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2010. 6 February

( If you thought the Beijing Olympics in 2008 was phenomenal, to coin an old phrase -- you ain't seen nothin' yet!

The Shanghai World Expo, or World's Fair, has the potential to make the 2008 Beijing Olympics look like a tea party. With more than 180 nations participating, Shanghai Exposition 2010 promises to attract people from all over the world, focusing on the theme "Better City, Better Life."

World Expositions are galleries of human inspirations, ideas and ideals. From May 1 to October 31, an estimated 70 million people worldwide will witness a display of urban civilization, exchange experiences of urban development, discuss what constitutes successful cities and explore new approaches to human habitat, lifestyle and working conditions in the new century.

The fact that China chose the theme, "Better City, Better Life," bodes well for the planet. It has been reported that today, for the first time in history, more than half the world's people live in cities. By 2050 that figure will rise to 70 percent. Imagine adding the equivalent of seven New York Cities to the planet every year and you can begin to grasp the change taking place!

So what, you may ask, does China's World Expo have to do with Michigan? In this globally connected world where ideas, jobs, pollution, and public health epidemics can and do move around the world effortlessly, I say: Everything. Remember the old song, "The toe bone's connected to the heel bone, the heel bone's connected to the foot bone, the foot bone's connected to the ...?" Clearly, we are connected. What happens in China does not stay in China.

If we want a sustainable planet we are going to have to get a lot smarter about how our cities operate. From recreation, health-care, transportation systems, education and sewage, energy and public safety - new, more creative responses have to be developed and implemented. We must ask hard questions: How will innovation and technology help us develop livable environments? How must multiple organizations collaborate in our cities' governance to maximize resources and solve problems? The technology and people skills needed to manage and lead these changes are only going to intensify.

I have watched these challenges play out all across Michigan and American cities, large and small. Why do we treat our cities as trash dumps, discarding people, buildings and infrastructure like cheap un-recycled plastic even as the Shanghai Expo's motto is: "Keeping in mind the next 60 years' development while preparing for the next six months." All this from a country that has only recently opened to the world!

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, "The Shanghai Expo offers an unprecedented opportunity for U.S. companies and organizations to hoist their flags in one of the most important centers of world commerce and cultural exchange." She went on to say, "The U.S. presence at the Expo will showcase American business, culture, and values in China's most dynamic city and foster an even stronger friendship between the American and Chinese peoples."

The U.S. Pavilion, costing more than $61 million dollars raised by the private sector with no government money expended, is built on four thematic pillars: Sustainability, Teamwork, Health and the Chinese Community in America. GM and Dow, along with nearly every other major U.S. corporation, are helping sponsor this international extravaganza, billed as the largest World Expo ever.

Dow Corning recently announced the creation of a new China Business and Technology Center in Zhangjiang, China. Tom Cook, corporate VP and Northeast Asia/Greater China Operations president, hopes the company's effort might "spur innovation and represent yet another major milestone in our growth in China."

The Dow Center will be staffed by hundreds of 21st century knowledge workers, engineers, scientists and marketing professionals to help develop innovative solutions to improve the quality of life of people of China - one-fifth of the world's population - by "addressing megatrends such as renewable energy, climate protection, water conservation and urbanization."

The American goal at the Shanghai World Expo is to "demonstrate that America is a place of opportunity where those who seek to change the world for the better will always thrive and prosper." Clearly, with a huge population and a continuously growing economy, China promises to be the mother-lode of 21st century commerce.

China -- eyes wide open!

Shanghai alone, with a population of 18 million, is definitely worth seeing. Imagine everyone in Michigan, times two, living in an area the size of Wayne County and you only begin to come to grips with the sheer size and density of this city. Shanghai, a world-class international city, offers an extremely high English literacy rate, fabulous transportation systems, some of the world's most modern and historic architecture and yet, right around many corners, you may feel as if you have stepped back in time.

A little over sixty years ago, on Oct. 1, 1949, Mao Zedong, chairman of the Central People's Government, stood at Tiananmen Square in the Capitol City of Beijing and proclaimed the founding of the People's Republic of China. The world has not been the same since.

I recall my first visit to Shanghai in 1989, looking across the Huangpu River to Pudong with a view of low buildings and rice paddies, to what is now a booming metro area with three times the number of skyscrapers as Manhattan.

If you have traveled to China you may have seen through the crowds and pollution to find that a sleeping giant has been awakened. And it's impossible to understand world events without first understanding China. The lessons in China's rise - both its mistakes and successes - are those from which Michigan and the world can learn and, more importantly, benefit. The Expo will provide just the forum for doing that.

The developing world, especially BRIC countries Brazil, Russia, India and China, is where the auto action will be in the 21st Century. In 2009, for the first time ever, China surpassed the U.S. in car production. While Ford Motor Company is in the process of building yet another plant in China, GM credits profits from its Chinese operations for keeping it out of an even worse financial condition.

While many folks in the West might focus on China as a communist or socialist stronghold, they overlook the fact that its 60-year communist rule is a mere blip on the radar of a 5,000-year history, rich in culture and education. Many who have been to the China of today describe a palpable capitalistic and entrepreneurial spirit.

Deng, the de facto leader of China after the death of Mao in the mid-seventies, set into motion the world's most massive economic, social, and political tsunami in the history of man - a true awakening of China. He began the process that has lifted more people out of poverty than any other nation in the world with his vision of a modern nation on display for the world to see.

Even now the Chinese waves that Deng unleashed are pounding the shores of Michigan and lapping at every state and nation in the world. Breaking away from the Maoist ideological straight jacket, Deng determined that common sense and flexibility rather than rigid political ideology was the way forward for his country's future.

His actions unleashed the Chinese people's spirit and channeled their energy into the world of industrial growth and international trade. He also began the process that has created a crisis in pollution and exacerbated financial inequities - both of which need to be addressed to sustain the gains made so far. His successes are many yet, ironically, they also represent many of the challenges that will be on display at the Shanghai World Expo.

Michigan connection

China-born Michigan resident Koralo Chen, owner of Motowntravel and author of a picture book, Pure Michigan, written in both Mandarin and English, travels often between the two countries. He visited the Shanghai Expo site and said, "China continues to explode on the world stage and this Expo will be a Kaleidoscope of excitement, knowledge, innovation and sharing of Chinese and world culture. It is a must-see extravaganza." He concludes that "My only disappointment is the great state of Michigan is not taking advantage of this global event to promote our magnificent state."

Those of us who have studied and traveled throughout China see a deep reservoir of opportunity and hope that our own elected leaders, like Deng Xiaoping, might shake off the ideological anchors holding us back and find ways to make sure that China's rise does not come at our own demise.

Sadly, Michigan has no economic plan that taps into this rising Chinese vein of economic gain. (See China Bridge: Stop whining and start building in the Dome archives, September, 2009). Oakland and Wayne County executives L. Brooks Patterson and Robert Ficano, and Paul Gieleghem, Chairman of the Macomb County Board of Commissioners, continue to seek ways to build economic, cultural, educational and people-to-people bridges with China, but they can only benefit from leadership from the highest level of state government.

Sol far away, so close to home

Delta/Northwest Airlines now offers a direct, non-stop flight to Shanghai for a reasonable price. If you are going to travel across the world to attend the Shanghai World Expo, take the time to travel to Beijing as well. See the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, the Summer Palace and the Great Wall. Go to Xian and see the famed Terra Cotta Warriors and the Ming Tomb or travel to Hunan Province and see the Zhangjiajie landscape where the stunning mountain shots in the blockbuster movie, Avatar, were filmed.

There is too much to see in just one trip but it might truly be the trip of a lifetime and offer a deeper understanding of the fascinating Chinese culture and its people and reinforce why Michigan and America need to continue to invest in innovative, creative, entrepreneurial education that make us competitive on the world stage.

Once again, the Chinese promise to showcase how far they have come in the last 30 years when they host the World Expo in Shanghai. Their motto "Better City, Better Life," is something we can only hope and plan to emulate.