Monday, April 19, 2010

396) Shanghai Expo costs - Washington Post

Shanghai prepares world's fair while wondering about costs
By Keith B. Richburg
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, April 19, 2010; A08

SHANGHAI -- As China's largest city prepares to open the most expensive world's fair in history, the 2008 Beijing Olympics provides both a model and a cautionary tale.

As with the extravagant Olympics, Chinese officials see the World Expo, which begins next month and runs through October, as another chance to showcase China's rising clout and prosperity to a global audience. Shanghai has been constructing lavishly for the event, including new subway lines and an additional airport terminal.

But more than a year and a half after the Beijing Games awed the world, some of the most iconic venues have fallen into disuse.

The "Bird's Nest" stadium, site of the lavish opening ceremonies, hosted just three concerts and two B-list sporting events last year, and nothing in recent months. The "Water Cube," an engineering marvel where American swimmer Michael Phelps made Olympic history, has not been used for a competition since, and has been closed for renovations since October as officials try to transform it into an entertainment complex.

So far, the huge maintenance costs of those venues is being sustained by Chinese tourists, who pay for tickets to visit them and relive a bit of China's glory. But officials said interest is beginning to wane.

Perhaps mindful of that history, authorities in Shanghai decided that almost all the World Expo pavilions will be dismantled immediately after the fair. The site, an old industrial area that once housed a steel plant and scrap yard, will be used for exhibitions and conferences, a business sector this city is still trying to develop.

Also, officials and Shanghai residents say, the costly infrastructure improvements will continue to benefit locals long after the fair has closed down.

There have been contradictory official statements about the cost of the expo. Officially, the budget is 28.6 billion yuan, or just over $4 billion. But the China Economic Daily reported that the real cost could reach more than 400 billion yuan -- or more than $58 billion -- once all the costs for construction, the rail lines and the airport terminal are factored in. In addition, some 17,000 people were relocated, adding to the costs.

"Shanghai will be more beautiful, cleaner and have better infrastructure," said Hong Hao, the director general of the expo. "All the citizens will benefit from this."

He added, "We never stopped learning from the Beijing Olympics."

Most Shanghainese seem to like the idea of their city being the center of attention. One of the few vocal critics was Han Han, a popular writer, blogger and rally car driver. Invited to an expo forum for celebrities in November, Han Han began by saying the rapid urbanization of Shanghai would "make life worse," and the live video feed of his remarks abruptly stopped. His speech ended up being passed around on Web sites.

With the expo a new point of patriotic pride, such criticism has been rare and largely limited to anonymous postings on Internet sites. On one popular Shanghai discussion forum, some recent posters questioned whether the prestige of the world's fair was worth the high cost. "I am just wondering why they are putting so many resources into Expo," one poster said last week, using the online name Cfxianggang. "What benefits will this bring to the country?"

Another poster, using the name Yi Tao, replied: "All this is for face. No other country would do this like China, and put so many resources into it. But the way China is doing it, it will still end up being regarded as a developing country."

Another area where Shanghai is taking a page from Beijing is security. Metal detectors have been set up at Shanghai's subways and in the lobbies of hotels. A special paper, first used at the Olympics, is being swabbed on baggage and can detect explosives and other prohibited items. Kites and balloons are banned in the expo's vicinity. And volunteers are being enlisted to be on the lookout for troublemakers.

Organizers also say this expo will be the "greenest" world's fair ever. A solar energy system will produce up to 5 megawatts of power -- making it the largest solar plant in China -- and large rooftop canopies will collect rainwater to be purified for drinking. Heating will be provided through underground systems.

Richard Brubaker, an American business consultant who teaches a sustainability course at the China Europe International Business School here, said the green results will be known only after the event has closed. Brubaker said that the design of all the buildings uses energy-efficient technology -- but that afterward it would be better to reuse the pavilions than to disassemble all the glass, wood and steel used to make them.

Also, simply moving 70 million people to Shanghai on planes, trains and automobiles will increase China's energy footprint, even if the expo is self-sustaining.

Hong, the expo official, said it will bring "intangible benefits" to Shanghai -- among other things, teaching residents to be "more civilized." Residents have been ordered not to jaywalk, not to spit on the sidewalks, not to hang their laundry in public, and to be polite to foreigners.

The biggest change is that they are being told not to wear their pajamas in public, a longtime Shanghainese tradition.

Wu Weikang, 67, was standing in his thick green-and-blue plaid pajamas outside his house on a chilly afternoon. Before the coming of the expo, he said, if he needed something at the nearby grocery store, he would just walk there in his pajamas. But no longer.

"Now everybody knows," Wu said. "If I forget and wear my pajamas out on the street, my neighbor will stop me."

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