Expo Shanghai 2010 - Flaunting Nations’ Beauty Through The Practice Of Nation Branding

A Win-Win Game for Players
Over the past few years, China has actively participated in global affairs. Having hosted the 2008 Beijing Olympics, China went on to become the first developing country to produce and manage the world biggest cultural event – the Expo Shanghai 2010. Spending more than $50 billion dollars to prepare for the event, Expo Shanghai 2010 attracted 192 participant countries and 50 international organizations to showcase their cultural and national character. 73 million visitors from different countries attended this enormous international assembly, providing an opportunity for all participant countries to present and promote their national images to the rest of the world.  Jay Wang, the lead researcher on the USC Center on Public Diplomacy’s Nation Branding at Expo Shanghai 2010 project, characterized the expo as an “(expensive) beauty contest for nations.”  The Shanghai Expo not only reaffirmed China’s national image for being able to organize vital international events, but it also provided a stage for participant countries to promote national brands through nation branding. 

The Expo puts the Concept of Nation Branding into Practice & Enhances Nations’ Relationships
Expo Shanghai 2010 is a true embodiment of the practice of nation branding. In terms of nation branding, Professor Wang suggests, “the idea of branding refers to the process of…-brand definition, brand engagement, and brand management, with brand definition at its core.” Specifically, in this process, “…the concept and practice of branding is not only relevant but also crucial to effective communication of country image.” Having invited European countries to participate at the Shanghai Expo and expose them to the Chinese culture, China effectively enhanced the 35 years of China – E.U. relationship. According to Serge Abou, E.U. Ambassador to China, the Shanghai Expo has proven that “Shanghai is a city with international attractiveness.” With its beauty, Shanghai culturally attracted exhibitors, visitors and organizers, allowing them to be exposed to the new China of modern times. As Ambassador Abou observed, this cultural event “has undoubtedly promoted the development of China-E.U. ties” by enhancing mutual understanding for both sides. In this way, the Shanghai Expo cultivated the image of modern China and presented modern Chinese culture to its audience, strengthening the international relationship between China and the European Union through nation branding.

In addition to reinforcing the China-E.U. international relationship, the Shanghai Expo 2010 provided the participating nations with an opportunity to pursue peaceful international relationships. While this cultural event was considered a celebratory affair to most of the attendees, the Shanghai Expo also created a venue at which there could be a reduction of political tensions between China and other nations, including countries that have historically had political disagreements with China – namely Taiwan and Japan. Toward the end of the Shanghai Expo, the political function of China’s practice of soft power was clearly visible. Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou, indicated the crucial role of soft power practiced in hosting the Shanghai Expo, stating that the “(Taiwan) pavilion at the World Expo in Shanghai had helped to reduce tensions in the Taiwan Strait and prevent[ed] war.” Around the same time, a group of 1,000 young Japanese arrived at the Expo, effectively diminishing the diplomatic pressure from a politically volatile incident stemming from a boat collision between Chinese and Japanese ships. According to the Japan-China Friendship Association, the Shanghai Expo promoted “a mutual understanding” during the diplomatic incident between the two countries. Expressing the Chinese government’s perspective, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Ma Zhaoxu, stated that “having visitors from Japan to communicate and build friendship with the Chinese people at the Shanghai Expo is important to the improvement of bilateral relations.” Prior to the Expo, China and Japan often sought to achieve their political goals through coercion rather than by the exercise of soft power. The practice of nation branding in Expo Shanghai 2010 is truly an opportunity for nations to define and openly share themselves to the world audience. 

The Taste of Nation Branding with Assorted Flavors
According to Wang, cultivating national image is a balancing act, and it is telling to examine what aspects of their cultural, economic, and political character countries choose to highlight. Wang observed that the Expo Shanghai 2010 demonstrated a wide range of approaches, varying from “focusing on a select few issues to providing a panoramic view of the country, from politics and business, to culture and society.” For example, the U.S. Pavilion focused on impressing visitors with the power and fame present within American culture. Its intention was perhaps to appeal to Chinese visitors based on the traditional Chinese culture of respecting authority, but the ‘corporate theme park’ was met with mixed reviews. Through interactive touch-screens and the “Kite Forest”, the Mexico Pavilion presented the history and culture of the past, present, and future of Mexico. Across the Atlantic, in Europe, the France Pavilion emphasized artistic culture by presenting several master art pieces from the Musée d’Orsay, while the Portugal Pavilion moved from classic to contemporary in highlighting the government’s promotion of a low-carbon lifestyle. Denmark showcased impeccable city planning that allowed for more bicyclists and pedestrians rather than cars. Conveying a symbolic message from the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates Pavilion presented a giant golden sand dune representing a distinctive natural environment and its abundantly rich resources. The Israeli Pavilion demonstrated the nation’s successes through the illustration of achievements in technology, agriculture, and social welfare. Moving South, the African Union Pavilion also concentrated on the importance of environmental protection, with South Africa’s themes varying from the World Cup to trade and investment. Turning to South America, the Brazil Pavilion highlighted their outstanding sports culture, performance art, and economic contributions to the world. Back in Asia, Japan featured world-famous technological innovations and beautiful natural resorts; South Korea represented herself through pop culture; Indonesia highlighted the textiles industry, foods and coffee, ancient musical instruments, art, and a statue of the most important religious figure of Indonesian culture – Admiral Cheng Ho.

Nation branding, as demonstrated at the Expo Shanghai 2010, was a key element to not only successful pavilions but to building and strengthening relationships. The implementation of nation branding went beyond individual countries’ promotion of a politically-driven national image. It developed and provided an international arena allowing for an emergence of the practice of soft power through presentations of cultural, faith, technology, and environmental diplomacy.

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