Shanghai on Tuesday appointed Gong Zheng as the city’s new mayor, who faces the challenge of reviving the city’s coronavirus-hit economy.
The 60-year-old from Jiangsu was confirmed by the city’s legislature after a four-month delay following his transfer from the eastern province of Shandong, where he was governor.
In a speech, he told the legislature that it was important to turn the crisis into opportunity, an apparent reference to the economic slowdown brought by the Covid-19 pandemic.
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Gong was sent to Shanghai in March to take up the role of mayor, a position vacated by Ying Yong when he was appointed Communist Party chief in the central province of Hubei in February amid the coronavirus outbreak there. Its capital, Wuhan, was the initial epicentre of the outbreak.
As mayor of financial centre Shanghai, Gong will again work with Li Qiang, the city’s party secretary. The pair worked together for seven years in Zhejiang two decades ago and both served under Xi Jinping when he was party secretary of the eastern province from 2002 to 2007.
Gong has a PhD in economics and worked for China’s customs agency for more than 20 years. He was more recently party boss of Hangzhou, one of the country’s fastest growing innovation and technology centres.
But he will face huge challenges as Shanghai mayor. According to analysts, an immediate task will be dealing with the severe floods in the Yangtze River basin. Longer term, they said his background in economics would be put to the test to push the city’s development and growth while trying to limit fallout from the pandemic.
Shanghai has been relatively successful in containing the virus, with no local infections and imported cases in the single digits for the past three months. But the city’s leaders and public health officials are on alert after recent outbreaks in Beijing and Xinjiang.
An economics expert from Fudan University in Shanghai said growth would be a challenge for the city since its economy shrank by 6.7 per cent in the first quarter, but there was cause for optimism.
“Gong is clearly focused on the hi-tech sector in order to steer Shanghai’s economic development, and the city continues to be one of the most competitive regions in China for investors – especially in hi-tech manufacturing,” said the academic, who requested anonymity.
“Shanghai wants to lead the next round of China’s industrial revolution and show the world that the city is ideal for foreign technology companies like Tesla to set up their research and development and production bases, and to explore the China market,” he said.
US electric carmaker Tesla set up its Gigafactory in Shanghai two years ago, and began manufacturing its Model 3 sedans there late last year.
“Gong has also paid much attention to Shanghai’s Science and Technology Innovation Centre, where a lot of companies are working on hi-tech solutions for the post Covid-19 world, and that is perhaps one aspect of what Gong meant by turning the crisis into opportunities,” the academic said.
Shanghai’s domestic retail consumption slumped 13.8 per cent in the first five months of this year, but the city’s foreign direct investment grew 4.5 per cent to US$8.5 billion in the same period.
Gong has been the city’s acting mayor and deputy party secretary since March, and he has regularly been seen at events for technology-related projects. Last week, he unveiled the Shanghai AI Laboratory at the World Artificial Intelligence Conference, where investors reportedly signed deals for projects worth more than 30 billion yuan (US$4.3 billion).
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