On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Shanghai gear up for the future

The area, bigger than the size of Singapore, is dominated
by the 468-metre television communications tower.

Not far away, a large condominium and 
office block is being built  next
to the site  where the Communist Party of
China was  founded.

The pace is staggering and excitement is 
in the air as Shanghai moves forward. Next  year, the city is hosting the
Asia-Pacific  Economic Cooperation summit
and later the  World Expo.

And the city authorities proudly publicise 
the fact that President Jiang Zemin and Premier Zhu Rongji hail from

Recently Zhu, irritated by the bureaucratic inefficiency of Beijing, threatened
to  move the capital elsewhere, sparking
off  speculation that Shanghai could be
the beneficiary.

But as China gears itself up to be accepted 
as the latest member of the World Trade 
Organistion, business corporations have 
started to find a foothold in the country.

Doing business is still perilous in China, 
though. The number of failures is high but  China's economy is expected to grow by  about 7% this year, fuelled by another
big  budget deficit to fund
infrastructure projects.

Business groups are no longer talking of 
just its one billion population but the money  that can be made from the influx of
expatriates to Shanghai over the next few years.

The immediate potential to make money 
comes from properties and even newspapers for the increasing expatriate

In true entrepreneurial spirit, countless 
magazines and newspapers in English, some  printed without permits, have hit the

The presence of foreigners is real. In the 
manufacturing sector alone, 50 of the top  Fortune 100 multinationals have invested
a  total of US$3.16bil in Shanghai.

Trumpeting its potential, it has long been 
a cliche that the cleverest people in China  come from Shanghai. These days, city
folk  are telling visitors that the
cleverest people  come to Shanghai.

Since 1992, the city has experienced a 
frenzy of activity reminiscent of the heady  years of the 1930s when the city gained a  reputation as the “Paris of the East.''

The city, with 13 million people, is again in 
the throes of a physical, economic and social  revolution destined to restore its former
status as an international centre of trade, finance and culture.

After Guangzhou, where much of Hong 
Kong's money is parked, Shanghai has the 
second highest standard of living.

Long exposed to Westerners, many of 
Shanghai's young are able to communicate 
in English. At the Grand Hyatt where I 
stayed, almost all the helpers at its food  court in the basement could take orders
in  English.

The Shanghai Television Station boasts of 
being the only station with a well-produced  weekly business programme, Bizwatch, in  English.

The economic and social reforms taking 
place in Shanghai are perhaps more evident  than in other cities in China.

Ironically, this is also the least “Chinese'' 
city, both socially and architecturally, with  its medley of British, French and
Russian  styles on heritage

That aside, Shanghai is an artistic hub and 
has emerged as the cultural and entertainment capital of China.

It offers better foreign films at its cinemas than even Kuala Lumpur, including
the  usual Hollywood films and a decent
selection of European movies.

But like all major cities, Shanghai has its 
downside. Apart from political intransigence, rentals are high, traffic
congestion  has worsened and bureaucratic
red tape still  exists.

Unlike Beijing, Shanghai is not a touristy 
area. Unless you're on business, you'd likely  bypass this city.

On a rainy day or when threatened by a 
typhoon, it can have a drab and grey demeanour.

Traffic bottlenecks are common, so much 
so that outsiders learn to set off early for  appointments when taking a bus or taxi

That aside, visitors find Shanghai to be 
relatively clean. More importantly, Shanghai is a safe city. Visitors
can walk in the  streets till the wee
hours of the morning,  without any fear
of muggings.

By next year, when the leaders of the 
world's economies meet in Shanghai, they 
will be surprised by what they see.

Malaysian leaders and businessmen may 
have been bewildered by the pace of development in Beijing over the last
few years,  but a trip to Shanghai is
necessary for us to  take stock.

While some of us grapple with inconsequential issues, others have moved

Unless we stay focussed on what we want 
to achieve, Malaysians may find themselves  lagging behind while foolishly assuming
that  we have done well.