China splashes out for Expo, U.S. may miss out

Mon Jun 8, 2009 9:35pm EDT
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By Simon Rabinovitch

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - At one end of the World Expo grounds in Shanghai stands the Chinese pavilion, nearly complete, a futuristic, soaring design. At the other end is the U.S. site, an empty patch of soil in the shadow of its Canadian neighbor.

With less than 11 months until the fair opens in Shanghai, the United States is short of cash for building its pavilion and in danger of missing an event that will be attended by at least 191 countries, draw up to 70 million visitors and rank at the top of China's business and political agenda for much of 2010.

The Chinese government has opened its wallet to help fund the attendance of more than 100 countries from Nepal to Samoa and Mali to Zimbabwe. The United States, however, cannot count on such generosity.

"The United States should be a developed country, so we cannot give it financial aid," said Zhong Yanqun, vice-chairwoman of Shanghai Expo. "We do believe that the American government, businesses and people all want to have a wonderful pavilion."

But the United States is hamstrung by its own rules that prevent the government from financing world fairs.

U.S. organizers have instead been forced to go cap in hand to companies to get sponsorship for the needed funds, only to run into the wreckage of the financial crisis. Of their $61 million target, they have so far raised $6 million. And the clock is ticking.

"This Expo is a national statement of how China views itself and its relationships with the world," said Frank Lavin, chairman of the U.S. Pavilion steering committee.

"Just as a failure of the U.S. Olympic team to participate in the Beijing Olympics would not have been a positive reflection, I think a failure of the U.S. to have a pavilion would also not to be taken positively," he said.   Continued...

<p>Workers walk to their dormitories as they finish their shift near the African area of the Expo 2010 in Shanghai June 8, 2009. REUTERS/ Nir Elias</p>