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Shanghai Mayor Grapples With Changes

September 24, 2003

SHANGHAI, China (AP) _ He rattles off statistics with practiced ease, packaging his ambitious development platform in impeccable Communist Party jargon.

Meeting foreign media Wednesday for the first time since he was named mayor of China’s No. 2 city seven months ago, Hanna Zheng mapped out a far-reaching set of plans aimed at boosting Shanghai’s stature.

``Our basic goals are to improve the living standards and quality of life for the common people,″ Han said. ``And beyond that, to improve Shanghai’s competitiveness in every way.″

But Han acknowledged Shanghai’s grand aspirations come with migraine-size headaches.

Chief among them: finding jobs for the city’s 290,000 registered unemployed, unsnarling its chronic traffic jams and making life livable for the 16 million people crammed into this fast-changing corner of the Yangtze River Delta.

The Shanghai mayoralty is considered an important post for rising political stars, not only because the city is China’s financial capital, but also because former president Jiang Zemin once held the job.

How Han, the city’s youngest mayor since the communists took power in 1949, handles the monumental problems confronting this chaotic city of 16 million people may well determine how far up the ladder he goes.

Though this port on China’s east coast has long been a major regional industrial and commercial center, it suffered decades of sleepy decline under communist central planning.

In the 1990s, though, Shanghai shifted gears. It razed old housing, built expressways and transformed rural marshland into the modern financial center of Pudong. ``Every year, a new face for the city,″ the Shanghainese say proudly.

Such rapid change has brought a raft of problems. Revolutionary leader Mao Zedong called them ``contradictions.″ So does Han.

As the city doubled the length of its highways, the number of vehicles on the road more than quintupled.

``This has all along been a big headache for us,″ Han said. ``We can’t encourage every family to own a car. If we did, it would be impossible.″

High-rise apartment complexes encircle the city, but soaring prices put them beyond the reach of most residents in a city where per capita income averages about $5,000.

And while many Shanghainese can now afford air conditioners to help them survive the 102-degree days, electricity ran so short this summer that some local factories were ordered to suspend production temporarily.

Han pledged to build more subways and better roads, improve the environment and do more to help jobless families struggling to get along.

``The energy shortages are a temporary problem,″ he said, explaining plans to bring electricity downriver from the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze and to boost reliance on natural gas.

Han said his government needed to create 400,000 jobs. ``Now and in the future, this is a problem we must grasp well,″ he said.

The city government has announced plans to subsidize the creation of some 200,000 jobs this year.

Trained as an economist, Han worked in the chemical industry and at a shoe factory, earning a university degree in economics in 1994 and rising through Communist Party ranks to the position of vice mayor before his promotion in February.

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