Archive for the ‘World Expo’ category

Shanghai Expo: A Corner Turned

May 28, 2009

Readers may have noted the most recent bit of positive news regarding the US Pavilion for the Shanghai Expo:  the adding of Yum Brands as a sponsor (here’s one report from AP via LA Times:,0,1208894.story

But the fact is, something much more profound has taken place.  Secretary Clinton and her senior staff are now actively engaged in support of the fundraising efforts by the State Department approved group that is working feverishly to get the Pavilion built.  I know this for a fact from a conversation with a business colleague (not affiliated with the US Pavilion organizers) who was on a phone call that Secretary Clinton held on this topic recently with a group of US business leaders.  On the call Secretary Clinton made clear, in her friendly but firm way, that this is an important effort that deserves private sector support.

The non-profit group leading the fundraising effort has had to deal with an unprecedented set of challenges, including:

  • The 2008 Olympics, which sapped attention and funding from the US Pavilion for the Expo
  • The worst economic downturn in two generations
  • Lost momentum from a major change in US administrations
  • A recalcitrant group of mid-level State Department officials who repeatedly sought to block reasonable Department support for fundraising.
  • An alternative non-profit group that kept up a continuous stream of (unfair) criticism of the officially-approved group’s efforts.

The intensity of Secretary Clinton’s involvement means the bureaucratic obstacles have been overcome.  This is a huge step forward and one that will be decisive I hope.  However, we are not out of the woods yet.  We all know that this big push from the USG is coming late in the day.

When you think about it, this entire episode is sort of a typical American tale, with a small group of smart and persistent Americans, working for no pay, fighting huge odds to complete a project of clear national interest.  I hope it has a happy ending.

For any friends in the business community who come upon this post:  Now is the time to pull out the stops in support of the US Pavilion.  In addition to the direct marketing benefits of your participation, each of your companies benefits from good US-China relations and a positive perception of America in China.  Further, I believe the Shanghai city and Chinese Central governments attach huge importance to securing the US Pavilion and will take note of the companies that step up to the plate in support.  Times are tough, but this is clearly a worthwhile investment.


Expo Errors

May 10, 2009

The joy of blogging is the ability to air your views in an unrestrained way.  No supervisors, lawyers, or editors to review your work.  On the other hand, this makes it easy to generate lots of misinterpretation as you opine on issues you don’t understand.  Others will, I am sure, ding me as I post along my merry way.  But from time to time I see something written by someone else that similarly calls out for a reality check:

Adam Minter writes a blog called “Shanghai Scrap”.  It’s pretty interesting overall. However, he has decided, mistakenly, that he understands the challenges of putting together a US pavilion for the Shanghai 2010 Expo well enough to have identified the culprits in the ongoing sad story of this effort.  The culprits, he tells us, are the key members (Ellen Eliasoph, Nick Winslow, and Frank Lavin) of the State Department approved non-profit entity working to raise funding for the Pavilion.  His most recent post on this is at:

Full disclosure requires that I note that Ellen Eliasoph and her husband (Ira Kasoff (who gets a silly and totally gratuitous mention in Minter’s post)) and Frank Lavin are friends of mine (I don’t know Nick Winslow).  But I also hasten to note that, unlike Adam Minter, I know a lot about the process of approval and fundraising for a US pavilion based on my time in the US government and contacts I have had with a couple of groups vying to get State Dept. approval for the US Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo over the past two years.

None of us are perfect and I won’t argue that the approved group (Ellen, Nick, and Frank – all working pro-bono) have done everything perfectly.  But what Minter (and other outside critics) don’t know is the story of the almost impossible conditions that approved group has been working under.

The real problem lies in the bowels of the State Dept. where working level lawyers and some public diplomacy officers over the last couple of years have thrown up obstacle after obstacle to the US Pavilion effort.  It is as if some involved at the working level were pursuing their own foreign policy.

First was the long, long delay in approving a group to spearhead the effort.

After that, the challenge was fundraising:  Want to raise money from US companies?  We need an extensive government vetting process (which rejected a number of blue chip firms for reasons never made clear).  Want the support of major Chinese companies active in the US?  Nope, they are involved in nefarious activities or otherwise ineligible.  Want the Secretary of State to issue a letter to the US business community urging support for this high priority project?  Gosh, we (lawyers) need to think very, very long and hard about this since we don’t want to have it appear that our Secretary is trying to fundraise (even though such generic letters are common for other projects).  (Note:  this last hurdle has finally been overcome with issuance of a letter by Secretary Clinton.)

Secretary Clinton and her senior advisors understand the importance of the US Pavilion.  They are pushing back hard and making some progress.  But it bothers me to see Adam Minter (and some others who have been quoted in the press), knowing nothing about the legal, bureaucratic, and policy complexities the approved group is wrestling with, suggest that a different approach or set of actors could magically get the US Pavilion up and running.

One thing that impressed me over 25 years of working on China policy in the government was the huge number of experts not wrestling with a problem in the real world who had “brilliant” and “simple” solutions to that issue.  Turns out the less you understand a problem the easier it is to devise solutions to it (though not to succeed in implementing them).

Having been on the receiving end of such “brilliant” analysis, I just feel compelled to vent on behalf of Ellen, Nick, and Frank here.

So Depressing

March 27, 2009

I did a previous post on the sad story of the US Pavilion for the Shanghai Expo 2010.  Now we have this report from National Public Radio: which details the ongoing struggle to get a respectable US Pavilion off the ground.  FYI, the article has comments from some American business people in Shanghai.  I don’t know these folks, but I do know the team working on getting the Pavilion going (Ellen Eliasoph, quoted in the article; and former US Ambassador to Singapore and Under Secretary of Commerce Frank Lavin).  They are smart and working hard, for no money, to get this done.  If there are better ideas on how to do it, that’s fine, but on top of all the other issues seems a shame to have this devolve into a “Shanghai business community” vs. “US Pavilion organizers” thing.  

I will just reiterate that the Administration and companies are both missing a huge strategic opportunity if they don’t throw their weight quickly behind the effort to get the pavilion built.

Strategic Thinking?

March 19, 2009

Where is our strategic vision when we need it?

China is hosting the next World Expo (what used to be called a World’s Fair) in Shanghai. It starts in May of 2010 and runs for six months. Seventy million people are likely to visit, the vast majority of them up and coming middle class people and (current and) future leaders from China, with many others from around the world. Each of the major countries of the world will be present with an impressive physical presence in the form of a significant pavilion and with an array of cultural and commercial programs.

Did I say all the major countries of the world? Oops: all but the US, unless things start to move very quickly. By law the US government (USG) cannot spend public funds to support a US Pavilion at such events (short-sighted in my view, but guess we have to live with that). All the USG needs to do is: 1) select a non-profit group to lead the effort (done at last, very late in the game), and, 2) throw its weight behind that group with public pronouncements on the importance of the effort, as a way of stimulating the necessary private sector funding.

There is a long, tangled, and depressing tale here, but the short version is that: (a) the Bush Administration lacked the vision to move decisively to get the ball rolling; and (b) the Obama Administration has yet to take this on in the way it should.

Is this crazy or what? Did I mention 70 million people visiting? Incredible opportunity to put the best face forward for the US at the major public event in the region (bigger BY FAR in every dimension than the Olympics)? Did I mention no US government money involved?

Think about it: Secretary Clinton’s appearance on an Indonesian music video show was a huge hit and (appropriately) applauded by observers who know we need to be rebuilding our global image. And it’s not just the legacy of the past eight years of US foreign policy. Today global economic turmoil is fueling increasing nationalism and protectionism, especially in Asia. Ok, now think about 70 million visitors, with 6 months worth of programming on US culture and commercial activities. Useful?

So, where is the big USG push on this? As best as I can figure out, some at senior levels in the Administration do get it and are trying to move forward. Why have they been stymied? Beats me, but someone should get this moving quickly.

What’s needed? To start, a major public push by President Obama (I think this does merit (rhetorical) attention from the President), Secretary Clinton, Secretary Locke, and others emphasizing to the private sector the importance of this effort. No bailout here; no US government funding guarantees. Just op-eds, letters, and phone calls, so corporate leaders and foundations in the US understand the considerable upside for them and the country.

The above is not intended to let my good friends in the private sector off the hook. A number of companies are putting in substantial funding for their own, corporate pavilions at the Expo. This is great, but they, and the many firms that have not committed to the Expo, should realize that in the long run, money which supports a positive image of the US in China is a good commercial investment. A first rate US Pavilion will make a positive contribution to this goal. And don’t forget, programs at the US Pavilion that highlight the US way of life can help illustrate themes such as the value of market driven innovation, transparency in government rules and regulations, and, yes, the continuing vitality of a market-based economy, etc., thereby supporting key US business goals in China. Finally, 140 million eyeballs on your logo and products in the US Pavilion is not a trivial marketing opportunity.

For this major, global event to come and go without a respectable US presence would be a crime. Let’s hope the strategic planners of the USG and private sector recognize and seize this opportunity.

NOTE: The folks who are organizing the US Pavilion effort have established a non-profit entity and are contributing their time on a pro-bono basis. They have the formal blessing of the State Department but lack the big push they need from USG and private sector. Best place to go to get more info on their effort is their website: