Giant on the move
Is China ready for the Olympics?
No expense has been spared cleaning up the sky, removing traffic jams, building state-of-the-art stadia and teaching every Beijing taxi driver to speak some English.
Which is why the audience at a recent Olympics conference hosted by Hong Kong University was caught off guard by Yu Bu, deputy chief of the Beijing organising committee’s broadcasting coordination division.
“I don’t think China is ready for Beijing 2008 yet,” he said. “There is still so much work to be done.”
An Olympics veteran, Yu knows what “not ready” meant, having spotted mud in the main stadium in Athens, host of the 2004 Olympics. But he was not referring to that kind of problem.
Chinese often say that the country has world-class “hardware” -bridges and buildings, but needs to improve “software” – services and efficiency. Yu has pointed out a few weaknesses, including Beijing’s prickliness in the face of foreign criticism, its obsession with gold medals and its lack of media freedom.
Beijing wants to use the Olympics to showcase half a century of development, but in the run-up to the games it has been assailed by critics over its policies towards Darfur and now its handling of Tibetan protests.
China accuses others of politicising the Olympics. Perhaps that is so, but it’s nothing new. Think back to the Cold War tit-for-tat boycotts of the Moscow and Los Angeles Games and the politics that have dogged hosts for decades
“Every Olympics is politicised because every Olympics is a political event,” said Yale University professor William Kelly.
Some argue that China is as much to blame for politicising its Games, bragging about the number of heads of state who have agreed to attend the opening ceremony and putting a top Communist leader, a vice-president no less, in charge of preparations.
Yu thinks China is perhaps over-sensitive because the country still suffers a little from psychological inferiority despite its meteoric economic rise in recent years. Some people take criticism less seriously.
“The pollution in Los Angeles is very bad but if you ask Arnold about it,” he said, trying to imitate the voice of California Governor and former “Terminator” star Arnold Schwarzenegger. “He would say ‘okay, I am responsible for it and I will do that’.”
As wikipedia puts it, the Terminator “feels no pain, has no emotions and will stop at nothing to accomplish its mission”.
Pictures: A large piece of Olympic hardware, the Bird’s Nest stadium, by Claro Cortes IV, Beijing taxi in Tiananmen Square by David Gray and Arnold Schwarzenegger doing his best Terminator look by Mike Blake.