Inside the Capitol

Sunday, August 03, 2008

8-6 China Feeling Unappreciated

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- The Beijing Olympics are China's big opportunity to showcase its progress to the world. But in the process, some of China's other faces are being revealed?
The international Olympic Committee reports extreme satisfaction with the Olympic village and the competition venues. Everything is first-class and has been completed on time.
The Chinese people, after being shielded from outside influences for centuries have been carefully schooled in welcoming foreigners, speaking English and not spitting on sidewalks. Now, they need to be asked to train our baseball players.
The 2008 Olympics are likely to be one of the best ever. But they already have been tarnished by Tibetan human rights protests and support of the Sudan government during the international Olympic torch relay.
In the days leading up to the August 8 Olympics opening,, China's intense security measures are coming into focus. At this time four years ago, there was much comment about the extreme security measures for the 2004 Athens Olympics. That was a year into the Iraq War and Athens isn't far from Iraq. The security contingent numbered 70,000.
This year's Chinese combined security forces reportedly number 550,000. One for every expected foreign visitor. But foreigners don't appear to be China's biggest worry. Its attention prior to the Olympics has been focused on separatist and independence movements in far western China.
Last week a group of militants from the East Turkistan Islamic Movement were publicly executed by firing squad, reportedly as a caution to anyone else thinking of disrupting the Olympics. Fears are being expressed in China that not all of the enhanced security will be disbanded after the Olympics.
Everyone will agree with China's desire for an incident-free Olympics. But a big part of the image China projects to the world will be determined by the media coverage that will be watched by an estimated 4 billion television viewers.
If the image looks too much like a police state, China's quest for respect and appreciation will be damaged. Some reports say top Chinese officials are ordering security to be more friendly but that local officials can't break old habits.
One of the highlights of Olympic coverage is sure to be the police team riding Segways. If the battery-powered scooters work well, China hopes they will encourage some of its citizens to buy them instead of cars.
It is the new-found Chinese love affair with cars that is causing the Beijing Olympics' other major problem. Beijing's air is normally brown and difficult to breathe. My wife and I were there three years ago as China was preparing for the Olympics.
I have a scrapbook of pictures I took of the magnificent sites in and around Beijing. Next to each picture is a postcard photograph of the same site. They look the same, except that the sky in the postcard pictures is a beautiful blue.
The contrast is amazing. The first reaction of many who see the pictures is that I have altered my pictures to make the sky look worse. They can't believe a brown sky. But it's true.
Car traffic is partly responsible. So is the smoke belching from factories throughout the city. And so is the tremendous amount of construction around town.
China officials thought it would be easy to clean up. But it hasn't been. Now they are hoping for some help from wind and rain -- not something Olympic host committees usually want. Postponement or relocation of some events is a possibility.
And all this brings attention to China's refusal to sign the Kyoto Accord. China argues that the other industrialized nations of the world polluted their air as they were emerging into First World countries. And China will do the same.
A refrain now heard in China is that it has tried so hard to put on the best Olympics ever and no one appreciates the effort. They just take potshots. At least now they know how the United States feels.
WED, 8-06-08

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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