to comment on the replacement of Shenzhen party secretary Li Youwei by Guangdong Vice-Governor Zhang Gaoli, Shenzhen Mayor Li Zibin said age was the primary reason.
He added: 'Li Youwei is 60 years old so it is fitting that central authorities have sent Zhang Gaoli. At a mere 51 years, he still has about 10 good years ahead of him.
'He is a good choice. I anticipate that we will be able to work well together.' But he later said several times that the outgoing party secretary's health was excellent. 'After all, he is only 60. He could still outrun any of you,' added 58-year-old Mr Li.
Hinting that Mr Li Youwei, who is known to have resisted a transfer for some time, might be made a State Councillor, Mr Li Zibin said they had worked very well together over the past three years and he wished him well.
He added: 'In Shenzhen's 19-year history, we have had times where relationships were good and we have had times where relationships were strained. The good times outweigh the bad times.
'It is hard to tell what different circumstances will bring, but I can say that I am familiar with Zhang Gaoli.
'He is a very hardworking person and I foresee no problems ahead.' Mr Li said that just as Pudong fell under the jurisdiction of Shanghai, Shenzhen came under the Guangdong administration.
'We are not monitored by the central administration but we have always moved under Guangdong,' he added. 'We are a city of Guangdong, not directly governed by the central Government. This is how the relationship works.
'The central administration has been extremely concerned with Shenzhen affairs. In the three years that I have served as mayor, we have had visits by Li Peng, Li Lanqing and Zhu Rongji.
'They are relatively familiar with our working plans and, in particular, the reform of our state-owned enterprises.' Confirming that Mr Zhu Rongji made a visit to Shenzhen a fortnight ago, Mr Li said: 'He was here for 2.5 days, during which time he detailed some specific requests. He outlined some very high goals for us.
'Also, he briefly introduced some economic plans for 1998 that took into consideration the present currency crisis.' Despite rumours that local officials were scolded by the Vice-Premier for sloppy banking practices, Mr Li said: 'Mr Zhu left very happy and was satisfied that Shenzhen was on the right track.' On the division of powers between local administrations and the central Government, Mr Li said: 'Some issues should be governed by them, but some remain for us to handle.
'Of course, we both serve the purpose of bettering the nation as a whole.'