Shanghai Mayor Xu Kuangdi stepped up to the microphone and asked to take the first question at a press conference for this week's forum. He was taken aback by what came: what would the meeting mean for Hong Kong? It was clear Mr Xu had not been expecting the query, but that it would be on the minds of many delegates and reporters in Shanghai for the annual gathering of the 21-member grouping. With the US-led bombing campaign under way in Afghanistan and President George W. Bush set to attend, the Shanghai summit will attract the world's attention, guaranteeing enormous exposure for the city. Ready the focus of interest from many outside China with Beijing's impending accession to the World Trade Organisation, the Apec meeting, although brief, could add to Shanghai's considerable allure. And that could pose an image problem for the SAR. 'We are so eager to open up. This meeting is a good chance [to prove that],' the mayor said, hoping the short-lived influx of visitors could pave the way for longer-term commitments on trade and investment. Shanghai has spent most of its US$3 billion (HK$23.4 billion) for hosting Apec on boosting the city's communication systems, removing one of the bottlenecks that has hampered its development as a financial centre. Aiming to close the digital gap between Shanghai and Hong Kong, Mr Xu said the work would also narrow the divide between his city and developed Western centres, improving Shanghai's long-term competitiveness. The mood in the two cities could hardly be more different. Hong Kong has been hard hit by the slowdown in the United States and elsewhere, which is undermining efforts to chart a path back towards growth rates seen before the financial crisis of the late 1990s. In his Policy Address last week, Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa talked of the growing challenges across the board and a need to re-invent the territory. In Shanghai the mood remains upbeat. Figures from the Shanghai Statistics Bureau show little let-up in the heady pace of economic activity, although export growth has slowed. Fuelled by consumer spending and investment flows, Shanghai's gross domestic product was estimated to have expanded 10.3 per cent in the first three quarters of the year compared with 10.6 per cent last year. This rate puts the city on course to record its 10th consecutive year of double-digit growth. This week's public relations task is not lost on the Hong Kong delegation. It is likely that Hong Kong's team in Shanghai will seek to take a higher profile than in past Apec forums. On Thursday, Mr Tung is set to deliver an address to business executives on the SAR's growth strategy. Mr Xu opted for a diplomatic response, listing Hong Kong's strengths and vibrant history, with a belief that there was more than enough commercial potential for both cities to thrive. Choosing a soccer metaphor, Mr Xu said Shanghai and Hong Kong were strikers for the same national team. It is a message that Mr Tung could find himself repeating this week.