TIME: Will Shanghai replace Hong Kong as a financial and trading hub?
Xu: Shanghai's goal is to become the major financial, trading and economic center west of the Pacific Ocean. Shanghai is also trying to become an international city in 15 years' time. But I don't think we can replace Hong Kong. Shanghai has advantages. There are seven provinces along the Yangtze River. These account for a third of the country's population and 50% of its output. Those who invest in Shanghai can access this area. But Hong Kong has advantages that no one can compete with.
TIME: What are the main strengths of each city?
Xu: Hong Kong is very cosmopolitan. If Shanghai is the gateway to China, Hong Kong is the gateway to Southeast Asia. Countries like Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia can borrow money from the American and Japanese banks in Hong Kong. You cannot do this in Shanghai. And Hong Kong has a good port and very good port control. Hong Kong also has the rule of law and an efficient administrative system. Shanghai can hardly replace Hong Kong in those respects.
TIME: How about 10 to 15 years down the road?
Xu: It's not about who replaces whom. Maybe Shanghai's economic growth will surpass that of Hong Kong. But that would not be a "replacement." When Frankfurt started to grow and became a financial center, it could not replace London--they have different traditions and markets. I think Hong Kong will be Asia's financial hub, but Shanghai will be the financial center of China. Its role will be to link China and the world.
TIME: Will other Chinese cities take business away from Shanghai?
Xu: China is so big; one door is not enough. You know Chinese love to have a lot of doors in their houses. Cities like Tianjin and Dalian may grow as well. In 20 years, if our country's economic output is the second largest in the world, we will need one more economic center.
TIME: What are the biggest problems you have faced?
Xu: Plenty--I can't list them all in one conversation! There were problems with layoffs, for instance. Also, at one stage during the Asian financial crisis, Shanghai had an office-vacancy rate of more than 50%. I faced a lot of pressure.
TIME: On a scale of 1 to 100, how would you rate your performance?
Xu: It's hard to assess myself. It's better for the Shanghai people to rate me. But I should be able to score 60 out of 100.