SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Shanghai will unveil to the world this week its six-month long World Expo, China’s largest international event since the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
The country is trying to create an Expo on a scale never seen before, spending vast sums of money to make the event a blow out extravaganza for the expected 70 million visitors.
A World Expo is a fair where countries and companies display their latest scientific achievements and technological advancements. Expos historically have been remembered for the creation of landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and the introduction of television and the ice cream cone to mass audiences.
While recent Expos have failed the fire the world’s imagination much, Shanghai is creating great fanfare to put them back on the map. China has officially spent $4.2 billion, more than double what it spent on the Olympics, but Chinese media report the actual cost could be up to $58 billion.
The Communist-run government is using the Expo as a means to highlight its authority and dominance internally, showing its citizens it is powerful enough to host two international events on such a grand scale and in such a short space of time.
Nearly 95 percent of visitors to the Expo are expected to be from China itself. Analysts say the Expo serves as a platform for the government to legitimize its role in power as well as exemplifying the country’s fast economic development.
Foreign attention on the Expo has been minimal, and previous expos in Zaragoza and Hanover going largely unnoticed. China has tried to raise its Expo’s global profile by inviting state leaders to attend.
The Shanghai World Expo is the biggest and most expensive Expo in history and countries and companies are making special efforts to improve commercial and political ties with China, the world’s third-largest economy.
There are 191 countries attending the six-month long Expo and most have invested record amounts to build their pavilions. Saudi Arabia, for instance, spent $146 million to build its spaceship-like pavilion.
Countries are likely to reap only intangible gains by boosting their tourism appeal to the Chinese public. But they will gain valuable good will with Beijing by attending, especially smaller countries that rely on Chinese trade and aid.
Multinationals like General Motors and Coca-Cola Co are also making record efforts to cement their presence in China and using the Expo to target the huge domestic market.
Very few Expos in history have actually turned a profit, with the World Expo in Hanover in 2000 estimated to have lost $1.1 billion, while Vancouver’s World Expo held in 1986 estimated to have lost $33 million.
Shanghai officials say they are not aiming to make a profit but want instead to use the Expo to show China’s achievements to the world and let Chinese people experience different cultures.
Editing by Ben Blanchard and Jerry Norton