The man behind much of Shanghai's success is now putting his magic touch to one of China's poorest municipalities Chongqing executive vice-mayor Huang Qifan has a strong sense of deja vu. When he ponders the developmental challenges confronting China's fourth directly administered municipality - Chongqing was hived off from Sichuan province in 1997 - he is reminded of Shanghai 10 years ago. Any comparison between Chongqing and Shanghai, the mainland's most modern and cosmopolitan city after Hong Kong, will strike most as far-fetched. Centred on a hilly, cliff-edged peninsula and frequently shrouded in a gritty mix of river mist and industrial exhaust, Chongqing rather resembles Gotham City - the macabre fictional home of Batman - only with Chinese characteristics. The gleaming skyline, newly minted infrastructure and Fortune 500 investment roster of Shanghai seems a million miles from China's largest - and poorest - provincial-level municipality. Mr Huang, however, knows of what he speaks. A Zhejiang native who spent 18 years with the Shanghai municipal government, including a five-year stint with the Pudong New Area's development office, he played a pivotal role in Shanghai's transformation. The central government transferred him to Chongqing in October 2001 in the hope he would bring his magic touch to Chongqing, whose modernisation drive is as central to the country's development goals today as Shanghai's was in the early and mid-1990s. Then Beijing looked to Shanghai, Guangdong and other coastal areas to pull China out of its post-Tiananmen torpor. Today Chongqing is at the forefront of the country's 'Develop the West' strategy, which aims at redressing the imbalance stemming from the government's earlier coastal bias and close the politically untenable wealth gap separating China's interior provinces and cities from their far richer seaboard counterparts. As Mr Huang reportedly told Shui On chairman Vincent Lo Hong-sui, who met the vice-mayor in Shanghai and was persuaded by him to invest in Chongqing: 'My backside determines how I behave. I'm sitting in Chongqing now, so I want you to invest in Chongqing.' 'A lot of people would not understand [this comparison between Shanghai and Chongqing],' Mr Huang said in a recent interview with foreign journalists, who were in Chongqing for the official launch of a 10-billion-yuan (HK$9.37 billion), 10-year Shui On development project there. 'When people look at Shanghai today they tend to forget what it was like 10 years ago. In the same way, when they look at Chongqing today they cannot imagine what it will be like in 10 years' time. 'I'm not saying that in 10 years' time Chongqing will catch up with Shanghai,' he added. 'What I'm saying is that in 10 years' time Chongqing will be what Shanghai is today.' Mr Huang drew upon a wealth of statistics to back up his bold prediction. 'Chongqing's economic structure today is quite similar to Shanghai's 10 years ago,' he said. 'Shanghai's [gross domestic product] right now is 500 billion yuan. Ten years ago it was 200 billion yuan - the same as Chongqing's today.' It was just one of many random facts the highly numerate Mr Huang recited from the top of his head. He then ticked off a host of other statistics - including tax revenues, fixed-asset investment, per capita land area, airport capacity and even the number of five-star hotels - in which today's Chongqing mirrors Shanghai 10 years ago. Mr Huang even recited per capita land area statistics for New York and Paris, and the average cost of developing one square kilometre of urban land - if there is such a thing - in the United States (US$1 billion according to Mr Huang), Shanghai (one billion yuan) and Chongqing (700 million yuan). 'Most people would not look at this data,' he said. 'But it reflects the degree of a city's development.' While Mr Huang's mental database is complex, the logic with which he transforms his numbers into predictions is fairly straightforward. 'In terms of economic structure, the difference between Shanghai and Chongqing is about 10 years,' he said. 'So if Chongqing can repeat [Shanghai's double-digit] economic momentum over the next 10 years then it will become what Shanghai is today.' If there was one thing Mr Huang excelled at during his years in Shanghai, it was delivering growth - albeit with plenty of help from the central government. Pudong in particular blossomed, fuelled by central government subsidies and state bank loans. For years the buildings that make up its mighty skyline lay largely vacant. But through a blend of marketing savvy and coercion - by forcing, for example, foreign banks to open headquarters there - vacancy rates fell to respectable levels. It was a triumph - if that is the right word - of build-it-and-they-will-come economics. '[This approach] works in China because the government has so much power,' Mr Lo said. '[Pudong] succeeded at a huge cost, but it put Shanghai on the map.' Something similar is now happening in Chongqing. But will it be as easy a sell as Pudong was to investors both foreign and domestic? 'The central government subsidy [Chongqing receives] is substantially larger than Pudong's 10 years ago,' Mr Huang said. According to the vice-mayor, the central government funneled 18 billion yuan to Chongqing last year - accounting for more than half of its 34 billion yuan expenditure - and will give at least that much again this year. The money is being ploughed into - among other things - roads and rail lines, with Chongqing planning to lay as much track over the next five years as it did over the previous 50. But growth for growth's sake is a dangerous game if there is not enough demand to support the results of the spending spree. Like wrecked ships on a rocky shoal, the concrete shells of abandoned property projects scattered throughout downtown Chongqing serve as a vivid reminder of the dangers of over-investment. One of the more amusing examples is a structure just opposite one of Chongqing's better hotels. It is comprised of two wings - a 12-storey complex for a China Construction Bank (CCB) branch and, attached to it, a 25-floor office tower. The smaller bank premises have been completed, but stand literally in the shadow of the naked frame of the larger tower. The local rumour mill says the developer - funded by a CCB loan of course - either ran out of money or simply skipped town, leaving the project half-finished. But as hotel guests looking down from their rooms opposite can attest, the developer at least had the courtesy to give his bankers a nice little perk - a swimming pool on the roof of their completed branch premises. The lesson is not lost on Mr Huang who can recite all the relevant statistics by heart. There are, he said, about 40 such lanweilou - or 'rotten tail buildings' - in downtown Chongqing, all of them started during China's boom years of 1992-97. Twenty have been reclaimed and auctioned to replacement developers - including a large shell just opposite the government building where Mr Huang was speaking - with another 10 to follow. 'If you come back to Chongqing in two or three years' time, the new owners of these projects will have finished them,' he said. Biography Chongqing executive vice-mayor Huang Qifan was born in Zhejiang province in 1952. His higher education was apparently disrupted by the Cultural Revolution, and from 1968 to 1974 he worked as a labourer in a coking plant workshop in Shanghai. At the age of 22, he was able to resume his studies at Shanghai Mechanical College, after which he returned to his work unit as a technician and engineer. Mr Huang joined the Chinese Communist Party in 1976 and the Shanghai municipal government in 1983. From 1990 to 1994 he worked in Pudong - the focal point of Shanghai's development - and eventually rose to become the city government's vice-secretary general and director of the Shanghai Economic Commission. He was transferred to Chongqing in October 2001.