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Milan set for show

Fu Jing
Updated: Aug 1,2014 4:14 PM     China Daily Europe

China-Italy ties to grow as Italy’s commercial center takes baton from shanghai to host 2015 World Expo

Milan, Italy’s business and fashion capital, will be in a brighter global spotlight than usual for the rest of this year and next. And China will be taking part in many of its events and supporting the city, officials say.

Italy began its half-year rotating presidency of the European Union in July, which will draw related events to Milan. In mid-October, about 50 leaders, including Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, will gather in the northern Italian city for the 10th Asia-Europe Meeting Summit. Then, starting in May, more than 20 million visitors worldwide are expected to pour into Milan for the 2015 World Expo.

China not only plans a country pavilion and two corporate pavilions, it is also the single biggest foreign investor in the expo and is providing lots of advice garnered from the 2010 Shanghai World Expo.

Milan is expected to attract about 20 million visitors during the May 1 to October 31 event, including up to 1 million from China. Some 500,000 expo tickets have already been sold to Chinese tour operators.

“President Xi (Jinping) and other Chinese leaders have clearly stated that China is willing to share its experiences in hosting the World Expo with Italy, hoping to use the event as an opportunity to boost bilateral cooperation and exchanges,” says China’s consul general in Milan, Liao Juhua.

Milan Mayor Giuliano Pisapia, taking time from a hectic schedule to sit down with China Daily, says China is “of great importance for us”, and adds that when it comes to holding the expo, “we must learn from Shanghai”.

Officials from Shanghai, which logged a record attendance of 72 million at its expo, told Milan organizers that attendance would grow as the expo goes on.

“They told me there is no need to worry about the number of visitors at the beginning if it is not big,” says Pisapia, 65, whose office is a stone’s throw from Milan Cathedral, a gothic landmark that took nearly six centuries to complete.

While the event site is in the northern suburbs of Milan, Pisapia plans to also bring an expo presence to downtown, where streets around the cathedral are adorned with expo posters and advertisements.

Pisapia says he met with Shanghai officials when he visited China in 2013.

The mayor also says Shanghai officials have urged him to think about how to use the expo area after the event is held and to make preparations for that in advance.

They also urged him not to dismantle the more important pavilions, which can be used as symbolic centers to promote foreign affairs and bilateral relations between Italy and other countries.

“We thought all these ideas are very helpful for us,” Pisapia says.

The China Pavilion, with a surface area of 4,590 square meters, will be second only to Germany’s in size. Shaped like rippling wheat, it is inspired by the values of harmonious coexistence, and the core exhibition concepts will be “heaven, Earth, humanity and harmony”, Xinhua News Agency reported.

China will present to the world “the history, present condition and especially the idea of sustainable development for the future of its agriculture,” says Wang Jinzhen, vice-chairman of the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade and commissioner general of the China Pavilion.

A busy program of activities is planned for the pavilion, from cultural exchanges to meetings to consolidate collaboration between China and Italy.

A second pavilion, the China Corporation Joint Pavilion, has attracted major company sponsors from China and will use the theme “China seeds”, organizers say. It will showcase Chinese enterprises’ sustainable development solutions in six exhibition sections.

China Vanke Co, a China-based company principally engaged in property development, plans a third pavilion. The Vanke Pavilion will use the concept of shitang or dining hall, a traditional place that continues to be part of today’s Chinese society, based on the expo’s theme of “Feeding the planet, energy for life”, organizers say.

Pisapia says Milan has attracted 1 billion euros ($1.34 billion) from the participating countries and 400 million euros from individual companies. “Compared with 1.3 billion euros of our public investment in the world expo, we are already profitable,” he says.

Pisapia says 147 countries have signed up to take part and 56 pavilions are planned at the expo site northwest of Milan in the municipalities of Rho and Pero.

The mayor says the expo will have long-lasting effects on China-Italy ties, which are already close. This year, Shanghai and Milan are marking their 35th anniversary as sister cities.

The mayor notes that Milan has a huge Chinese community, which has contributed to the city’s development. In the Milan metropolitan region, there are about 140,000 ethnic Chinese.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who took office in February, visited the Shanghai expo in 2010 as mayor of Florence, and during a three-day visit in China in June, he helped promote Expo Milano 2015.

Pisapia says while discussing their expos, officials of Shanghai and Milan also have touched upon the mounting challenges the world faces as urbanization and industrialization spread, including climate change, population growth and energy security.

The mayor says it is very important to use the expo to learn from each other on urban management issues like waste management, traffic and congestion, and green development in cities.

The mayor also says Milan welcomes Chinese investment, which has grown rapidly.

Italy is China’s fifth-largest trading partner in Europe and China is Italy’s top trading partner in Asia. As Italy’s economic hub, Milan has long played a big role in maintaining robust economic relations between the two countries.

Many Chinese companies set up their primary office in Milan when they enter the Italian market - 35 large Chinese companies, such as Bank of China and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, have set up shop in Milan.

Pisapia says that the expo will be a golden opportunity for Chinese companies to learn more about and establish themselves in Italy and the European Union.

A good example of working together, Pisapia says, was when a Chinese business delegation complained to him about the difficulty in obtaining visas during their visit to Italy. During a visit to Beijing, Pisapia submitted the complaints to visa officers at the Italian embassy and procedures were simplified.

With Chinese investors realizing the importance of Milan, Air China boosted the frequency of flights every from three a week to daily flights in 2013 to meet rising demand.