Officials involved in Beijing's bid to host the 2008 Summer Olympics are promising to transform the face of the city with a building bonanza in the run-up to the competition.
A welter of new projects would see billions of dollars pumped into the economy of the Chinese capital, adding impetus to the latest slogan adopted by the city fathers: `New Beijing, Great Olympics.'
A massive marketing campaign that has already begun in earnest hinges on distancing Beijing from the central government, and separating the city in the minds of the Inter-national Olympic Committee members who will cast their vote next year, from the age-old problems the nation still faces. Top of that list is China's human rights record, which along with suspicions of widespread drug use by Chinese athletes, was a major factor in Beijing's loss to Sydney as host of this year's Summer Olympiad.
The fact that the bid committee is headed by the city's vice mayor Liu Jingmin should be evidence enough for the IOC of the politicisation of this latest bid by China to become an Olympic host. It is that predominance of politics and the overwhelming self interest of the ruling Communist Party that ensures that the treasury coffers will be opened wide in an effort to bring Beijing up to the standards necessary for running such a huge sporting event.
Just as the city's 13m residents were mobilised ahead of the decision in 1993 that saw Beijing lose to Sydney by just two votes, China's authorities can ensure the traffic flows, the air is clean and that there is no opposition.
"There is no excuse to deny the dreams of I.36n people to hold the Olympic Games in Beijing," said Liu, who is executive vice-president of the hid committee. "This time, it is Beijing bidding, not the country bidding." He explained this distinction by saying that the government had recognised that the Olympics were just a sports event, not an international referendum on China's image.
The total price tag for hosting the Olympics is estimated at US$1.5bn. With income from global television rights and sponsorship deals, however, Liu forecasts Beijing will break even.
The city has set about micro-managing those aspects of its international image that can be changed, with a massive spending programme being designed to clean up the environment. As one of the filthiest cities in the land, Beijing is plagued with horrific air pollution, poor quality and diminishing water supplies, and traffic that moves at a crawl at most times of day or night.
So besides plans to drive away beggars, homeless people and prostitutes, and clear up pornography and gambling, the Beijing city government has pledged to spend Yn46bn over the next five years on improving air quality. That is out of a total of Ynl47bn planned to be spent on reducing congestion and pollution by the start of the 2008 Olympics, reported China Daily.
According to official press reports, most of the money will be used on programmes aimed at controlling exhaust emissions, dust storms and coal fumes, and planting more trees. In a city where respiratory diseases linked with pollution levels have become the major killer, the government is desperate to get the message across that a 2008 Beijing Olympics would he a green Olympics.
To that end, it has drawn up an action plan that would involve boosting spending on the environment to 4-5 percent of GDP, up from less than 2 percent now. Green belts are to be established covering 40 percent of the area covered by Beijing, which has an official population of 10m and an estimated 3m drifters, many of whom live in filthy and unregulated shanty towns on the city's edges.
Planned measures to ease traffic congestion are also on the drawing board, according to Liu, and include building a new subway route that will reach the Olympic (peen, as the main venue is to be called, and become a main transportation route after the games.
A fifth ring road and a light rail are currently under construction, and roads around the Olympic Village area are to rebuilt and extended in order to meet demand for staging the (lames, he says.
The plan calls for the replacement of diesel buses that spew black fumes into the air with 1,200 buses and 10,000 taxis run on clean-burning fuel, and for the introduction of strict emission tests.
The government also hopes to convert residential heating systems to natural gas and to cut down on coal consumption in percentage terms. Overall coal burning is still projected to grow, however, as it is cheap and plentiful.
Improving sports facilities
Existing sports venues, including the Capital Gymnasium, the Workers' Stadium and the National Sports Centre, are being renovated ahead of an inspection of the city by the International Olympic Committee, slated for December.
"The facilities in many stadiums and gyms in 'Beijing fall below the international level that they should reach for the Olympics," says Gao Yicun, director of the bid committee's construction project planning department, adding that much of the renovation work is to improve telecoms facilities and install advance television broadcast systems.
According to preliminary plans, the Olympic centre will cover 405 hectares, half of which would be dedicated to greenery and water. The design includes large sports facilities, a 400,000 sq metre exhibition centre, a 200,000 sq metre trade centre, as well as hotels and a theme park. The sports facilities will include an 80,000-seat stadium, five gymnasiums, an athletes' village and a media centre, according to official media reports.
Money is also being spent on developing business skills within the China's Olympic Committee. Officials are being sent to learn marketing lessons from previous Olympic cities, including Sydney which so narrowly beat Beijing to host last month's games.
Future projects planned by Beijing:
-Constructing 20 sports facilities, including a 3,000-acre Olympic park north of the city, with an 80,000-seat stadium and athletes village
-Setting up 'green belts' of trees and grass around the city.
-Completing a fourth and constructing a fifth ring road around the city.
-Building new subway lines and a light-rail transit system.
-Renovating the city's airport.
-Reducing auto emissions and other pollutants, and attaining international standards of air and water quality.