Shanghai kicks off spectacular World Expo
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Shanghai kicked off its multi-billion dollar technology Expo Friday, expected to attract 70 million visitors. The opening ceremony featured action film star Jackie Chan serenading the crowd. 189 countries will take part in the Expo.
REUTERS - Shanghai all but closed down the main Pudong financial hub on Friday for its multi-billion dollar Expo, lining the roads with police and taking no chances with security.
China’s business capital, playing host to world leaders including French President Nicolas Sarkozy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, is swabbing travellers for explosives at its airports, x-raying bags on the subway and even warning people not to hang their laundry outside.
Expo aims to showcase the latest technology and inventions from some 190 countries ranging from the United States and Germany to North Korea and financially troubled Iceland and Greece, often in innovative or bizarre national « pavilions ».
The city has declared a public holiday which will extend into Tuesday, though the stock, bond, money and commodities markets will only close on Monday for the national May Day holiday.
Shanghai has taken great pride in hosting the Expo, nearly two years after the capital Beijing hosted the Summer Olympics, winning huge praise for the opening and closing ceremonies in another high-level security operation.
The city has spent a reported $58 billion on the Expo and related infrastructure to accommodate the 70 million mainly Chinese who will visit during the six-month spectacular.
« Shanghai’s hosting of the World Expo is the pride of all Chinese people, » state media quoted President Hu Jintao as telling an Expo delegation from Taiwan. « With our joint efforts, the Shanghai World Expo will be a successful, splendid and memorable event. »
The city is leaving nothing to chance.
Organisers for the opening gala, to be attended also by North Korea’s number two, Kim Yong-nam, say the evening will feature the largest outdoor multimedia display ever, complete with non-stop fireworks over the city’s murky Huangpu River.
« This is the first time a World Expo is hosting an opening ceremony of this scale, » said David Atkins, CEO of David Atkins Enterprises, artistic director for the event.
The Expo’s theme is « Better city, Better life », a slogan plastered all over rapidly expanding and crowded Shanghai.
The main site has been designed to be environmentally friendly with the creation of the country’s largest solar plant and the use of zero-emission vehicles. However, most of the pavilions will be demolished after Oct 31 when the Expo ends.
The government also had to relocate thousands of people for the Expo, some forcefully, according to rights groups. Activists have been threatened by the police to keep quiet during the festivities.
« The Shanghai Expo authorities should be mindful that many remember the 2008 Beijing Olympics as much for the arrests and detention of peaceful protesters and journalists as for the achievements of the athletes, » said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.
Shanghai is counting on spectacle, business and tourism keeping politics out of most visitors’ minds.
The city has tried to revive the glamour associated with it in the 1920s, when Shanghai was dubbed the « Pearl of the Orient » for the lavishness of its glitterati and art deco buildings.
Swathes of streets have been redeveloped, including the historic Bund waterfront promenade, where the government splashed out on a $700 million revamp.
« They have certain expectations of the international audience, » said Bo Zhiyue, a Chinese politics expert at the National University of Singapore’s East Asian Institute.
« They are trying to boost their international image by trying to doing what they think will meet the expectations of foreigners. »