Strikingly positioned in an area dominated by skyscrapers and condominiums and on land that was once home to thousands of Chinese families, the National Stadium in downtown Beijing is a symbol of the new China. The structure, the centerpiece of Beijing's Olympic building boom, is a breathtaking departure from the city's uninspiring modern skyscrapers and giant monolithic government buildings. Also known as the "bird's nest" because of its circular, latticework construction, the home of the Game's opening and closing ceremonies has, like the 2008 Games themselves, become a lighting rod for controversy. Many locals find the Swiss-designed venue an eyesore, while others, both inside and outside the country, lament the steps that the government has taken in building it.
When Beijing was awarded the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, government officials hoped that hosting the world's largest sporting event would help the country gain acceptance as a modern superpower. While the Communist regime has been plagued by accusations of unjust human rights practices since its formation in 1949, these claims began to fade as the country's economy flourished. However, many observers are alarmed at the number of people who have been displaced by the construction projects and by the government's ties to the Sudanese government. As a result, many world leaders have once again cast a suspicious eye on the nation.
According to the Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), 1.25 million Chinese citizens have been displaced to make way for Olympic-related construction, and that number is expected to grow to 1.5 million by the time the torch is lit on August 8, 2008. COHRE states that most Chinese citizens are given little or no warning before they are evicted from their homes and are often not compensated for their land. The Chinese government disputes such figures, saying only 6,037 households have been leveled and all their owners have been compensated. According to COHRE, 60,000 homes will be leveled in each of the next two years, bringing the total to 512,100 since the city was awarded the games in 2001.
While the displacement in Beijing has caused a considerable amount of hardship for Chinese citizens, it pales in comparison to the suffering of those living in Darfur, where more than 200,000 have died and 2.5 million have been displaced by the civil war. Many human rights activists and government officials have voiced their concerns over China's connections to the nation's government, and some have proposed a boycott of the Games. China currently purchases two-thirds of its oil from Sudan and supplies the country with weapons and military aircraft. Many believe that due to its economic and military ties to the country, China could have easily influenced the Sudanese government to allow a UN peacekeeping force to enter the country, something the Chinese government had failed to do before the Sudanese consented to such measures.
On March 10, 2008, protests arose in Tibet on the anniversary of the failed uprising against Chinese rule. Chinese officials beat, arrested, and killed protesters in Lhasa, Tibet. Riots spread and many buildings were burned. Tibetans say over 100 people were killed, but China claims only 22 people died.
Protests by human rights groups disrupted the 21-nation Olympic torch relay in April 2008. Activists were protesting China's human rights policies and the violent crackdown by Chinese police on protests by ethnic Tibetans and Buddhist monks in Lhasa, Tibet. In Istanbul, London, Paris, San Francisco, and New Delhi protesters chased torch bearers, attempted to extinguish the torch, and clashed with police, which resulted in dozens of arrests. The torch was guarded by 3,000 policemen in Paris, but it was extinguished several times and the designated route was cut short to prevent further aggression. To avoid more violence, a last minute route change was made in San Francisco, allowing the torch to make it safely onto to a plane to its next stop, Buenos Aires.
While China's political involvement around the world is of great concern to human rights activists, it is the government's policies during the Olympics that most concern those who will actually be attending the event. Four different factories have already been accused of using child labor in the manufacturing of official Beijing 2008 souvenirs, and some dog food and toothpaste products that originated in China have been recalled due to the presence of poisonous ingredients in them. These developments have led to concerns about the safety of the food and supplies that will be provided to the 10,000 athletes, 500,000 foreign tourists, and 1 million Chinese guests who will travel to the Games. Of even greater concern to the athletic community is the fact that, according to numbers released by state-run Chinese television, the security budget for the Games is $300 million - 20% of what was spent on security in Athens for the 2004 games.
Chinese officials say they have kept security costs down by relying on domestic suppliers, but they have otherwise been tight-lipped about their plans to protect athletes and spectators. However, security concerns are nothing new to the Olympic Games, and outside sources, such as the FBI, have stepped in to offer organizers information that will help secure the event. The Olympic Games offer the Chinese people an unprecedented opportunity to cast the country in a new light and to show that they are equal to the world's most prosperous nations. Despite the criticism they have received in the lead up to the games, a safe, successful two weeks will go a long way toward making this a reality.
Sources: Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, Phayul.com