After years of frenzied activity, calm in Beijing before D-day

August 6th, 2008 - 5:54 pm ICT by IANS  

(Attn Sports Editors: V. Krishnaswamy will cover the Olympic Games for IANS. Following is the first of his dispatches)
By V. Krishnaswamy
Beijing, Aug 6 (IANS) It has taken the Chinese seven long years of preparation and perhaps many more dreaming about it. And now when the Olympic Games are but 48 hours away and it is their hour of reckoning, a calm assuredness has taken over. In the years since Beijing first lost the race to host the 2000 Games soon after hosting the highly successful 1990 Asian Games, the Chinese capital has undergone a sea change.

The Chinese, who lost the right to host the 2000 Games to Sydney by a mere two votes, overcame their disappointment to put together a bid for 2008 and that they won comfortably.

While their gymnasts balance precariously on the beam to bring home the gold, their administration is busy with its own balancing act - between one building on an image of a “new, open and strong” China which aspires to be a global leader, versus one which is still anxious to maintain “tight control” over its people.

There is little sign of the xenophobia that existed back in 1990. Sure the language is still a barrier, but the nearly two decades since then has seen Beijing become a great city, beyond its mere mysteries and Communist taglines.

The last few years have seen them win the right to host the 2008 Olympic Games and Beijing has become a vibrant and cultural city that is interesting in every way you look at it.

Meanwhile, the common man as well as the official government machinery is enmeshed in many ways to make sure that the Chinese deliver one of the safest and the best Games.

Yes, security is a concern. But where in this highly unsafe world is it not the case? Yes, there has also been talk about the Chinese being overcautious. But in today’s world, where no place is safe any longer, there really is nothing such as being overcautious.

The welcome at the spanking new Beijing International Airport is warm, though the language barrier continues. However, if there is one thing that you can hardly complain about, it is their smiles. Those are omnipresent.

Security concerns have been very prominent. Visitors coming over and taking up service apartments as temporary residents are ‘advised’ to register themselves at the nearest police station while non-Olympic visitors - other than those on work or coming to see the Games with tickets - are finding it difficult to get visas during this period.

A former US Olympic synchronized swimmer who planned to cover the Games as a reporter is said to have been unable to get a visa, because of her association with Team Darfur, which seeks to raise money and awareness about the plight of children in Darfur.

Then there are neighbourhood patrols, the locals reveal. There are common people who have enlisted to help the government to ensure a ’safe’ Olympic Games.

Almost half a million Chinese are believed to be part of a security mobilisation. This includes the normal police force, commandoes and some special units, and giving them company and supporting their cause are retirees and elderly people who work not only as volunteers but also help in keeping their eyes and ears open to spot any ’suspicious’ looking people.

Cafe and shop owners in central areas in Beijing and even on the outskirts of the city have been enlisted to keep an eye on outsiders and those locals who could be dissidents.

The security is by no means oppressive - at least thus far - yet there is no way you can miss it.

When the International Olympic Committee awarded the Chinese the Games, it was with an underlined promise of having a more open China. The Chinese had also promised to look into human rights complaints.

IOC President Jacques Rogge had also said some months back that China by opening itself to a media as large 20,000-25,000 was looking at the Olympics to bring about a change for the good.

At the end of the day, Chinese at all levels in society are looking at the Games as a mark of respect for their supremacy and the arrival of China on the global platform.

The final frontier could be the Olympic Games, where they overtake everybody else in the medals race, too.

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