With exactly one year to go, China has marked the countdown to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing with a lavish ceremony. ‘We are ready’ was the official theme tune for the three-hour extravaganza, lighting up Tiananmen Square. IOC President Jacques Rogge was there along with 10,000 handpicked guests, and the most famous Chinese international film star, Jackie Chan.
For one evening, at least, the criticism and concern over China’s preparations for the games were put aside, but in the cold light of day ongoing reports of human rights abuses and more crackdowns on press freedoms are not so easy to mask. Then there are the environmental problems – not least the Beijing smog. China has said it can eliminate it. Factories have been moved out of town, and during the event 30 percent of all cars will be ordered off the road. But certain sporting competitions may have to be moved out of Beijing if that doesn’t work.
The issue of Tibet is fueling protests worldwide. An attempt to place a ‘Free Tibet’ banner on the Great Wall of China ended in arrest for six westerners. China is determined nothing will spoil its Olympic moment but its detractors are equally insistent that it cannot be allowed to ride roughshod over people’s rights.