Shangai Expo brought China and its leadership under global scrutiny as never before. What was the real message behind the event and how would it effect Beijing’s relations with the outside world?
For euronews the writer, broadcaster and leading expert on China, Robert Lawrence Kuhn, got the views on these issues of two high-profile Chinese figures. He first spoke to Yu Zhengsheng, one of Shanghai’s top Communist party officials.
Robert Lawrence Kuhn: “Secretary Yu, you put great emphasis on Expo being a vehicle to change the spiritual way, the people of Shanghai specifically, but in China in general, can think – to enrich their way of thinking to improve their futures. I want to explore a little bit on the spiritual question, what the Shanghai Expo can mean for the Chinese people?”
Yu Zhengsheng: “What kind of urban life is more appropriate for us, and what kind of life will make city living better? We have to admit that problems do arise with urban development. How to make the cities more habitable? How to reduce the harm that city life has on the environment? Pollution is getting worse, energy consumption is increasing. A question arises: Is this development sustainable? What way of life should we adopt? For many years, life in the West, particularly in the US, has depended directly on huge consumption of energy. America is a “country on wheels,” with a large number of vehicles and tremendous energy consumption. Can China afford this way of life? China has achieved great economic success, but with many severe problems arising as a result – such as widening income gaps and increasingly strained human relationships. So, regarding urban development: the issues awaiting a solution are how to produce a harmonious environment between human beings and nature, and among human beings themselves.”
At lot has changed in China, and in the global economy, since 2002 when Shanghai won the right to host the Expo. What impact have those changes had and what lies ahead for the country? Robert Lawrence Kuhn asked former ambassador Wu Jianmin.
Robert Lawrence Kuhn: “How do you trace the history of Expo and the meaning of it?”
Wu Jianmin: “The mission of Expo is to advance the civilisation of humanity. It’s a great mission. From what perspective will this mission be fulfilled? First, to exhibit the greatest achievements of civilisation, of mankind. Second, to raise the big question, the big issue facing human civilisation in its evolution – we pollute too much. You see, we destroy too much our Mother Earth. The scale and the speed of urbanisation today is unprecedented. And urbanisation brings about a lot of progress, (but) at the same time many problems. Urban people, in the city consume three times more than farmers in the rural areas.”
Robert Lawrence Kuhn:
“From China’s point of view, the country needs to continue to reform in many areas – economics, politically, we all recognise that. Some would say that opening up (to the outside world) is even more important than reform.”
Wu Jianmin: “You’re quite right. Opening up is very important. You know in 1978 (former leader) Deng Xiaoping helped the Chinese to a new path, what we call ‘opening up to the outside world and reform’. We Chinese, we understand we have to change ourselves to embrace globalisation – that’s the secret of China’s success. Certainly we have to continue on that path.”
Robert Lawrence Kuhn:
“Does that apply to political reform as well?”
Wu Jianmin: “Certainly. We are ready to learn from the outside world. You see, the world is advancing. It (China) is part of human civilisation. The Chinese, they are not closed-minded people. They like to learn from other countries other civilisations.”
Whatever the eventual outcome of the Shanghai Expo may be, it has clearly raised expectations of profound change in China, from within the country and beyond.