Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa's approval rating is looking a bit like the share price of Amazon.com these days. Once again, the chief executive's stock is plumbing new lows. The latest poll by the Home Affairs Department shows only one in five is happy with the Government's performance. Mr Tung suffers from constant comparison to his predecessor Chris Patten, a far more experienced political operator. Even with Beijing poking him in the eye at every opportunity, Mr Patten had a clear vision of where he wanted policies to go, not to mention the ability to communicate his views to the public. But many of the current problems of the Special Administrative Region's government are of Mr Tung's own making. He and his administration will ultimately claim the credit or take the blame for many of the choices they have made. Instead of grading his stewardship against that of the colonial government of the past, more suitable comparisons might be found elsewhere. Since Hong Kong and Shanghai are so keen to take each other's measure, a look at the leadership in the mainland's commercial centre might prove useful. Like Mr Tung, Shanghai's mayor, Xu Kuangdi, was handpicked by Beijing. While Shanghai is between two and three times the size of Hong Kong in terms of population, depending on which residents you care to count, the SAR is arguably a more complex place to govern. For one, Mr Xu does not have to worry about opinion polls - except for the one at Communist Party headquarters in Zhongnanhai. While there are plenty of universities and corporations that know how to conduct such surveys, they do not have to be told to stay away from sensitive topics. Mr Xu also benefits from a far less transparent system, which limits public debate on other thorny issues that are of concern to the community. But having said that, Mr Xu is one politician who probably would receive fairly high approval ratings in a public opinion survey. He might even be able to win a free election. Shanghai has had a succession of capable mayors, and Premier Zhu Rongji is probably the most widely respected of that talented group. Mr Xu, however, has managed to combine an academic background with solid political skills. The 62-year-old mayor, a former president of the Shanghai Institute of Technology, has overcome a serious political handicap - he joined the ruling Communist Party rather late in life at the age of about 46. While Mr Tung shies away from the 'meet the people' sessions, his Shanghai counterpart appears to enjoy them. Mr Xu is often seen donning a hard hat and inspecting construction sites - that is when he is not attending factory openings, academic conferences or strategy meetings with local officials. Mr Tung's administration has tied itself in knots trying to make the obscure point of how a policy that called for providing 85,000 flats has not been scrapped although it no longer exists. Mr Xu has won a reputation for being a straight shooter. In a visit to Baosteel, one of Shanghai's top corporations, Mr Xu reminded the captains of state industry that they might be a local powerhouse but they were still dependent on foreign technology. That apparently was a reminder that an open economy has its benefits. At a recent conference on development, the mayor raced through his prepared remarks, noting he wanted to leave time for public questions. He easily handled pointed queries, like a baseball slugger knocking soft pitches over the fence at a home run derby. When asked why Shanghai still struggled to keep its streets and rivers clean, he placed some of the responsibility of his fellow citizens. Shanghainese kept their homes tidy but their public behaviour left much to be desired, he said. City officials enjoy asking foreign reporters what they think of the mayor's performance, knowing full well that his report card is well above average. 'He is able to see through problems,' said an admiring government official. 'He gets to the heart of the matter quickly.' Foreign diplomats who have accompanied him on trips abroad relate this same impression. 'Our senior government officials noticed this was a very special person,' said a foreign diplomat who accompanied the mayor on one overseas trip. While not everyone is a fan, local leaders win grudging respect even from some of the city's toughest critics. Mr Tung often has to bridge a wide gap between local aspirations and the expectations of Beijing. While Shanghai's stance is usually much closer to that of Beijing, that is not always the case, and the aftermath of the Nato bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade was one such instance. City officials kept the lid on angry demonstrations by allowing student protesters to let off steam but keeping them away from an easily aroused general public. Behind the public display of anger, which Beijing may have appreciated, the mayor and his top aides visited the city's big foreign employers - most of them from Nato countries like the US. They made it clear that investors were still welcome and Shanghai hoped they would prosper. The mayor and his team kept Beijing happy while protecting the interests of this business-orientated city. Mr Tung probably has a better chance of turning his approval rating around than Amazon does of regaining the once lofty levels of its stock price. But the next time the chief executive feels he has to stake out a policy position, perhaps he might borrow a few useful ideas from his Shanghai counterpart.