Supporters of an United States pavilion at the upcoming Shanghai world's fair in 2010 have been looking to the Obama administration for some help to boost the effort. Eyes have turned to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and newly anointed Commerce Secretary, former Washington Gov. Gary Locke, as possible saviors of the effort.
Now there's now at least one piece of tangible evidence of movement from on high: Clinton has written a letter explicitly endorsing the project. This is not only likely to be reassuring to the Chinese, who are hosting the largest expo in history and desperately want the U.S.'s participation, but also to expo boosters who have been critical of the way the former Bush administration handled the whole expo participation process.
In a letter to the head of the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai, Clinton proclaims her "strong support" of the U.S. pavilion project and urges the U.S. business community to support it. A U.S. pavilion would be highly reliant on private and corporate funds, difficult to come by without strong government backing, let alone the challenges of a major recession and a sense in the U.S. that expo participation is either passe, or that sponsorships are better handled through foreign subsidiaries. The U.S. has laws restricting the State Department from using public funds.
Clinton writes that it is "is crucial for the United States to be present along with the other 180 nations participating in this major global event with its environmental theme of 'Better City, Better Life.'" The group with official sanction to create the pavilion, USA Pavilion, is looking to raise up to $60 million to get the project off the ground but time is running short. The expo opens in a year, with or without U.S. participation.
Clinton's letter places specific importance on setting the tone for a new, post-Bush era of U.S. leadership in the region. "Our national pavilion will also demonstrate America's commitment to renewing its leadership in the Asia-Pacific region and to a forward-looking, positive relationship with China."
After a successful week abroad demonstrating a break with the past on foreign policy, the Obama team now offers hope to those who want to U.S. to be fully engaged in international events like Expo. On the other hand, the money mountain is steep. The nudge from Clinton is an important gesture, and an acknowledgment of the stakes, but will U.S. pocket books finally open up? Will the government itself find a way to lend financial assistance? And if successful, will the U.S. pavilion carry a message worthy of the nation? Stay tuned.