The 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing is exactly one year away. As a member of the credentialed media, I already have accomodations and also have my credentials approved for 2008.
The world is fascinated with China. A country with five thousand years of history, a country that has withstood wars, famine, natural disasters, yet, still, for many, is clouded in mystery. How will the no longer Communist, but pragmatist nation of China deal with the Olympics? We look at some hints here.
First of all, Mao Tse Tung and the little red book may be quoted, but they are gone. The Chinese goverment is trying to replace Communism with pragmatism, but just in case, they still carry a big stick. Control is the issue. Control of internal media, control of external media entering China and control of foreign journalists.
On August 7, 2007, there was a protest by Reporters without Borders, who wanted the world to know that the Chinese goverment, at the present time, is holding over 100 foreign journalists and bloggers. The reporters who showed up for this press conference, as noted in the Financial Times, were surrounded by Chinese clothed and plain-clothed security forces for nearly an hour, and then allowed to leave.
What does this say? All countries want to look good, however, China has been under scrutiny recently due to everything from tainted pet foods to seafood that had banned substances. The Chinese are taking this very seriously. Crane Lake, the English name of the official Pork producer for the Olympics announced today that they would be producing organically fed pigs, meaning no steroids ( common in
growing pigs) in the feed. This will lengthen the time to market by three months. The company spokesperson said, and this is significant, " When it comes to political and national needs, cost should not play a part." The company does not want to negatively effect an athlete in a drug test, so they have gone to these measures.
In terms of the building around Beijing, most projects seem or schedule or near schedule. The national stadium, called in Chinese the Bird's Nest, will be done in March 2008, about three months behind. There will be a speed train taking foreigners from the Beijing Airport to the Stadium and returning, which is delayed a bit, but that should be done as well.
Beijing will house 10,700 athletes for the various events, and those hotels are being built as we write. Rumors suggest that many industrial sites will be closed during the August 8-September 3 time period. There is also a hint that the 800,000 government vehicles in Beijing will not be driven during the Olympics as a way to cut back on the smog brought from Industry and the coal that is used to power much of the industry in Beijing.
By controlling media, the Chinese goverment is able to provide monthly " Culture days," where newspapers discuss proper etiquette with Westerners ( no spitting or urinating on sidewalks, sitting on bench and allowing paunch to show out from tshirt), and how exciting it is that the Olympics is coming to China. (In full disclosure, I get daily English updates from a Chinese goverment newsite, about all the great improvements in China-an excellent propaganda site).
Actions have meaning in China. Right after the pet food scare, followed a sea food scare. The next week, the highest ranking party official in ten years, parallel to our
FDA, was executed for taking bribes and not protecting the Chinese people. As the Chinese economy continues to grow, fears about the quality or safety of Chinese products would not be a helpful addition to the global news stories.
The commissioner of sport in China is downplaying the performances of the Chinese athletes as well, but don't you believe a word of that. Chinese sports will explode in 2008, with many of the more esoteric sports where China expects to make an impact.
The biggest athlete in China? Well, none other that Liu Xiang, the world record holder in the high hurdles. Lui is closely protected and revered in China, by the media and the general populace. He is a technically superb hurdler and at the top of his game--he should help make Beijing 2008 a great home coming for the people of China.
There is something about going into the Olympic stadium and looking at the flags of nearly two hundred nations. It sends shivers up one's spine. I look forward to reporting on China for you in August 2008!