Lawyer heads US team for expo battle
Will Clem and Lilian Zhang in Shanghai
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has appointed a Texas lawyer to oversee the country's embattled campaign to build a national pavilion at the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai.
Jose Villarreal was named commissioner general of the US pavilion with 10 months left before the opening.
Major expo buildings are rapidly taking shape and work is well under way on most of the 40 national pavilions that the countries are building on their own.
However, the US project remains a source of embarrassment for the organisers. Despite repeated deadlines, the US is the only country yet to confirm whether it will take part or when it plans to break ground.
Unlike other nations, the US pavilion is not being paid for with public funds, so its entire US$61 million budget has to come from private donations.
China News Service reported yesterday that the US finally confirmed its participation in the six-month-long fair, but that appeared to be a false alarm.
A spokesman for the Shanghai Expo Bureau said organisers had not received confirmation from the United States.
'But there are still possibilities, and we are now actively pushing forward,' he said.
A spokeswoman for the US pavilion's team said they had not received word from Washington that a formal confirmation had been authorised.
Mr Villarreal's appointment came hot on the heels of one of the pavilion's biggest donations - the organising team struck a US$5 million deal with Pepsi in Beijing on Wednesday, suggesting the troubled project is finally gaining momentum.
However, the fund-raising team declined to reveal how much has been raised so far, and have previously suggested that construction might not start for several more months.
The exact nature of Mr Villarreal's role is not clear, but the US State Department said he would be 'responsible for oversight of the US pavilion' and 'the official US government representative to the government of China on issues relating to World Expo Shanghai 2010'.