Wuhan aims to catch up to its richer compatriots on the coast, and one influential analyst believes it could be the ?next Shanghai? The Yangtze River port of Wuhan is looking towards the 21st century in a big way. Left behind by the economic boom that transformed China?s coastal areas in the 1980s and 1990s, China?s largest and oldest inland industrial commercial center is striving to restore its historical position as a strategic trading hub. Wuhan ? actually three cities, Hankou, Hanyang and Wuchang ? is located at the convergence of the Yangtze and Han Rivers, right in the heart of China. With the Han being one of the few rivers in China that flows from north to south, the area was already commercially important in ancient times. In the 19th century, the British established a concession here, opening the city to European trade. Other Western powers and Japan later followed Britain, which was a boon for the city?s economic development, making Wuhan one of the most important trade hubs for the Western powers in China. The economy slowed down after 1949 under four decades of central planning, and Wuhan slipped further behind as coastal areas experienced runaway economic growth beginning in the 1980s. But today, the city is in the midst of an economic revival. Moran Stanley economist Andy Xie wrote recently that Wuhan has the potential to become ?the next Shanghai,? arguing that the city could take off in the next few years. Mr Xie says that if Shanghai becomes too expensive, Wuhan could be an important alternative for foreign investors looking for a new place to put down capital. Citroen, Budweiser, Philips, Coca Cola and NEC are all here already. Mr Xie says Wuhan has a number of advantages. One, it has 35 higher education institutions, ranking third in science and education just behind Beijing and Shanghai, which means investors can pick from a pool of a well-trained workers and technicians. Second, its industrial base has become more relevant to the current stage of the country?s development. Wuhan?s industry is diverse and it is especially strong in iron and steel (Wuhan Iron & Steel Co. is China?s second largest steel producer), automobile manufacturing, shipbuilding, machinery, scientific instruments, textiles, chemicals, and food processing. Third, Wuhan is just 15 hours from Shanghai ports by truck, and the additional cost of shipping from here is negligible. Finally, Wuhan is the biggest inland rail transport hub and telecommunications center in inland China. Dubbed the ?crossroads of nine provinces,? Wuhan serves as a gateway to many of the country?s interior provinces. It has a network of national and provincial highways linking it to eight provinces and 195 cities, and China?s largest inland river port, open year round, and with a network of waterways connecting it to 14 provinces. Another plus is that the city has done an excellent job of improving living standards here, and property prices are much lower than Shanghai for both mass market and luxury housing, which means lower costs for investors. In short, Mr Xie says his ?gut feeling? is that Wuhan is ?up to global competition.? And if Wuhan succeeds, it will have implications that transcend just the city itself. An economic revival could help reduce the growing disparity between the less dynamic inland provinces and the thriving coastal areas, helping to boost the economies of other inland areas.