Controversy Surround Preparations for Beijing 2008 Olympic Games

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government's actions worry some

by Mark Zurlo

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Strikingly positioned in an area dominated by skyscrapers and condominiums, and on land which was once home to thousands of Chinese families, the National Stadium in downtown Beijing is a symbol of the new China. The structure is a breathtaking departure from the city's traditional architecture and highlights the massive economic strides the country has made over the past decade. Also known as the "bird's nest" because of its circular, lattice work construction, the stadium, which is the centerpiece of Beijing's Olympic building boom, has, like the 2008 Games themselves, become a lighting rod for controversy. Many locals find the Swiss designed venue an eye sore, while others, both inside and outside the country, lament the steps that the government has taken in building it.

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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 super-power. 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, the actions of the government in preparation for the Games have been alarming, and many world leaders have once again cast a suspicious eye on the nation. Concerns range from the massive number of Chinese citizens being displaced to the government's ties to the genocide in Darfur.

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 8th. 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.

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While the displacement in Beijing has caused a considerable amount of hardship for Chinese citizens, it pales in comparison to the hardships faced by those living in Darfur, where over 200,000 have died and 2.5 million have been displaced. Many human rights activists and government officials have voiced their concerns over China's connections to the nation's government, and some have gone so far has to propose a boycott of the Games. China currently purchases 2/3rds of its oil from the Sudanese nation and supplies it with weapons and military aircrafts. Many believe that due to its economic and military ties to the country, China could easily influence the Sudanese government to allow a UN peace keeping force to enter the country, something the Chinese government has failed to do.

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 infected dog food and toothpaste originating from China have faced widespread recalls due to the presence of poisonous ingredients. 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, meaning only 20% of what was spent on security in Athens for the 2004 games with be spent in Beijing.

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.

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