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Expo Shanghai - Zhou addresses some sensitive issues
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By David Ferguson

Professor Zhou Hanmin, vice director of the Executive Committee of Expo 2010 Shanghai China, and Standing Committee member of the 11th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, spoke at length in an exclusive live video broadcast with China.org.cn.
 Watch the video: Preparations for Shanghai World Expo

Mr. Zhou Hanmin (R) talks about Shanghai's preparations for the World Expo 2010. [China.org.cn] 

He dealt with a comprehensive range of questions concerning the background to the Expo – with which he has been involved since 2001 – the technical and practical problems facing the organizers, the financing of the Expo, and the impact of the global economic crisis.

Questioned on some more sensitive issues surrounding the Expo, Professor Zhou was encouragingly forthcoming. He was first asked if he had any concern that a World Expo being held in Chinese mainland's wealthiest city – bearing the theme "Better City; Better Life" – might at a difficult time for the country be diverting attention or funds from more important geographic or economic priorities.

On this issue he was adamant. "Firstly, the Expo is a national event," he said. "Shanghai has simply been chosen as the venue. We are working on behalf of the whole nation. Secondly, all financial resources are local and have come from the Shanghai government and through our endeavors to work with sponsors in terms of global strategic partners. We have also issued bonds for the construction work. We don't think it will jeopardize any other efforts in any other areas – on the contrary we expect it to benefit the whole nation."

It was pointed out to Professor Zhou that prior to the Olympics, commitments had been made by China to the IOC and to the international media concerning freedom of access and reporting, and that concern had been expressed that these commitments had not been met.

"Firstly," he pointed out, "no process relating to this type of event can ever be 100 percent." He went on to emphasize the importance of the experience gained from the Beijing Games. On a technical level, no effort had been spared to provide the world's media with all the facilities they will need to carry out their work – construction of a Media Center that will house 3000 media representatives is under way. On a professional level, the Expo would extend a welcome to media from all over the world. Professor Zhou accepted the reminder of the level of media interest the event would attract, and on behalf of the hosts and organizers undertook to do his utmost to facilitate the work of the media.

In the preparation of an event as big as the Expo, it is inevitable that there will be losers, as well as what it is hoped will be many winners. Inevitably, some will lose homes or land, or see their interests damaged in other ways. Professor Zhou was asked to comment on the way in which such cases had been managed in the preparation of the Expo.

Again, he emphasized that in the context of an event as big as the Expo, not everyone could have their wishes met. "I will say in a very frank way," he explained, "there may be a few family households out of eighteen thousand who were not satisfied with the allocation of their new homes. For example they may find these homes farther from their places of work than they previously were. But the fact is that the overwhelming majority welcomes this removal and resettlement. That is a big point," he insisted.

"There are two huge developments for these households," he continued. "One was designed by a very well-known Italian architect. I do certainly welcome you to visit those two developments. Talk to anyone you like – interview whomever you meet. Whatever interviews you carry out I am convinced that you will encounter largely the same response. People are satisfied with the results of this project."

Professor Zhou was challenged on one noteworthy case: An expatriate by the name of Pan Rong had emigrated to New Zealand. She returned to Shanghai to rebuild her family home, and turned it into a modern detached villa. The house was scheduled for demolition in order to extend Hongqiao airport, and Pan Rong was not satisfied with the compensation offered. In an unusually extreme example of its kind, she and her husband armed themselves with Molotov cocktails and a crossbow and defied the bulldozers, but eventually they were forced to relent and their house was cleared.

"Firstly, I haven't heard too much about this case myself at moment," the Professor responded. "Secondly if these are the facts we will take the matter very seriously. The core value for the Expo is people first. If some people are not satisfied for this or that reason we need to do our best to meet their concerns. The true reason for us to have this World Expo is to make people happy. I will ask my colleagues in very serious way to look through the whole case and to see if we can do something else to satisfy this person."

Professor Zhou was conscious that isolated incidents like these might run the risk of being used by some elements of the western media as a means of attacking the Expo, or Shanghai, or China on a much wider scale, as was occasionally the case with the Olympics. He was asked if the organizers have a strategy for dealing with the media about specific incidents like this.

"Thank you for this reminder," he replied. "We want to make this Expo a carnival for people. We will try never to let incidents like this become an excuse for others to attack the overall project, or expand the attack to the city or the nation, because the core value of the Expo is 'people first'. We will not let such incidents jeopardize the whole mechanism or momentum."

Among the questions from netizens was one asking for a comment on media reports that some Shanghai delegates to the NPC and the CPPCC were disappointed that Premier Wen Jiabao's Government Work Report had failed to make any mention of the Expo. Did this mean that the Expo was not being given enough attention?

Professor Zhou had no concerns on this matter: "I think any such response would be an example of oversensitivity from the people concerned. So many things needed to be covered in the Work Report that have not been discussed elsewhere. The Shanghai Expo is at all times a focal point of concern for the government."

He went on to provide examples: during President Hu Jintao's recent visit to South Korea, arrangements for the Shanghai Expo and the 2012 Expo in Korea were at the top of his agenda; less than a month ago, on February 11, Premier Wen Jiabao chaired a special meeting of the State Council to address the key role that the Expo will play in assisting economic recovery.

Professor Zhou concluded with a heartfelt response to the question "What, when the Expo closes its doors in 2010, will be the indicators for you that the event has been the success that we know you want it to be?"

"That will be a very emotional moment for me," he said. "In all the period of time since the successful bid I have never taken time to write any kind of memoir about my own feelings. But that does not mean that I don't feel deeply about the project – far from it. What will satisfy me at that closing moment, and what will be the greatest honour for me, is if after spending the most beautiful decade of my professional career, people think that we have left some meaningful imprint on history."

(China.org.cn March 10, 2009)

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