TOPICS > Economy

China Tries to Put Best Foot Forward With Shanghai World Expo

June 2, 2010 at 12:00 AM EST
Loading the player...
As part of his series from China, Ray Suarez reports on the ongoing 2010 Shanghai Expo, where the large and decadent Chinese pavilion captures the country in transition.
LISTEN SEE PODCASTS

TRANSCRIPT

GWEN IFILL: Now: the third of our reports from China.

Ray Suarez visits the 2010 Shanghai World Expo.

RAY SUAREZ: It’s China’s latest big thing, like the Olympics, only twice as expensive, 150 nations, 70 million fair-goers hoped for, held in the biggest city in the world. It’s the Expo in Shanghai, the latest world’s fair.

Mingzheng Shi is the director of New York University in Shanghai.

MINGZHENG SHI, director, New York University, Shanghai: China wants to show off, show off to the world that China now is in the league of family of nations, because, in the past, Expo was only held in developed countries. And this is the first time that a developing country is doing it.

So, for the great mission of getting China up there in the world of family is a big, big deal for China.

RAY SUAREZ: Four billion dollars spent directly on the fair, more than $50 billion spent to improve the city’s infrastructure. Shanghai has bet big on the fair, but it’s not alone. China’s trading partners have built elaborate pavilions, going to great lengths to boost their image in China.

Ted Fishman is an author specializing on the Chinese economy. He says, by creating expensive exhibits, countries wishing to court China’s strong export economy and huge consumer market have followed the longstanding tradition of bringing gifts and bowing to the emperor.

Why did countries feel like they really had to be here at this Expo thing?

TED FISHMAN, author: Well, they have to be here both because China wants them here, and, if they’re not here, it’s an insult to China. But they also have to feel they need to be here because they have an internal demand. China is buying more of everything from every company at the Expo.

It’s a more important partner, strategically, economically, culturally, with everybody at the Expo. So, you need to be there to show your own country that you’re engaged in China, and you need to be there to show China that you’re engaged at the very highest level with the superpower that is to come.

RAY SUAREZ: Xu Wei, the spokesperson for the Shanghai Expo, says it’s not just about trade relations.

XU WEI, spokesperson, Shanghai World Expo (through translator): The Expo will serve as an important platform for cultural exchanges, which help Chinese gain a better understanding of other countries.

RAY SUAREZ: The United Kingdom created one of the standout pavilions. It looks like a dandelion head. Its thousands of Lucite rods contain seeds and let light into the interior, flocked by curious visitors.

Australia showcased its history, its arts, and its ties to China in creating a $70 million pavilion.

Lyndall Sachs is commissioner general for the Australian pavilion.

LYNDALL SACHS, Australia commissioner general, World Expo: The relationship between Australia and China is in fact Australia’s biggest, with two-way trade between our two countries being around $83 billion in 2008-2009. And this is a growing market. Australia would have been really remiss not to be here.

RAY SUAREZ: Now, one of the symbols of the fair and the biggest pavilion on the fairgrounds, the Chinese pavilion is meant to invoke the shape of an imperial crown, but, in its size and its splendor, it also remind the fair-goers, nine out of every 10 of whom are Chinese, just what their government can do for them.

MINGZHENG SHI: People here love great theme, great power. Well, there were great powers in the past. As a historian, I know China was great in the 18th — 18th century. And then something happened. The West came to dominate. And then they had a — what they call 150 years of humiliation.

And that humiliation is still on people’s mind. And now they talk about reviving China, making China great again, by launching, for example, events like the Expo or the Olympics.

RAY SUAREZ: NYU’s Shi says it’s a nationalistic gesture for China’s new middle class, eager to catch up with Western lifestyles. But it’s also struggling with soaring housing costs in the country’s biggest cities.

MINGZHENG SHI: It’s all part of nationalism, because the government has many, many problems to worry about, politically, economically. And this is an event that draws people’s attention away from those problems.

RAY SUAREZ: By contrast, the United States pavilion had little support from Washington. That’s because Congress restricts public funding of world’s fairs. As of last spring, the money to build the pavilion hadn’t been raised and its future was in doubt.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. secretary of state: It is my great pleasure to welcome you, on behalf of the American people, to the USA pavilion at Expo 2010.

RAY SUAREZ: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who made a visit to the Expo last week, is credited with pulling the project from the brink by cajoling major corporations to chip in and putting top-notch fund-raisers like Jose Villarreal at the helm — Villarreal, who put word out that the U.S. simply could not be absent, and, at the 11th hour, found that funds were raised.

JOSE VILLARREAL, United States commissioner general, World Expo: Over the curious of the 180 days that this will run, this pavilion will see more Chinese visitors than the entire U.S. Mission in China will see over 20 years. And they will do it in the — in the context of not — you know, of just sort of ordinary, fun kind of activity. So, it’s an unbelievable opportunity.

RAY SUAREZ: The $60 million U.S. pavilion offers a 4-D movie that tells the story of American opportunity, diversity, and innovation.

GIRL: You have got to keep on going on your dream to make a change.

RAY SUAREZ: Panned in the U.S. media as unimaginative and a missed opportunity, the pavilion has had some of the longest lines at the Expo, and, according to the Chinese we spoke with, worth the long wait.

Wey-wey Jiao was moved by the 4-D movie.

WOMAN (through translator): My view of America changed a little bit. From what I saw, America seemed more sincere and friendly.

RAY SUAREZ: What did you think before?

WOMAN (through translator): Before, I thought America liked to bully others.

WOMAN (through translator): Right now, America and China, they are good friends, not like before. America always looked down on China, but now we are friends.

RAY SUAREZ: U.S. corporate sponsors like General Electric created a 3-D body scanner for visitors. And those hoping to draw customers and an even higher corporate profile built their own pavilions.

General Motors unveiled its line of concept electric cars it says will fit into China’s current massive migration from rural areas to urban areas.

KEVIN WALE, president, GM China: Over the next 20 years, there’s going to be 200 million more people who are moving to urban areas. These cars only take up about a fifth of the footprint of a normal car. So, as China’s car population expands, we take up much less room for parking, for roads, and for everything else. So, we think it’s a — a perfect time and a perfect solution for fast-growing markets.

RAY SUAREZ: General Motors is now selling more cars in China than it is the United States. And, once again, it’s China’s young middle-class consumer they’re after.

KEVIN WALE: It’s such a young industry and such a young consumer, who can look at different things and different ways of doing things. So, the people who are looking at these cars and the other cars in our show see solutions that they can relate to.

RAY SUAREZ: And while General Motors has been successful here, other U.S.-based companies are concerned about protectionist moves they see afoot in China.

The Chinese government hopes venues like Shanghai’s World Expo will lead to the development of better relations with all its trading partners.