China's Great Wail at Atlanta May be Cover for Its Athletes

Yan Hongwei was in a snit over sports.

"Just what is the United States trying to do?" fumed the airline ticketing agent. "It prevents China from hosting the 2000 Summer Olympics. Then, Americans can't even stage a smooth-running Olympic Games."

This sports-mad country is making the most of Atlanta's Olympic woes in almost tit-for-tat retribution against the US. Three years ago, Beijing launched a massive campaign to host the 2000 Games, narrowly losing out to Sydney. Strident American complaints about China's human rights abuses and inadequacy as an Olympic host accounted for the one-vote margin of defeat, many Chinese believe.

In a country that still smarts from the Opium War and other clashes with Western colonialism, this failure to win the 2000 Games isn't easily forgotten. That accounts for the bitterness in Atlanta, some Chinese analysts say.

Now China smugly watches the tables turned on the US. China's litany of complaints about the Atlanta Games - bad food, crowded living quarters, lousy transportation, mysterious fire alarms - are trumpeted daily in the press.

"The Olympic Games is a grand meeting for human beings in the world. Although the US has held the Olympic Games three times, it seems that America is still a new hand," the People's Daily observed. The Beijing Evening News commented that Atlanta "looks like a construction site."

The criticisms echo Western gripes about China's preparations for the United Nations women's summit held in Beijing last fall. Concerned about the presence of thousands of outspoken women activists, China isolated delegates in a makeshift site many miles outside Beijing.

A poor showing in Olympics by the 495-member Chinese contingent and constant press badgering about drug allegations have also soured China on Atlanta. In the opening days, China's much-vaunted, but controversial, swimmers lagged behind their performance in the '92 Barcelona Olympics.

Chinese swimmers dominated the 1992 Games and the World Championships in 1994. But 11 Chinese athletes later tested positive for steroid use at the 1994 Asian Games in Hiroshima and were banned from international competition for two years. International charges that China's athletic prowess stems from drug use have not been reported in the Chinese media.

In recent years, China has been in a peevish mood toward Washington. Volatile ties between the two rivals have been disrupted by American criticism of China's human rights record, overseas weapons sales, trade practices, and Beijings's threats to Taiwan.

Of late, the diplomatic climate has warmed somewhat. Anthony Lake, the Clinton administration's national security advisor, visited Beijing this month and laid the groundwork for a future exchange of state visits by President Clinton and Chinese President Jiang Zemin.

Still, attitudes toward the US remain irritable among some vocal Chinese.

Two recent books have become bestsellers with their angry brand of anti-Americanism. "A Depiction of Trials of Strength Between China and the United States" warns that American policy to contain China, is a throwback to the cold war and "doomed to failure."

Another book, "China Can Say No," calls for taking back Taiwan, by force if necessary, and warns of American cultural imperialism in a chapter entitled, "Let's Burn Down Hollywood."

Others point out that China's disappointing performance so far has divided the Chinese Olympic Committee, which is trying to cover up for its failures. Three journalists accredited to the games were barred from traveling to the United States after suggesting disarray among Olympic officials.

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