Beijing Woos Olympics

China is cleaning up its act - and its capital - to win the prestige and financial boost of the 2000 Games

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

ITS sights set on hosting the 2000 Olympic Games, China is easing its steeled defiance of world opinion and venturing into the uncharted territory of public relations.

So badly does Beijing covet the turn-of-the-century Olympic prize that it is planning a capital facelift, hiring foreign help to buff its image, pledging freedom of movement for athletes, officials, and overseas visitors, dispatching contingents of lobbyists around the world, and says it even wants to make peace with its old foe, the foreign press.

Anticipation is mounting for the March 6-9 visit of an inspection delegation from the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which Beijing's executive vice mayor Zhang Baifa has called "the key of keys" to winning the committee's endorsement.

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Indeed, municipal leaders of Beijing's bid committee admit that winning the summer international games would "play a role to rehabilitate China's image in the world," still darkened by the suppression of Tiananmen Square protests on June 3 and 4, 1989.

Western diplomats and Chinese observers say that while China is confident of support from African and Asian representatives to the IOC, the government fears opposition from the United States and European countries. In an effort to court President Bill Clinton and other Western critics of China's human-rights abuses and international arms sales, Beijing has sent out signals that several prominent dissidents may be released soon. Take note, Bill Clinton

Saying that "the advisers of Bill Clinton" should take note, Wan Siquan, assistant mayor and an official of the bid committee, said, "It is better to look forward than to stay in the mentality of June 4."

The six other cities bidding for the 2000 summer Games are: Berlin; Brasilia; Istanbul; Manchester, England; Milan, Italy; and Sydney. Sydney and Beijing are widely seen as the front-runners. The IOC will announce its decision Sept. 23.

Ticking off Beijing's advantages, officials contend that China's fast-paced economy will lure a flood of commercial sponsorships for the Olympics. Beijing already has a complex of competition and training facilities and international sports experience gained from hosting the 11th Asian Games in 1990.

Crime is low, relative to similar-sized cities, and Beijing doesn't face the environmental opposition to its planned construction program that other cities might.

In what is one of the world's most drab capitals, sanitized of culture and color by decades of communist rule, officials are planning a $500 million program to build seven sports and spectator facilities for basketball, tennis, swimming, cycling, canoeing and rowing, equestrian events, and a stadium seating 100,000. Beijing can handle 18 of the 25 summer events in existing Asian Games facilities, officials say.

Already underway is an airport expansion that will double its size, a bigger subway system, new roads and overpasses, and possibly a new railway station. New trees and lawns are being planted. And the city has even mobilized 2 million workers to eradicate flies in the capital, according to the Chinese press.

On the downside, Beijing remains one of the world's most polluted capitals, traffic jams worsen with the influx of new cars, and phones and other infrastructure are inadequate. A shortage of Western-language speakers will hurt Beijing in wooing pivotal European votes, the Chinese press says.

But the longest shadow is cast by the oppressive rule of China's elderly autocrats who try to survive in the collapsed communist world by granting Chinese a measure of prosperity and bolstering the country's international stature. The government's iron fist has raised fears that journalists, Olympic officials, and athletes will be able to attend the Olympics and work and compete in an open environment.

With China under fire for human-rights abuses, the widespread use of prison labor, and a booming weapons trade, the capital is trying to allay fears and boost its cause in an awkward campaign that reveals a lack of public-relations experience.

China's bid included reassurances and endorsements from 27 senior leaders, including a videotape from Premier Li Peng, the man most closely associated with the military massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators in 1989.

The Chinese capital has a team of 80 people working on the bid campaign that officially costs $10.5 million, though Western observers estimate that China is spending much more.

Bid committee representatives say they have not hired international public relations firms, as have other cities. However, Beijing did bring in a Hollywood production crew to prepare a film on the city and even got military permission to shoot footage from a helicopter. Press scrutiny decreased

"This is the first time that [civilian] helicopters could be taken above Beijing," boasts Mr. Wan. "The openness has already reached this extent."

Officials insist that, if chosen, China will accept all journalists approved by the International Olympic Committee and will not interfere with drug monitoring or other regulations of the Games.

The outstanding performance of China's swimmers and divers in last year's summer Games in Barcelona has sparked allegations that the athletes used performance-enhancing drugs and raised fears that Olympic drug monitors would be obstructed if the 2000 Games are held in Beijing.

Officials confirmed recent news reports that foreign reporters are no longer being tailed by security. However, Mr. Zhang, the executive vice mayor, admitted at a press conference this month that "as for the problems of the work style of some of our workers, we have noticed the problems and they have been improved."

"We want to be friends and talk freely," Mr. Wan, the Olympic bid committee official, said in a Monitor interview. "I see closer relations with the foreign press in Beijing in the next six months."

If Beijing secures the 2000 summer Games, it will cap a rapid rise in international sports that began when communist China sent its first athletes to the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984.

Almost a century ago, the government of the Qing dynasty was invited to participate in the 1896 Olympics but declined because it didn't know what the competition was, officials say.

The Nationalist government took part in several Olympics in the 1930s and '40s before China withdrew from the world after the communist victory in 1949.

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