The US president is blending positivity with the NBA superstar's limited Mandarin skills to attract the Chinese.
- A view of the US pavilion at the site of the World expo in Shanghai
- A man visiting the US pavillion at the World Expo
The pair are featured along with a cast of ordinary Americans in a new US charm offensive designed for the World Expo in Shanghai -- a campaign aimed at showing visitors a more personal side of the United States.
AdvertisementUp to 100 million people are expected to flock to the massive six-month event from May 1, nearly all of them Chinese -- providing Washington with a golden opening for public diplomacy at a key moment in Sino-US relations.
"This is policy made personal. The chance to speak unfiltered to millions of Chinese directly and on an emotional level is an incredible opportunity," Greg Lombardo, the pavilion's creative director, said in an interview.
After months of sparring over everything from Taiwan to the yuan, the two sides are showing signs of reconciliation, with Chinese President Hu Jintao due to meet Obama in Washington next week during a global nuclear security summit.
The United States -- repeatedly told by Beijing in recent months to respect its position on "core issues" such as Taiwan and Tibet -- is now seizing the moment at Expo to shift the dialogue.
"It is my great pleasure to welcome you to the USA Pavilion at Expo 2010," US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says in a recorded greeting. "As you explore the pavilion you will see core American values in action."
Stressing what binds the two nations, Obama adds his voice to those of dozens of Americans explaining what matters most to them, ranging from education to housing to children.
"We are bound by our common humanity and our shared curiosity," Obama says. "This includes the hopes we share with the people of China and people around the world to work together."
USA Pavilion Commissioner General Jose Villarreal described Expo as one of the "bright spots" in US-China relations, during a tour of the building this week.
"It certainly is bringing the US and China together to discuss issues of enormous importance," Villarreal said.
Despite the chill in Sino-US ties and an architectural design that favours function over whimsy -- it looks like a suburban cineplex -- the US pavilion tops the list of national displays Chinese visitors want to see, according to market research by Millward Brown.
That represents a major turnaround, as just a year ago, the United States looked like it would be an Expo no-show.
When it signed up for the event in July, it was among the last of the 192 participating countries to do so -- and only this week did it raise enough money to meet its 61-million-dollar operating budget.
Part of the problem was that US law prohibits Expo pavilions from being taxpayer-funded without a special act of Congress.
Clinton -- after realising the Expo's importance to China -- has been widely credited with reviving stalled fundraising efforts.
To deliver the US message, the pavilion hired BRC Imagination Arts, which has produced shows for six Expos, including the first World's Fair presentation to be nominated for an Oscar -- "Rainbow War" from Vancouver 1986.
"The worst mistake this pavilion could have made would be to create a 45-minute-long lecture on how great the US is and how much better our way of doing things is," said Lombardo, BRC's head of brand development.
Through one-on-one interviews, the team gauged Chinese opinions of the US to determine what expectations they had to meet -- and which ones they wanted to shatter.
"A lot of Chinese think Americans are unfriendly and we found that out by talking," Lombardo said.
Upon entering the pavilion, between walls emblazoned with sponsors' logos, visitors will be greeted by projections of Americans -- including Bryant -- apologising and laughing as they do their best to repeat "Welcome to the USA pavilion" in Mandarin.
In the second theatre, the United States unveils an "urban fairy tale" -- without a word of dialogue -- on five giant screens, telling how a girl inspires her neighbourhood to reinvent itself.
The audience will feel effects such as wind and rain. Their seats will shake -- thanks to devices called "buttkickers".
From there, visitors will be ushered into a final hall with sponsors' displays.
"The Olympics was an international television event. In the Olympics, China reached out to the world," said Bob Rogers, BRC's founder and chief executive.
"At Expo, the world reaches to China and we are very mindful of that."