China's Games 'The Olympics Have Destroyed Our Lives'

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Part 2: Some Control Is Good, More Control Is Better


With Friday's opening ceremony looming, public safety is the top priority. More than 34,000 soldiers have been deployed in and around Beijing, including units trained to respond to chemical, biological and nuclear attacks. In the area surrounding the Beijing National Stadium, where the ceremonies will be held, the military has even gone so far as to set up anti-aircraft sites to respond to a possible airborne attack.

Leaders in Beijing have even brought the weather under their control. More than 6,700 cannons and 4,100 rocket launchers have reportedly been set up to shoot silver iodine into the clouds so that the city can get a good rinse before the games.

Critics of the regime, intellectuals and human rights activists have always had their names on the state's black lists. Human rights groups have reported that, in the run-up to the games, many of these individuals have been systematically harassed, ousted or -- like cyber-dissident Hu Jia -- arrested.

The 25,000 journalists covering the games have had trouble accessing certain Web sites because they have been carefully blocked by the government. Smugglers, prostitutes, the psychologically ill and those with contagious illnesses weren't even allowed into the country, having been denied visas.

Indeed, the government's controlling tendencies have resulted in a number of oddities. The police have set up a number of controls throughout Beijing in an effort to turn beggars and petty criminals away from the city center. Restaurant and bar owners were told not to serve blacks and Mongols because they are all allegedly drug dealers or prostitutes. Thousands of cameras have been installed and members of "neighborhood committees" are encouraged to report suspicious persons.

The Beijing municipality has also issued a long list of rules to be followed by residents during the games: they may smoke, but spitting is not allowed. Should the situation call for it, they should stand in orderly lines. And under no circumstances should foreign visitors be offered a meal of dog meat. One brochure also advises against wearing white socks with black shoes, suggests avoiding overly colorful clothing and asks that citizens not go out on the street in their pyjamas. A handshake, the brochure says, should not last longer than three seconds.

The PR Blitz

Organizers had promised a "fascinating festival, a competition of strength, speed and intelligence." But then came the demonstrations in Tibet,the ensuing PR disaster of the Olympic flame relay, the earthquake in Sichuan, problems with Beijing's air pollution and, to top it all off, complaints from foreign journalists about Internet censoring.

Will that all be forgotten when the first sprinters burst out of the starting blocks and the first swimmers knife into the pool? How will these Olympics be remembered? "No matter what happens, there will be two clear legacies," Chua says. On the one hand, Beijing's public transportation system has clearly benefited, with massive investments having been made in road, subway and airport construction. And: "The impressive new stadiums have finally put Beijing back on the world's architectural map."

Beyond that, says Chua, "it will take some time before we know whether the Games made China more open to or more tolerant of other worldviews."

On the economic front, it is doubtful whether China will experience much of a boost from the Olympics. A study from the Centre for European Economic Research comes to the conclusion that the Olympic Games in Beijing will have little to no effect on China's economy. The construction sector certainly profited, concludes the study, which surveyed 300 analysts and investors. But there will likely not be any long-term effect.

Indeed, many analysts believe that climbing inflation and slowing growth will have a negative impact on China's economy. But Chua sees things differently: "Critics who think they now see signs of a collapse radically underestimate China."

With material from dpa and reuters

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