I visited the world’s most expensive event, also known as the Shanghai World Expo , last week during the Chinese national holiday. I am happy to report that the Expo was not nearly as crowded as I’d expected it to be on a peak day. My trip to the Expo stirred up some questions in my mind. Below are my thoughts.
China has spent $ 45 billion to prep Shanghai for the Expo. China’s pavilion, the most expensive, cost $ 220 million. Other big spenders include Saudi Arabia ($164 million), Japan ($140 million), Australia ($75 million) and France ($74.4 million).
After my day at the Expo, I had to ask myself why? What is the point? Can all of the time, money and effort put into the Shanghai Expo be justified?
Not surprisingly, the Expo has created a bit of controversy. Some may ask if the Expo is really necessary. Well, if it isn’t water and it isn’t food, then it is in fact not necessary. To reach greatness though, one must strive for things which are above necessity. “Putting on a show” however isn’t the strategy China used to reach its economic success and global relevance. If one were to judge solely on their performance at the World Expo, it could be argued that China has dismissed Deng Xiaoping’s famous words, “bide time and keep a low profile.”
I don’t think China needs any additional promotion as a leading participant in the global economy. What will the Shanghai Expo achieve for China that the Beijing Olympics hasn’t already ?
International Relations: Mending Broken Ties
There are a share of countries represented at the Expo which have in recent years, had a rocky relationship with China. Their presence at the expo is therefore especially important, as it shows a willingness and desire to make peace with China. The example that sticks out most is North Korea, whose nuclear weapon program has strained its ties with China. Although its nation is suffering from power cuts and food shortages, its theme, “Paradise for the People,” suggests quite the contrary. North Korea’s theme was poorly chosen, however it is wise for the nation to support China at the Expo in hopes of reconciliation.
International Relations: Strengthening Ties
The Sweden Pavilion, hosting the theme, “Spirit of Innovation,” aims to strengthen long lasting relations between Sweden and China as well as lay the foundation for future business between Sweden and China.
So, coming from the perspective of the 200 + participating countries, is it worth it ? What’s the ROI? If the country’s main motif to participate is to improve relations with China, then the ROI is immeasurable. How do you measure the value of a relationship precisely? As a world power, it would be wise for a nation to manage their relationship with China. With only 3 countries dropping out, Bhutan, Kuwait and Burkina Faso, participating in the Expo almost seems like a social or economic obligation of sorts. At the end of the day, the purpose of the Shanghai Expo is to build relationships amongst the world’s nations. How much however does a nation really need to spend in order to satisfy their purpose for participation?
Although, I did enjoy my visit to the Shanghai World Expo, in my ideal world there would be no world fair for two reasons.
1. Spending such large sums of money on a World’s fair seems especially wasteful in 2010 when information can be shared so efficiently ( referring to time and money ) on the internet. In fact, there is a “World’s Fair “taking place every day online. Maybe the world wide web should be renamed the world wide fair. For those that insist on a World’s Fair, let’s host a web – based Expo. The Shanghai World’s Expo may have broken the record for the most expensive World’s Fair in history, however a web based fair would be the most economically and environmentally sustainable fair of all time.
2. I recall US President, Barack Obama and US secretary of State, Hillary Clinton stressing in one of the movie clips shown in the USA pavilion the large amount of US citizens in need of homes. Wouldn’t it have been great if the $61 million spent on the USA pavilion was spent to build homes for these people, not to mention debt we could have squared away. Say that hosting a World’s Fair is somewhat productive, then could we all agree to spend a fraction of the cost next time around?
I do realize how ridiculous my proposals are, but it doesn’t hurt to dream. After all, every accomplishment began as just a dream.
What’s your opinion ? Is the Shanghai Expo generally speaking, a waste of resources or a productive global sharing of knowledge and culture ? In what ways do you think China and the participating nations will benefit from the Expo ?