The annual legislative session opening in Shanghai tomorrow will be closely watched for clues on who might take over leadership positions after last year's corruption scandal.
In September, authorities sacked Shanghai party secretary Chen Liangyu for his role in the misappropriation of the city's pension fund. Shanghai Mayor Han Zheng is now acting party secretary, and there has been speculation whether he will take the post on a permanent basis, giving up the mayor's position.
As mayor, Mr Han will deliver a policy speech on the opening day of the week-long Shanghai People's Congress meeting. He is expected to call for a crackdown on corruption and set a target for slower economic growth. Mr Han's speech will also repeat well-worn themes of making Shanghai an economic, financial, trade and shipping centre, and preparing for the World Expo, which it will host in 2010.
Ahead of the meeting, Shanghai announced the arrest of Chau Ching-ngai, a property developer who has been linked to the former party secretary. Mr Han told judicial officials this week that business executives like Mr Chau who upset 'economic order' and harmed society should be severely punished. Shanghai has also pledged to better supervise management of social security funds.
One of the issues that reportedly brought Shanghai into conflict with the central government was its refusal to toe the line on slowing the economy and moderating property prices. State media report that the city will set a target of 9 per cent economic growth this year, substantially lower than the 12 per cent recorded last year. The mayor originally set a goal of 10 per cent gross domestic product growth for last year, against actual growth of 11.1 per cent in 2005.
'Shanghai policymakers lowered the forecast for GDP growth maybe because they are paying more attention to quality than quantity of growth,' said Wang Qing, greater China economist for the Bank of America.
Observers say Mr Han's political standing appears to be more stable than it was immediately after Mr Chen's sacking.
'There might be a greater possibility that Mr Han might take party secretary,' a foreign diplomat said.
Shanghai has already announced a major Communist Party meeting in May which will select a new 'leadership group'.
Technically, the Shanghai People's Congress is required to approve a new mayor, though it has virtually no power in selecting a candidate. Any possible candidate for mayor is expected to have a strong financial background as well as loyalty to the administration of President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao .