SHANGHAI'S FORMER MAYOR Xu Kuangdi could be forgiven for being a bit envious of Rudolph Giuliani these days. Mr Giuliani has plenty of time to enjoy hearing the praises of his fellow New Yorkers while he considers numerous future options and eases his way out of office. Mr Xu has not been so lucky. After six productive years at the helm of the city government, he was given a little Shanghai surprise last week. He left for Paris to present Shanghai's case to host the World Expo in 2010, but by the time he came home he was unceremoniously shunted aside and packing his bags again, this time for an academic job in Beijing. Late on Friday, local television and the official government Web site seemed almost apologetic when they announced that his 'resignation' had been accepted at a meeting of the Shanghai People's Congress and that he was taking up a new assignment as party secretary at the Chinese Academy of Engineering. Never mind that before that tidy, legalistic fig leaf had been put in place, government officials had already blabbed that deputy mayor Chen Liangyu had been promoted to the post of acting mayor. The man who had been in the local media spotlight nearly every day since he took up the job in 1995 was suddenly missing in action. Although Mr Xu did not have to face the type of crisis that Mr Giuliani endured, he capably directed the mainland's most important economic centre as it went through a period of major development and social change. While he was not acting alone, as key decisions often belong to Shanghai's Communist Party chief Huang Ju, the mayor could claim much of the credit for the city's positive image abroad. Since Mr Xu took up the job, Shanghai has become one of the hottest attractions in the mainland for foreign investors. From General Motors to Thyssen-Krupp Steel to BP, Shanghai has been given a thumping vote of confidence. Scratch a Fortune 500 company and there is a better than even chance that it now has an operation in Shanghai. Add to that two Taiwan-linked semiconductor projects that have moved the city up the technological ladder and have strengthened Beijing's hand as it tries to resolve the cross-strait political dispute. Multinationals have concluded that Shanghai is open for business. And, unlike many other areas of the mainland that have courted foreign investors, the city has projected an image of at least paying attention to the legal protections for investors. The resulting influx of investment projects has brought new jobs to the city, just as it was in need of finding ways to re-employ people who had been cut from the bloated payrolls of struggling state industry. The city has made huge strides in addressing other key issues, such as its previously suffocating transport bottlenecks. Shanghai traffic congestion once rivalled Bangkok at its worst, but new roads, bridges and tunnels have sprung up around the city to at least ease - if not quite end - that mind-numbing problem. The city, in its pursuit of development, has not entirely neglected its cultural life, opening its cheque book to pay for a world class theatre and probably the best museum in China. And it has tried to repair its slightly damaged environment, making real progress in the clean-up of Suzhou Creek - the once filthy waterway the mayor had dubbed 'Shanghai's shame'. Many residents had thought Mr Xu, 64, was worthy of more challenging jobs. Drawing on a rare combination of political skills and his academic strengths, he won praise from locals and foreign businessmen. He also measured up against two distinguished predecessors - President Jiang Zemin and Premier Zhu Rongji. It could be argued that more was accomplished under Mr Xu's stewardship than during the tenure of either of those political heavyweights. Nonetheless, both of them managed to ascend to somewhat loftier offices than the Chinese Academy of Engineering. Mr Xu's one weakness was his modest ranking in the Communist Party. He was a relative latecomer to the party, joining when he was in his forties and perhaps never quite comfortable with some of the silly slogans that the party faithful are expected to mouth. Perhaps it is too much to ask the ruling party to put talent ahead of seniority. It is unclear what the ultimate strategy in Beijing was in moving Mr Xu to his modest new appointment. Some observers suggest Mr Xu wanted to return to academia but if that were the case, it was most likely because other doors were closed to him. Some analysts said this could be a holding position with a more important job to be secured at some later date. But this is probably wishful thinking. It is more likely that he was moved aside to keep him from outshining dimmer lights as the party gets ready for its next chance to divide the spoils of power at next year's 16th congress.