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March 17, 2010

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Old China hand takes on Expo

FIRST posted to China exactly 30 years ago, Spanish Consul General Antonio Segura Moris has visited China since the 1990s both for official and personal interests. Now the old China hand faces his most exciting and challenging year in China as Spain prepares for the World Expo and assumes the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union.

He was posted as Spain's top diplomat in Shanghai in 2007.

At 7,000 square meters, the Spain Pavilion will be one of the Expo's largest. It is based on a wicker basket design - wicker ware is a handicraft deeply rooted in Chinese and Spanish culture.

"The pavilion is going to be quite original. The design of the wicker basket is about using natural materials as much as possible, avoiding pollution and contamination of life and the air. This is increasingly the difference between environment friendly and unfriendly nations," says Segura.

As an extremely well-seasoned diplomat, Segura says he has had no problems settling into Shanghai, especially as he was posted in China in 1980 in Beijing. Thirty years ago he first visited Shanghai, and stayed at a hotel just one block from the Spanish consulate where he is now working. He says the changes are amazing.

"I looked across the Bund and it was just farmland, with cows and sheep grazing. Huaihai Road was closed, there was nothing. It seemed as if the prosperity of the 1920s would never come back, but it has now and 20 times more so."

Fascination with the pace of change has brought him back regularly since the mid-1990s, an average of two times a year before his official posting in 2007.

During that time he has visited "almost every province" on both official and personal trips with friends to places such as Guilin, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

"What strikes me is the increasing prosperity in every provincial capital. People are more international, more like Europeans and Americans. But in a way I miss the old China where life was more innocent."

Today around 500 Spanish companies operate in China, of which 200 are in Shanghai, and China is an increasingly important trade partner for Spain. Spain is the main exporter of olive oil and one of the main exporters of wine to China. Spanish fashion brands such as Zara and Mango are also in demand among Chinese customers. Another well-known company is Alsa (bus transport to over 400 destinations in China).

Even the financial recession has not slowed this trend. Although exports fell in the first quarter of 2009, by the third quarter they had almost recovered. In fact, due to China's relative resilience to the recession, the Spanish have launched an ambitious China Plan that sees China as a key target for the government's commercial policies.

The year 2010 will be filled with cultural events, with an event lined up for every one to two months in art, science, education, literature and other fields.

Two joint Chinese and Spanish conferences are scheduled in March, one about science and one about literature.

Continuing Spanish and Chinese collaborations, another highlight of the year, apart from the World Expo, will be a painting exhibition that showcases the contrasts between the Spanish and Chinese approaches to realism.

Other cultural highlights include a series of two-day Spanish film festivals in collaboration with the Spanish Society of Authors and Editors in Shanghai. A festival is scheduled for every season starting this summer and concluding by the end of the year.

More cultural activities will accompany the Spanish Expo participation.

Three Spanish cities will be part of this year's Urban Best Practices Area: Madrid, Barcelona and Bilbao. In preparation for this, Barcelona presented Shanghai with an exact replica of Gaudi's Dragon statue at the end of December. It will be on display at the Expo site between May 1 and October 31 and remain in the city after that.

To accompany the Expo there will be visits by high-ranking officials. In Shanghai Spain is also holding regular meetings with European diplomats as part of its EU presidency. On May 9, Spain will host the Day of Europe in Shanghai.

But even with a busy year ahead, Segura retains a Spanish sense of leisure. "Chinese enjoy preparations. We enjoy the party itself," he says.

Yang Jian

THE Spain Pavilion, dubbed "The Basket," is designed to resemble a traditional hand-woven wicker basket and is covered in more than 8,000 wicker panels hand-crafted in Shandong Province.

It will contain a basket of Spanish delights, from famous flamenco dancing and gourmet tapas dining to modern culture and urban development.

The traditional use of wicker is "one of the many commodities Spain and China have in common," says Maria Tena, Spain's Expo commissioner general.

More than 80 percent of panels have been installed and completion is expected by the end of March, says construction manager Marco Bonamoneta.

The panels were made by craftsmen in Zibo City, Shandong Province, each one unique in design, and numbered to indicate its exact position. The design is so specific because the black panels will form the shapes of Chinese characters - sun, moon and fire, for instance, all referencing nature.

The 7,000-square-meter pavilion is themed "From the City of Our Parents to the City of Our Children." It contains three halls covering the development of Spanish cities. It also features cultural space and a performing area for ongoing programs about Spanish life.

The pavilion in Pudong is next to Belgium and Switzerland pavilions.

Q: How long have you been a diplomat and where have you been posted: A: 37 years with a specialization in Asia.

Q: Strangest sight in your postings:

A: People eating monkey brains.

Q: What is the best and worst thing about being a diplomat: A: The best is that you get to travel and live in many different countries, get to know different cultures and people. The worst thing is that you are uprooted from your home country. Another good thing about being a diplomat is that you can adapt to any environment.

Q: As a diplomat, what is the one item you can't do without:

A: There's nothing I can't do without. We learn to be happy with whatever we get.

Q: Motto for life:

A: Fulfill my duties and try to help people as much as possible.

Q: When you are away from work how do you like to spend your weekends: A: Traveling, meeting friends, reading.

Q: Favorite place in Shanghai:

A: The former French Concession. It's so beautiful and it is of human size and measure.

Q: Where is the best place in Shanghai for Spanish cuisine?

A: Martin. It just opened last September by a Spanish chef with three Michelin stars.


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