Judging from the official media fanfare in the past few weeks, President Hu Jintao's repeated admonitions to local officials to create 'a harmonious society' have at last shown some effect. This has been most noticeable this month and will be early next month when the local people's congresses are in their annual sessions to review and debate economic development blueprints for the next five-year plan (2006-2010). Provincial governors and city mayors have been vying to showcase their people-friendly policies. Beijing Mayor Wang Qishan promised to build the capital into a city that is 'safe, convenient, and comfortable' and get it ready for the Summer Olympic Games in 2008. Shanghai Mayor Han Zheng has expounded his vision to boost the city's international competitiveness and residents' living standards, reflecting the theme for the 2010 World Expo - Better City, Better Life. In Shanxi, Governor Yu Youjun told local deputies he would stand up for 'small people' and likened himself as an umbrella that can help those in need on a rainy day. This marks a significant contrast to standard practices of the past 20 years when local officials revelled in official jargon and focused their reports mainly on economic growth rates and industrial projects. Officials' extravagant promises are most likely to continue unabated to early March when the National People's Congress is in its annual session to hear Premier Wen Jiabao's government work report and approve the country's next five-year plan. And it is unlikely to end there, either. To be seen as 'saying the right things and harping on official lines' is something both local and central government officials will be mostly concerned about in the next two years. At stake are their careers. From this year, the mainland leadership will engineer comprehensive changes among local authorities, followed by central government reshuffles. This will pave the way for top leadership changes in the autumn of next year when the Communist Party will hold its 17th party congress. At the congress, many top government and party leaders will retire, giving President Hu an opportunity to further assert his authority by promoting his supporters to key government and party positions. According to the official media, this year's comprehensive reshuffles would cover the leadership at the provincial, city, county, and township levels, involving hundreds of thousands. Already, hardly a day passes without Xinhua reporting on the reshuffles of local officials at various levels. Most officials have reached the mandatory retirement age, 65 for a provincial governor or party secretary, and 60 for city mayor or below. The reshuffles, which are expected to continue until the end of this year, are likely to provide strong hints of the more important central government restructure next year. Judging from recent personnel changes in the past few weeks, several officials who rose through the Communist Youth League's ranks, President Hu's power base, have been given important party and government positions. One example is that of Wang Yang, 50 - a deputy secretary-general of the State Council and an ally of Mr Hu - who was appointed as the party secretary of Chongqing at the end of last month. While it is still too early to predict definitely how the intense jockeying for power will play out, there is one certainty - officials who harbour any ambition are most likely to tread with great care and avoid doing anything 'courageous or bold', which could lead to 'mistakes'. This will not be good news for anyone who expects many significant economic reform initiatives, let alone any meaningful political reforms during this period.