Posts Tagged ‘shanghai expo’

A new piece for Chatham House’s magazine The World Today, drawing on a topic that has come up repeatedly during interviews with academics in China. The fact that they love British foreign policy so much. It is sometimes hard to tell whether they are simply flattering me with these sorts of statements, but I feel like there is something more to it. The UK’s approach does seem to hit a lot of buttons which, at least in my mind, make sense to the Chinese. More on this topic as my work on EU-China progresses. As usual, thoughts, comments, etc, welcome. The l

Britain and China: Being Friendly

Raffaelo Pantucci, December 2010

The World Today, Volume 66, Number 12

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Amongst the strangest sights of the recent Shanghai Expo was the British seed cathedral pavilion. Brilliantly simple in design, it stood out for touching on environmentalism whilst hovering architecturally like a real-life optical illusion. It was also one of the most popular pavilions, with long queues reflecting curiosity about the space, but also the positive light in which China sees Britain.

As with any bilateral relationship, the Sino-British one has gone through its awkward phases. Some in China still blame the troublesome Tibet question on Britain. And it was former Energy Minister, and now Labour leader, Ed Miliband, who was amongst the most vociferous in casting the blame on China for the inconclusive result of last year’s Copenhagen climate conference. But at the same time, this has not hurt the overall thrust of the bilateral partnership which has largely remained positive. So much so that a frequent question from Chinese academics is whether there is some way the overall European Union-China relationship can be remolded to look more like the British approach?

What China appears to like about the British way of doing things can broadly be captured around three main poles: consistency; focus on what matters: trade; and a willingness to do the diplomatic dance around face – or mutual selfrespect – to which the Chinese attach so much importance. From Beijing’s perspective, the point is a bilateral relationship founded on stability with an underlying focus on economic pragmatism.

Britain has recognized the importance of this approach to China – one of its Beijing diplomats described the principle underlying strategy as ‘no big surprises.’ And this was laid out clearly in September last year in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office strategy paper: ‘The UK and China: a framework for engagement.’ The new government shows no evidence of shifting from this. Prime Minister David Cameron was quite categorical when he said in Beijing, ‘on this vital point [the relationship with China] there is absolute continuity between my government and the governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.’

Mission To Trade

Enmeshed with this consistency is the message that trade is the key element in the British-China bilateral relationship. The strategy paper is quite clear in ‘getting the best for the UK from China’s growth’ and persuading China ‘to see the UK as a global hub…boosting our business, educational, scientific and cultural gains from the bilateral relationship.’

In his preface, then-Foreign Secretary David Miliband quite baldly states: ‘there are, of course, major economic benefits from our relationship.’ On his most recent trip to China, Cameron brought with him 43 leaders of industry, four cabinet colleagues and announced before he left that ‘this is a vitally important trade mission.’

This economic focus is not something which is restricted to Britain’s approach to China, with the new administration in London giving its ambassadors ‘greater responsibilities for promoting UK business abroad’ and elevating the role of the Department for Trade and Industry in foreign posts. Something that is easily comprehensible to the gross domestic product (GDP) growth-obsessed Chinese. For them, economic growth is key to ensuring their nation’s tidy emergence on the world stage and the party’s ongoing ability to govern. It is therefore understandable and reassuring that London prioritises this equally.

Chancellor George Osbourne was the first member of the new British cabinet to visit China, declaring ‘if you’re looking to answer the big question for Britain, which is where the growth is going to come from in the next few years, I think export – and exports to an economy the size of China – is one place we should be looking.’ On the eve of Cameron’s arrival, the Chinese press was full of headlines that ‘Business draws Cameron to Beijing.’

The British press on the other hand largely focused on whether Cameron was going to raise the question of human rights and the imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, highlighting the problem with the trade approach. Much to the dismay of activists, Britain has repeatedly shown itself willing to do the diplomatic dance required to pander to the Chinese diplomatic obsession with face.

This expresses itself in a number of ways. For example, while in 2008 the world watched as rioters in Lhasa were aggressively put down and protestors took to the streets around the world, then Prime Minister Gordon Brown, like most European leaders,met the Dalai Lama. However, unlike President Nicolas Sarkozy of France or German Chancellor Angela Merkel who saw him in their offices, Brown talked to the exiled Tibetan leader at Lambeth Palace, home of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The point was to recognise his religious status rather than a political one.

Similarly, towards the end of the year, the British government clarified that it, ‘like every other EU member state, and the United States…regard[s] Tibet as part of the People’s Republic of China.’ The statement went on to highlight that this was not a shift, but instead a clarification as previous official language which was based on ‘the outdated concept of suzerainty.’

Apparently unprompted, the clarification was very well received in China at the end of a year in which the country had faced a lot of criticism of its Tibet policies. In both cases, the British government felt some level of domestic criticism. The public perception was that the government had capitulated on the sensitive Tibet issue to curry favour with Beijing.

Kernel of Concern

Problematically, after all these careful approaches, late last year China executed British citizen Akmal Shaikh on drugs charges following repeated official and non-official pleas to have his mental health examined more closely. Everyone up to the Prime Minister reached out to Beijing in the case and was rebuffed; something which would seem to belie any preferential relationship.

In such actions lie the kernels of concern that underlie British public wariness towards China. A recent German Marshall Fund Transatlantic Trends poll showed how Britons are amongst those with the most positive attitudes towards China in Europe, but at the same time, a poll by ICM highlighted that three quarters believed that protecting human rights in Tibet was as important as maintaining trade links.

While China might appreciate the fact that the Shaikh case did not seriously damage Sino-British relations, within the issue lie the seeds that might eventually derail the positive tenor of relations.

While diplomats say they are able to discuss sensitive human rights issues in a formal setting with their Chinese counterparts and that this is an achievement and shift on he Chinese part, there is little evidence this discussion is resulting in any particular changes in Beijing.

The same can be said for non-proliferation or climate change; issues which British foreign policy supposedly places at the heart of its agenda. China has made moves, but it is unclear they are the product of British requests or necessarily in the direction it would want. Beyond trade – which China continues to do with anyone and remains imbalanced firmly in Beijing’s favor – it is unclear exactly what Britain gets for its friendly approach.

With the conclusion of the Expo, the seed cathedral has been dismantled. In a show of popularity, it took merely two minutes for eight thousand seeds to be sold at an online auction site in China. It remains to be seen whether these seeds will blossom into a more comprehensive bilateral relationship.

Raffaelo Pantucci, visiting scholar, Shanghai Acadamy of Social Sciences, working on a project on EU-China Relations as an EU STFP Fellow

This is going to be the last in this series on the Expo for the Lowy Institute’s Interpreter blog, this time looking at the Palestinian pavilion. I have enjoyed doing this, and may write something larger somewhere on this subject. In the meantime, I owe eagle-eyed David for helping point out some of the detail in this post. One small detail that was lost, however, the picture of Arafat that is included was opposite, not behind, the one of Abbas and Arafat as you walk in.

Around the Shanghai Expo: Palestinian Pavilion

Raffaello Pantucci is a Visiting Scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. His previous posts, by pavilion: Britain, Iran, Afghanistan, DPRK, Pakistan, Australia.

I failed to ask where the money for the site came from, but it seemed clear from the life-size pictures of Yassir Arafat and Abu Abbas at the entrance that the organisation of the pavilion was carried out by Fatah-leaning elements. Directly behind these portraits, an even bigger shrine to Arafat:

At the back there is a section venerating ‘Jerusalem City of Peace’, which is, I suppose, a nod to the ‘Better City, Better Life’ theme of the Expo. They have a small screening room showing a film about Jerusalem, and a number of screens in front showing off Palestinian theater and dance.

My girlfriend was rather shocked to catch a bit of a biblical performance in which a mother appeared to be throwing her baby around (I wasn’t able to ascertain which tale this was and would welcome any suggestions).

There were not that many Chinese in the Palestinian Pavilion when we went, and those that were there dutifully passed through en route to see the man with the visa stamp. This was probably not a bad thing, as the version of events being portrayed was a touch one-sided. For example, what is missing from this description of Palestine’s location?

The first line reads: ‘Palestine located in the heart of the Holy Land surrounded by Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon.’

My latest in the series I have been doing for the Lowy Institute’s Interpreter blog, this time in their home Australian pavilion. At least another of these coming, and I remain open to commissions if anyone has a particular pavilion they would like to see more of. Use the contact page to get in touch.

Around the Shanghai Expo: Australia Pavilion

By Raffaello Pantucci – 4 August 2010 11:42AM

Raffaello Pantucci is a Visiting Scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. His previous posts, by pavilion: Britain, Iran, Afghanistan, DPRK, Pakistan.

And so onto the Australian Pavilion, which I was told the Chinese were not impressed by, as its dull brown color made it look old. (Photo below courtesy of the Australian Expo site; others by the author.)

I only heard this after I had visited, but on the day I went, it had a substantial queue, and the Chinese I met inside seemed excited.

One couple of girls I talked to had come from Chongqing to see the Expo and, once they got over the fact I spoke some bad mandarin, said they wanted to see Australia specifically because they had heard lots about it and friends lived there. At the same time, they confided, they preferred the Taiwan pavilion because they gave them stuff (a Taiwan bag comes with a fan, instant noodles and a tea cup).

Nevertheless, the Australian pavilion was attracting the same sorts of numbers as the British one – on the day I went, the Australians had had about 36,000 visitors and overall more than 2 million; a day or so before, I received an email from the British pavilion telling me they had crossed the 2 million threshold.

Inside, there is a series of rooms introducing Aboriginal history, wall paintings highlighting the comparative differences between Australia and China (China’s population density is a lot greater, while more Australians proportionally live near the sea. Not sure I see the value in the comparison). There is then a large diorama showing the nation’s history, which concludes in a picture of former PM Rudd (I went before he had been ousted) with some plastic journalist figures brandishing microphones and cameras in front of him.

The centerpiece, however, is a 10-minute movie about three children, a dark (I assume Aboriginal) child, a Caucasian child and an Asiatic child. They talk about how great Australia is, etc. Shown in a theatre on a large circular screen which rotates and occasionally lowers to reveal some sort of physical object relevant to whatever the children is talking about, the film was not a huge success. People were leaving moments after it had started, much to the dismay of the eager young mandarin-speaking hosts.

As one of the chaps at the entrance told me (confirming an experience I have mentioned elsewhere) the overriding Chinese visitor priority is to get the Expo passport visa stamp.

A wannabe Australian.

My latest missive from the Shanghai Expo for the Interpreter – this one took a while to get there for a variety of technical reasons. At least one more to come in this series.

Around the Shanghai Expo: Afghanistan Pavilion

by Raffaello Pantucci – 19 July 2010 6:35PM

Raffaello Pantucci is a Visiting Scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, where he is working on an EU-funded project on EU-China relations.

Unlike most of the nations covered thus far, Afghanistan does not have its own pavilion and is instead crowded into the ‘Asia Joint Pavilion II’, adjacent to the Yemeni pavilion (and Bahrain, Jordan, Palestine, and Syria apparently, though I cannot recall seeing them all).

There are a number of these sorts of communal areas highlighting the more unfortunate parts of the globe, mostly sponsored by the Chinese government. According to someone working in the Afghan one, the Shanghai government paid $600,000 for theirs, which apparently included the rent for the space.

Aside from a couple of strategically-placed pictures of Hamid Karzai looking majestically into the distance, there is little to distinguish the nation which the pavilion is intended to represent (and I suppose unless you are aware of who he is, this is also not a useful indicator).

When I asked an Afghan running one of the carpet selling stalls inside the space whether Chinese visitors were interested in Afghanistan, he reassured me that they were only interested in getting a picture taken and a ‘visa stamp’ in their expo passports. Only foreigners wanted to know more about the country, and those were mostly individuals who had previously served on deployment in the country.

According to the website, the space is meant to be a reconstruction of the Blue Mosque at Herat — something of a far-fetched comparison in my mind, though I have admittedly never been to Herat. In fact, there is little evidence of Afghan history or culture in the pavilion beyond the array of stalls selling Afghan stuff. In the center a couple of South Asian women do henna tattoos on visitors, while a tent in the corner is as close to a cultural exhibit that is offered.

Photo (1) by Flickr user nozomiiqel, used under a Creative Commons licence, and photo (2) by the author.

My latest in a series from the Expo for the Interpreter, this time looking at the Iranian pavilion. There was actually a lot more to tell about the pavilion which I didn’t have space to include – it is a very crowded (with stuff) and colorful place and is amongst the better ones I have seen from the perspective of introducing people to the nation and showing off the country. More in this series is forthcoming, and I will likely be making trips back to the Expo, so let me know through the new contact page if there are any you are particularly interested in.

Around the Shanghai Expo: Iran pavilion

by Raffaello Pantucci – 6 July 2010 9:37AM

Raffaello Pantucci is a Visiting Scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, where he is working on an EU-funded project on EU-China relations.

Unlike its baffling neighboring pavilion (North Korea), the Iranian pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo is actually quite effective in providing a potted introduction to the nation.

Often, when talking to Chinese waiting to go to pavilions, they have no clear idea of which nation they are going to see or where it is, geographically. But outside the Iranian pavilion, the first thing to welcome the visitor is a map of Eurasia showing both where Iran lies in respect to China, and highlighting the various Silk Roads that linked the two in ages gone past.

Once inside, the visitor is greeted by a smiling picture of President Ahmadinejad with this rather cryptic (but no doubt well-meaning) message:

Empathy, justice and compassion are the main features of “Better city,” where a “Better life” is meant not just through “being with each other” but through “being for each other.” Such a view results into pure life, real prosperity, and human excellence in an “ideal city” filled with love, devotion and understanding and builds the human security and dignity based on faith, knowledge and wisdom. The human outlook in such a city is “being divine.”

A smiling and waving picture of Ayatollah Khamenei and a rather more grim Ayatollah Khomeini surround the entrance to the exclusive ‘guangxi’ room sponsored by the Iran-China Chamber of Commerce and Industries.

Oddly, there were not that many Persians wandering around.

The day I was there, the stalls were manned by Chinese – both the ones selling objects and the ones promoting the nation. The girl running the stand promoting inward investment in Iran was a Physics student at a local university who, while battling with a costume which looked out straight out of Aladdin, told me that most of the people who had expressed an interest in investing were Southeast Asians.

The heart of the space is a giant fountain, in the middle of which is a raised platform with a couple of seats and a standing microphone on it. I did not stick around long enough to see a show, but I understood that musicians occasionally perform.

Within the body of the room are a series of models which show off a variety of Iranian hydrocarbon fields and related extraction machinery. Most popular was the selection of Iranian home-grown machinery. None of it seemed nuclear (though mine is an untrained eye); instead there was medical equipment, an inkless finger print machine and, most popular of all, an electronic harp which had lasers instead of strings.

The Chinese visitors were particularly entranced by this and more generally seemed quite entertained by the colorful atmosphere of the place. Unlike its neighbor to the West (DPRK), this pavilion likely provided a pretty good introduction to the nation.

And another in this series, this time at the Pakistani pavilion. The subject of China-Pakistan is something that I have a longer piece coming out about soon – have been doing some interesting research on the topic while I am out here.

Around the Shanghai Expo: Pakistan pavilion

By Raffaello Pantucci – 21 June 2010 9:15AM

The Pakistan pavilion drew something of a crowd (I waited roughly five minutes, in contrast to what I understand were hours for the British pavilion, and absolutely no wait for the DPRK one), though inside it is mostly a selection of scenic pictures from around Pakistan and some interesting displays highlighting various parts of the nation – including a rather creepy looking dummy onto which the face of Benazir Bhutto is projected giving a speech.

Much effort has been put into emphasizing the importance of the Sino-Pak relationship, with pictures of various leaders meeting over the ages, a large display of some sort of joint mango project and finally, this amusingly out of focus picture of the Gawardar seaport, described under the picture as being, ‘the symbol of Pakistan China friendship and cooperation’ (my friend posed alongside to highlight the lack of focus).

The two-floor space ends with a large bazaar selling all manner of things, including some rather unwieldy looking person-sized marble vases. The shop was doing quite brisk business.

This is posted a little late, as I just realized that it had been posted before the previous post about the DPRK pavilion. Also, having done this, I have now managed to get into the British pavilion. No matter, here it is now, more in this series coming.

Around the Shanghai Expo: British pavilion

By Raffaello Pantucci – 18 June 2010 9:41AM

Raffaello Pantucci is a Visiting Scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, where he is working on an EU-funded project on EU-China relations.

One of the more intriguing parts of the Shanghai Expo is to see the correlation between the queues at various pavilions and the effort that has been put into them. Who is it, exactly, that nations are trying to impress with their respective pavilions: the Chinese people or the Chinese government?

To try to better understand this, here are three examples of national pavilions. First up is the British Pavilion:

As the picture suggests, it is a pretty extraordinary building, which looks like a real-life optical illusion. Designed to be a large seed repository, I was actually unable to get inside due to the enormous queue (and I went on a day when there were not that many people around). From reading online, however, it looks like it is really focused on cities, environmentalism and the upcoming Olympics.

All of which is in contrast to the curiosity-seekers favorite, the DPRK pavilion, which, oddly enough, is located adjacent to the Iranian one. Clearly the layout was designed by someone with a sense of humor. The North Korea pavilion is the subject of the next post.

This is a slight change of pace from recent stuff. For those who don’t know, I spend a lot of time in Shanghai these days where the World Expo is in full swing. I have been going there a fair bit, and was asked by the Lowy Institute of Australia’s Interpreter blog to write some short posts for them on some of the curious pavilions there. Here is the first, looking at the North Korean pavilion. More are coming (I have been to quite a few now) – and I am going to be going back and forth to the Expo, so feel free to leave comments requesting others if you have any specific ones you are interested in.

Around the Shanghai expo: DPRK pavilion

by Raffaello Pantucci – 18 June 2010 3:11PM

Raffaello Pantucci is a Visiting Scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, where he is working on an EU-funded project on EU-China relations.

There is absolutely no queue outside the DPRK pavilion. The site is dominated by a large picture on one wall of Pyongyang looking alarmingly empty, with a Juche pillar in front and ‘Paradise for People’ emblazoned across the top. Television screens around the side show scenes of warfare interspersed with what look like 1980s era shots of students diligently learning. There are few pictures of the Dear Leader, and the final inexplicable set piece is a giant white fountain with dancing babies in it.

The whole thing has a surreal tinge to it and you have to wonder what they are trying to project. The majority of Chinese I saw inside appeared headed directly for the exit and the attendant with the national stamp (you can purchase Expo ‘passports’ which you can then get stamped at the various pavilions – they are very popular and in a number of smaller pavilions people appear to literally run through with no interest in the nation at hand, eager only to collect the stamp), though a few seem struck with a curiosity about the place.

It’s hard to know what kind of soft power is being projected here by the DPRK, but it is certainly not working as well as the British pavilion.

Now on to the Pakistani pavilion, which is designed something like an old frontier fort. That’s the subject of the last post in this series.