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Bob Moon: Once upon a time, there was something called “The World’s Fair.” And those events used to be a very big deal. The X-ray machine and the ice cream cone both made their debut at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. People got their first look at television at the New York World’s Fair in 1934. In recent years, those big international expositions have become less of a showcase. But China is hoping to change that. Shanghai spent an estimated $58 billion getting ready for its 2010 World Expo. Which is more than Beijing spent prepping for the Olympics. In a few hours, our China bureau chief Scott Tong will be there as it begins. Hey, Scott.
Scott Tong: Hello, Bob.
Moon: Let me fiddle uncomfortably with my tie here and note that I’ve heard this expo called the “Rodney Dangerfield of world news” — nobody gives it any respect, any respect at all. Is there something different this time around?
Tong: Well here, I’ve heard it also called the six-month long trade show, so there are people in Shanghai dissing it, too. But talk to the companies and the countries that are participating, and this is the trade show that cannot be missed. Because this is China, the great emerging market of our time, the chance to show your face to the Chinese government, to show your face to 100 million Chinese customers. You know, as one person put it to me, in Imperial China, the outsiders came to pay tribute to the emperor. And now, they come to pay tribute to China Inc.
Moon: OK, so set the scene, what’s this going to be like? Is it a big expo hall or what?
Tong: Well it’s a giant outdoor thing. It’s kind of the country fair in an oversized way and an amusement park, and everything looks huge and futuristic. Every country has this pavilion. The British pavilion is the talk of the town; it’s this earthy, funky structure with these protruding needles coming out. And part of the “wow” factor, they say, is to lure Chinese executives to come and gawk and then talk business in the VIP area.
Moon: So it sounds like this is an investment for these countries. What about corporations, corporate presence?
Tong: Well, a lot of multinational companies, General Motors has its own corporate pavilion, so does Coca-Cola and Sisco. Other countries sponsor their country pavilions. The U.S. pavilion actually is funded mostly by companies. And I spoke to Evelyn Calick over at the Australian pavilion about the companies helping to foot the bill for them:
Evelyn Calick: And for them, we’re adding a little bit of icing to the cake, and they can, corporate sponsors can invite their own VIPs and they get VIP treatment with fine Australian foods and wine, fine Australian chefs, world famous.
And so Bob, this is kind of corporate suite writ large, catering to the captains of industry in China and to the foreigners who want to do business with them.
Moon: Marketplace’s Scott Tong in Shanghai. Thank you very much.
Tong: Thanks, Bob.
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