OSAKA – Osaka reacted with cautious optimism as Paris moved closer to officially withdrawing its bid to host the 2025 World Expo, leaving only Osaka, Azerbaijan’s Baku and Russia’s Ekaterinburg in a three-way race to be decided in November by the Paris-based Bureau International des Expositions (BIE).
The decision comes as a relief to Osaka, which saw Paris as its main rival. But attention is now turning to how the Osaka-Kansai, Japan bid — as it’s officially known — can wage an effective international lobbying campaign against the two remaining candidates.
The French government’s decision was reported in the form of a letter from French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe to the organizers published in France on Sunday. It was denounced by Jean-Christophe Fromantin, head of the Expo France 2025 committee in a tweet, where he said cost concerns originally led the bid committee to seek private support.
At a news conference in Paris on Monday, Fromantin said he would meet with French President Emmanuel Macron to discuss the financial issue and called on the government to continue to back the bid. France, however, is already hosting the 2023 Rugby World Cup and Paris will be the site of the 2024 Summer Olympics. Other French officials, including Economy and Finance minister Bruno Le Maire, have also voiced their support for Phillippe’s action.
In Osaka, there was a growing sense that its chances of winning the expo had been boosted even as top officials warned against complacency.
“If France has pulled its bid for the expo, this raises Japan’s (Osaka’s) chances,” Osaka Mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura told reporters Monday night. “However, Russia and Azerbaijan will put more effort into their bids, so we can’t waver in our efforts to promote Osaka internationally.”
Osaka’s strategy is to leave much of the international lobbying effort to the Kansai business community and the central government. But there were concerns in Osaka on Tuesday after Baku announced Monday that the head of its bid, a former ambassador to France who advises the country’s president, would be in Davos, Switzerland, this week to promote the Azerbaijan bid among members of the World Economic Forum.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has backed the Osaka bid, will be the only Group of Seven leader not to attend the World Economic Forum meeting. As of Tuesday, Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui, who heads the Osaka-Kansai, Japan bid, had no plans to be in Davos either, and Osaka’s international strategy to win the majority of the 170 BIE votes needed remained unclear.