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Clock ticking for US on Shanghai Expo
2009. 9 May
WASHINGTON (AFP) The United States is racing to raise money to complete a pavilion for next year's World Expo in Shanghai, as China frets that the world's largest economy will be an embarrassing no-show.
Shanghai is hoping to throw the biggest-ever World Expo in a year's time, which, alongside the Beijing Olympics, is meant to be a one-two punch showing China's rising global clout.
China has designated a prime 6,000 square meters (65,000 square feet) for the US pavilion. But US law prohibits using taxpayer dollars to pay for such events and private fundraising got off to a shaky start last year.
China voiced concern to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she visited Beijing in February and has offered flexibility to the United States on meeting Expo deadlines, a US official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Clinton later wrote a letter to the Committee of 100, a Chinese-American group, assuring that she finds it "crucial" for the United States to take part in the World Expo.
The pavilion will "demonstrate America's commitment to renewing its leadership in the Asia-Pacific region and to a forward-looking, positive relationship with China," Clinton said in the letter, released by the group.
The State Department had tasked a private group to design the pavilion but it dropped out late last year, saying it could not raise funds due to the economic crisis and sponsor fatigue after the Beijing Olympics.
The group revived the effort earlier this year as US President Barack Obama's election raised hopes of official involvement and China stepped forward with support, including completing engineering work on the US pavilion.
But business leaders have hesitated to accept outright Chinese loans to build the pavilion, wary of the symbolism at a time that Beijing's purchases of the giant US debt come under growing scrutiny.
Frank Lavin, a former US ambassador to Singapore who heads the USA Pavilion steering committee, said it has raised 2.8 million dollars. The committee needs to drum up another 60 million dollars through next year.
But he said 36 million dollars was under negotiation and that he is "increasingly optimistic" of meeting the target.
"Our fundraising is on track," he told AFP.
Shirley Young, who serves on the board of the Committee of 100, said that the Chinese-American group had identified some 20 companies from which to solicit money.
Young, a former vice president of General Motors, said she had been shocked when she learned last year that the United States may not have a pavilion.
"It would be a huge loss of face to the Chinese. China has given the United States the most prime spot for the pavilion, so this is an issue of enormous sensitivity," Young said.
With more than 170 other nations planning pavilions, a US absence would also be a major loss of prestige, she warned.
"This is a way for the United States to assert its leadership and say we're okay, we're still a leader in the world despite the economic crisis," she said.
World expos have a long history of heralding nations' progress, from the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago to the 1970 Expo in Osaka.
Organizers want the US pavilion to show such themes as resource sustainability and the Chinese community in the United States.
Among other nations, France has a state-led effort to build a 50-million-euro (67-million-dollar) pavilion featuring masterpieces from the Musee d'Orsay in Paris.
Britain has a public-private partnership to build a cube-shaped pavilion from which thousands of spines float in the breeze. Japan, host of the last World Expo in 2005, plans to showcase some of its ultra-advanced robots.
More than 22 million people visited the 2005 expo in the central Japanese region of Aichi. The US pavilion was sponsored by leading US and Japanese companies, including Toyota Motor Corp., which is based in Aichi.
China expects 70 million people to visit the Shanghai Expo over six months -- 95 percent of them Chinese.Source: www.google.com/hostednews/afp/