Workers race against time to ensure scheduled completion of the China Pavilion in Shanghai. Xiao Yang
The financial tsunami has taken its toll on the 2010 Shanghai World Expo but the start date will not be put back, a Chinese government official in charge of the largest international gala insisted yesterday.
It is the first time China has admitted the massive event is feeling the pinch of the global financial crisis as governments and enterprises worldwide find it difficult to fund the construction of their exhibition halls.
So far 231 nations and organizations have signed up to take part in the expo, with 49 nations and 22 enterprises planning to construct their own exhibition centers. But only seven nations, including China, have already started the work.
"The delay in construction is my biggest concern," Wan Jifei, the director of Shanghai World Expo Executive Committee, told China Daily on the sidelines of the annual session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.
Even the United States are still to kick off construction of their hall.
"Although the US orally agreed to build its own center, it has not signed a contract with the Chinese and has not started construction, probably because of money pressures," said Wan, who is also chairman of China Council for the Promotion of International Trade.
According to the US law, cash from government funds cannot be invested in the World Expo, so the cash must be raised by an independent organization. But the financial crisis has made it a tough task.
"We hope the US government can reiterate its support to the program and make some progress," said Wan, who added the good news was "nobody had withdrawn from the expo, which presents a clear confidence of the participants in China and the expo".
But he said if any country decided to withdraw in the future "it would be understandable".
Last-minute withdrawals happened at the 2000 Universal Exhibition in Hanover, Germany, and the 2005 World Expo in Aichi, Japan.
But even Iceland, a country reportedly on the verge of going bankrupt, has still insisted it will be present at the Shanghai expo.
"Whatever happens, the expo will open on schedule. We are trying our best," added Wan.
The 2010 World Expo will start a trial run on Jan 1 next year before being officially opened on May 1. It will close on Oct 31. Not all halls will be open to visitors during the trial as construction may still be ongoing, said Wan.
The effects of the global financial crisis on companies taking part has already been clear to see, with multinational company Siemens just one of the many that has gone from passionate expo supporter to silent partner in recent months.
So has Eastern Airlines. The third largest carrier in China is a partner of the 2010 World Expo but it has become hesitant in signing cooperative agreements since it recorded a 2.29-billion-yuan loss between January and September 2008.
Luckily, tourist traffic is likely to be unaffected as only 5 percent of the estimated 70 million visitors are expected to come from overseas.
"Most of the visitors will come from the Yangtze River Delta," added Wan.
For the 2005 Aichi World Expo, around 90 percent of visitors were from Japan.