Straight-talking, dynamic and decisive, Beijing's new mayor Wang Qishan has made an impressive start to his term In the two weeks since he took office as the acting mayor of Beijing, Wang Qishan has come across as an energetic, plain-speaking and decisive leader of the new generation. He is popular with the city's people, and holds high hopes for political reforms. The question is whether he can consolidate these gains and pursue far-reaching changes introduced in the fight against Sars. After the dramatic sacking on April 20 of Health Minister Zhang Wenkang and Beijing mayor Meng Xuenong, Mr Wang and another official with a good track record in handling complicated situations, Wu Yi, took over. Ms Wu, who for more than 10 years negotiated China's trade agreements, was installed as acting Health Minister. Political observers noted that both had extensive international exposure and were held in high regard by the foreign investment community. Their appointment was evidence of the need to shore up confidence in the government's ability to handle a crisis. Mr Wang earned his reputation cleaning up the mess of the collapsed Guangdong International Trust and Investment Company (Gitic). He was summoned to Beijing from Hainan where, barely a month ago, he had been busy transforming the island province into an all-season holiday destination. In its heyday in the 1980s Hainan was a haven for entrepreneurs. The boom-to-bust property market and the shadows of rampant corruption have since put the island on the fringes of the political landscape. For all that Hainan was in a mess, Mr Wang's appointment last November as the island province's Communist Party boss had been seen as sending him into exile as his mentor, Zhu Rongji, neared retirement. His previous post had been in the central government's Economic Restructuring Office. Once he was back in the capital, Mr Wang wasted no time. He approached the Sars crisis not only as a domestic health issue, but also tried to restore the confidence of the business community. He met representatives of multinational corporations such as Motorola, Nokia, Ericsson, and Procter and Gamble, heads of joint ventures and leaders of mainland enterprises, and assured them Beijing was safe for doing business. From his experience in Guangdong, Mr Wang knew the provincial officials had to be cajoled into co-operating in the fight against Sars. Along with acting Health Minister Ms Wu, he alerted seven provinces and cities around Beijing that the exodus of migrant workers from the city would put the onus on them to detect cases of the disease and prevent its spread. In the Beijing metropolitan area, he persuaded officials of outlying counties not to block the movement of people through their areas and to ensure steady supplies of fresh farm produce to the capital. In Beijing, he commanded - some people said commandeered - the media to speak directly to the public and to win their support. Hardly a day passes without Wang Qishan's name in the headlines. At a news conference broadcast live on television, he admitted the Sars outbreak was serious and the city was scrambling to come up with hospital beds and trained medical staff. He was careful not to make any predictions about how soon the epidemic could be stamped out. To improve morale, he went to parks, residential areas and university campuses and chatted with people. He told migrant workers to take care of themselves and to tell their families in the provinces not to worry. Journalists who have covered Mr Wang's career as executive vice-governor of Guangdong and director of the Economic Restructuring Office say he handles the media well. 'He speaks to you as if in a one-on-one conversation,' said one. Mr Wang studied history at university and worked as a researcher at the Institute of Modern Chinese History in the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in the late 1970s. An editor at a party newspaper said Mr Wang had been keen on media reform and had drafted plans to break the post office monopoly on newspaper distribution. 'Wang prefers to bypass the media handlers and to speak directly to the people,' the editor said. Mr Wang is married to the daughter of Yao Yilin, the former vice-premier. He owes his rise primarily to former premier Mr Zhu, who promoted him to deputy governor of China's central bank and later made him head of the state-owned China Construction Bank. While he was in Guangdong, the central government pulled the plug on Gitic, the main financial arm of Guangdong province, leaving it unable to repay debts of more than US$2 billion (HK$15.6 billion). A foreign banker recalled that Mr Wang was very sure of himself. 'His style was like that of Zhu Rongji. He did not mince words.' From Beijing mayor to a seat on the Politburo at the 17th Party Congress in 2007 is but a stone's throw. 'Wang will be 59. Just the right age for the top leadership,' said one political observer. But Sars is far from beaten and the city hall is littered with the broken careers of rising stars. Mr Wang will need all his consummate political skills in the next four years.