Chongqing has long been known for three characteristics - its mountainous landscape, attractive women and spicy cuisine. Unfortunately, in recent years, a fourth item could be added to the list - organised crime. Notorious gangsters oversaw businesses involving billions of yuan and the corruption went deep, permeating the law-enforcement apparatus and involved the justice bureau. It seemed the metropolis was sliding towards chaos. But a massive crackdown, netting thousands of suspects, appears to have turned things around, finally giving Chongqing's leaders some breathing room and reason for optimism. When asked about his vision for the future, deputy mayor Huang Qifan sounds confident, saying he is determined to follow through on Beijing's ambitions. 'The central government has pinned even higher hopes on Chongqing now,' Huang said. He was referring to the 10-year blueprint on Chongqing's economic positioning that the central government issued in February. It calls for the municipality to be a national manufacturing base, an anchor for the western region, an economic and logistics hub for the upper reaches of the Yangtze River, and the vanguard for opening-up in the hinterland. And the Chongqing government is making full use of the opportunities that come along with all that. The costs of labour, land, water, gas and electricity are on the whole 40 per cent to 50 per cent lower than those in coastal provinces. For investment projects falling into brackets encouraged by the government, the corporate income tax will be levied at 15 per cent, 10 percentage points lower than the middle and coastal provinces. 'The current policy environment [for investors] in Chongqing is even better than that for development of Shenzhen in the 1980s and of Pudong New Area of Shanghai in the 1990s,' Huang said. The most eye-catching move taken by Chongqing authorities in a bid to create a sound investment environment was the crackdown it launched last month against mafia-like crime syndicates and corrupt officials, some of whom protected the gangsters. In the operation, 4,893 suspected gangsters, outlaws and cadres were arrested, including officials as high as at the level of deputy provincial governor. The economic gap between western China and richer coastal provinces had widened by the end of the 1990s after about two decades of market-oriented reform and opening-up since 1978. So, when the central government in 1997 upgraded the administrative level of Chongqing from a prefecture then governed by Sichuan province to a municipality under the direct jurisdiction of Beijing, it aimed to develop Chongqing into a metropolis for spearheading the economic growth of southwestern China. Coming with the administrative upgrade is the huge investment in infrastructure and industrial expansion. For the past 10 years, fixed-asset investment in Chongqing has maintained an average annual growth of 24.5 per cent, hitting 400 billion yuan (HK$455 billion) last year, equivalent to 10 years' growth before 1997. Because of the high humidity, Chongqing is wrapped in fog, thin or thick, for one-third of the year, which earns the city another name: 'Foggy Metropolis'. On some winter and spring days, you can only walk along using your hearing rather than sight - you see nothing three or five metres in front.