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World’s ‘Better City’ Wonders on Display at Shanghai Expo

May 12, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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As China kicks off its five-month World Expo festivities in Shanghai, Jeffrey Brown talks to Ray Suarez about what is on displayed in the international pavilions at the largest, most expensive World's Fair in history.

GWEN IFILL: Now: a story from the banks of the Huangpu River in China. That’s in Shanghai, where Ray Suarez has been reporting for our Global Health Unit. As part of his trip, he stopped off at the huge international Expo 2010, which launched there this month.

Jeffrey Brown spoke with him yesterday.

JEFFREY BROWN: Ray, two years ago was the Olympics in Beijing, now this world’s fair in Shanghai, so another chance for China to show its new place in the world, right?

RAY SUAREZ: You know, a lot of world’s fairs over the years, Jeff, have only able to attract two-thirds, three-quarters of the world’s nations to come to their playground.

But when China announced it was going to host a World Expo in 2010, it got, literally, everybody to come. Close to 200 nations and continents and regional groups around the world are represented here with pavilions. It’s part trade fair, part nationalist festival, part cultural event.

But China certainly has shown its power as a convening country. It snapped its fingers, and the world is here.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, what are you seeing here? What are all these countries, including the U.S., doing with their exhibitions?

RAY SUAREZ: Well, there’s a strong theme internationally of energy efficiency, reducing carbon emission, the world trying to get to grips with this problem. And maybe Shanghai is a good place to have that international conversation, as China is on the road to becoming the greenest and the blackest nation on Earth, both the number-one emitter and really in the vanguard of trying to figure out ways to more efficiently developing renewable energy.

So, that’s a very strong theme. A lot of the countries have — have done the regular world’s fair thing, which is native dress, national foods, national music, and culture. And so — so, there are shows, and you can hear music all around the fair as you walk around during the day.

The U.S. has kind of an interesting story. They were having some real troubles raising the money for the fair, as it is against the law to use government money to build an American display at an international exhibition like this one.

The secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, stepped in, and basically started shaking the trees and — and appointed new heads for the American delegation, and put her own stamp on the efforts to raise private money to be here. And a who’s-who of American corporations have stepped up and ponied up, and there is an American pavilion.

The head of our delegation said it would have been unthinkable not to be here. And so the USA also has some of the longest lines here at the expo.

JEFFREY BROWN: With the Olympics, there was that mix of the spectacular, alongside the issues of the heavy-handedness of the government trying to control things. Was there that same mix on display here?

RAY SUAREZ: Shanghai cleared the land for this World Expo, basically relocating 18,000 families to other parts of the region. The government says they were almost all compensated and able to agree on a fair price to replace their house and to be moved elsewhere.

We kind of have to take their word for it. But it is an example of the kind of power that a regional government has, that it can, without an endless string of hearings and environmental impact statements and — and discussions, basically say, well, we’re taking this land. Let’s make a deal.

And they moved an awful lot of people out of here to get access, and by doing so, opened up the two banks of the Huangpu River at a place where, all around it, tremendous skyscrapers and tremendously intense development is going on.

So, they have created what cities would — would really lust for all around the world, ready-for-development land right in the heart of town. It’s going to end up being some of the most expensive real estate in the world.

JEFFREY BROWN: And finally, Ray, give us a preview of the stories you’re working on.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, Jeff, we moved around China to talk about obesity, which is a rapidly rising problem in this country, in part because it’s becoming a more prosperous place, where it had been a place of periodic famine and chronic food shortage in the past. So, we will be looking at obesity — 90 million to 100 million Chinese are obese, but that great is growing 9 percent to 10 percent a year.

Also, the government runs the monopoly on cigarettes and is a major producer of cigarettes and a major grower of tobacco, at the same time as another arm of the government is trying to urge Chinese not to smoke. The health care system is very fragile, very overburdened in this country.

And, if you play out these trends in obesity and smoking to the decades to come, China’s going to have a whale of a public health problem on its hands, if it doesn’t come to grips with it now. And those are some of the stories, along with this Shanghai fair and the remarkable economic changes in this part of China. Those are some of the stories we will be telling in the coming weeks.

JEFFREY BROWN: OK, we will await those stories.

Ray Suarez, at the Shanghai World Expo, thanks a lot.

RAY SUAREZ: Good to talk to you, Jeff.