x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Showtime kicks off in Shanghai

Expo 2010 Shanghai is now open to the world as a statement of the host nation China's steady march into the ranks of the globe's great powers. The UAE is represented with a pavilion that is drawing visitors in droves.

London in 1851, Paris in 1855, Chicago in 1893, New York in 1939 ? and now, Shanghai in 2010. The exposition that began in China yesterday is bigger and more expensive than any before, but like many of its predecessors, it represents the efforts of a rising power to further stamp its mark on the world.

The Shanghai event has seen China take over the expo mantle from Japan, which hosted the most recent event - in Aichi in 2005 - and comes ahead of China probably taking over from Japan this year as the world's second-largest economy. Events began with a lavish, star-studded opening ceremony and fireworks that lit up the Friday night sky in Shanghai. Yesterday morning, in bright sunshine, people arrived en masse for the first official day of the event.

With almost every country in the world exhibiting, plus all provinces of China and dozens of international organisations, the expo fills a 5.3-square km site on both sides of the Huangpu River. The fluid lines of the UAE's sand dune-shaped pavilion, which has a prime spot not far from the showcase China pavilion, proved popular with visitors, as long queues stretched even before the 10am opening when the UAE flag was raised by Omar al Bitar, the UAE ambassador to China.

"We're delighted with the building. We're delighted with the design and I'm overwhelmed by the size of this crowd," said Peter Vine, the UAE pavilion co-ordinator. "There are thousands of people queuing here." Mr Vine said that at one point queues stretched 500 metres and many visitors waited 90 minutes to enter. Those prepared to wait were not disappointed. "I know a lot about the country and I have a view to visit it now," said Len Zhengbin, 24, a government employee.

Officials from other countries were also taken with the pavilion, with Haya al Sada, the head of cultural affairs at Bahrain's ministry of culture, describing it as "superb". "For the Chinese viewer and many of the international viewers, it tingles their interest. It's something they can explore more," Ms al Sada said. "People associate it with sand dunes, but [the pavilion] showed palm trees and other landscapes like mountainous areas. It's breaking the stereotypical view."

A key aim of the US$21 million (Dh77.1m) pavilion is attracting tourists to the country, and many travel-related companies, including the Jumeirah hotel group and Emirates Airline, are linked with the films that are shown to visitors while they wait to enter. Mansour Lardhi, a senior executive with the external information department of the National Media Council, said the pavilion aimed to "represent the UAE in a unique way".

"We want to show the world, especially the Chinese, that the UAE is a developed country in all aspects and show what the UAE can offer the Chinese," Mr Lardhi said. He said the UAE pavilion demonstrated to Chinese visitors how the Emirates' development tied in with the expo's "Better City, Better Life" theme of sustainable development. In particular, visitors are learning about Masdar City, which is being developed in Abu Dhabi as the world's first carbon-neutral, zero-waste city.

"We are promoting the UAE to the world," Mr Lardhi said. "We have been participating in expos for so many years and each time we learn how we can improve. This is to showcase the UAE for the world." The UAE pavilion consists of a series of cinemas in which four six-minute films, some involving sophisticated projection techniques and dozens of screens, are shown. Emirati helpers provided by the Emirates Foundation's Takatof volunteer programme, along with 90 Chinese hostesses, guided visitors.

But the pavilion has plenty of competition to attract the interest of those attending the expo, with 189 nations and 57 international organisations exhibiting at the event, which runs until October 31. China's pavilion is modelled on an ancient crown and many countries have shipped in major cultural or historic attractions from home to display in their pavilions. An average of 400,000 visitors are expected each day, although Zhang Jun, a programme officer in the expo's communications and promotions department, said numbers on the first day were being kept "under control" by the ticketing system to prevent excess crowds.

In a trial opening that began on April 20, security checkpoints were overwhelmed and some pavilions had to close because they had too many visitors, although with the official launch more pavilions have opened, spreading visitor numbers more evenly. "Today is a special day and the ticket is different from a normal ticket. So far so good," Mr Zhang said yesterday, when a maximum of 500,000 visitors were expected.

The commercial value of being part of an event that is expected to attract 70 million visitors, including 5 million from overseas, is demonstrated by some of the global corporate giants that have become involved. Even Coca-Cola has a pavilion. The Chinese hosts alone have officially spent $4.2 billion developing the vast expo site, while many of the individual country pavilions have cost tens of millions of dollars.

Local media have said the total cost of the event could run to as much as $58bn, exceeding the figure spent to stage the Olympics in 2008. But local companies are reaping rich rewards, with hotel room rates rising 20 per cent, according to a report by the online travel agency Ctrip.com. For all the vast expenditure, the theme of the event is one of sustainable urban development and to that end all expo pavilions have non-electric air-conditioning, which organisers say is twice as efficient, avoiding 73,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, a benefit said to be equal to planting 4 million trees.

Extra security guards have been brought in for the expo, with inspectors stationed on buses and police with sniffer dogs at some metro stations. Flight restrictions have been imposed over the city, kites are banned close to the expo site and the sale of knives is being more tightly controlled. Media have suggested as many as 2 million volunteers are assisting with patrols and security checks, and rights groups have claimed that activists have been detained or placed under house arrest to prevent incidents during the event. A helicopter circled the expo site yesterday.

The tradition of world expos dates back to the Great Exposition of 1851 in London, and so far 15 cities, among them Montreal, Brussels, Vienna and Philadelphia, have hosted official world expo events. The Shanghai expo is the first to be held in a developing country. @Email:dbardsley@thenational.ae