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
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
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
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
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.