Shanghai starts one-year countdown to largest Expo ever

SHANGHAI - China is preparing for the biggest and most extravagant World Expo in history, with billions of dollars allocated and an army of thousands of workers deployed for next year’s event in Shanghai.

By (AFP)

Published: Wed 29 Apr 2009, 12:57 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 3:42 AM

Authorities have set aside an area twice the size of Monaco for the Expo, which is expected to attract 70 million visitors -- 95 percent of them Chinese—to the bustling financial centre from May 1, 2010.

That is 20 times the size of the site used for the last Expo in Zaragoza, Spain, and China is hoping the event will again provide it with an opportunity to shine on the global stage, following last year’s Beijing Olympics.

“This is the largest project in Shanghai and in China,” said Xu Bo, the assistant to the commissioner general for Expo 2010, which will run for six months.

Beneath the towering “Crown of the East,” China’s national pavilion, about 10,000 workers are busy digging foundations, pouring concrete and welding the steel exterior onto the Expo’s futuristic performing arts arena.

The number of workers at the Expo site—straddling the Huangpu River, which flows through the city’s centre—is set to double over the next two months, organisers said.

China is powering forward with Expo-related investments despite the global economic gloom, with about 44 billion dollars earmarked for extending subway lines, upgrading railways and roads and expanding airport capacity.

“On one hand the timing is bad, but on the other, it’s very good,” Xu told AFP in an interview.

He said the Expo would help create jobs and generate revenue for Shanghai but acknowledged some of the 187 countries committed to participating in the event may have to scale back their plans because of economic troubles at home.

So far, he said, none have backed out.

Authorities here hope a vibrant Expo will help boost confidence in the Chinese economy at home and abroad, as the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago did for the United States during the Great Depression, Xu said.

Local authorities say the event is expected to bring 300 billion yuan (44 billion dollars) in tourism revenue into the city, according to state media.

For countries like France, Germany and Japan—which have their eyes on China’s 1.3 billion-strong consumer market—a major investment in the Shanghai Expo could translate into huge benefits down the line.

“It’s important for people in Europe to realise how big this thing is going to be,” said Franck Serrano, a spokesman for the French pavilion.

Visitors to the French venue will be able to sip champagne in a restaurant staffed by Michelin-starred chefs, watch French films and gaze at seven masterpieces lent out by the Musee d’Orsay in Paris.

“We want to make the Chinese dream, seduce them, entertain them and help them get to know France better,” Serrano said.

France had been forced to adapt its Expo plans due to the global economic downturn, he said. The government had initially planned to pay half of the 50-million-euro (65-million-dollar) cost, but now will pay more.

Organisers also see the event as an opportunity for ordinary Chinese—most of whom have never travelled abroad—to interact with people from around the globe.

“We are talking politics, we are talking culture, we are talking about science, we are talking about urban life,” Xu said.

“It should change the mentality, the culture, the way of life of the Chinese people,” he said, adding that the Expo could even be extended beyond the planned six months.

Yu Weixin, a 40-year-old migrant worker who has been working on the site for three years, said he sees excitement about the Expo building whenever he visits his family in eastern Jiangsu province.

“Sometimes I show them photos I have taken with my cell phone,” he said, smiling broadly under his hard hat.

“They follow the news and all of them want to be here for the opening.”

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