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March 2, 2010

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Pooling achievements, ideas

AS befits China's rapid economic growth over the past three decades, we will present the world with the grandest-ever World Expo in Shanghai in 2010.

Every Chinese takes deep pride in this event, no more so than me, an economist, who started learning my field of expertise when China initiated its economic reforms and began opening up to the outside world in 1978.

I have witnessed my country's remarkable economic progress, from the bottom up, over the past three decades.

Hosting a World Expo may influence a country or an economy in many aspects. It can create job opportunities, boost demand, stimulate growth during a slowdown, attract overseas investment, promote Chinese enterprises and products to the world, boost trade, demonstrate national strength, accelerate cultural dissemination, and stimulate tourism.

In my opinion, however, all these things are only of secondary importance. I believe the primary meaning of hosting the World Expo is to help countries pool their most worthy achievements in one venue where people from across the world can congregate to appreciate how progress has evolved, see what the future holds and learn from one another new concepts, new technologies, new cultures and new lifestyles.

That improves life for us all. For a developing country like China, this event will help us accelerate and improve our development so that it unfolds with greater efficiency and harmony.

The theme of World Expo 2010 Shanghai China - "Better City, Better Life" - is the right choice at the right time. China's economic growth is still in its initial stages of urbanization: More than 50 percent of our population still lives in rural areas, and many migrant workers who go to cities to find jobs have not formally become permanent urban residents.

We still have a long way to go. Many cities have not fully developed yet, and we are facing many economic and social problems that no country can hope to avoid at such a stage.

The theme "Better City, Better Life," encourages all people in the world (including ourselves) to present those ideas and products that they believe hold value for future growth, drawing on the lessons of their own urbanization. That way, every nation can share its knowledge and learn how other countries and cities have tackled and solved common problems.

Why have all human societies eventually followed the path of urbanization? The fundamental reason is that urbanization can improve people's living standards. On one hand, urbanization can generate higher incomes and create more job opportunities with centralized infrastructure investment. On the other hand, the concentration of people facilitates the development of the services industry.


With the socialization of household affairs resulting from urbanization, more job opportunities are created, and the quality of life is improved, saving urban residents more time for educational, cultural and recreational pursuits.

Although people may miss the goodness of rural life after they move to cities, only a few wealthy families can afford to try to combine the best of both worlds by living in leafy, spacious suburbs.

Income levels and living standards in rural areas will improve only when most rural residents have left the land of their birth, relegating larger tracts of farmland for fewer to till.

"Suburbanization" is an integral part of "post-urbanization." There can be no suburbanization without urbanization.

Although later-emerging countries, especially large ones, may advance both processes simultaneously, suburbanization is only possible for people who have undergone urbanization.

Such simultaneous advancement provides no justification, therefore, for the argument that rural modernization can still be achieved by keeping hundreds of millions of farmers stuck on the land instead of encouraging them to resettle in cities and take up new forms of work.

However, urbanization is never a trouble-free process. It involves a fundamental transformation of social structures, and is usually accompanied by social and economic upheavals that can lead to conflicts. History is rife with example and lessons for us to learn.

No matter how long China's course of urbanization - and indeed it cannot be a quick process with a population of 1.3 billion - Chinese cities themselves need to develop, and those that have already been "urbanized" will certainly seek wealthier, cleaner, easier and more peaceful lifestyles.

To cope with strains on energy and resources, we need to build cities with better energy efficiency.

To address the threat of global warming, we must develop "lower-carbon" cities. Today, we learn from the experiences of developed countries. However, it is necessary to develop blueprints for new types of cities in the 21st century.

For China, in particular, we must attempt to capitalize on our advantages as a late starter in the urbanization trend, avoiding pitfalls and creating cities with a modern spirit, as contrasted to modern luxury.

This World Expo, with its focus on cities, will be a confluence of ideas about contemporary and future cities from insightful people around the world. That should inspire us and create opportunities for new breakthroughs in our own urban growth.

In this sense, the profits of this World Expo cannot be valued in terms of its costs; instead, the benefits will exemplify themselves in China's development for decades to come.

World Expo 2010 Shanghai China will bring a better life to Chinese cities and thereby give us a better China.


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