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US to attend World Expo in Shanghai
2009. 8 July
by Patti Waldmeir in Shanghai
(ft.com) US representatives are preparing to break ground as soon as next week on the American pavilion for the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai, ending months of speculation over whether the globe’s leading power might be a no-show at what is being billed as the largest ever world’s fair.
Shanghai, China’s largest city and financial centre, has latched onto the Expo as its chance to establish its global profile as a dazzling metropolis in the same way last year’s Beijing Olympics turned the world’s attention to the nation’s capital.
Officially budgeting Rmb28.6bn (US$4.2bn) for the event, Shanghai intends to carve a place in the history books alongside milestone world’s fairs like London’s Great Exhibition in 1851, the 1889 Universal Exposition in Paris which produced the Eiffel Tower; and Chicago’s 1893 Colombian Exposition, which introduced the first Ferris Wheel.
Chinese officials had become increasingly concerned in recent months that the US, which is barred by law from using government funds to build its pavilion, might miss the party altogether, which would have caused major diplomatic embarrassment to both sides.
Expo officials were reported earlier in the year to be looking for ways to help defray the costs of US participation, if corporate sponsorships could not be found because of the global economic slowdown.
After personal phone calls from Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, American companies committed some $20m to the project in recent weeks. This, however, is still short of the $61m needed to build and operate the US pavilion.
“We’ve had a sea change of good news over the past two months,” said Frank Lavin, chairman of the US pavilion steering committee and a former senior trade official under the Bush administration. He added that the personal intervention of Ms Clinton led fundraising to “pick up dramatically.”
It now looks almost certain that the US will participate, but a source close to the effort said, “Nothing is ever done until it’s done.”
Organisers believe a formal participation agreement could be signed with Shanghai Expo as early as this week, with ground-breaking perhaps next week during a visit by Gary Locke, the ethnic Chinese US commerce secretary.
The Expo, which will run from May 1 to October 31 next year, is expected to attract 70m visitors, including 3.5m from abroad.
The US pavilion would be one of the largest at Expo and would include a section on “the success of the Chinese in America”. The Expo, whose theme is “Better City, Better Life”, will boast national, corporate and other pavilions, some with walls made of soyabean fibre, air conditioning systems run with river water and lights powered by solar panels.
Preparations for the event have turned the vast city of 17m people into a building site: several new subway lines are being added to give the city a 400km underground railway network, one of the longest in the world.
A new terminal has been built for cruise ships, airports are being renovated, thousands of the city’s often foul public toilets are being cleaned up and Expo is even tackling the local cuisine: Expo food will minimise offal, and ban chicken bones, all in aid of impressing picky foreigners.
Expo will make permanent improvements to the physical infrastructure of Shanghai – not to mention making this already western-friendly city easier to navigate by foreigners, by teaching more taxi drivers to speak English and discouraging foreign pet peeves such as spitting in public and queue-jumping.
Shanghai plans to add 20,000 hotel rooms by the end of next year – a 34 per cent inflation in the supply of starred hotel rooms – at a time when occupancy rates at five-star hotels have already been savaged by the global financial crisis.
Additional reporting by Shirley Chen