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Sunday, July 15, 2001

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A political and economic triumph for China

BEIJING, JULY 14. A jubilant China on Saturday hailed the decision to grant Beijing the 2008 Olympics as a celebration of the country's economic progress and an endorsement of its communist leadership.

Beijing's chance to welcome the world in seven years time was also trumpeted as a business bonanza for China's capital city after a night-long party which saw millions of people swarming on to the streets to celebrate the historic victory.

The streets have not been thronged with crowds as large as those of Friday' s celebration since the pro-democracy protests of 1989.

Newspapers carried pictures of joyous crowds waving Chinese flags thronging the vast Tiananmen Square in the heart of Beijing and thousands of revellers ebbing and flowing on the broad Changan Avenue which cuts through the city.

The President, Mr. Jiang Zemin and other senior leaders including Li Peng, Zhu Rongji, Li Ruihuan, Hu Jintao and Wei Jianxing, as well as Beijing's party chief Jia Qinglin joined the carnival. Mr. Jiang and other Chinese leaders then drove through the jubilant city to the Tiananmen square, where over 400,000 people had gathered to celebrate the historical moment.

Mr. Jiang could not have hoped for a more ringing endorsement of Communist Party rule than the cheer which went up from the crowd when he stepped out onto the rostrum.

The President appeared on two large full-colour photos in the front page of the People's Daily. Securing the 2008 Games now looks likely to be one of Jiang's main legacies - he is expected to step down from his posts as President and party leader before the Olympics.

Mr. Jiang thanked the president of the International Olympic Committee, Mr. Juan Antonio Samaranch and the IOC for its trust in and support for China in selecting Beijing.

``On behalf of the Chinese government and people and in my own name, I extend my solemn tribute to your contribution to the International Olympic movement,'' Mr. Jiang said in a message to Mr. Samaranch.

``The Chinese government and people will go all out to support Beijing to turn the 2008 Olympic Games into a grand event that will contribute to the development of the Olympic spirit, world peace and friendship of different peoples in the world,'' Mr. Jiang said.

Chinese Vice Premier, Mr. Li Lanqing, who led the Chinese delegation at the IOC's Moscow meeting, emphasised that the Chinese government will make every effort to ensure a perfect and best Olympic Games.

Speaking at a grand ceremony held last night at the Chinese Embassy in Russia, Mr. Li said the Chinese government will cherish this hard-won chance and honour and will continue to do its utmost to make the Beijing Olympic Games the best, most successful and unique one in the Olympic history.

``Beijing's victory has proved once more that China, a just, progressive and strong country, enjoys broad respect and friendship in the international community,'' he said.

As Mr. Jiang prepared to leave for Moscow, the Beijing revellers continued to celebrate in anticipation of both an economic boom and a facelift for the capital city over the next seven years.

Editorials praise success

``It's Beijing: great victory ends years of waiting,'' cited a headline in the China Daily, an official government mouthpiece.

In an editorial, the CPC's mouthpiece, recalled that late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping had suggested China bid for the Olympic Games as early as in 1990, and that even the failure in 1993 (to host the 2000 Olympics) did not damp the Chinese people's enthusiasm towards the Olympic Games.

``Today's China is enjoying unprecedented political stability, economic prosperity and ethnic harmony, while the city of Beijing is witnessing rapid development, with its environment improving and more and more sports facilities in place,'' the editorial said, adding that this has laid a solid foundation for a successful Olympic Games in Beijing.

The editorial noted that the holding of the Olympic Games in the world's most populous country will help promote greatly the Olympic spirit and exchanges between the Chinese and western cultures.

The official Xinhua news agency, in a commentary, noted that the Chinese people's painstaking effort and honesty at last gave a touch to the IOC members, who did not hesitate this time to cast their vote for Beijing and demonstrate their confidence in China.

``With China being a sports powerhouse with huge economic potential, the conditions are ripe for the most populous country to host an Olympic Games,'' Xinhua said.

``The world has recognised us,'' said university teacher Zu Danliang, standing in a sea of Chinese red five star national flags at the millennium monument, where giant television screens brought the results of the Moscow vote live to a crowd of several thousands.

Beijing is planning a $ 20 billion makeover in the run-up to 2008 which will see faster transport, thousands of new hotels rooms, gleaming new sports facilities. Perhaps the biggest challenge for the authorities will be to ensure that the 2008 events take place in something approaching clean air.

China's capital aims to shake of its reputation as one of the world's most polluted cities as the government spends close to $ 12 billion on greening the city over the next seven years.

Some 200 polluting factories will be relocated, taxis and buses will be switched to natural gas and millions of trees will be planted to fulfil a pledge to turn 40 per cent of Beijing into green space by 2008.

In all 22 of the 37 venues will be built from scratch while existing stadiums will be renovated, subway lines will be extended, and a fifth ring-road will be built around the city.

Shares in Chinese companies involved in infrastructure, Beijing real estate and environmental business have surged on the Hong Kong and Chinese stock exchanges in recent weeks.

Celebrations in other parts of China were far more muted though, as people in the provinces voiced concerns about who would foot the bill for Beijing's transformation. Only a few thousand hit the streets to party in the boomtown of Shanghai while in the central Chinese city of Chengdu the reaction to the victory was even more muted.

Many worry they will have to put their hands in their pockets to fund the Olympic reconstruction without reaping any of the benefits. ``We're not so interested in the Olympics. Many people are concerned Sichuan will have to pay for the Games and we are not happy,'' said one young woman in the city of Chengdu.

Others raise concerns the Olympics will be a windfall for corrupt officials looking to cash in on infrastructure projects. In Hong Kong, the decision was greeted with almost as much delirium as in Beijing with many expressing the hope that it marked a decisive turning point in China's opening to the world.

Critics warn on rights

Long-term critics warned that China would have to improve its human rights record before the Games. One of China's main critics, the banned Falun Gong spiritual group called for international scrutiny to ensure Beijing does not crack down harder on ``undesirables'' after winning its Olympics bid.

``We hope that China will not see winning the Olympics as a licence to kill,'' Falun Gong spokesman Erping Zhang said in a statement posted on the group's website, www.faluninfo.net.

In India, the decision to award Beijing the Games drew condemnation from the camp of the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader.

``This will put the stamp of international approval on Beijing's human rights abuses and will encourage China to escalate its repression,'' spokesman for the India-based Central Tibetan Administration, Kalon T.C. Tethong, said in a statement.

In Toronto, a planned victory party turned into a wake as news that Beijing had won stunned hundreds of Canadians who had believed until the last minute that Toronto might be chosen.

Japan's top government spokesman Yasuo Fukuda was quoted as expressing disappointment about Osaka's failed bid but said Japan would now support Beijing's efforts to make the Games a success.

In Paris, President Jacques Chirac said he regretted Paris had failed in its bid - but he made it clear that France had not given up hope of staging a future Games.- PTI, Reuters.

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