China puts power on show at World Expo
By Ben Blanchard and Farah Master, ReutersSHANGHAI -- The Shanghai World Expo opening on Friday is the ruling Chinese Communist Party's latest extravagant use of money, underscoring the extent to which it seeks to brandish its power through flashy spectacle.
April 30, 2010, 3:35 pm TWN
The government is spending billions of dollars on the Expo — local media estimate some US$58 billion if infrastructure is included — transforming an area larger than Monaco into a giant exhibition site.
A gaggle of foreign leaders will attend the opening ceremony, including French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, which could rival Beijing's 2008 Olympics in terms of scale and cost.
All this for an event which has in recent years fallen off the international radar and typically used by less prominent cities and regions, like Spain's Zaragoza and Japan's Aichi, to boost their profile.
But for China's 1.3 billion people, powering an economy likely to soon overtake Japan as the world's second-largest, the hoopla and glitz of the Expo will be cast as another display of the Communist leadership's power and prestige.
“One goal the Chinese government hopes to accomplish by hosting grand spectacles such as these is to re-brand China as a thoroughly modern and strong country, dispelling any lingering image of it as the 'sick man of Asia',” said Jeffrey Wasserstrom, Professor of History at University of California, Irvine.
“These spectacles help distract people from other concerns, while also working very much like stimulus packages, as the construction and destruction needed to get them underway keeps many people employed,” he added.
Beijing wowed the world when it hosted the Olympics two years ago, an event remembered as much for Chinese athletes' topping of the medals' table as it was for the awe-inspiring opening and closing ceremonies.
State radio, in a commentary just over a week ago, said that Shanghai's Expo would build upon the “magnificent” opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics.
It noted that the “gaze of the world will once more be fixed upon China,” adding that the event will bring “numerous positive effects” to the nation, something important for a government increasingly concerned with its international image.