Expo 2015’s diplomatic potential

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Published: Friday 1st May 2015 by The News Editor

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The Expo 2015 world’s fair is showing surprising potential as a backdrop for diplomacy as it opens for a six-month run.

North Korea stepped out of its isolation as a last-minute participant and there are signs that Turkey may use the occasion to reach out to the Vatican weeks after it recalled its ambassador to the Holy See over the pope describing the slaughter of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as genocide.

With food as the theme of this year’s event, culinary delights from host Italy and beyond will be one of the main draws for the 20 million visitors expected to attend.

But the Milan Expo already had ambitions beyond the usual gather, meet and innovate exhibition, with the Italian government backing a process to create a document of concrete solutions to fight hunger and combat food waste, among other goals.

Pope Francis hailed this goal in a speech he delivered by video from Vatican City to a VIP audience at Expo for the inauguration. He spoke of the “faces of millions of person who are hungry today, who don’t eat today in a way worthy of a human being”.

“I’d want every person, starting today, who visits the Expo in Milan, passing through these marvellous pavilions, to be able to feel the presence of those faces,” Francis said.

The ambition of the so-called “Milan Charter” is to get individuals, civil society and business to commit to a series of solutions, a diplomatic trend that recognises that some problems are too vast for governments alone to resolve.

“What the Italians are doing with this international exposition is creating a global platform that brings the representatives of 145 countries together convening around a key topic, that is food and food security, and the question of how to feed nine billion people,” said Philip T Reeker, the US consul general in Milan.

He called it “the essence of public diplomacy” focused on “a policy question that concerns us all”.

The Vatican’s top culture official, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi this week welcomed the prospect of an invitation to the Turkish pavilion, and extended his own to Turkish officials to visit the Vatican pavilion “dedicated to themes that can be shared also by the Muslim world”. He cited spiritual and physical hunger, brotherly charity and fasting as examples.

Expo officials have included the isolationist North Korea in a thematic cluster dedicated to islands.

But former Italian diplomat Sergio Romano cautioned against expecting any political breakthroughs on the sidelines of the event.

“Expo, I think, cannot produce any policy whatsoever because it isn’t their job. What it can do is get people to the same place with all the possible advantages it can create,” said Romano, a leading political commentator. “It would be wrong to try to produce political results, because it is basically an economic exhibit.”

The fair is also expected to attract anti-globalisation protesters, with authorities warning that the infiltration of anarchists could spark violence. A student protest on Thursday proceeded through Milan mostly peacefully.

Participants said they opposed the inclusion of food corporations like Coca Cola, Nestle and McDonald’s in the fair.

Protester Selam Tesfai said the food corporations don’t adhere to the expo’s slogans of “feeding the planet” and “energy for life”.

Published: Friday 1st May 2015 by The News Editor

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