SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Shanghai opens the World Expo to the public on Saturday, a multi-billion dollar event showcasing China’s booming economy and resurgent national pride, as well as the latest green technology from 189 countries.
Organizers kicked off the six-month extravaganza on Friday evening with a spectacular fireworks display, the largest LED screen ever constructed and dancing water fountains along the banks of the city’s murky Huangpu River.
“I am confident that, with concerted efforts, people around the world will witness a successful, splendid and unforgettable World Expo,” President Hu Jintao told visiting foreign leaders on Friday evening.
China says it has spent $4.2 billion — double what it spent at the 2008 Beijing Olympics — to host the world’s largest exhibition. It is the most expensive Expo to date and local media have reported the true cost is closer to $58 billion.
The Expo site, on both sides of the Huangpu, is twice the size of Monaco and 20 times bigger than the last World Expo held in Spain’s Zaragoza in 2008.
Cosmopolitan Shanghai expects 70 million visitors will attend the Expo — an average of nearly 400,000 per day — though just 5 percent will be foreigners.
The government will be hoping to avoid the sometimes chaotic scenes witnessed during rehearsals for the Expo, when visitors complained of enormous lines, poor organization and lack of food.
“The only worry is how to serve them because we may probably not have enough staff to take care of everybody,” Omar Mapuri, head of the Tanzania pavilion, told Reuters.
“But otherwise we are very happy and encouraged to see people coming because that is what we came here for.”
The Expo has been accompanied by heavy security, with x-ray checks for bags at subway stations, a very obvious police presence, and bomb-recognition pamphlets distributed to offices in the Pudong financial district.
Most countries have gone to extravagant lengths, spending huge sums to boost their image in China. Attendees include not only large countries like France, Russia and the United States, but also Turkmenistan, Oman, Costa Rica and many others.
Saudi Arabia has spent $146 million on its spaceship-shaped pavilion, which features date palms, while India plans to fly a cast of Bollywood stars to the site to perform.
Still, despite the hoopla and spectacle the event promises, the run-up to the Expo has not been without its hiccups.
Some national pavilions will not be ready for the first paying members of the public on Saturday.
Kuwait, Bhutan and poverty-stricken Burkina Faso dropped out of the Expo completely this week, local media reported.
Additional reporting by Royston Chan; Editing by Jason Subler and Jeremy Laurence