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Posted on on September 7th, 2010
by Pincas Jawetz (

Frank Lavin is now Chairman, Public Affairs, Asia Pacific, at Edelman – the largest PR company in the Asia-Pacific region. He previously was Under Secretary for International Trade at the US Department of Commerce and Ambassador to Singapore. In those capacities he was responsible for Trade agreements with China, India, Singapore – among his other imprint on US Asian commerce policy. Now he lives in Hong Kong.

When the US was in a position that there might not have been a US pavilion at this year’s –  six months long – May 1 to Oct 31, 2010 – World Fair in Shanghai, he volunteered to organize one with the help of business companies, and the friendly assistance of Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. Now he can look and say – we did it! It took him a mere one year to put up a respectable “Great Hall of the American People” pavilion.

This fair will have three times as many visitors as the New York World Fair and will be the largest ever in every respect – in size – number of countries exhibiting – 189, number of heads of State visiting 100. There are 240 pavilions that include 57 that are not by governments – such as IOs, NGOs, and businesses. 40 million visitors have already seen it by August 14th. It is expected that 60 million Chinese and 10 million foreigners, will have seen the Fair by the time it closes.

I found it extremely interesting that the Fair includes pavilions for Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao – very nice and non-controversial –  and the Chinese go and see them. Also interesting that in their statistics these lands are counted as foreign. I wonder how are displayed the Chinese provinces and how the competition between them is handled? Is a decentralized vuew of China allowed in the Chinese huge and very beautiful red and white Chinese pavilion?

The main item in the US pavilion is a film that shows a girl that sees through her window the need to plant a tree in order to beautify the neighborhood. This is a subtle way to tell the visitors – mainly Chinese – that with initiative and cooperation, one can change the world for the better. It is not a government, but the individual human spirit that does it. You learn that you are responsible for the environment and your actions count. The overall theme of this year’s Fair is “Better City , Better Life, so there is nothing revolutionary in the US story here except this interpretation that it calls for an individual response to environmental needs.

It is hoped that this will be appreciated by the average person in the region – the fact that the US did not come to toot its horn by showing off achievements of the past – the US makes rather attempts at cooperation with the Chinese in many areas of common interest. That reminded me of the G2 approach that President Obama initiated ahead of going to Copenhagen – now we see that it could also be a people’s action if people are ready to do what is right for their communities. Maybe we should recommend that Americans also go to see this US pavilion in Shanghai.

Asked what else he could have done for the pavilion, Frank Lavin said that besides the content for the 30 minutes he planed for there are several minutes of waiting time in line that could have been used. For the people in lines outside – there is entertainment that changes – visiting bands – so on. Several people in the Asia Society audience have already been to see the pavilion, quite a few more said that they are scheduled to go. Michael Roberts, Executive Director, New York Public Programs at Asia Society chaired the event.



Above we posted on August 27, 2010, but now we got the posting that was done by The Asia Society and a bit of the actual tape – so we include these in the UPDATE.

The Shanghai Expo:
Inside ‘The World’s Largest Event.’

Frank Lavin explains how the US Pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai Expo emphasizes what Americans and Chinese have in common. (1 min., 48 sec.)

Frank Lavin explains how the US Pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai Expo emphasizes what Americans and Chinese have in common. (1 min., 48 sec.)

NEW YORK, August 26, 2010 – “The Shanghai Expo, at an annualized rate about 150 million people a year, would be something like eight or nine times what the number one theme park in the world does, which is Disney World,” said ambassador Frank Lavin, Chairman of the USA Pavilion’s Steering Committee, referring to the number of people who will visit the 2010 Expo. “In fact, it is not just the largest World’s Fair in history, but this is the largest event in human history.”

Speaking at Asia Society’s New York Headquarters, the former US Ambassador to Singapore was sharing his insider’s perspective on the Shanghai Expo, the latest incarnation of the World’s Fair that runs from May 1 to October 31, 2010.

Lavin helped organize this year’s United States Pavilion. He explained that since the average Expo attendee spends only 30 minutes in each pavilion, early decisions were made not to treat the American exhibit as a “college seminar course in US history,” but to present a “show, don’t tell” narrative of American society and culture.

By exposing millions of Chinese to unfamiliar countries and cultures, Lavin said the Expo is an important opportunity to educate the country’s citizens about the rest of the world. Although 47 million Chinese will travel abroad this year, more than 50 percent will only visit the semi-autonomous enclaves of Hong Kong and Macao. With over 90 percent of the 70 million fairgoers Chinese, the Expo is accessible to a much larger population of Chinese citizens who want to experience foreign cultures.

Asked about how the United States pavilion’s message will help its public diplomacy with China, he responded, “Of course there are many issues where the United States and China have different points of view.”  But at the American Pavilion, “The average Chinese fairgoer is going to see that he or she has a lot in common with the same American in a similar position.” He concluded that the media tends to only focus our few disagreements, rather than our many points of commonality.

Although the 2010 Expo will be the most attended event in human history, American attendance is quite low. Lavin noted, however, that this isn’t because Americans aren’t interested in foreign cultures; rather, “When an American goes to visit China, he is not going to go to the Expo. He is going to go to the Great Wall, Summer Palace, Forbidden City, and see the sights of Beijing and Shanghai.”

Reported by Zachary Raske

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