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Shanghai Expo revelations about China?

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Shanghai Expo revelations about China?

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China spent more on the Shanghai Expo than it did on the Beijing Olympics. So what do we read into that? For an overview, euronews spoke to Robert Lawrence Kuhn, the broadcaster and China expert who featured in our report.

euronews:

Mr Kuhn, for years many in the West had concerns about China’s emergence as an economic superpower. The Chinese wanted to allay those fears with the Expo. Did they achieve their aim?

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

“Certainly in Expo foreigners saw a magnificently run affair. They saw dazzling technologies and magnificent designs. They also saw in the city of Shanghai modernity and a sprawling magnificence, and in the people themselves a diversity in dress and demeanour that actually undermined a lot of the old stereotypes. But what they also saw were major companies and countries of the world reaching out so strongly to China, recognising this tectonic shift in politics and economics – because this is where the markets are and where the money is – that it may actually exacerbate, as opposed to mitigate, those fears.

But building or breaking stereotypes is not the big story of Expo. You talk to Chinese leaders, the Chinese people, and what they see is that after 150 years of national weakness, after decades of self-imposed exile from the world, that the world’s best creativity in the kind of design and technologies that are needed for urbanisation – which is a critical problem in the world – is coming to China. China is the field on which all of this is organised, and that’s the big story, this emergence of China in the world.”

euronews:

“Well, as you mentioned the world came to China for the Expo, and the Chinese leadership said it was about ‘openness’, but did the Chinese people benefit from that ‘openness’?”

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

“We in the West have a very limited understanding of the concept of freedom and openness. We stress the political side – and of course I totally agree with that. But the Chinese have a different view of that. Their approach to openness has to be opening their minds from a very rigid past. And the progress that they’re making, that Expo does, is showing them (the Chinese people) what the world is like, showing them the innovation, the different designs, and the Chinese leadership hope that this will wash over the whole country, encourage students to go more into science and technology, look for innovation and creativity, which China needs. This is what they look to be, (that) is the big story. The political openness that this may begin to represent a very small part of, is actually not a big part of the (overall) openness. The ‘openness’ is a way of thinking, that for many decades was restricted in China, and now the leadership knows that in order for China to survive in the future, and to prosper, then that openness has to be engendered, and that’s what they wanted to see Expo do, and they’re pretty satisfied that it achieved that.”

euronews:

“You’re indicating there will be some kind of controlled change in future leaderships. What do you think they will look like? It doesn’t seem likely that we will see an end to one-party rule any time soon.”

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

“I certainly agree with that. It is many decades into the future. Right now we’re two years away from a very fundamental shift in Chinese leadership. It’s really something that happens every decade because there are two five-year terms. That’s a sensitive time in China, when there’s a transition; just like in the United States – there’s an election and everybody is concerned about it – in China it’s the same thing in a different way. And so people will go for more stability. The future leaders look like a very strong meritocracy. Many of them have earned doctor’s degrees, many of them have managed large provinces, many of which are larger than France. So you have a very good group for the future, it’s coherent. Everybody is talking about political reform, but their use of political reform is not the way we in the West would take it. But it is meaningful in the Chinese system. There is political reform – it’s of a different type, but it will not be the end of the one-party system any time soon.”