- The Washington Times - Friday, July 13, 2001

BEIJING — Chairman Mao's portrait glowered overhead, but it was another old man who held China's destiny in his hands.
In the early hours of Sept. 24, 1993, a few hundred Beijingers gathered at Tiananmen Gate, straining to understand crackling radios tuned to Olympic boss Juan Antonio Samaranch in Monte Carlo.
Before announcing the 2000 Olympics host, he paused to thank the competing cities, in alphabetical order.
But the Chinese translation of his words had stopped too soon, in nervous anticipation of history. When Beijing was named, the Tiananmen fountains erupted into the night sky, bubbling in a blaze of floodlights.
The joyful eruption was woefully premature. It took two minutes until the cheering and hugging faded into shocked silence. The fountains dribbled to a trickle, and the real winner — Australia —celebrated down under.
Frustrated and suddenly tired, the crowds turned their backs on Mao and went home, as armed police hustled reporters away from Tiananmen.
No official function is planned in China's political heartland tonight. Just as in 1993, the square itself may be off limits because of Communist Party paranoia about crowds of any size that might turn on their rulers.
But if Beijing is proclaimed tonight as the site of the 2008 Games, the city will undertake an enormous construction project that threatens to displace thousands of people living on the sites of future Olympic venues. Few seem to mind.
"It doesn't matter what happens to me," was the patriotic response of an auto mechanic whose garage would be demolished to make way for the arena housing field hockey — which translates into Chinese as bent stick ball. "The Olympics will be good for China's economy, for sport and many other areas," he said.
A reputedly independent survey found 95 percent of Beijingers support the bid, and for once such a high approval rating seems to reflect reality.
In case anyone remains unconvinced, the government has erected propaganda blackboards across the city to remind citizens of the benefits
They say the Games will raise Beijing's global profile as a modern, international metropolis, improve its environment, create jobs and spread spiritual civilization — a vague Communist Party goal to bolster flagging morality in a populace no longer inspired by socialism.
Opponents of granting China the Games point out that the tools of repression are as busy as ever, its labor camps overflowing with inmates who have pursued illegal doctrines like Falun Gong or multiparty democracy.
Several newspapers have been closed for missing the party line, and in the past three months alone, execution grounds nationwide have echoed to the gunshots dispatching 1,751 convicts.
Yet Beijing feels confident enough not even to bother freeing anyone ahead of tonight's vote, as it did in 1993.
Supporters of the Beijing bid hope that giving the Olympics to China will reduce the daily human rights abuses suffered by internal enemies, from the Falun Gong to democracy activists. And, they say, the expected international attention could mean seven years of peace for Taiwan, the object of regular Chinese threats.
China's leadership hopes the award of the Games will mean an economic boom based on a massive construction project that will extend the city's ancient axis from the Temple of Heaven in the south, up through the Forbidden City and past the Temple of the Earth, where Chinese emperors once made sacrifices to pray for good harvests.
While China's critics argue the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will sacrifice its own ideals by choosing blood-stained China, President Jiang Zemin can bank on a golden harvest if his nation, as expected, wins the vote in Moscow.
Besides the profit motive, Mr. Jiang's ruling Communist Party clearly recognizes the value of sport both as nationalist propaganda and a release for its citizens, eager for new heroes in the post-Mao age.
Many potential 2008 venues exist only in the imagination, awaiting a $21 billion construction boom to rival building the Great Wall. In acknowledgement of its key logistical challenge, a filthy environment, the city has begun a multibillion-dollar cleanup.
Beijing's hosting of the Asian Games in 1990 has given it some facilities already. Others have been built for next month's Universiade.
For the key Olympic venues still on the drawing board, IOC members can rest assured that China's one-party system will move mountains, with unlimited manpower and minimal dissent, to build breathtaking sights like the existing Shanghai soccer stadium.
To charges that no developing nation should take on the ever-costlier Olympic burden, Beijing boasts that average economic growth of 17 percent over the past decade means the capital is financially capable.


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