Shovel Girls and Sandboxes: The US Pavilion Groundbreaking, at last!

Two things I want to make clear from the outset. First, despite appearances, Shanghai Scrap is not becoming all US Expo 2010 Pavilion, all of the time. It just seems that way. Rest assured: I’ll be back with some quality iron ore/Rio Tinto blogging next week (for the record: I was blogging Rio Tinto and price-fixing in China back in 2007 [ie, before it was cool, ed.]). And second, nobody was more pleased to see the United States break ground on an Expo 2010 pavilion than me. I was there, and I clapped.

Now, for some reason, the pavilion groundbreaking – and other Expo-related news – just doesn’t seem to capture the imagination of the US media. So, in the interest of bringing Expo to the world, Shanghai Scrap offers the following images with limited commentary (orders from above: commentary and reporting must be saved for a future publication). First, the actual “groundbreaking.” From left to right, Beatrice Camp, US Consul General in Shanghai; Jose Villarreal, Commissioner General of the US Pavilion; Gary Locke, US Secretary of Commerce; Yang Xiong, Vice Mayor of Shanghai; Ma Xiuhong, Vice-Minister of Commerce; and Hong Hao, Director General of the Shanghai Expo Organizing Committee.

DSC02751

No, that sandbox is not the future location of a budget-rate US Expo pavilion. But it is a sandbox, no doubt about it. In fact, the actual pavilion site, not more than 10 meters away, has had construction crews working on it for some time, already (not sure how long – but clearly, the Shanghai organizers were determined that the site be used by someone, US or otherwise), and wouldn’t have made for a very attractive setting. But whatever. See after the jump for three images of the actual site. Continue reading

A US Expo 2010 pavilion, after all.

Coming at the end of a tumultuous week in China marked by earthquakes, riots, and continued economic uncertainty, the news that the US had finally confirmed its participation in Expo 2010 (a/k/a, next year’s world fair) didn’t seem particularly significant. And, with much of Shanghai’s foreign correspondent corps preoccupied with more pressing news elsewhere in China, it didn’t receive much coverage. Fair enough, I think. However, insofar as the US pavilion – or lack thereof – had become an increasingly thorny diplomatic issue between China and the United States, the signing ceremony was an important signal that some kind of resolution was finally at hand. Continue reading

US Expo 2010 Pavilion, Inc: Here Comes the Cover-up!

Yesterday Shanghai Scrap reported that Shanghai Expo 2010, Inc., the group authorized by the US State Deparment to fund, design, and build a US pavilion for Expo 2010, had issued a press release claiming – falsely – that the US Congress had adopted a resolution in support of their efforts. The key quote in the undated release – “We are grateful that the US Congress has adopted this resolution …” – was made by Shanghai Expo 2010, Inc. co-chair Frank Lavin – who also served as an ambassador to Singapore and an Undersecretary of Commerce in the most recent Bush Administration. Lavin couldn’t have been more wrong: not only has the resolution not been adopted by Congress, it has only three co-sponsors, hasn’t left committee, and was introduced by impeached former federal judge Alcee Hastings. In other words: Congress is not supporting Shanghai Expo 2010, Inc. Not even close.

In any case, overnight (in Shanghai), the press release mysteriously disappeared from the official Shanghai Expo 2010, Inc. website – without any explanation or apology (to Congress). No doubt, Lavin and his colleagues are hoping that the matter will be forgotten. But fear not, dear readers: while preparing yesterday’s post, I made a screen capture of Ambassador/Undersecretary Lavin’s false claims of Congressional support, and – for posterity’s sake – I am posting them below (click for an enlargement):

Expo2010_Lavin

Unfortunately, this is hardly an isolated incident. Over the last several months, several other members of Shanghai Expo 2010 Inc have made similarly misleading statements to bolster their effort, and then backtracked when those statements were either disproven or no longer in their interests (for the most notable example, see the fourth paragraph of this recent blog post). And, as I’ve noted before, it is precisely this pattern – this duplicitous pattern – that has so damaged the pavilion’s prospects among Shanghai expats and businesses.

[Personal Addendum: A promise to my readers: never again will you confront three Expo-related posts in a row.]

The Secrets of the US Expo 2010 Pavilion

We are now less than two weeks away from the deadline for the US to begin construction on a stand-alone pavilion for Expo 2010. And, according to Shanghai Expo 2010, Inc., the group authorized to finance, design, and build the US national pavilion, things are looking up. Reportedly, Hillary Clinton has made supportive phone calls to potential corporate donors, and KFC/Pizza Hut has responded with a significant financial commitment.

But even with these relative successes, the pavilion effort still appears to be in trouble. The authorized group has been less than forthcoming about its fund-raising efforts, but according to what they’ve told other media outlets, they’re currently sitting on roughly 10% of the US$61 million that their proposal requires.

A few weeks ago I wrote a primer on the authorized US pavilion group’s failure to raise money. Of the four areas that I outlined, perhaps the most consequential remains the inexplicable veil of secrecy that the authorized US pavilion group, and the US State Department, have thrown over the process to fund the US pavilion. Specifically, both parties have declined offers to reveal the “Action Plan” that governs the fundraising and other activities of the authorized pavilion group. Why does this matter? By any measure, the US Expo 2010 pavilion effort has been – so far – a financial and diplomatic failure of the first order, alienating US corporations, key members of the Shanghai government and – reportedly – angering high-levels of the Chinese government. Presumably, the “Action Plan” has governed the actions of the State Department officials, and private authorized-pavilion organization, that have placed the US in this awkward position. Making it public might not fix the situation, but it surely would go a long way toward explaining it.

Thus, back in January, an interested US citizen filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain the action plan, and the Letter of Intent [LOI] authorizing the US pavilion group to begin work on the national pavilion (there remain many unanswered questions about the murky circumstances under which that LOI was obtained, as well – some background, here). Below, an image of the request (click for an enlargement).

FOIA_request

Since then, a State Department official personally turned over the LOI to the requesting citizen. However, the “Action Plan” remains hidden from public view; the State Department and the authorized group will not release it (I’ve also made separate requests from both parties). Late last week, the citizen who made the FOIA request contacted State for an update. On June 11, he was told that “it takes an average of 333 days for a case to be processed.” Which means, if the request is approved, we might know by Thanksgiving (late November) the rules under which the authorized US pavilion group are/were operating. Continue reading

Credibility and the US Expo 2010 Pavilion

[UPDATE: Make sure to take a look at comment #1, below, left by Rich Brubaker of the All Roads Lead to China blog, in which he witnesses what appeared to be two US State Dept employees soliciting contributions for the US pavilion in a hotel restaurant.]

In the next couple of days I’ll have much more to say about the current status of the US Expo 2010 Pavilion effort. For now, though: a brief but telling example of why Shanghai Expo 2010, Inc, the US State Department-authorized non-profit in charge of funding, designing, and building a US national pavilion, suffers such a credibility gap among some key business leaders and media in Shanghai (for more on this topic, see my Primer on why Shanghai Expo 2010 can’t raise $61 million, as well as this Expo-related post).

On June 4, US Representative Alcee Hastings of Florida (an impeached former federal judge) introduced H.R. 509 into the US House of Representatives. Entitled, “Encouraging the United States to fully participate in the Shanghai Expo in 2010″ the non-binding resolution calls upon the US government and relevant stakeholders to support the US Expo 2010 pavilion effort. The resoltion was then promptly referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, where it currently languishes with – according to the Library of Congress’s bill-tracking system – exactly three co-sponsors. In other words: the resolution has little support and almost no momentum.

Now move over to the official Shanghai Expo 2010, Inc., website (again, the authorized US pavilion group), and the undated press release concerning the Hastings Resolution. The pertinent passage, for the purpose of this post, reads:

[UPDATE 6/19: Predictably, Shanghai Expo 2010, Inc. has since removed the offending press release from its website. Fortunately, I made a screen capture of it before publishing this post. You can view it by clicking the thumbnail, below.]

Expo2010_Lavin

Commenting on the Resolution, Frank Lavin, Chairman of the Steering Committee for the USAP stated, “We are delighted with the strong support from the U.S. House of Representatives. This resolution reminds us that as Americans learn more about the Shanghai Expo, they tend to support it. We are grateful that the U.S. Congress has adopted this resolution and we believe it will be an important boost to our efforts.”

Of course, the US Congress has done no such thing! Continue reading

Why can’t the US find $61 million for an Expo 2010 pavilion? A primer.

At the moment, there ‘s almost no reason to believe that the United State will occupy a stand-alone pavilion when Expo 2010 opens in Shanghai on May 1, 2010. And though this doesn’t seem to be a matter of much concern in the United States, it is a matter of intense concern in Shanghai, and in Beijing, with powerful voices beginning to suggest that the US will suffer real and lasting commercial consequences in China if it doesn’t use the next 348 days to rescue its floundering pavilion effort.

Over the last several weeks, as I’ve published various stories and blog posts on this subject, one question continues to come up: namely, why wouldn’t US companies with Chinese operations rush to become sponsors of a project likely to be visited by upwards of 70 million Chinese citizens during Expo 2010’s six-month run?

In the interest of answering that important question, and explaining why the authorized US pavilion team has raised only $2.8 million of a $61 million budget,  I’ve prepared this short primer on the various issues and reasons inhibiting – if not outright preventing – US companies from contributing money to what would appear to be the premier international PR event of 2010. In assembling this post, I’ve drawn upon conversations and emails with individuals connected with US corporations operating in China, many of whom have been directly solicited for pavilion contributions, or attended pavilion-related events. Most of these individuals have spoken or written to me off-record, out of concern that negative comments about the US pavilion effort might invite negative consequences, if not outright retaliation, from various quarters.

dsc00181

Broadly speaking, there are two issues. The first concerns US government restrictions on funding international expo pavilions; the second is broadly related to issues that have arisen with the US State Department, and its chosen entity to fund-raise, design, build, and operate a US pavilion. The first I’ll deal with briefly; the second will require more space. Continue reading

Blunt talk from China on the US Expo 2010 pavilion.

[Additional Expo related articles and posts here, here, here, and here. More to come in the days and weeks ahead.]

Quite a bit of discussion on Shanghai Scrap, and elsewhere, on whether or not US interests are served by building a pavilion for Shanghai’s Expo 2010. That’s good: Americans need to be thinking seriously about this issue. So far, however, the Shanghai and Beijing governments have been unusually reticent about why they think the US should attend (beyond general statements that the US will “regret” it we don’t), and that’s given the debate a bit of an incomplete feel. Thus, I was quite interested to learn of a May 7 editorial on this very subject which appeared in the influential state-owned China Youth Daily, and People’s Daily. So far as I’ve been able to determine, an official English translation hasn’t yet appeared, but thanks to the (heretofore unknown to me) Watching America site, we have an unofficial one, here. Chinese, or English, the editorial does not mince words:

The lack of enthusiasm in America has something to do with its national traditions. American has traditionally pursued isolationism and is only concerned with itself rather than the outside world. Even though things changed after the second world war, on the whole, Americans still believe devoutly that “all politics are local,” and the congressmen only care about things that affect their own district. Naturally they do not approve of allocating money for this exposition.

I’ve spent a not insignificant amount of time reporting on the US Expo pavilion, and in my experience, the argument against usually goes something like this: the US already has a significant commercial and cultural presence in Shanghai, and in China, and with so much going on in the world – and in the US – isn’t there a better place to spend the US$61 million that the current, troubled US pavilion team is trying to raise? An unrelated argument, but one that is taken seriously in various quarters (including, some quarters of the US State Department) is that the US would be merely be “feeding the Chinese propaganda machine” if it builds a stand-alone Expo pavilion. Continue reading