As talk of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games gradually lessens on people's lips, the Shanghai World Expo 2010 is moving to the fore for media at home and abroad.
Organizers told a press conference Thursday they were optimistic that about 70 million visitors would come, despite the current gloomy world economy.
Zhong Yanqun, deputy director of the Expo National Organizing Committee said 231 countries and international organizations have confirmed they are coming as of Feb. 23.
The Expo is on track to be the largest fair of its kind since the first World's Fair (known as the Great Exhibition), the predecessor event of the Expo, was held in London in 1851.
According to Zhu Yonglei, deputy director general of the Bureau of Shanghai World Expo Coordination, so far no possible attendees had declined to participate because of the global economic downturn.
Countries such as Iceland, which had suffered greatly from the financial woes, had signed exhibition contracts with the committee. Iceland planned to use the expo as an opportunity to rejuvenate its economy, said Zhong.
But the committee said it was not yet clear if the United States would attend. Congress ended public funding for the event in the early 1990s, and private-sector companies must pay the costs. There was no United States exhibit at the 2000 Expo, nor at the one in Zaragoza, Spain last year.
The U.S. government assured its participation in the exhibition orally in October 2006. However, no agreement in written form has been signed to confirm its attendance yet.
But Zhu said China expected to see the United States at the Expo. "The U.S. played an important role in the history of urban development. It is an excellent example of the theme of the world expo 2010, Better City, Better Life," he said.
The 231 attendants so far confirmed to attend the gala included 185 countries and 46 international organizations.
This means Shanghai has met one of its targets of about 200 countries and international organizations taking part in the gala.
The eastern metropolis is also upbeat about its goal of attracting 70 million visitors to the expo, due to be held from May 1 to Oct. 31 next year. That would be nearly three times as many as attended the Hanover, Germany event in 2000.
Zhong said market research showed about 95 percent of the 70 million visitors would be native Chinese, and the remaining 5 percent were foreigners.
Despite the financial crisis which started to bite China in the second half of last year, a total of about 5.26 million people from outside the Chinese mainland visited Shanghai in 2008, up 1.23 percent year on year.
According to the press conference, the six-month long expo will feature two highlights: a showcase of the best examples and ideas of how cities can be developed, and an online expo that will allow people around the world access to the expo's offerings.
Wang Jinzhen, vice chairman of the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT), said Taipei city of Taiwan would exhibit its advanced management of city garbage at the expo, and Taipei would also demonstrate itself as a city of broadband and wireless technologies.
Concepts for environmental protection and ecological balance would also be a specialty in the expo, from the building of exhibition halls to the recycled use of water from the city's mother river Huangpu as means to cool venues in the hot summer when the expo is held, Zhong said.
"The Shanghai Expo will serve as a great chance to remind people of the importance of environmental protection. People will see a lot of environmentally-friendly technologies and measures used in the Expo," said Zhong.
The conference also disclosed a normal expo ticket would cost 160 yuan (about 23.39 U.S. dollars), or about 1 percent of the per capita disposable income of urbanites in 2008, and there will be special discounts for the disabled, students, the elderly and army officers. Ticket price could be as low as 50 yuan.
For children under 1.2 meters, they are not required tickets for entry.
Zhong said the first phase of the expo ticket selling would start as early as March 27 this year, but that is for group buyers, including government organizations and state-owned companies.
Individuals can snap a ticket as early as July 1 this year in the second phase of the ticket selling through the Internet or by phone. And they can buy one via ticket selling machines when the expo is held.
(Xinhua News Agency February 27, 2009)