Monday, May 3, 2010

Shanghai Expo 2010: Chinese-Saudi Relations and more!

The Opening Ceremonies, with fireworks behind the Chinese Pavilion

On Saturday May 1, 2010 (fittingly on International Labour Day), Shanghai Expo 2010 opened for a 6-month period of festivities, cultural events, and economic displays. A recent article in The Globe and Mail, Expo 2010 confirms how China has moved to world’s centre stage, pointed out that the exposition marks China's arrival on the world stage, and marks the 21st century as one of China's international dominance. The author, Mark MacKinnon, compares this to the way that a series of expositions --1904 in St. Louis, 1915 in San Francisco and 1933 in Chicago--marked the arrival of the United States on the world stage and foreshadowed its dominance in the 20th century. In the 19th century the twin imperial powers England and France held expositions: the first ever opened by Queen Victoria in London in 1851;  while the Paris exposition of 1889, famed for the Eiffel Tower built as the gateway to the exposition grounds, was France's contribution.

Other international expositions have shifted the perception and role of the nations holding them, or reflected that shift--or both. In 1970 Japan held an international exposition to mark its re-emergence on the international scene, this time as an economic not an imperial power. Canada came of age as a middle power with Expo 67, held in Montreal, and the 1976 Montreal Olympics, both tributes to Mayor Jean Drapeau's visions for Montreal and willingness to build monuments to the city, and himself, at great expense.

At the Shanghai Expo 2010, after the Chinese Pavillion, the most extravagant and costly (at $1.64 billion) is that of Saudi Arabia, a sign of the privileged trading relationships between the 2 countries, with Saudi the largest supplier of oil to China, its largest Asian customer.

Saudi pavilion at the World Expo in Shanghai
Prince Mansour bin Miteb, minister of municipal and rural affairs, opens the Saudi pavilion at the World Expo in Shanghai on Saturday. The pavilion, which is in the form of a boat, covers 7,000 square meters and is expected to draw seven million visitors. (SPA)

The Saudi Pavilion, variously described as an oil barge, a half moon of hopes, and a half circle;
palm trees on top; Chinese and Arabian plants on the bottom; 
giant IMAX cinema in the middle; mosque included

As MacKinnon writes of the Saudi presence at the expo:
“The Crown of the East” – China’s $220-million architectural statement – is followed on the lavish list at Expo by the $164-million Saudi Arabian pavilion, which is shaped like a giant oil barge and includes imported date palms, a mosque and a soccer-field-sized video screen to display photographs and footage of King Abdullah meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao. The homage reflects the tightening relations between the world’s biggest oil exporter and its fastest growing market.

“This is a symbol of how the China-Saudi relationship has advanced over the past few years … China for the past few years has emerged as an open and welcome country. I think the future is very brilliant,” said Mohammed al-Ghandi, executive director of the Saudi pavilion.

The pavilion will stage the unveiling of new business deals between China and Saudi Arabia, he said, including the announcement Sunday that a Chinese firm has been contracted to build a new railway connecting the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

MacKinnon goes on to point out that China's non-interventionist foreign policy, based on economic expansion alone means that states considered rogue states by others are all present and accounted for: North Korea, Iran, Libya, etc. The developing nations have made a special effort to be present in order to attract Chinese economic power. However, all the other major countries have their own pavilion, and the minor ones have grouped together in regional pavilions.

The Canadian Pavilion, built of red cedar, features simulated bicycle rides through animated citiscapes

Another view of the Canada Pavilion, where the restaurant serves poutine, and Moosehead Beer

Cirque du Soleil design inside the Canada Pavilion, 
where the internationally famous "circus without animals" troupe performs

A Cirque du Soleil performer at the Canada Pavilion

The USA Pavilion, minimalistic, futuristic, a epic failure of planning, a corporate lack of vision?

The Australian Pavilion

Colourful inside to the Australian Pavilion

Putting final touches on the French Pavilion, Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife Carla Bruni attended the opening

The African Pavilion, a collective contribution by a number of countries

Walking past the African Pavilion

The United Arab Emirates Pavilion

The Polish Pavilion, at night the "cut outs" are lit from inside

The Indian Pavilion and site

The British Pavilion, composed of fibre optic tubes with each with seeds from a fibre optic tube

The Chinese Pavilion by day, an inverted pyramid, or ancient crown

Inside the Spanish Pavilion, regional palaces

Outside the Spanish Pavilion, highly textured design that makes for an interesting shape overall

The Entrance to the Italian Pavilion, the classical and the contemporary

Inside the Italian Pavilion, an orchestra mounted on the wall, and fashion

Of the 100 million people expected to attend, 95 million are expected to be from within China itself. While individuals are happy to learn about the world in this way, and to enjoy the festivities, as well as to receive outsiders, in fact some suggest that a main purpose of the exposition is to convey an image of economic prosperity and hope to disgruntled Chinese themselves. Something maybe like "the exposition is the opium of the people", or at least a distracting bauble of wealth and prestige.

Perhaps MacKinnon's closing quote is better:
“To the outside world, [the government] wants to show that we’re a big power. Domestically, they want to demonstrate that this is an extremely prosperous time,” said Zhu Dake, a professor in the institute of cultural criticism at Shanghai’s Tongji University. “This can be called the longest carnival in Chinese history.”
From the opening ceremonies

More dancers from the opening ceremonies

Fireworks after the opening ceremonies

A night view over the Shanghai Financial District

A giant musical water fountain on the grounds of the Shanghai Expo

Do you have plans to attend Shanghai Expo 2010?
Have you attended a previous Expo? What was your experience like?
What do you think of your own country's efforts for Shanghai Expo?
Which of the pavilions do you find the most interesting? would you visit if  you could?
What do you think the purpose of an international exposition is?
How successful are such endeavours in fostering knowledge and understanding among countries?
How important are they for economic relationships?
What do you think about current Chinese-Saudi relationships?
Any ideas about what products have been introduced at international expos in the past?
Any other comments, thoughts, experiences?


HishMaj said...

I loved the pictures! And is that the long, and I mean LONG, queue to enter the Saudi paviliion?

NidalM said...

Let me just start off with: Those are some BEAUTIFUL buildings! As a photographer, I'd love to spend a few days there taking pictures :)

I first found out about the expo when I was contacted by some of the participants to buy some photos of Saudi Arabia to display earlier this year. The expo is not just being seen as a way to increase other countries' relationships with China but among themselves as well.

I think the days of having world economics being dominated by a small number of countries are starting to fade away. There is just too much foreign investment and too much reliance between economies for that to be realistic.

While China is growing into its role as a world power in manufacturing and exporting, it still has decades to go before it can compete with the US on an overall economic level (think social investment, infrastructure, education). And while the past decade has been a relativistic increase for China, the US and Europe are not receding. Just like when the US rose ranks in the early 1900s, I'd argue that Europe didn't stagnate or recede. They were just already a mature economy.

What you don't want is superpowers in different economic or social camps. As the clashes between previous superpowers has shown (Europe's 'Golden' Age, Cold War), they hurt themselves in the long run. The US recession has been fueled by its economic and military policies towards Afghanistan and Iraq in the Cold War. The UKs colonization of the world to compete with Spain, France and Portugal led it into some very expensive wars.

And that is the reason, as I see it, for expos like this. To build ties with other nations and potential superpowers.

Will it work? I don't think so. It's just for show :P

Wendy said...

I wish I could attend. I think it would be a wonderful experience. Expo '86 in Vancouver was a wonderful experience for me. I did not miss one single day of attendance even if it was just on my lunch hour. Peope actually mourned (myself included) when it ended because it had been such a wonderful experience and place to visit.

I think these are good events and do showcase countries - tourism is greatly benefited by these events.

I understand that Canada's pavillion was successful at the opening as we were entertaining people on the outside waiting to get in. Of course we have our wonderful Cirque there and they are always a big draw. The building doesn't strike me and I understand Chinese are asking were our maple leaf is (it's not on the building anywhere apparently).
The Saudi Pavillion looks amazing and will draw huge crowds out of curiosity for sure. It was one of the more popular places to visit in Vancouver.
Sadly the numbers are not what they expected so I hope they increase. I would hate to see it fail.

Susanne said...

Great pictures. I didn't know anything about this event. I love the opening ceremony pics. I think the African pavilion would be really interesting.

Chiara said...

Thank you all for the great comments. The bouncing barometric pressures are giving me migraines that waylay my own best laid commenting plans for this post and others.

I am hopeful for tomorrow though, to comment more substantively. Rather Scarlet O'Hara-ish LOL:)

HishMaj--Welcome! Thank you for your commment. And I hope you will comment on older and newer posts of interest to you as well. Yes, indeed, the Saudi Pavillion seems to be one of the biggest draws. I would be in the vegetation on top on on the bottom! Thanks again!

NidalM--I have my own economic theories! :) Anon! :)

Wendy and Susanne--thanks for sharing, and Anon as well!


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