Now for act two, a global event - but do the people want it?

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 November, 2010, 12:00am

Even though the Asian Games opened only yesterday, Guangzhou is already dreaming about its next big international event.

Its appetite also seems to be growing, with officials now talking about the possibility of hosting China's second World Expo and its second Olympic Games.

Chen Wenjie, president of the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade's Guangdong sub-council, told a press conference at the World Expo in Shanghai in July that the province had told the central government of its interest in hosting another expo.

However, the council admits that even if Beijing approves Guangdong's application, the province will not be able to organise an expo until 2025 at the earliest.

Expo rules stipulate that there must be an interval of at least 15 years between two fairs in one country.

Guangzhou's ambitions don't stop there. Gu Shiyang, deputy secretary-general of the Guangzhou Organising Committee for the Asian Games, said early last month he personally believed Guangzhou was ready to host China's second Olympic Games in 10 years' time.

It's no surprise to see Guangdong and Guangzhou eyeing bigger events after the Asian Games, given years of evidence that all levels of mainland government have become addicted to hosting world-class events.

Shenzhen, Guangzhou's competitor for the role of the Pearl River Delta's leading centre, will host the 26th World University Games next August.

And Xian, the capital of Shaanxi province, will hold an International Horticultural Exposition from April to October.

Meanwhile, Nanjing, the capital of Jiangsu province, will host the Second Youth Olympic Games in 2014.

Local governments say they truly believe cities, or indeed whole regions, can benefit from hosting big events.

For example, the most often-cited reason given by Guangzhou officials to explain the value of hosting the Asian Games is that during the six years of preparation for the two-week event, the city's whole infrastructure has been speeded up.

It has seen a level of development that would normally take a decade and residents are now enjoying a much better living environment.

At a cost of more than 120 billion yuan (HK$140.2 billion), Guangzhou has built six metro lines in the past few years, launched thousands of campaigns to clean up its water and the sky and beautified most main roads and the buildings along them.

But, as some local scholars have pointed out, it is unclear just how much the government has had to borrow, how long it will take Guangzhou to pay off any loans and how big the interest bill will be.

The Asian Games and other big events are also touted as great opportunities to improve their hosts' international standing and attract more foreign investment.

But a survey by a Guangzhou newspaper in July found 80 per cent of nearly 1,200 people interviewed said they did not support the idea of the city hosting an expo in 15 years' time because it would mean almost nothing to the city.

The 16 per cent who supported the idea said it would help improve Guangzhou's international image.

And that raises an interesting question for the Guangdong and Guangzhou authorities and other mainland governments keen on hosting international events.

If such events really do benefit the public, as officials insist, why are most people opposed to them?

Or is it that the 'benefits' that officials say the events can bring to the public are not really the ones that people want?

Past experience has shown that it's useless to argue about whether the timing will be right for Guangzhou or Guangdong to apply to host other multi-billion yuan events in the next decade or two.

When mainland authorities make up their minds they will make it happen, with money no object.

But it is still worth asking questions, even if they cannot be answered easily, because at least one valuable clue can be discerned from whatever explanations the authorities give.

And that is whether the officials understand the public's real desires and are willing to listen to them.