A national PR problem? Shanghai Expo welcomes you!

Sat May 1, 2010 3:05am EDT
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By Ben Blanchard

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - North Korea, Sudan, Iran, Myanmar, Zimbabwe are not normally countries associated with booming economies or viewed favorably by many, especially in the West, on the world stage.

But they all have close ties with China, and have made every effort to put on a good show at the just opened Shanghai Expo, an expensive event being held in China's commercial hub over the next six months.

North Korea and Iran, memorably linked by former U.S. President George W. Bush as part of an "axis of evil," even have their national "pavilions" right next to each other.

North Korea, whose nuclear weapons program has strained ties with China, its only real ally, is taking as its theme "Paradise for the People," brushing aside the power cuts and food shortages which have afflicted the isolated nation.

North Korean official Lee Song-un told China's Xinhua news agency in March that this was the first time the country had attended an Expo, choosing China's financial hub and most cosmopolitan and richest city to do so.

"The pavilion will show off the 'garden city' of Pyongyang, and reflect the characteristic style of the North Korean people's spirit in building a powerful and prosperous country," Lee said.

North Korea's number two leader, Kim Yong-nam, turned up in person for the Expo's dazzling opening ceremony.

It is not clear how North Korea, whose economy is in tatters and subject to tough international sanctions, has paid for the building, decorated with a large national flag on the outside and a replica of Pyongyang's Juche Tower inside.   Continued...