Only time will tell if the Expo was worth it

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 November, 2010, 12:00am

There has never been an event in China as big or expensive as Shanghai's World Expo. A recurring question among Chinese and foreigners alike throughout the six months it was staged has been: 'Was it worth it?' If the measure is participation of countries, number and extravagance of pavilions, attendance figures and the presence of dignitaries, the answer is a resounding 'yes'. In terms of long-time benefits, though, the investments depend in large part on good dialogue between the nation and the world.

The amounts spent are mind-numbing. Officially, it cost 29 billion yuan to stage Expo, but 400 billion yuan is estimated to have gone into sprucing up and modernising Shanghai. That is obviously good for the people of the city, who now have a vastly expanded subway system, better road network and more reliable electricity and water supplies. But it has still got a way to go to catch up on Hong Kong and one might question how efficiently that money was spent.

Still, there was no better place to showcase the nation's technological prowess and present its culture than the most populous city in the world's most peopled country. It was perhaps inevitable that the attendance record for a world expo would fall. China's ever-growing global presence also meant that national and corporate leaders and diplomats would make an appearance and that more governments than ever before would participate.

World expos are about tourism, trade, relations and culture. With China's booming growth and development the centre of global attention, Shanghai Expo 2010 afforded an opportunity for national branding like no other. The Olympic Games in 2008 were about sports, while Expo was a chance to show the nation's achievements and what it was capable of. There is no doubt that that was attained.

But success depends on follow-up. Under the theme of 'Better City, Better Life', Shanghai was proudly on show to the world and it shone. City officials and residents well know that more effort is needed. The same could be said for China's brand. Leaders spoke of the country's peaceful rise and pledged trust and goodwill. If Shanghai Expo's aims are to bear fruit, the words will have to live beyond the extravaganza.