BEIJING - China's new leader, Mr Xi Jinping, is said to be planning to send a strong signal of his commitment to reform by making Shenzhen the first stop of a tour to southern Guangdong province that reportedly began yesterday.
Hong Kong media yesterday quoted sources as saying the Communist Party general secretary's visit - the first since he assumed the party mantle last month - had been planned, though there was no official confirmation.
Mr Xi was due to visit the Yunong fishing village in Luohu, the Qianhai experimental zone and export factories in Shekou before heading to Zhuhai and Guangzhou, according to the South China Morning Post.
The daily added that the party chiefs of Guangdong and Shenzhen had cancelled an interview with visiting Hong Kong reporters to prepare for yesterday's visit.
The Straits Times yesterday found signs of preparations in Shenzhen: A giant blue canopy tent had been put up and there were exhibition panels at the Qianhai construction site.
In line with the Politburo's instructions this week that visits by top leaders should be kept low key, there were no giant banners and few road closures.
Observers say Shenzhen is a wise choice if Mr Xi plans to augment his reformist credentials.
First, the city located across the Shenzhen river from Hong Kong was one of the stops in late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping's famous 1992 southern tour to give a fresh impetus to China's reforms. It was also where Mr Xi's late reformist father Xi Zhongxun, a former vice-premier and Guangdong party secretary, had helped set up the country's first special economic zone.
"Shenzhen is a symbol for reforms in China. His (Mr Xi's) purpose is to show his commitment to reforms," said Renmin University analyst Zhang Ming.
Singapore's East Asian Institute director, Professor Zheng Yongnian, said Mr Xi may also want to reaffirm "Dengism", which had come under attack by the Communist Party's leftist faction shepherded by Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai until his political downfall this year.
"It will be good, since there had been a state of confusion about the direction China would go earlier this year before the Bo Xilai incident, when Maoism became so popular," he added.
The first city that a new party leader visits is often analysed for its symbolism, and hints of his priorities going forward.
After becoming China's top leader in 2002, Mr Hu Jintao's first trip was to Xibaipo, the headquarters of the Communist Party and the People's Liberation Army before it took power in 1949.
His message: The party should not forget the needs and aspirations of the ordinary people.
Professor Huang Jing from Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy said the choice of Shenzhen as a first stop is to be expected after Mr Xi outlined last week his goal to rejuvenate China.
"Now it is time to remind people that only by continuing the Deng-style reforms can China continue to cross the river by touching on the next step-stone," said Prof Huang, citing Deng's famous quote on experimenting with reforms through "crossing the river by feeling for the stones".
But symbolism aside, Peking University's Professor Zhang Jian has doubts whether the tour would translate into policy changes. "There are great structural constraints against further opening up, such as resistance from state- owned enterprises, which have become a powerful force," he said.
Additional reporting by Li Xueying