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US piles on the charm at Shanghai Expo

2010. 15 April

by D’Arcy Doran
( Barack Obama and Kobe Bryant are an unlikely duo, but the US president is mixing his optimism with the NBA superstar’s limited Mandarin skills to woo the Chinese.

The pair are featured along with a cast of ordinary Americans ina new US charm offensive designed for the World Expo in Shanghai -a campaign aimed at showing visitors a more personal side of the United States.

Up to 100mn people are expected to flock to the massive six-month event from May 1, nearly all of them Chinese - providing  Washington with a golden opening for public diplomacy at a key  moment in Sino-US relations.

“This is policy made personal. The chance to speak unfiltered to millions of Chinese directly and on an emotional level is an  incredible opportunity,” Greg Lombardo, the pavilion’s creative  director, said in an interview.

  After months of sparring over everything from Taiwan to the  yuan, the two sides are showing signs of reconciliation. Chinese President Hu Jintao has had successful talks with Obama in Washington this week during the nuclear security summit now on in Washington.

  The United States - repeatedly told by Beijing in recent months  to respect its position on “core issues” such as Taiwan and Tibet - is now seizing the moment at Expo to shift the dialogue.

  “It is my great pleasure to welcome you to the USA Pavilion at  Expo 2010,” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says in a recorded  greeting. “As you explore the pavilion you will see core American values in action.”

  Stressing what binds the two nations, Obama adds his voice to those of dozens of Americans explaining what matters most to them,  ranging from education to housing to children.

  “We are bound by our common humanity and our shared curiosity,” Obama says. “This includes the hopes we share with the people of  China and people around the world to work together.”

  USA Pavilion Commissioner General Jose Villarreal described Expo  as one of the “bright spots” in US-China relations, during a tour of  the building last week.

  “It certainly is bringing the US and China together to discuss  issues of enormous importance,” Villarreal said.

  Despite an architectural design  that favours function over whimsy - it looks like a suburban  Cineplex - the US pavilion tops the list of national displays  Chinese visitors want to see, according to market research by  Millward Brown. That represents a major turnaround, as just a year ago, the  United States looked like it would be an Expo no-show.

  When it signed up for the event in July, it was among the last  of the 192 participating countries to do so - and only this month  did it raise enough money to meet its 61mn -dollar operating  budget.

  Part of the problem was that US law prohibits Expo pavilions  from being taxpayer-funded without a special act of Congress.

  Clinton - after realising the Expo’s importance to China - has  been widely credited with reviving stalled fundraising efforts. 

  To deliver the US message, the pavilion hired BRC Imagination  Arts, which has produced shows for six Expos, including the first  World’s Fair presentation to be nominated for an Oscar - “Rainbow  War” from Vancouver 1986.

  “The worst mistake this pavilion could have made would be to  create a 45-minute-long lecture on how great the US is and how much  better our way of doing things is,” said Lombardo, BRC’s head of  brand development.

  Through one-on-one interviews, the team gauged Chinese opinions  of the US to determine what expectations they had to meet - and  which ones they wanted to shatter.

  “A lot of Chinese think Americans are unfriendly and we found  that out by talking,” Lombardo said. — AFP