11/03/2010, 00.00
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Shanghai Expo closes amid lights and shadows

A record-breaking number of visitors cross the turnstile. It is not yet clear whether the balance sheet is the black or not; however, the city has gained first-class infrastructures. After the original residents were thrown out, the expo lands are now up for sale.

Shanghai (AsiaNews/Agencies) – China is celebrating the success of the Shanghai World Expo, which closed its doors on Saturday after a six-month run. Yet, beyond the statistics, many wonder what the event’s impact was on ordinary Chinese as opposed to their self-congratulating leaders.

The figures are impressive. Some 73 million people visited 240 national and corporate pavilions, beating the previous record set at the 1970 Osaka Expo. Praises came from everywhere. Shanghai Expo was "the most magnificent event in World Expo history", said Jean-Pierre Lafon, president of the International Exhibitions Bureau (BIE), the governing body of World Expos.

Even though other records were broken, from the number of cultural events to the number of journalists who wrote about it, critics note that 10 million free tickets were handed out and many visitors came back many times. One retired teacher, Mei Haixing, actually came 28 times.

Both local and foreign papers quoted Chinese excited about seeing the beautiful things of countries never visited.

As they did in the case of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, China’s leaders used the event as a lever to develop Shanghai’s infrastructure and promote trade.

Before the Expo opened, Shanghai’s mayor, Yu Zhengsheng, said he expected the expo to generate enough ticket sales, tourism, business and sponsorship to pay for the expenditures. However, official sources have not said whether the venture generated any profit.

China has reportedly spent some US$ 60 billion preparing for the fair; however, the authorities have indicated a much lower price tag.

On 1 May, when Shanghai opened the gates, the city said that it had spent 18 billion yuan (US$ 2.7 billion) on the construction of the 5.28 km2 site.

Ticket sales generated an estimated 12 billion yuan (US$ 1.8 billion), but the income from rent collected from retailers inside the expo has not been revealed, and the proceeds from the sponsors are confidential. Estimating the earnings of hotels, restaurants, transportation companies, telecommunication firms and other sectors has also been difficult. Nevertheless, the city got a brand new airport and a modern subway.

The National Tourism Administration did report that the expo generated an additional 80 billion yuan of income, with hotels, aviation companies and retailers the top beneficiaries.

The municipal government benefited by raking in billions of yuan in tax revenue, and 627,000 jobs were created. How many will survive Expo is another question.

Nonetheless, the cost of thousands of guards hired to monitor the flow of visitors and provide security will not go onto the balance sheet of municipal authorities because they were paid by the district government. Many officials at the co-ordination bureau were on loan to the organisers, most of whom were on their state-owned employers' payrolls.

Figures for such costs have not been released.

Mr Yu admitted that Shanghai had shelled out at least 300 billion yuan (US$ 45 billion) to build infrastructure for the expo, exceeding the US$ 40 billion investment for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Organising the event did not go without a hitch either. There were long line-ups of visitors waiting to get into the Expo site as well as the main pavilions, as well as high food prices.

The authorities expect to recoup at least a trillion yuan (US$ 150 billion) by selling of expo land. But few remember the thousands of residents who were forced out of their homes and poorly compensated to give way to the site.

The Shanghai Expo exacted another major price, this one in enhanced controls and repression against local dissidents.

Feng Zhenghu, a dissident well known for his attacks on corruption and forced expropriations, planned to release in mid-April, just a few days short of the 1 May opening, his findings about the problems with the city's legal system. For his troubles, he had his computer seized and received a warning against making any public statement during the expo, otherwise he would “disappear”.

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