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Beijing Woos Olympics

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

By Sheila TefftStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / February 12, 1993


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.

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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.

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.