- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 21, 2001

China sealed off Tiananmen Square from would-be protesters yesterday and proceeded to show officials from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) a capital scrubbed clean by 1 million volunteers over the weekend.

The last of 17 Olympic site selection officials arrived in Beijing yesterday to begin a four-day inspection that China hopes will land it the 2008 Summer Games.

Unauthorized newsstands were cleared away overnight, and pirated compact and video disc vendors usually ubiquitous around the city's tourist markets were notably absent.

Reporters were warned not to bother the inspectors with interview requests.

The "face" of an entire country is at stake, with Beijing the first of five bids to be assessed ahead of the July 13 IOC vote.

Tight security contrasted with the city's well-groomed appearance.

Besides major improvements in roads, bridges and other infrastructure, the brown winter grass sported a fresh coat of green paint, plastic flowers lined key roads, and Tiananmen Square was sealed off to prevent more fiery suicide protests by followers of the banned Falun Gong movement.

Beijing is desperate to avoid such negative images this week.

Instead, the Olympic inspectors will be treated to the sparkling vistas of progress featured in a promotional video by acclaimed director Zhang Yimou.

Further glamour is provided by Olympic bid "ambassadors" like Mr. Zhang's former lover, actress Gong Li, and Hong Kong action man Jackie Chan.

China hopes to exorcise the bitter memory of the 1993 loss to Sydney, Australia, by just two votes, for rights to host the 2000 Summer Games.

Over the weekend, 1 million people took to the streets of Beijing, braving freezing temperatures to sweep roads, collect rubbish and clean railings in a well-coordinated demonstration of civic and national pride.

In China, there is little doubt the propaganda campaign is preaching to the converted. A recent Gallup poll showed 94.9 percent of Beijingers support the Olympic bid.

"Many Chinese were deeply hurt by the loss [to Sydney], since they associated the right of hosting the Olympics with acceptance of their home country by the world," reported this month's edition of the government magazine Beijing Review.

This week they don't have to convince the world, just the 17 members of the IOC evaluation commission.

Dissenters have voiced concerns that China is too poor to host the Games and public funds are better spent on social welfare, but they will be drowned out by rising nationalist sentiment.

"Hosting the Games will be good for China and the Chinese people," said Chen Fanhong in the eastern city of Hangzhou. "Some foreigners I met abroad ask me, 'Could China really organize all those sports?' They think we are so backward.

"The Games would help people to understand what China is like today."

Miss Chen is no stranger to battling prejudice. Last year, she was refused entry into China's inaugural "Miss Internet" competition.

The rules mandated a dancing test, and Miss Chen is wheelchair-bound. She fought publicly against such discrimination, the rules were changed and she swept to victory.

Her role is to popularize Internet use in China, but her passion is to popularize the Beijing Olympic bid. Last year, she collected more than 1 million signatures on line and presented them to the IOC.

Another Olympic petition was less welcome to the Chinese leadership. In January, 119 dissidents called on Beijing to release all political prisoners to improve the city's chances.

On Saturday, Zhang Hong appealed for IOC inspectors to visit her husband, Jiang Qisheng, incarcerated for suggesting a candlelight vigil to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

"For a city to be suitable for an Olympics," she wrote, "it must have the infrastructure and environmental conditions, which includes the conditions for human survival."

Other activists raised concern for the people who would build the facilities for the world's athletes.

"I only hope the IOC commission will ask the Chinese government one question, and demand an answer," author Dai Qing told The Washington Times.

"If Beijing is successful, will you force all the migrant workers out of the city like you did in 1999 for [China's] 50th anniversary? These people have built up their lives here, they too deserve the right to enjoy the Olympics.

"I have a contradiction in my heart," Miss Dai added. "I live in Beijing, I will benefit from better roads and other changes, but this city is already so rich, and so much of China is poor."

Hong Kong-based Human Rights in China warned the IOC to be on guard against the "Custody and Repatriation" rules that China uses to detain migrants, beggars, prostitutes and the homeless, especially when major political or sporting events are approaching.

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