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Minus the rhetoric, Beijing goes for gold again

By Willy Lam
CNN Senior China Analyst

(CNN) -- "Do more, talk less!" This simple motto may help Beijing clinch the Olympics, the prestige extravaganza that the fast-modernizing country has been lusting after for the past decade.

As Jiang Xiaoyu, the vice-chief of the Beijing committee for the Olympics bid, put it: "We're tying to win over the International Olympic Committee through hard work and not rhetoric."

"We want them to know they can trust our words and that our actions will bear fruit," Jiang said.

Beijing, which has enjoyed the status of favorite leading up to the July 13 announcement in Moscow, knows that only two things are held against it.

One is that in terms of facilities and experience, it trails Paris and Toronto.

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Secondly -- and this is a much bigger handicap -- its bid is dogged by international condemnation of China's human rights record.

Many people, from members of the U.S. Congress to influential editorial writers, think China does not deserve the Olympics because of its mistreatment of dissidents and Tibetans.

Beijing pretty much cleared the first hurdle last May, when an International Olympic Committee (IOC) report expressed confidence it could put together the stadiums and facilities by 2008.

Indeed, the city is going one better by vowing to stage a green Olympics. Municipal authorities have pledged U.S.$12 billion over the coming eight years to improve the city's notorious air quality.

Human rights battle

Beijing faces a tougher battle on the human rights front.

This is despite the fact that the administration of President George W. Bush, usually a harsh China critic in this arena, has vowed to stay "neutral" on the Beijing bid.

Reports from the past few months by Amnesty International and other global watchdogs have shown that human rights in China have hardly improved since 1993, when Beijing lost its bid for the 2000 Olympics to Sydney.

Beijing has tried to circumvent the issue partly by steering clear of the counter-productive rhetoric of 1992 and 1993, when it slammed the U.S. government and human rights groups for "plotting against China."

Nor has Beijing pursued the tactic of the timely release of dissidents, which backfired last time.

On the eve of the 1993 IOC decision, Chinese authorities released well-known prisoner of conscience Wei Jingsheng from jail one year short of his full sentence.

The Beijing leadership has turned down suggestions from some of its own advisors that it releases a couple of detained Chinese-American scholars early this week.

A Chinese academic associated with the bid said instead of tackling the human rights issues head on, Beijing has stressed its commitment to integrating with the Western world.

"The message is that even though our human rights record may be patchy, we are committed to integrating with global norms -- and hosting the Olympics will improve Beijing's handling of issues relating to civil liberties," the scholar said.

For the people

Beijing is working closely with foreign businessmen -- particularly U.S. executives eager to profit from opportunities associated with both the Olympics and China's accession to the World Trade Organization -- to put this message across.

Another key slogan of the bid committee is that Beijing will be hosting an Olympics for the people, a reference to the world citizenry.

To emphasize its concern for international culture, Beijing has invited artistic and sports heavyweights including tenor Luciano Pavarotti and heavyweight champion Evander Holyfeld to the capital.

And to burnish its image as a model world citizen, Beijing has toned down reports of a recent war game aimed at Taiwan. It has also invited Taiwan athletes to take part in joint mainland-Taiwan sports events.

As Wei Jizhong, a senior official of the Chinese Olympic Committee put it last week, he was much more confident this time partly because "there are less people in the West who are opposed to China and to the Olympic bid."

Wei said he was also impressed by the change of tactics of the organizers.

"This time the emphasis is on doing concrete things," Wei said. "We're not just preparing for the bid. From day one, we have started laying the groundwork for organizing the Games itself."

• Moscow 2001 112th IOC Session
• Beijing 2008 Olympic Bid

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