Yu Zhengsheng

Fast-food jibe revealed over U.S. pavilion at Expo

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 September, 2011, 12:00am


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Shanghai's top party official told former US president Jimmy Carter that his country's 2010 World Expo pavilion could be turned into 'a restaurant, or better yet, a McDonald's' if the Americans failed to get their exhibit together in time for the fair, leaked diplomatic cables show.

The uncharacteristically undiplomatic comments by Yu Zhengsheng, Shanghai's Communist Party secretary, highlight the level of concern the city's officials had about the US dragging its feet over taking part in the massive six-month fair, and the comments appear to confirm rumours that the Chinese side offered assistance in funding and building the US$61 million exhibit.

'We can take the risk of building [it] first. If the US doesn't commit, we can convert it to a restaurant, or better yet, a McDonald's,' Yu said, according to an alleged dispatch from the US consulate in Shanghai at the time, which was included in cables released by WikiLeaks. 'Please pass this on to [President Barack] Obama,' Yu said, one of several references he made to bringing the matter to the president's attention.

Yu's comments to Carter - described in the consulate's report as 'half-joking' - were apparently made while the former president was visiting the city as part of celebrations for the 30th anniversary of Sino-US diplomatic relations in January 2009, less than 16 months ahead of the opening of the international fair.

Discussion about the US pavilion was 'the main item on Yu's agenda', and he stressed that although 'initial plans have been made, the US hasn't signed a contract'.

Carter is reported to have agreed to raise the issue with Obama, 'while cautioning in straightforward fashion that it wouldn't be his 'first priority' item'.

The alleged cable concludes with the warning that Yu's jest about replacing the pavilion with a fast-food joint 'underscores the potential for negative public reaction in China if there is no US pavilion at the 2010 World Expo'.

Unlike almost all other big national exhibits at the expo in Shanghai - the largest, most expensive and most attended in the event's 160-year history - the US pavilion was barred from using public funds, and was solely reliant on corporate donations.

The fund-raising committee ran into intense difficulties in late 2008 while attempting to secure funding in the face of a worsening global financial crisis, and the project came close to being abandoned altogether. It was put back on track only when US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton took personal charge less than a year before the expo was due to open.

The US finally broke ground on its project in July 2009, two weeks after a supposed ultimate deadline for work to start, as ordered by the expo organisers.

Other documents in the WikiLeaks archive attest to the level of anxiety felt at the consulate about the situation.

At the end of September 2008, the US consul-general in Shanghai, Beatrice Camp - at that time fresh in the job - cabled Washington asking for advice on how to break the news to Shanghai officials that the prospects of a US pavilion were looking 'increasingly grim', and laid bare the negative implications of the world's leading economy failing to show up at the event.

'Both Chinese leaders and the public will interpret our absence as motivated by political and economic factors,' Camp's alleged cable read. 'They will conclude that we do not consider the expo important enough to ensure a presence at the expo and that our absence is due to our 'failed' economic system.

'If the overall relationship in 2010 is poor for any reason, state-controlled media may claim that the US resents China's rising status in the world and wants China to lose face.'